Sensitive informatics

The French sociologist Antonio Casilli analyses the ubiquity of technologies in our everyday life. He postulates that our physical presence is reconfigured in its exchange with pervasive technological objects. Waves are everywhere. Even in the hat imagined by the artists Kurbak et O’Nascimento...
 

Endorse the ubiquity

 

In light of the current pervasiveness of computer technology, this dichotomy has become obsolete, unthinkable: the information space can no longer be conceived as an ethereal plan, transcendent in relation to our everyday lives. The paradigm of ubiquitous technologies forces us to think of our lives as the locus of socialization assisted by digital devices.  From the grids of irrigation canals of ancient times to the telephone cables embroidering the skies of 20th century cities, public spaces had traditionally been invested, designed by technology.

Today it is the waves of wireless terminals that weave a mesh through our habitats. And that provoke lively debate between those who want to use them for democratic purposes (as proposed by Felix and Jean Cattan Treguer in their recent plea for a "super WiFi distributed and free") and those who wish to disrupt them to counter widespread surveillance of the people (this is the approach of many contemporary activist groups).

Ubiquitous computer technology no longer oversteps everyday experience. It permeates our reality by saturating the concrete space of cities and houses, taking on the physical shapes of its users.  Mike Featherstone describes this media ontology by suggesting that “the media are becoming ubiquitous, they are becoming increasingly integrated into physical objects and environments, bodies and clothing, areas of transmission and reception. " (Ubiquitous Media: Introduction, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 24, no. 7-8, 2007, pp. 319-22 : 320).

«The information seeks to go through the body, meets with resistance, eventually fails and is content to follow the shape of the subject who - literally- wears it on its back
 
 
That is the central problem: how to take on the socio-technological process that we call ambient computer science? Artist Ebru Kurbak already tried to provide an answer to this question in 2009, with the project News Knitter: a software program searches daily data on the web, processes it and sends it to an industrial knitting machine in network, which in turn makes it into sweaters adorned with social graphs,  turtlenecks covered with tags, fabric woven with keywords.
 
An interface of transitional visualization, frozen in fabric but ready to change every day just as, precisely, we change clothes. The result of this artistic experience goes beyond the logic of research on wearable computers conducted by Steve Mann at the University of Toronto. The wearable computer is primarily a garment that is, in a McLuhan way, an extension of the skin, nerves and senses of its users. The logic is extensive. The ubiquitous information that is put on, instead, reflects an intention --or rather an in-tension: the information seeks to go through the body, meets with resistance, eventually fails and is content to follow the shape of the subject who - literally – wears it on its back.
 

Ruffle and unit

 

Bernard Stiegler defines the current social media as a "human techno-geographical environment" (cit. in Couze Venn et al. Technics, Media, Teleology: Interview with Bernard Stiegler, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 24, no. 7–8, 2007, pp. 334–41), a socio-technological process capable of converting the corporeality of the user into information. While Stiegler emphasizes the need to harmonize media, technical and material environments, in order to create new couplings of body, imagination and social customs, the collaborative work of Ebru Kurbak and Ricardo O'Nascimento tries to explore the very limits of this harmonization.
 
In their project Taiknam Hat (headgear with feathers bristles and rises when it detects traces of electrosmog such as those emitted by simple smartphones), information appears not as a signal, but as interference, as an obstacle, as an unexpected threat. An alarm, a reminder of the impossible arrangement of the human being in his technological environment. Reconciliation being impossible, reality surrenders to symbiosis, resigns itself to an uneasy mix.
 
Given this information, which annoys and exasperates its receptor, any reality is therefore a mixed reality -  the same way that in English, we would call a mixed blessing a situation that has its advantages and disadvantages. But this does not preclude the question of knowing which social and cultural mechanisms allow mutual introjection of information, communication and forms of human life. The distinctive feature of contemporary communicative systems is their ability to subsume and at the same time, project a unity of life.  Unity of social individuals disparate and connected, unity of tangible bodies and dematerialized information, unity of public and private spaces. Contradictory embodiment of what the digital ubiquitous is: it does not give up on physical presence, but reconfigures it in a dialectical exchange with technological objects.
 
 
Now commonplace, ubiquitous computer technology has nothing monumental about it.  As early as the mid-1980s, Bruce Sterling pointed it out: "The carefree technophilia these days belongs to a vanished past, asleep, in which authority still had a palpable degree of control. [...] The technology itself has changed. The giant marvels of the past, spewing smoke, no longer do it for us "(Preface to Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, New York, Ace Books, 1986, pp. 1-13: 7). A quarter century later, his words have lost none of their relevance. They demonstrate, on the contrary, the significance of the artistic experimentation of Ebru Kurback and Ricardo O'Nascimento, with an imaginary logos  that outstrips and precedes its own, always in training teckné.
 
 

Postscript : Goddess of the airwaves 

 

During our meeting in Paris, Ricardo O'Nascimento tied an orange ribbon on my wrist: "Three knots," he said, "and you can make a wish for each knot.”   This is a fragment of his project E​​-ANSA, but also a true Brazilian votive object. The fitinhas do Senhor do Bonfim are amulets from Salvador de Bahia. Ricardo reminded me that the ribbon should not be removed, but he challenged me: "You're not going to keep it. You're too inconsistent."  That was not taking into account my disproportionate fetishism. Fetishism in the primordial sense of feitiço, a taste for the artificial,  of which spoke Charles Brush in the 18th Century (Religion de l’Égypte avec la Religion actuelle de Nigritie, Paris, 1760) Grown today in the tradition of syncretic Brazilian Candomblé.

In Candomble, divine Christian entities mix with the orixas, gods inherited from the African Yoruba pantheon. If Ricardo calls me inconsistent, it’s because I often take the air of a devotee of Exu, the god of communication. While Ricardo, meanwhile, has dedicated E-ansâ to Iansan Oya, goddess of electromagnetic waves and storms. Our tutelary genies cannot be more different:  god of the message transfer, Exu also rules over misunderstanding and conflict; as for Oya, she is associated with motherhood, nutrition, transformation.

But what the two have in common is to watch over movement in space. Exu travels over land, across the far reaches of the territory. Oya sails the waterways and outlines the maritime routes. Contemporary technological culture can only be thought of in relation to her space. Navigate. Surfer. Channel. Networks. Explorer. Electronic frontier. Address. Traffic. Hosting. Home. The metaphors for this space, at once open and closed, intimate and public, display what is inherently contradictory. Words  used to think of this are organized around the symbolized polarities, for the point of the argument, of these two Brazilian deities. The god of communication and the goddess of the airwaves. The undetermined content of information and the volatile infrastructure that manages it. The message on the one hand,  the medium on the other - and our entire present, which hovers between the two.

 

ANTONIO CASILLI