Faux-vintage photos, authenticity and atemporality

Paul Raven @ 17-05-2011

More drive-by linkage for ya, bub – and this one’s a two-fer. First up, Nathan Jurgenson delivers a three-part essay on the deeper significance of the fad for faux-vintage photo processing apps, e.g. the Hipstamatic:

I submit that we have chosen to create and view faux-vintage photos because they seem more authentic and real. One does not need to be consciously aware of this when choosing the filter, hitting the “like” button on Facebook or reblogging on Tumblr. We have associated authenticity with the style of a vintage photo because, previously, vintage photos wereactually vintage. They stood the test of time, they described a world past, and, as such, they earned a sense of importance.

[…]

The faux-vintage photos populating our social media streams share a similar quality with the inner-city Brooklyn neighborhood rich with authentic grit: they conjure authenticity and real-ness in the age of simulation and the vast proliferation of digital images. And, in this way, the Hipstamatic photo places yourself and your present into the context of the past, the authentic, the important and the real.

Then, next day, Adam Rothstein (yup, him again – what can I say, he’s doing a lot of interesting stuff in my info-river of late) gets all definitive on the term atemporality, and skewers Jurgenson’s theorising in the process:

Atemporality is the point at which this temporality begins to break down, though still in a temporal way. We still have a sense of time, but the wide span we call “history” begins to get weird loops, whorls, and whirlpools in it. The usual cycle of fads booming and busting grow eccentric, and spin oddly off-center. The idea of what is “current” begins to break down. We have trouble remembering if something used to be common a long time ago, or if that was today but maybe in Japan, or if maybe someone simply suggested that it would happen soon in the future. The river of time spreads out into a brackish salt marsh delta, and we know time is still flowing, but we don’t remember where it was we were trying to go. Were we trying to go? What does that even mean?

[…]

Anyone offering authenticity has something to sell you, and likely, a something you do not need. They try to convince you that the way you are doing it is not as “real” as something else. Funny–because reality was just fine before they came along. Before they tried to monetize a particular world-view, to increase the value of a certain temporal commodity by claiming to be the exclusive arbiter of what is authentic and what is forged and fake. And we wouldn’t want to fool ourselves either; this is a capitalistic world, and everything ends up bought and sold. Any particular atemporal trend will end up named, stamped into a commodity, and sold, until stretched into a thin veneer of shiny, zombified goo. But that’s okay, because we already have a friend that we met in a comment thread, that can get us that real shit. The Real Shit, because it is the stuff we want and nothing else, and because we’re getting it from the source that we know and trust. That is the network, and that is atemporality. All real shit. No authenticity.

Go read both in full. Go on.


Rushkoff: abandon internet, build its successor

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2011

Over at Shareable, Doug Rushkoff crystallises a bunch of post-Wikileaks thoughts that have been knocking around in my head into one (fairly) coherent statement:

… the Internet was never truly free, bottom-up, decentralized, or chaotic. Yes, it may have been designed with many nodes and redundancies for it to withstand a nuclear attack, but it has always been absolutely controlled by central authorities. From its Domain Name Servers to its IP addresses, the Internet depends on highly centralized mechanisms to send our packets from one place to another.

The ease with which a Senator can make a phone call to have a website such as Wikileaks yanked from the net mirrors the ease with which an entire top-level domain, like say .ir, can be excised. And no, even if some smart people jot down the numeric ip addresses of the websites they want to see before the names are yanked, offending addresses can still be blocked by any number of cooperating government and corporate trunks, relays, and ISPs. That’s why ministers in China finally concluded (in cables released by Wikileaks, no less) that the Internet was “no threat.”

I’m not trying to be a downer here, or knock the possibilities for networking. I just want to smash the fiction that the Internet is some sort of uncontrollable, decentralized free-for-all, so that we can get on with the business of creating something else that is.

That “something else” is basically a peer-to-peer network similar to the existing internet, but one that is completely unreliant on corporate/gubernatorial/non-commons infrastructure like optical fibre. Rushkoff is honest enough to admit he doesn’t have the answers, but he’s surely asking the right questions:

Shall we use telephony, ham radio, or some other part of the spectrum? Do we organize overlapping meshes of WiMax? Do we ask George Soros for some money? MacArthur Foundation? Do we even need or want them or money at all? How might the funding of our network by a central bank issued currency, or a private foundation, or a public university, bias the very architecture we are trying to build? Who gets the ability to govern or limit what may spread over our network, if anyone? Should there be ways for us to transact?

