Media Places 2012 Live Blog

These are live blog notes from the 2012 Media Places Conference in Umeå, Sweden, 5-6-7th December 2012.

Usual disclaimer for live blogging: These are informal notes taken by Dave Crossland at the event, and may, or may not, be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. Probably if something here is incorrect it is because I mistyped it or misunderstood. If anyone wants corrections, you should email me immediately so I can make a direct edit ( – or just post a comment.

Natalie Phillips, Michigan State University “An Interdisciplinary fMRI of Attention and Jane Austen: New Spaces for Mapping Connections in Literature, Neuroscience, and Digital Humanities”

MSU has a new lab ‘Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition’; spanning literary neuroscience (literary experiments), cognitiive history (history of mind) and digital media (creative visualisations).

Literary cognition in the lab, DHLC has cross field engagement, not to apply previous cog studies to literature, but to INTEGRATE humanist questions in experiments themsevlves. THis is new ground for concrete questiosn in humanttiies. Digital text enables this, and neuro tools connect experience of reading to physicality and the mind.

fMRI eye tracking for ‘close reading’ and ‘pleasure reading’; the pilot text was Austen.

Pleasure reading is relaxed (fun paintings) and I wasnt sure peopel could do this in a loud scanner but it was ok. I explain to press, close reading is like looking at a movie with a directors eye.

Elaine Showalter, ‘Teaching Literature’, says ‘Close reading is slow, noticing character development … has more depth’. Goals: Close reading Literature makes better thinkers, we know, but how. We have experience of different perception in the 2 modes of concentration.

2 neuro tools were used.

fMRI is a dynamic picture of blood flow in the brain; where neurons which need blood to function are firing and when.

fMRI-compatible eye tracking, for seeing the saccades, pupilometry, and patters of reading and rereading.

ALso track heart rate, respiration, etc

Literary PhD candidate come in and reads Austen’s Mansfield part. We needed PhD students as they are great close readers, but professors were out because we forgot to read for pleasure 🙂

They read the 1st chapter outside the scanner, and time it, so we know how fast they read normally. They read the 2nd chapter all hooked up to the machiens.

9 paragraphs in they are asked to read in one of the 2 modes, and then we end the session asking them to write an essay on what they read.

We displayed the text on a screen with a red or green border to indicate which mode of reading.

We randomised the order, RGRG or GRGR, 8 paragraphs per mode, and reach read the entire chapter.


first, what we EXPECTED 🙂 I spoke to neuroscientists, Human Brain Mapping Conference, and I was told to expect sublte, local effects for this; as people were doing ‘the same thing’ in 2 ways. So we considered zooming in to a partuclarly part of the brain. But having never done this before, I said to get whole brain slides.

And we thought CLOSE reading would activate regions associated with WORK and pleasure reading with PLAY.

So what was the suprising result?

The WHOLE brain is transforming in moving from one mode to another.

Compare the move from pleasure reading to close reading to the move from reading to non reading. a much bigger change, apparently

Why this matters?

Core skills in liberal arts have immense cognitive load

Here’s an 3d image, a view with brain folds, showing close vs pleasure reading

So, neuro has been increasing in sophistication: eg, Picasso Vs Dali, a painter an be predicted from fMRI activity patterns, even when the artwork was new to the person

Functional connectivity, mapping not just regions but the way regions work together. that dynamism is where to go next; using eye tracking, a rich record of what readers notice, vs the essays that they write after. Some of them quote text afterwards, so you can then look at when they read the quoted passage…

Molly Steenson, Princeton University “”To the first machine that can appreciate the gesture:” Nicholas Negroponte & The Architecture Machine Group, 1967–85″

The Architecture Machine Group existed before Media Lab, to be the UI arm of the AI Lab at MIT. There was a close connection and the funding structures that ArcMac has that linked to DoD.

Started in 1975, it was a book, a minicomputer, a book, a bunch of papers. many mandates, what didnt it aim to do?

NN in 75 said, his view of the distant future of archi machines; they wont help us design, we will live in them.

NN always gesturing in his promo photos 🙂 handwaving notion, demo-ability of thing you cant explain and hand wave past.

A cross discipline lab, half architect and half elec eng. NN is an architect, he thought it was a useful place to use computers in his 68 Masters thesis. this jived with MIT’s lab structure. ‘a neccessary interdisciplinaryy activities’.

J C R Licklider and Marvin Denicoff were in a rotating door between ARPA and Office for Naval Research, and MIT.


