[iDC] scattered resonances, re: Electrosmog and Mobility Shifts

Eric Kluitenberg epk at xs4all.nl
Mon Aug 1 15:38:51 UTC 2011

Hi John, all,

Thank you for these highly articulate responses and further questions.

The critiques are welcome as the whole point was to open these experiences we had up to further / broader discussion.

Some feedback below:

On Jul 31, 2011, at 17:58, john sobol wrote:
> On 28-Jul-11, at 10:08 AM, Eric Kluitenberg wrote:
>> The question is, is this a matter of social convention, of audiences not being used yet to the idea of a remote interaction as meaningful and significant, or is there another process going on underneath the exchange that only blossoms in physical, embodied exchange.
> Great question, Eric. So is this:
>> Is the idea of embodied exchange itself phantasmatic or is the suggestion of electronic mediation leading to physical encounter the phantasmatic?
>> (this is not rhetorical, I honestly don't have the answer to this question)
> My answer to the first is that yes, absolutely there are other processes that only blossom in physical embodied exchange. Long-time list members will know that I believe that those working in the digital realm have a great deal to learn from the oral realm. Because both oral and literate technologies are dialogical, as opposed to literacy, which is monological. But the dynamics of oral performance are often ignored by individuals developing new digital models, who impose literate values and thinking on their digital initiatives. I'd say that is what happened with your talk show, Eric, which was a very cool experiment but one that appears to be deeply indebted to monological communication. For example, the simple act of having everyone in the room stand around watching the radio show on a big screen in silence (as I saw in your archival videos) without any horizontal interaction that would actually allow that blossoming of embodied exchange, is already a major indicator that oral imperatives are not being respected. And I understand that there must have been discussions afterwards and whatnot, but generally the show's structure seemed to me to frame dialogue within monological contexts.

Not entirely, the Cool Media Hot Talk show allowed people to respond continuously to everything that as going on or was said, but in the first and second part of the show only by electronic means (that get a bits lost in the archive) - so people could respond via a live web interface while the show was going on, and also respond to each other's responses, and collectively rate them - the latter was very popular, you would see comments (displayed on-line and on separate screen in the theatre and in the web interface) go up and down in the list of highest rated comments all the time.

In the theatre space itself people could react via sms (also at home but the web interface was much easier to handle), and we also put up a terminal in the theatre space so people could use the web-interface, or people could follow on-line in the theatre space (!) via wifi on their laptop (we also provided electrical power points at tables in the space for laptops) - so this show had the motto 'please keep your phones and laptops switched on!'

The idea was to create a level playing field for on-line and on-site audiences, all reacting by the same means. Furthermore the media-tools also made it easier for people to react who generally do not feel comfortable in a public discussion to raise their hands and voice - we often see the same people reacting from the floor in public debates, while silent audience members might often have more interesting things to add...

 Only in the last part of the show was dialogue in the space encouraged and of course people could still react on-line.

This just to clarify the set-up.

> The disintermediation of the host is another example of this. In my experience a live improvising host is essential to the success of any group event in the physical, embodied world. I wonder why you made this choice? What did it add? What did it take away?

This was a central point of the CMHT show  - we actually reintroduced the host fully in the ElectroSmog festival. The idea of eliminating the host / moderator was to allow the audience to collaboratively filter proposals and comments via the on-line discussion tools and the voting process. Discussions could also be held on each proposal or comment separately in the run up to the upcoming show.

It allowed the outcome of a collective process to determine what would actually happen in the theatre space of one of the main public cultural organisations in The Netherlands, eliminating not just the host of the evening but also the role of the 'curator'. If people were smart and motivated they could mobilise their friends or supporters to get their proposal on top and determine the entire show, which happened in one case where a show was created that I would never ever have made myself nor anybody else in our team, but which was actively supported by the 'constituency' of the artist who created the initial proposal.

Our team then helped them to produce the show, including a multimedia performance in the middle. It was a crazy combination of net.art and new age reveries on a spiritual journey of the more radically psychedelic type... We were all amazed at what came out in the end there.  

Most shows, however, remained more conventional on the "art and media" theme of the whole series

What was taken away was a set of reassuring conventions - there was no one to welcome the audience physically, just the computer voice. Also the the proceedings were somewhat static because the computer simply followed a script and relayed audience responses accordingly, including live comments during the show. the highest ranked of which would be selected and put to the speakers by the computer.

One thing the computer was very good at was keeping people to their time - the robot's red light on her head would start to blink when time ran out, and then with an alarm and a boing the end of speaking time was imposed, after which a disempassioned voice would say "thank you - next question" - ruthless, that was great! 

> To the second question I would reply that this remains in many respects an open question but that we do know some things already. For example, we know with certainty that electronic mediation can lead to physical encounters, and that it does, all the time. My niece learned this the hard way after her houseparty went viral on Twitter and hundreds of people showed up. And of course there are countless other examples. So I don't think there is really any question about this. If you are referring to real-time remote embodiedness (teledildonic type stuff, for example) then that to my mind is a different - and much less important - question. Because while that may - and probably will - come to pass in the coming years (10? 20?), it is in fact the interweaving of local oral and remote digital dialogues that has the greatest potential to transform any social situation or environment. So I believe that in general the optimal use of digital networks should be to create feedback loops beween oral and digital narratives and experiences that facilitate relationships by straddling both realms authentically, resulting in sweaty local collaborations with a global reach, rather than seeking to unite these two very different technologies in some kind of AI phantasy. (Not that you were suggesting this.)

I would very much agree with you here. Our experience has been that the use of communication technologies to create these translocal connections does not lead to less physical mobility, but instead to more because it stimulates the desire for physical encounter, a desire to create exactly the feedback loops between the oral and the digital, between the embodied and the mediated.

Our main purpose in the ElectroSmog project was, however, defeated by exactly this conclusion / outcome. Of course we never thought that mediated encounter could entirely replace all aspects of embodied encounter, that would be too naive. But we did think that it should be possible to create a situation where the mediated set up of the festival would introduce so many new possibilities that are not available in a strictly local / embodied setting that this would compensate for qualities lost in the remote connection, and thus would create a sufficiently meaningful experience in its own right. Not just for purpose driven collaborations (like workshops), but also for public gatherings and events of the festival-type. So rather than trying to simulate the traditional thing we hoped to be able to find a new format that would satisfy the demands of a festival audience. 

This didn't work out, and I still think it was not just because our set-up was wrong or not sophisticated enough, but because something inalienable about embodied encounter was lost, the identification process of being in the same space, the desire for belonging, and establishing dialogical relationships as you indicate (even if this also does not always happen in embodied public settings).
> It sounds like you have undertaken a series of very ambitious projects, Eric. If I am offering critiques it is only because you asked for them...

The projects were deliberately radical to test boundaries, and I'm also deliberately opening them up to critical discussion because I think that the 'tele-presence ideology' as I now call it, is deeply problematic - this field needs a hard reboot.


> Regards,
> John Sobol

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