Monthly Archives: October 2016

Returning to MTurk: It’s Still Impossible to Make Money

In the past I used MTurk because my brother found it to be a decent money maker back when he was in high school in 2008. I was curious after doing the readings for class to revisit Amazon Mechanical Turk and see what’s new on the platform. When I first logged on, I noticed that my hit history was available: 17 hits submitted for a grand total of $12.20. It probably took me at least a couple of hours to make it that far. During our reading, we learned about the harsh realities of MTurk where 52% of users make less than 5 dollars an hour.

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China’s Citizen Scoring

“Imagine a world where an authoritarian government monitors everything you do, amasses huge amounts of data on almost every interaction you make, and awards you a single score that measures how “trustworthy” you are.

In this world, anything from defaulting on a loan to criticising the ruling party, from running a red light to failing to care for your parents properly, could cause you to lose points. And in this world, your score becomes the ultimate truth of who you are – determining whether you can borrow money, get your children into the best schools or travel abroad; whether you get a room in a fancy hotel, a seat in a top restaurant – or even just get a date.

This is not the dystopian superstate of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, in which all-knowing police stop crime before it happens. But it could be China by 2020. It is the scenario contained in China’s ambitious plans to develop a far-reaching social credit system, a plan that the Communist Party hopes will build a culture of “sincerity” and a “harmonious socialist society” where “keeping trust is glorious.”

Link to full article here

The Dangers of the Attention Economy



     During our last class we unfortunately didn’t have too much time to spend on the Escaping Attention piece by Sy Taffel. I thought it was quite critical, considering it plays with the implications of focusing too much on content and not enough on the materiality of technologies. Taffel looks to take the reader out of the wonder and splendor that the digital 21st century bestows upon us, and straight into the damaged ecological structures that are a direct effect of the attention economy we participate in. As Taffel frames the question: “To what extent can we justify damages to these ecological systems based on the socio-economic benefits that digital culture brings,” which takes the reader aside for a second and tries to help them see past the nanotainments and tidbits that the attention economy has distracted us with (7). What should receive the lens of focus, the wonder of the information flowing to our digital machines, or the blood that made it possible.

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Today it broke that AT&T is buying Time Warner for over $80 billion. The merger is part of an ongoing trend toward verticalization of assets thru subsumption, so there will in all likelihood be more to come:

“When a big deal like this happens, more deals tend to happen,” analysts with New Street Research told investors Friday. “It is a good time to be an asset ‘in play.’”

A good time to be an asset in play. There are human agencies involved in these negotiations, to be sure—but there is also the automation of something like a capital platform:

The generic universality of platforms makes them formally open to all Users, human and nonhuman alike. If the User’s actions are interoperable with the protocols of the platform, then in principle, it can communicate with the systems and its economies. For this, platforms generate User identities whether they are desired or not. [Bratton 2015/p49]

Considering this, we could say capital consolidates according to its own protocols, according to which Users act alongside (and as) assets in a field of exchange (in play). This field is structured by the platform, which “acts,” in effect, with some autonomy viz. its Users (human and nonhuman assets alike). The unique diminishment of human virtue as an operable force within its platform is a special feature of capital’s logic.

Yet, who, of all people, tries talking explicitly about the power manifest thereby?

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN — a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said at a speech in Gettysburg, Pa.

Whaaaat is even happening…

The Medium is the Massacre


Our class discussion today — in particular the implications of placing organic life and inorganic objects on the same plane of ethical consideration, the Internet of Things (and “smart houses”), and whether or not human-programmed artificially intelligent objects can have any kind of agency independent of human activity — made me think of the 1977 sci-fi horror film Demon Seed.

Next week Anthology Film Archives is presenting this film as part of a short series “of filmic and televisual terrors that surveys the way horror filmmakers and artists have exploited various media to mine the ruptures created by technological advances in production, transmission, reception, and communication through the media of film, television, video games, and the internet.”

