Tag Archives: digital

Email and ipads in ancient Rome?

I spent a day with IT4Arts, the London City-based Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (a Guild) which provides free advice and training for non-for-profit Arts organisations such as the Screendance Journal, but also big established institutions such as, the Roundhouse, the Royal Albert Hall, Tate, and BBC etc.

A most fascinating talk was given by Tom Standage from The Economist, author of Writing on the Wall (2013). Applying current, social media vocabulary to the means of communication amongst the Romans and in the Middle Ages, he argued basically that they had networks of communication that functioned much like our social media, with messages and news that were sent from person to person, and with news that were trending across networks and others that faded away quickly.

According to Standage there are three phases of media development, with Really Old Media from 60BC through to 1833, Old Media until 2000, and New Media since then. The Really Old Media included paintings as a form of selfies, letters on papyrus delivered by slaves and copied to others as a sort of email equivalent, a whole system of messengers (tabelari) as broadband, and a culture of copying books and adding books to personal libraries as an equivalent to person to person distribution. An example of a social media savvy person as suggested by Standage is the Evangelist Paul, who wrote letters to key churches, such as his letter to the Colossians, knowing that they would be copied time and again until eventually every church would hold a copy and hear about his ideas. Strategic blogging and tweeting, in other words, is not exactly a new idea.

No doubt there were significant changes with the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press with movable types in around 1450, but the changes were gradual. Initially any printing was small scale and served mainly to amplify the person to person distribution. For example, when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest against the Pope’s selling off of indulgences – which supposedly saved people from going to purgatory and which Luther saw as a complete con – he discovered the power of printed distribution. His first theses were written in Latin, addressing the more learned people and thereby limiting the readership. Noting the considerable interest in his theses Luther then translated them into a form of German, and it took a mere two weeks for the theses to be distributed around the whole of Germany. (A little side effect was that this nationwide distribution established a common German language.) According to Standage, Luther’s thesis can count as an excellent example of peer-to-peer distribution.

As Standage proposed, later historical social media phenomena were, for example, the coffee houses of the 1600s, which acted as debating chambers and thrived on the buzz created by the newly imported coffee. The Tudors had a thing called the commonplace books, which were personal diaries of sorts and used for noting poems and ideas. The commonplace books were shown to friends for the purpose of sharing inspiration and for copying. Occasionally, Standage added, they were circulated amongst several authors as in the court of Anne Boleyn and served to speculate and to ‘gossip’ on who was whose lover etc.

Only in 1833, Standard argued, did the press achieve the kind of mass distribution we know today, which established a radically different, controlling, and top-down circulation of the news. While in Luther’s time small printers would print, for example, a 1000 copies and remunerate the author by handing him 100 of those, from the 1800s the press was owned by the very wealthy who impose their own version of the news, temporarily overriding social media circuits.

Standage concluded that the social networks of the Really Old Media had essentially allowed for the same kind of synchronisation of opinions we experience today with twitter, blogging and Facebook, and which underpin events like the Arab Spring. Hence, the ‘new social media’ must be considered as a revival of ancient horizontal distribution systems. Current social media have amplified the reach and speed of communication  through new technologies, but they are not a new phenomenon as such. The old coffee houses – hotbeds of ideas and centres of innovation – meanwhile morphed, over time, into new kinds of businesses like insurance brokers, and fuelled collaborations and scientific discoveries.

All of this reminds me that getting together, talking and sharing ideas is absolutely vital for any culture. That was precisely the situation at the beginning of the screendance venture, when Doug Rosenberg, Katrina McPherson and I secured the funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for an international Network in Screendance. The Network fund allowed us to gather a set of key people and to meet twice a year, either in the US or the UK, and to spend a few days together talking. Most crucially the Network fund had not required us to predetermine what exactly we were going to do together! Out of these intensive encounters then came the idea, that we needed a dedicated platform for the publication of debates in the field of Screendance, and that led, a mere six months later, to the launch of the Screendance Journal. It is a great shame that nowadays days most funding proposals require a fully formed plan of action and a whole set of outcomes before one has even started meeting. This disregards how ideas are formed, and how people become productive. Three cheers for the AHRC for keeping up the Network Grant.