To make the sorts of choices that might actually yield our next and truly decentralized network, we must take a good look at the highly centralized real world in which we live – as well as how it got that way. Only by understanding its principles, reckoning with the forces at play, and accepting the battles we have already lost, might we begin to forge ahead to create new forms that exist beyond any authority’s ability to grant them protection.

I’m no network engineer, but I’m pretty sure that an ad-hoc and rhizomatic peer-to-peer network based on some cableless connection like wi-fi is possible, at least in theory. Anyone in the audience able to tell me why I’m wrong? Or, better still, how we can build it?


Location, location, location

Paul Raven @ 08-11-2010

Why would anyone in their right mind consider building a server farm in deepest darkest Siberia, or the middle of the Indian Ocean? Possibly because the intersection of geography and information flow means such locations would give you a slight yet crucial edge in the high-stakes imaginary-money game of high-frequency trading [via SlashDot]:

The insight of the MIT researchers, Alexander Wissner-Gross and Cameron Freer, is that some automated traders–or at the very least, their server farms–will be best positioned in-between certain exchanges. Since some trading strategies capitalize on price fluctuations between separate exchanges in different parts of the world, the optimally located server will receive information from those exchanges at precisely the same moment, gaining that millisecond advantage over the competitor. In some cases that pefect location is the midpoint between the two exchanges, but not always–it depends on whether the exchanges’ prices move at the same speed or not.

Wissner-Gross and Freer rounded up the locations and price-speeds on the 52 largest global exchanges, and plotted a map of the ideal locations for traders who would want to be perfectly positioned between any given pair. The map, which appears today in an article in the journal Physical Review E, dictates that some traders’ servers will be ideally positioned in central Africa, others in the remotest forests of Canada, others in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and still others in Siberia. This all assumes, of course, a proper infrastructure in place–in the short term, Freer tells Fast Company, it might make more sense to approximate these locations, rather than invest in installing a server farm underneath the ocean.

Brilliant… yet another way for compulsive gamblers to squeeze more profits out of the aether (not to mention shades of Ian McDonald’s Dervish House – which, if you haven’t read it yet, should be added to your stack of pending reads with immediate effect). But according to New Scientist, this might actually represent the last possible way to grasp advantage in the automated trading system:

“This shows that the technological arms race to extract every penny from high-frequency mechanical arbitrage will soon reach its ultimate limits,” says physicist and hedge-fund manager Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, based in Paris. “Maybe the buzz around high-frequency trading will then calm down.”

We can live in hope, I guess.


Fabber viruses

Paul Raven @ 07-04-2010

Among the obligatory swathe of spoof posts for 1st April this year was one from 3D printing outfit Shapeways, who claimed to have fallen victim to the first proof-of-concept virus for fabricators[via Fabbaloo].

The best spoofs always have an element of truth, or at least truthiness. While Shapeways have fabricated this particular incident (arf!), its believability hinges on the fact that 3D printing is a networked technology, and that everything can and will be hacked.

Sven Johnson has already sent back reports from an imperfect future regarding 3D spam, which is likely to be as ubiquitous as it is for email and fax machines (which some people really do still use, apparently), but is there any scope for piggybacking illegal or exploitative content on legitimate 3D design files (like some form of steganography)? I don’t know enough about viruses or 3D design software to be certain, but my guess would be that if someone can think of a way to make a fast buck from it, it’s going to happen eventually.


Bruce Sterling on atemporality

Paul Raven @ 09-02-2010

I’d be remiss in my fanboy duties if I didn’t repost this video of a keynote speech from Bruce Sterling at last week’s Transmediale Futurity Now! conference in Berlin.

Appropriately enough for a conference in Berlin, a city where history lays heavily in layers of physical and psychological flotsam and jetsam, Chairman Bruce is talking about atemporality – that curious and disorientating sense that modern media gives us of all times being somehow equal.

Atemporality is “a calm, pragmatic [and] serene skepticism about the historical narrative”; it’s “a philosophy of history with a built-in expiry date”; it’s the end of post-modernism, and the end of The End Of History. But enough with the sound-bite pull-quotes – it’s only 25 minutes long, so settle down comfortably and get your mind expanded.


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