URBAN5 , SEEK , INTERACT: failures, had damning reports about ‘GOFAI’ good old fashioned A I.

URBAN5 1967-70. was descended by SketchPad, Ivan Sutherland’s big breakthrough, and users had a light pen and a Q&A dialog to ‘meet the user midway’. would be advanced today, NN thought it was a failure. Computer says to user, ‘many conflicts are occuring.’

SEEK 1969-71. mirrored cubes in a gerbil pen, and software sought to order them while gerbils knocked them over. ‘Life in a computerized environment,’ title of a magazine spread about it. ‘about machines dealing with the unpredictable nature of people (gerbils.)’ and seek was a failure because it tended to CRUSH THE GERBILS DEAD.

INTERACT 1969: About slums. NN said people had no qualms about using a machine, they didnt say anything awkward, and didnt treat the machine as black or white and wrote things they might not tell a white urban planner. But it was a human on the other end of a teletype hmm. User has a TENTANT POWER button on his coat.

Informational Surround.

in this time, defence folks figured that the more automated the battlefield, the more efficient the war. Arch Mac followed thisp path.

Media Room 1977-80

Put That There 1980

Aspen Movie Map 1978-80

Google sTreet view sytle, view the streets of aspen. with a gestural interface, system says ‘ready’ and user says ‘big red circle’, ‘where?’ and user points and it appears. Ted Nelson’s dream machines like this.

Mapping By Yourself 1977-80

Nascent augmented reality, a westing house tablet computer, with a ‘star wars’ mode.

Tactical media, information surrounds could be as comfortabel as consumer electronics and with the control of a plane cockpit.

NN had ‘teething rings’; broadcasting (film, tv, radio), publishing (graphic design and text) and computer science brought together over a phone line.

OLPC, NN says the best way to deploy alptops is not to make arelatioship with a head of state but the DoDs. They are around longer than 4-8 years, and have real access to logicistics.

‘Logistics is the procedure of transferring a nation’s potential to its armed forces’ — someone

Arch Mac made media that is friendly and cosy like a TV set and strange, like a machine-like claw.

* * *

Q for Katherine Hayles: Agency. You swtich from algos, the SEC stuff, machinations put into play by humans and unintended consequences not fully anticipated. You later conclude regulations could determine where fees are assessed, things in human systems that can be regulated. in the middle you talk about CAPITAL itself as vampiristic. then agency shifts; capital has an agency to itself? so please talk about agency attributed to capital, attributed to algos, and to people.

Katherine Hayles: Right, we do have human agency and autonomous machines. trading algos are meant to cut out human agency as they trade at rates not accessible to humans. evo algos is a new trend there, and it opens a new can of worms, as very UNintended effects can emerge from emergent algos. in my talk, i tried to trace the auto algos drive the system to inherent risk and instability. … [ I think of ] … its a question of, how do we change a culture of greed? thats a big project. the power of narrative to intervene shouldn’t be underestimated. the narratives must be responsive to our actual situation. robert harris’ ‘fear index’ pits human vs machine agency, skynet style, machine agency disempowers human agency. a pulp techno thriller. too simplisitic parsing of the situation. its not machine vs human, its nuanced, a negotiated situation, small contests wages all the time in congress, in media, that shape how we undersatnd this. its not bad machine, good humans. its more coplex than that. the work has started and should be ongoing. Bernhard Steigler, Time and Technics 1 and 2, he defines ‘tertiary attention’ (?); a print centric assumption. that human machine interation is about memory storage. but moving from print to compute, its not about memory, its about agency. Mnemotechnics is appropraite to print, not automated trading. humanist discourse must take account of this new dynamic.

Natalie Phillips: What does it meant ot be reading with more legla attention? What are modes of awareness, how much is genre based? How much is disciplinary traning based? …. We wil also look at listening to texts in the 2 modes.

* * *

Pre and Post Digital ARchitecure.

Finn Arne Jørgensen, Umeå University

“I don’t know what Digital Humanties is, but I know it when I see it ;)” (cf Justice Stewart)

We dont see the infrastructure connecting hte cabins to industrial society, its seductive, therapy for digital workers. People write in, ‘Thank you, think is the only site on the net that I ever found therapeutic.’

