The Networked Image

I first picked up on
Google’s Image Labeler
two days ago (via).
In a nutshell, Image Labeler addresses a semiotic problem: the indexing of
hundreds of thousands of images based on semantic assignments in the visual
field of each image. Indexing an image depends upon the assignment of
keywords that correspond to the objects represented. Google Image Labeler
makes this process into a game of peer review: in this two person game, a player
win points by registering a descriptor that also appears on the other person’s



links (succumbing,
that is, to the beckoning of a surprising curiosity), I briefly started to follow the life
of this conversation in computer science and art. Most intriguing in this
regard was the talk embedded below, a talk called “Human Computation” given by Luis von Ahn at Carnegie

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Kress – Literacy in the New Media Age (2003) II

In Literacy in the New Media Age, Gunther Kress settles into a gradual
progression from long-held presumptions about alphabetic literacy to an
increasingly hybridized and "multimodal" literacy based on the screen. The
screen’s proclivity for combining images and text has profound consequences,
Kress argues, for the temporal/sequential logics of letter, word and clause as
units of meaning. Kress contends that syntactic complexity is compromised
as the frenetic reading pathways of the screen condition readers and writers to
mixed-mode framings that, in turn, impact how they read and write.
Contrary to my expectations, Kress is none too sour on this trend; in fact, his
movement through dense sociolinguistic explanations of literacy, genre and
punctuation as framing are impressively nuanced. Yet, very little of the
first two-thirds of the book is explicit about the ways in which new writing
technologies are entangled in the shifts he describes, and in this sense, I find
Kress to be frustrating in how patiently he advances his back-analysis on
traditional alphabetic literacy (replicated in formal Western schooling)–while
the matter at hand–screens as a site of particular kinds of changed
writing activity–hovers as a given. This book is far more about
"Literacy" than about "the New Media Age;" it inches toward actual discussions
of interfaces, and finally, near the end of chapter eight, offers a screen-shot
of a web page with eleven (by Kress’s count) "entry-points" for reading.
Kress’s point with the screenshot: "’reading’ is now a distinctively different
activity to what it was in the era of the traditional page" (138).

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Kress – Literacy in the New Media Age (2003)

I’m just eight pages into Gunther Kress’ Literacy in the New Media Age.
I’ve read the chunk before the preface (what is this thing, a superpreface, an
antepreface, pre-preface?): "The Futures of Literacy: Modes, Logics and
Affordances." This much is clear: image and text function according to
distinctive logics. With text, word follows word. It’s sequentiality
involves a distinctive commitment, both for writers and readers, to paths
and naming. Text inheres time, whereas image inheres space, Kress tells
us. Image involves a kind of commitment to location, and while Kress hints at
the importance of perceptual paths for readers of images, that point doesn’t get
extended early on. Next, Kress discusses media and affordances; these few
lines are a sample of what he’s got going here:

1. Multimodality is made easy, usual, ‘natural,’ by these technologies. (5)
2. The new technologies have changed unidirectionality into bidirectionality.
(6) (i.e. with the email, you can send and receive)
3. Writing is becoming ‘assembling according to designs’ in ways which are
overt, and much more far-reaching, than they were previously. (6)
4. The affordances and the organisations of the screen are coming to (re)shape
the organisation of the page. (6)
5. It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the
visual in many or all of its uses. (7)

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I picked up this shot of a Chicago-area Target store on Tuesday (via


The initial write-up suggested that the big-box rooftop is advertising to the
satellites orbiting on high, but the subsequent note acknowledges that the
retail site is on O’Hare’s well-traveled landing (or take-off) path.
Whether it’s aimed at folks in the window seats of airplanes or other sorts of
eyes in the sky, the notion of discount retailers and other square-footage
gluttons decorating their roofs for over-passers is something out of the
(unless you count crop circles and Midwestern farmers cutting the hay-formations
to root for the local team). You’ll find a deeper collection of from-above shots
at Google Sightseeing.

Ever since my days as an insurance claims adjuster, I’ve had a slight
fascination with roofs, their ubiquity, their vital importance for the whatnots
protected by them. Okay, so "slight fascination" is an overstatement.
My first claim ever, however, as an apprentice adjuster ten years ago, involved
a tornado-lifted rolled rubber rooftop at a sugar warehouse in Bay City, Mich (rel.
to the Frankenmuth tornados in June of ’96). The disaster had sort of
created my job. In effect, the wind lifted the sealed roof, allowing the
shallow pool of water accumulated on the top-side of the rubber to drizzle into
the roof structure where it seeped along the steel beams and trickled steadily
over the entire warehouse contents. More than a million bucks worth of
rain afflicted sugar. It seems like there should be a point to this.
Maybe it’s that with logo-top roofs showing off to flight passengers and
satellite mapping services, the underconsidered roof structures become even more
complex. And so a claim for damages to the rooftop–beyond water seeping
onto pallets of sugar–would now include a loss of advertising claim. Or

Also, it brings me all the way around to a few of the sites we looked at in
GEO781 yesterday. I was especially impressed with the discussion of Dinkum
Sands, Alaska, a seasonal speck of gravel-ice. Is it land sufficient for
establishing coastal boundaries? I won’t go too far with this because it’s
part of the professor’s forthcoming book on coastal boundaries. But we
looked at the charts of the area from the 1960s (right?), using the
NOAA Historic
(search the charts for examples). We also looked at the
Memory archive at the Library of Congress
(choose maps;
MrSID viewing is enhanced with the
downloadable viewer) and the US radar loops
. For next week:
ABAG on seismic
and USGS GeoNames.