For videos of the IT4Arts talks see Information Technologists

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Dance Hack #2

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This weekend The University of Brighton hosted a second Dance Hack. As last year’s Dance Hack #1 this was organised in partnership with Li   z Mischler from South East Dance and part of Brighton Digital. In difference to last year’s open approach we invited technologists and choreographers to submit seed ideas before hand and selected a few of those. We also invited students form the BA Performance and Visual Arts to join as observer-participants and formed a mixed group of 22 people. Given we had the large Sallis Benney Theatre at at disposal this was a good size group and gave enough space to play for the five clusters that formed in the course of the two days. We used the Friday afternoon to meet and great and to begin to brainstorm ideas and find common ground while the Saturday was used to work, play, explore and test visual, kinetic and technical possibilities. It was noticeable how highly skilled and knowledgeable everyone was, bringing bespoke interactive programmes and refined choreographic toolkits as well as being curious and generous. There was a lot of show and tell as well as new collaborations, and the Hack allowed for people to meet face to face who otherwise only know each other through the web. Even in the digital domain it seems useful to occasionally be in the same room.

It was interesting for me to catch up with this digital avant-garde and to realise how complex and subtle current interfaces and interactions are. Robin McNicolas from Marshmallow Laser Feast introduced us to faceshift for example, a face-mapping software which allows people control pretty much everything in a digital environment through facial muscles and head movements. Marshmallow Laser Feast’s collaboration with the Alexander Whitely Dance Company also premiered at the Old Market on Friday night and was a fine examples of a dialogue between bodies and light and playful choreographic spatial design. Alexander Whitley also joined the Dance Hack and explored looping and repetition of movement on screen to great effect. As technologies are becoming more responsive the dialogues between live bodies and their mediated and projected counterparts are becoming more interesting and complex; for example, a ‘simple’ gesture performed by Alexander became something else all together when repeated, multiplied and looped on screen – or at least the two elements play with our perception in a way that we read and associate very different things.

It also struck me how ‘real’ an experience of virtual space can be, particularly if our own movements are translated into the virtual space and technologies therefore make us believe that we have actually been ‘there’. Extraordinary that we cannot distinguish between mediated, virtual space and actual space, and that we form memories in similar ways. So yes, the potential of what all this can add to our experiences is huge.

Liz Mischler and I are curious to see what will come from these encounters and what else might sprout in the coming days and weeks. We will meanwhile go away and think where we go from here, and what a Dance Hack #3 might look like.

For a brief summery see live stream

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Report on 24hr Dance Hack

 

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If one has 24hrs it doesn’t matter if technology fails at some point, as there is plenty of time to fix it. With 24hrs there is  little pressure to ‘perform’, because there enough time for ideas to emerge and things to happen. There is also a chance to get to know the people who have come together, and one can begin a conversation, continue a few hrs later and resumer the next morning over a cup of coffee. There is even enough time to take a nap, and to come back and see where things are at.

It is not surprising that the the digital community has taken a linking to this sort of working; it is communal, fun, enterprising, supportive, and low pressure.

We started at 7pm on Saturday eve and by Sunday morning there were new hacks to explore, responsive systems that could be interacted with and tested through movement, to find the strange edges where it would kick in, or drop out. It was interesting to see that the hacks would initially encourage movement and lots of it, while over time the same hacks could also be explored as to their potential to slow down and to minimise activity. The different possibilities lead to  specific and precise dialogues between technology and body(ies).

This encounter between technologists and movers seems very timely, as otherwise how will we comprehend,  explore and advance was has already become an ubiquitous feature of the everyday, the interactive screens on which we are represented.  Highly recommended.

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24 Hour Dance Hack

I would like to draw your attention to this 24hour Dance Hack on the 21st/22nd September. The event is a collaboration between the University of Brighton and South East Dance, and  part of BRIGHTON DIGITAL. We will have a large theatre space for 24hrs to hang out, think, collaborate and explore . The event will be streamed live via youtube, so you can make and stream work, stand on your head or sit back and observe. We will provide food and drink and a few bits of technology. You can of course bring your own laptops, cameras and other such gadgets.

21st – 22nd September, 7pm to 7pm

University of Brighton, Faculty of Arts,

Grand Parade, Brighton BN2 0JY

Go to BRIGHTON DIGITAL for more info and to book a place.

Hope to see you there.

Claudia Kappenberg

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