ARchitecture. What does it do for us? What do we do in Digital Humanties, whatever that is. Architecture refers to both buildings and a metaphor for thinking and refelcting about our practices. Cabin Porn does that too. Its an immediate online phenomon. 100s of cabin blogs, a builder culture, the DIY cabin building with your own skills and made by own hands and body, and now a process of prefab units, pinterest and blogs and so on that art direct their creation.

In the process, things are filtered out, that people dont like. Digital is frictionless, you block out what you dont want to deal with. the lack of infrastrcure is key to that. as scholars we must dig up the infrastrcure. thats what footnotes are for. blogs and twitters, the back channel, people talk baout HOW they do their work.

Post Digital?

I think its no such thing, its digital we take for granted. infra strucure, hidden. we cease to care about digitla and are human instread. its our job to expose the rpocesses as they occur. hacking is making infrastrcure, making is taking out the dificult parts, we need to focus on them.

Thats why cabins are cool.

* * *

Erica Robles-Anderson, New York University

I’m a montessori kid, grad school was more like that than the earlier schooling models. … I went to stanford thinking you do an undergrad ending in ‘er’ – doctor, lawyer, designer – and ‘humanist’ is not one of them. i got into CS and graphics, got good at that, and i thought i’d graduate to do a startup, making screens about spaces. I then went into grad school with a social psychologist, a communications lab; testing how people felt tother or apart based on screens. I met a historian, studying counter culture, and so with that in mind, I found the church.

this is a mega church in Houston Texas, 2,000 people in a sunday service, was the Houston Rockets stadium. i didnt go for religion but the media; it was a naturael space to think about people working with tech.

more recently, the crystal cathedral. i need to justify why i switched from lab studies to reading and field work. church is good for this. big congregation, big glass space, huge screen.

Historian view, this isn’t an uncanny thing that churches shouldnt look like, but the trend of protestant reformation and constant reformation; theres no longer a bible, its hi technology only. we all look together at a single text, not all at the same page in our own copies.

Here is a post war drive in cinema. these spaces were churches on sundays, and you couldn’t get that much revenue from the cinema. screens at churches started here. the family auto like a family pew.

heres teh parking lot for the drive in. a skyscraper with a tall cross on top nearby.

* * *

Jo Guldi, Brown University “Infrastructure for a revolution”

Infrastructure was a revolution of scales, preceeding indus revolution. anti turnpike movement of 1820/30s, thanks to that you can walk from home to your work and school without paying and so can everyone else in society. capitalism in 18thC was based on idea of rising tide to raise all boats, the designers of raod system first appearing in britiain that was destroyed by a liberterian revolution.

ancient world uesd roads for military to reach edges of empire, not for citizens. interkingdom highways, garden cities, suburbs, the parts of built environemtn that are a silent piece of our lives.

infrastrucure has a life. utopian projects live or die. in the 1830s, localists oposes government taxes and the same neoliberal fantasty, that captialism can exist without infrastrucure, today, in teh collapsing infarstrucre.

I’m in an odd place, an 18thC historian working on the net. transport paper and information revilutions.

3 men, john palmer, the 1785, the first civil service not about taxes and miliarty, post service. a bunch of clerks and carraiges connecting every village in england. the clocks were set by post not trains that were later.

????. gravel was same as rome as then …

john wesley. people on the road, walking 20 miles a day, a social network of preachers not an establishment.

the masses of receipts, forms and such to co ordinate civil servants acros the country. 1950, paper peaked. an i18d system of paper records of all farms in the world, preceding world bank.

anti turnpike movement, wesleys idea of a chuch owned by working class, the paper revolution, every town had paper for everyone. byt he 60s we saw paper was hiding facts in plain view. in development studies, rob chambers did 1st crowd sourced maps.

molly told us today about the information reovlutions origins, and i want to talk how it effects me. we have infrastrucure for sharing, we can share citations, journal entries and what we do with them.

Josh Ginburg invitned Zotero; we dream of reaching outside ivoery tower to public, work without barriers to entry. so i made paper machines as a zotero plugin, so you can take what is in your zotero library and do things like topic models, geoparsers to show you all place names about 19th C novels about gypies.

as a designer of software, sustiining the idea of exlucsity and sacle, retooling things, an idea from earlier generations. in 18th infra worked on gravel, mail and community. today we have a new infarstruacure for humanities, we ahev software and data, but the questions of community, how we use this, spending our grants, making one map or many silod amps, that question of community can be answered.

in CS dept at brown, they said this was astonoishing; that you can be a scientist in academia and talk to the public. there are publics and communities we serve outside the

so i had 10 CS undergrads asking what tools i want to look into texts. History Lens could be another plugin for zotero that can be shared in a community. free sofware can be built upon existing standards and retooled and remade. so we can offer it beyond the gates of the ivroy tower.