I noticed that a rather pessimistic quotation from Alfred North Whitehead is included on the series webpage: “The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur” (epigraph to Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage). Demon Seed would certainly bear out that sentiment, but Whitehead’s less doom-laden thoughts about the world as “webs of interrelated processes” have heavily influenced Jane Bennett and Jennifer Gabrys (and most likely other folks we’ve read). In their writing, respectively, on interactive, “agentic”  assemblages of organic and inorganic matter, and the way connectedness and environments might mutually constitute or “program” each other (and the ways all of these things “program” human experience of environments), they have explicitly drawn on Whitehead’s “approach to ‘experience’ as something that is embodied across human and more-than-human subjects” (Gabrys, “Sensing an Experimental Forest: Processing Environments and Distributing Relations,” Computational Culture. September 2012). As I understand it, this notion of embodiment — whether it operates at an atomic level; or as a network of electronic sensors; or in and through animal, vegetable, or mineral matter — is also the basis for their ecologies of connectivity.

If you haven’t seen the film and you need to blow off some mental steam before the election, I recommend Demon Seed, especially in light of what we’ve been reading in the past couple of weeks.  Just keep in mind that as an audience member you will be compelled to reenact its 90+ minutes of creepily pan-optical, clinical surveillance of Julie Christie (i.e. voyeurism, with some unremarkable 1970s horror-flick misogyny thrown in for good measure). Good times!


Talk to Me

It might be ancient history for some of you but MOMA had an excellent exhibition called “Talk To Me”  in the summer and fall of 2011, which focused on “objects that involve a direct interaction, such as interfaces, information systems, visualization design, and communication devices, and on projects that establish an emotional, sensual, or intellectual connection with their users”.  Whether or not you saw the show in 2011, I encourage you to check it out on the MOMA website (where it’s been recreated in web format, along with most of the exhibits MOMA has mounted since the 30s).  In your copious free time, of course. (As if I don’t have a lot more reading to do… .)

The show was incredibly wide-ranging — everything from a plastic mouth-expanding “communication prosthesis”  to Metrocard machines — but a majority of the objects involved some form or use of mechanical or digital technology. While I was starting the first chapter of Program Earth I thought of one piece in particular: a tree listening  station at which passersby in Kew Gardens (London, not Queens) could listen to the inside of a tree (it was recreated in the gallery with a recording, video, and headphones).

It was great to discover that the whole show is accessible online now — I am seeing things that I either missed or was too overwhelmed by sensory input and crowds to take in on the two occasions I went to see it.  Here’s one example of something I missed in person, which brings The Peripheral to mind in more ways than one.


Rhizome as Topography

In our discussion of rhizomes and rhizomatic properties, I was reminded of a book by Daniel Spoerri, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (1962, 1966). Spoerri, a participant in the Fluxus movement, embarks upon a literary experiment in which he catalogues everything that happens to be lying on a blue table in Room 13 of the Hotel Carcassone at 24 Rue Mouffetard in Paris, where he was staying. It’s a “topography based on chance and the disorder that I snared on October 17, 1961 at 3:47 p.m.” (xv-xvi). The book’s front endpaper and inside jacket include a rudimentary hand-drawn map,  which delineates the shape of each object. “Each outlined object is numbered, and the game I suggest is to choose a shape on the map and look up the corresponding numbered paragraph in the text” (xvi). The anecdotes consist of a history of the object and how it came into the author’s possession or vicinity. Many of these anecdotes spin off into other contexts that can only be related to the objects via associations Spoerri makes in his memory or imagination.

The publisher’s statement warns that the Table of Contents cannot be used as a key to the map. In other words, the reader must use the map to find her way around the text, or invent her own game for reading (xiii). The publisher also announces that supplements to the original (English) text will be issued “at irrregular intervals” and invites readers not only to subscribe, but to “send in contributions to these supplements in the form of further annotations and comments on the one hundred and one articles in this text…particularly…relating to the IV, V, XI, and XIX arrondisements of Paris, in which much of the action in this book takes place.” Thus, the reader will become a participant in sketching out a spatially- and temporally-layered topography based on his own knowledge, associations, and experiences.