Manovich – The Language of New Media (2001)

Notes on Lev Manovich’s The
Language of New Media
(2001). In the prologue, Manovich gives us what he
calls a Vertov Dataset–full-passage selections from elsewhere in the book
matched up with frames from Vertov.   It’s a distinctive and memorable
way to open onto the project–self-sampling and re-associating, which emphasizes
(paradoxically?) the relational and modular qualities of new media objects, the
intertwined historical-theoretical trajectories of cinema and computing that now
constitute new media, the logics of selection, association and assemblage
driving new media, and the evolving lexicon of new media, from database, loops
and micronarratives to transcoding, [var]-montage and the tele-
It’s all in the Vertov Dataset, then explained more fully elsewhere. 

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Hansen – New Philosophy for New Media (2004)

The foreword by Tim Lenoir, "Haptic Vision: Computation, Media, and
Embodiment in Mark Hansen’s New Phenomenology," lays out groundwork on the "deterritorialization
of the human subject" in terms of digital media, detachment and problems of
reference.  Lenoir touches on Hayles’ account of post-humanism (also Bill
Joy’s "Why The Future
Doesn’t Need Us"
), Shannon & Weaver’s signal-based model of information, and
Donald McKay’s alternative communication model.  Overall, it’s more than a
worthwhile thumbnail of Hansen’s project in the context of other works only
semi-familiar to me: Kittler’s Gramophone, Deleuze’s Cinema 1 & 2:,
and Henri Bergson on the body as image:

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Eloquent Images II

Wysocki – "Seriously Visible," 37-59
First, hypertexts, in their affordances of choice, are inherently engaging, and
these engaging properties (engagementalities?) extend to civic and democratic
practices (freedom, liberty, etc.).  Second, predominantly visual documents
are unserious; they are the stuff of children’s books–lite, silly and
non-rigorous. Wysocki opens with these old feints, and offers "responsive
counterexamples" elaborated through analyses of
Scrutiny in the
Great Round
Throwing Apples
at the Sun
, two visualmedia pieces.  Before introducing the
counterexamples, Wysocki thickens the air with surveys of the critical tensions
invested in the opening positions.  To set up the idea of hypertext reader
as civic agent, she cites Lanham, Bolter, Edward Barrett (cognitive science),
Woodland, Nielsen, then extends to Mill, Habermas and Virilio to explain the
correlation between hypertext as choice and the dependence of public sphere on
divergent opinions.  Importantly, Wysocki includes a section in the essay
(40-41) to acknowledge the "quickness of [her] preceding arguments" before
imparting a second survey of positions suggesting that the visual is elementary,
again from Habermas and Virilio.  Included here are a series of scholars who
have called for renewed attention to the complexity and dimension of images
(42-43).  Before shifting into the analysis of the visualmedia pieces,
Wysocki explains,

The assumption behind the critique of the visual is that we take
in what we see, automatically and immediately, in the exact same way as everyone
else, so that the visual requires no interpretation and in fact functions as
though we have no power before it[…]; the assumption behind the celebrations
of hypertext is that any text that presents us with choice of movement through
it necessarily requires interpretation (43).

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Eloquent Images I

Bolter – "Critical Theory and the Challenge of New Media," 20-36
In this brief article, the first in Hocks and Kendrick’s Eloquent Images,
Jay Bolter begins with a historical overview of the image-word problem. 
He traces a larger outline of new media by propping up a series of artificial
dichotomies: visual-verbal, theory-practice, critique-production,
ideological-formal (34); the project of new media is to collapse these terms. 
Bolter explains that unlike film and television, which few cultural critics
conceived of as full-scale replacements for print, the web and its hyper-blended
forms of discourse introduce a different kind of contest between old and new media
forms. Yet it would be a mistake to view new media forms and print as strict
teleological trajectories, each edging out the other, competing for a mediative
lead.  This matters differently if you’re the CEO of a Weyerhaeuser, I
suppose, and maybe there’s something to the race track metaphor (one car to
each, one driver, one big-dollar sponsor) that admits or allows for the capital
backing of media forms.  That’s not really Bolter’s point here. He
explains, "It is not that there is some inadequacy in printed media forms that
digital forms can remedy: New digital media obviously have no claim to inherent
superiority" (24). 

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