Infrastrucrue as a reovlution? yes, if we make it for teh communities.

Yesterday Tara McP spoke about reaching out to

Becky Hurwitz, Sandy SToryline, a website for sharing stories about sandy. humanists know a lot about this.

Liz Barry, Public Laboratory, what can environmental historians, so could we make a tool to link publiclaboratroy abd zotero?

Sans Clar, Occupy ARhive, using zotero to collect things.

What if you and your class ran zotero on wikileaks?

Infrastrcutre as revolution. My question to you is then, yes?

* * *

Jo GUldi: at harvard recently, discussin how our new tech infra is reduplicating angloamerican hegemony of 19th c? well, we have people who live off associations with subaltern archives. we can use grant funding to build altern infrastrcures that are massively inclusive. tara mcphereson mentioned a tool to collection inforation from indigenous archives – – that sovlves a technical problem of archiving counter power. …

Day 2

Fred Turner, Stanford University “The Democratic Surround: How World War II Changed the Politics of Multimedia”

[10 mins late]

Black Mountain College, 1948. Their exhibition then has the Fuller Dome. It goes from there to NYC in 57, Cage moves there, teaches a class on artistic production. he brings with him the idea of the happening. By the early 60s he’s teaching this to Keegans (?), alan aprow, which shapes beings, the van der beeks, the basis of the 1960s, a new aesthetica and political mode in the 60s. its not revolutaitonary! its celebraitng against fascism in WW2.

Its still with us, This is the CES in 2010. The pepse pavillion in 1960, its nearly the same design.

Step back, there are 2 things we can do, telling the history of te Democratic Surround: identigy a meanigful thing in that era that didnt have a clear name then or now. media studied, then or now.

We think of attention is depoliticised. Like Natalie’s talk yesterday on Austen. Attenion is a politicised process. What we pay attnetion to is something powerful people struggle for. We must be alert to that as wella s the mechanics of attention.

the DS is something we can track about that.

Also, meida and buildings are merging. In CA, many cars have screens in car seats for the kids in teh back. a new ad for virgin airlines, a cut away of the tube of the airplane and a whole media party there.

we need a history of the media and space merging, and new tools to get at it. thats my work.

another piece important, is cold war historiography. i thought the 60s was a revbellion against the 40s and 50s, but the people who told that story wrote out the OPEN aspects of the 40s and 50s. Charles Morris, UoChicago 1948 book, the Open Self, a prescription for hippies. He said ‘lets have a sexually tolerant society.’

Someone Nazi race theory criticised and says this is happening in USA and we must stop.

in the 60s they FULFILLED their parants expections!

M Mead “were the world we dream of obtained, people then wouldnt value it as we would. we wouldnt be at home there, we couldnt live in in”. that is now us and my goal is to recover the dream.

Sylvia Lavin, Princeton and University of California, Los Angeles “Architecture and the superreal”

(A book, “Kissing Architecture”)

The word ‘place’ scares me. In architecure, it ESSENTIALISES transcendental subjects, lurking behind a spirit of the place phenomenology. A nasty word.

I want the word to go away.

Its strange to be at a conference about place to make it go away. Architecture is to distract people from the thing they’re looking at.

Fred was saying, he’s good at reading images but not spaces. I’m curious what that means; I don’t believe it, but the symtomology of needing to say it in a place on space? 🙂 Why say that at a conference about media and space?

The history of media as being the thing that consitiues space itself?

There is a visual form of analysis happening with skill.

I was asked to talk about frames. Arch is a frame par execllence. If I can google my way to a framing set of images that collapses the world, you see what im ean.

archi is invoked in humantistic conferences, the discipline as frame, making braoder cultural epistimmes visible. the persisitance of this frame. the CCTV building is a triumphal arch, it says within its frame a reading of the cultural episteme, a instruction manual on how to read what is desired to be seen in the cultral episteam as a whole.

culture is assoiciated with interdisciplinarity, using the triumphal arch


Erica Robles-Anderson, New York University “Congregational Framing”

Smalltalk is a environment to edit at runtime. Always active running loops you can self modify. Animators who can add frames to a looping motion graphic. Monads is the notion for this.

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