Emmet Williams, translator of the English edition, has also included his own annotations and “anecdotations” of the text, which pose questions about the objects Spoerri describes, refer to his own tangential experiences loosely related to the objects, or comment on Spoerri himself. Spoerri adds additional notes to his anecdotes as well. The book is a playful illustration of what something like Deleuze & Guattari’s connected rhizomatic dimensions might look like, as much as it would be possible to capture such things in the printed word.

One of the more straightforward, contained entries, on page 28:

No. 14
Package of Twining’s Chinese Tea
which I bought for a change
of aroma, although I still
have some Orange Pekoe left.
I wanted smoked tea and
they sold me this package
pretending it was, which it

On page 79, Spoerri extends the conceptual territory of this anecdote (and includes a cross-reference):

(f) Two candle butts
one of which was squeezed
near the wick when the wax
was still warm. I remember
neither their use nor their
origin, but since I often blow
out fuses by plugging on all
kinds of apparatuses and art
objects, there is nothing as-
tonishing about their pres-
ence in my room. In the crypt
at Vezelay, the candles the
pilgrims light in honor of the
VIRGIN plop down onto a
sheet of iron where the wax
makes a very lovely picture,
as HAINS pointed out to me
on our trip to Nice (No. 31).




Intro to Object-Oriented Philosophy/Speculative Realism

Hi everyone,

I wanted to post a link to this object-oriented philosophy anthology (or speculative realist anthology?? not sure about the differences, if any, between the two) , which we touched upon in the last class. I haven’t read the entire thing, of course, but the intro helped me better understand exactly what we were talking about. It might be useful for the Latour reading for next class as well.


Users, Waste, and the Public – Response to Hu

In the class discussion about Hu’s A History of the Cloud, the issue of what a truly “public” space would look like on the globally connected digital network. Youtube came to mind in part because of it’s specified design allowing users to make their own entertainment, education, and art through a medium that was, until then, almost exclusively populated and controlled by corporate entities. Professor Gold pointed out that Youtube is likely an example of just the opposite, i.e. Youtube creates the platform for media circulation that appears to be community-based but is, instead, a product that the viewer creates through the process of consumption as individuals users.

I wanted to try and better understand Hu’s argument by focusing on the particular issue of waste. I also wanted to find particular examples of practices in the physical world related to waste in ways that are related to Hu’s discussion on the topic. These examples can be found below.

To recap, Hu details the time-sharing model of early computing and the problems of errors, bugs, and “waste.” He offers a comparison to Victorian era implementation of the sewer system and, equally important, the dividing lines between public and private. These divides were made possible by the acknowledgement of waste and the need to dispose of it without publicly shaming or peeping in on the individual household. Thus, in addressing the issues of networked computing, an infrastructure was created that made “waste” invisible in order to assuage concerns over privacy and to allow users to focus on generating more value through their work.

Youtube, of course, operates through the active consumerism of likes, shares, and comments and the linking of activity of users to individual people. This activity is what makes Youtube a behemoth commercial entity; by engaging in this “community,” this population of users radiate what they see as waste (if they even consider it at all) but what Youtube collects to turn into profit.

For Hu, the isolation of the public into a community of individual users is what negates the possibility of a truly public space on the internet. A public space cannot exist if people desire a system that collects and secures their waste away from the public – a service that, at this time, is conducted by private companies like Youtube. Thus, regaining sovereignty of our data is actually a regaining of control over our waste. The public must operate without distinct digital identities; it must make its waste visible and have control over its waste. But, how? I think one method of controlling the data we produce either directly or through the radiation of our presence and activity is obfuscation. We can manipulate the content of our data so that it offers no value to those who collect it.

There is, I believe, far better examples of returning to a public sphere through the management of waste in the physical world. I link to some of these examples below. (The irony of using Youtube to share this information with you is not lost on me. I recommend signing off from any Google profiles, using a Tor browser and a VPN, and or simply sharing your online identity with other people in order to obstruct the exploitation of you, the user.)

Refining platinum and other precious metals from roadside dirt

Hunting for silver dimes still in circulation

Urban gold mining on the streets of New York’s Diamond District