A strangeness abounds when people are asked to theorize and elucidate something so untethered and rhizomatic as the Internet. At its basic structure, networks connect us to the images, data and knowledge we draw upon every day. Yet what is at the heart of these connections and what separates or integrates our In Real Life (IRL) and digital personas? This past weekend, the annual Theorizing the Web conference took place in New York’s bustling Midtown district at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) graduate center. Co-founders Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey created the conference in the hopes of balancing theory and practice with the diverse set of presenters and contributors while bridging the gap between institution and academia to the general public. Since the theme of this year’s conference dealt primarily with notion of surveillance, many of the panels focused on the different ways surveillance is used, not only to learn behaviors and habits of people, but as a means of creating a self through data or better understanding our connections and interactions online…read the entire review here
He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another. He had never thought of this before, the similarity between an electric animal and an andy. The electric animal, he pondered, could be considered a subform of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him.
~ Philip K. Dick, excerpt from his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Fortunately, as long as humans exist, there will always be a desire to know the other. Advances in the way we communicate and connect with one another is in large part due to interactive gaming and social networking applications. Last Friday, under the dim lights of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) subterranean level where the Future Canvas 2 exhibition of iPad art was on display and SpacEKraft supplied ambient participatory music; ZER01 presented Art/Technology: In Conversation – Future of Play II with game artist, Ken Eklund, and StreamJam Creator, Sibley Verbeck. The setting was apropos. Engaging the public and facilitating dialogue at the intersection of Arts and Technology is primary objective for both organizations.
Ken Eklund began the evening with a brief yet colorful PowerPoint presentation which informed the audience of his early interests leading to interactive game design. From 16 bit color video games to political science, Eklund’s well known game, World without Oil, demonstrated his desire to affect change in the world by having end users partner and collaborate on pressing issues. Although education within the the Arts and Technology realm is imperative, social networking within virtual spaces has become an increasingly popular mode for interaction. The human imagination has the freedom to create avatars and interface with friends from where ever they choose. With his work in computational research, founder of Electric Sheep Company, Sibley Verbeck displayed screenshots of virtual worlds created predominantly for commercial use to enhance the viewer’s experience with a particular product or immersion into a dramatic television series.
Varying rationales and intention for interactivity and participation helped make the discussion between Eklund and Verbeck dynamic. Two methodologies of using game design and virtual worlds as a place for social networking yet with differing purposes, brought philosophical ideas to the fore. While Eklund’s purpose lie in social change and education, Verbeck’s ultimate goal was to create worlds where people could socially interact based on a common interest such as music hence the creation of StreamJam. Another topic involved notions of the self. The filtration of a Virtual self vs. a Physical self and whether or not a convergence between the two is possible or whether a virtual self is an abstraction and representation of the physical self. Related to the aforementioned subject, the differentiation between an alternate reality as opposed to a virtual world was discussed. The alternate reality relies on the physical self to find aspects of the game embedded into a particular landscape, which may not be within a virtual environment while virtual reality is situated purely in a simulated environment.
As the speakers wrapped up the presentation and final points were delivered, the question regarding whether there is a distinction between an artist and technologist remained. New media arts is constantly re-defining and defying itself amidst the contemporary creative minds taking new technologies and innovative approaches to serve as a mode of conveyance inevitably bridging and providing various ways of communication in this ever changing and fast moving landscape.
Originally posted to ZER01, please click here to view.