Sunday, March 1, 2009

5 Trillion Words

I wrote this blog entry for my class this afternoon in response to the above video, and I thought it would be relavent here:

Last semester, I took a seminar class entitled “Networked_Art and the Transformative Creative Practice. This class looked at the convergence of art and networked technologies: where tech minds met creative minds to create work that used and commented on some of the most advanced technologies of today. One of the conclusions in the class was that the artists making these creative works were no longer artists by trade at all: these new mediums required skill sets that only computer engineers, scientists, and tech scholars could tap into. In this way, the line between “engineer” and “artist” became blurred, as did the line between art and computer programming, art and video gamming, art and practical communication technologies. In essence, we learned that we must “rethink the artist and her work in the digital age,” just as the “Information R/evolution” video urges us to “rethink information [in the digital age].”

In the same way creative work is no longer being created exclusively by professional artists, information on the web is no longer being written solely by professionals. Our latest homework assignment in this class, for example, was to watch a YouTube video uploaded by a user named “mwesch,” which I doubt went through the peer review process that traditional college-level readings go through. So sure, in this way we should be re-thinking information…but we should also be thinking harder about how to organize this information.

While studying the ontology of networked art in my seminar class, my professor tried to teach with the disjointed flow of information evident in most web-based works. The class followed no conceptual narrative, no cause and effect chronological account of the information being conveyed to us. Our teacher taught texts in webs and nodes rather than in a linear story- and this failed miserably. We left the class feeling as if there was something important being conveyed to us, but no one really knew what it was.

In some ways, teaching the class in this way was progressive. Perhaps that’s how all classes will be in the future as we all get used to learning and thinking in this way. And yet right now, we are still stuck in a hybrid learning model, a cognitive limbo in between networked thinking and traditional thinking in which the organization of data, while relying less on categories and “shelves,” is ever increasingly important. With over 5 million words on the web already and a limited mind capacity in which to decode it all, we cannot yet afford to cast off organizational structures as outdated functions somehow above the freedom of the Web.

The “Information R/evolution” video claims that the current “information revolution” is “without limitations,” yet I think that it is indeed limited- by our capacity and willingness, as humans, to decode and learn from it. Therefore, we need to learn how to sort through the information infrastructure and use its power efficiently, otherwise its sheer volume will overwhelm us and destroy itself.

However, the current “Web 2.0” technologies provide hope for this to happen by making the information both more searchable and more interactive. Users can now participate and upload their own information, causing us to pay a different kind of attention to it. In this way, we put the machine’s potential in all of us to contribute, collaborate, and collectively decode meaning. Therefore, I would emphasize the final message of the video: …the responsibility to harness, create, critique, organize, and understand is on all of us. Are we ready?”

So are we? Or, as Trebor Scholz warns, will a corporate-focused “Web 2.0” blind us from information our enlightenment?

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