Tag Archives: new media

Telepresence/Teleabsence

brbxoxo

From brbxoxo, empty webcam rooms.

Virtual reality, while often presented as a fully-immersive goggles-and-gloves experience, actually falls along a spectrum. Obviously there are the Neuromancer-esque full simulations that are not currently achievable on one end of the spectrum, and Rudy Rucker’s “where you are when you’re talking on the phone” which Pat Gunkel calls “telepresence.” When you are on the phone you are not entirely in the room you are standing in–some part of you is with the person you are talking to. You are in-between.

I find the telepresence end of the spectrum much more relatable–I even find it a handy metaphor for archaeological practice. Where are you when you are “doing” archaeology? I’d argue (contra Michael Shanks and folks who think that it’s all modern performance) that you are telepresent–not entirely in the present day, but not wholly in the past. In-between, an interstitial space.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now, a parallel between virtual reality and experiencing the past (or, actually, any kind of deep research) as entering an interstitial space. More recently I’ve been thinking about teleabsence. When you are virtually there, but not really there. Let me explain.

Brbxoxo is a website that shows webcam feeds of empty rooms. Rooms that usually have a performer (these are often sex cams) but, for one reason or another, are not currently occupied. Live, but absent.

Another example is live chat with Facebook and Skype. If you have either installed as an app on your iPhone, you appear to always be online. I have gotten untold grief for “ignoring” people because I appear to be present, when I am actually absent.

Or, if you are particularly social-media-savvy, you can be present-absent; if you use Hootsweet or another post scheduler, it can appear that you are posting live to WordPress, Twitter and Facebook, when it is really automated. But do you schedule a post to go live during your official working hours, when it might be misinterpreted as inattention to your official duties?

I wonder, as the absent/present divide becomes increasingly ambiguous online, if it will change the value of present-presence: being in-person, offline, and entirely with the person that you are with. Or will cellphones just become completely integrated as an extension of self?

Emancipatory Digital Archaeology on Academia.edu

It finally occurred to me to post my thesis on Academia.edu. Proquest seems to be taking their sweet time to index it. Here’s the abstract and download link:

As archaeologists integrate digital media into all stages of archaeological methodology, it is necessary to understand the implications of using this media to interpret the past. Using digital media is not a neutral or transparent act; to critically engage with digital media it is necessary to create an interdisciplinary space, drawing from the growing body of new media and visual studies, materiality, and anthropological and archaeological theory. This dissertation describes this interdisciplinary space in detail and investigates the following questions: what does it mean to employ digital media in the context of archaeology, how do digital technologies shape inquiry within archaeology, can new media theory change interpretation in archaeology, and can digital media serve as a mechanism for an emancipatory archaeology? To attend to these questions I address digital media created by archaeologists as digital archaeological artifacts, understood as active members of a network of interpretation in archaeology. To give structure to this understanding I assemble three object biographies that identify the digital archaeological artifact’s context, the authorship of the artifact, the inclusion of multiple perspectives involved in its creation, and evaluate the openness or ability to share the artifact. The three object biographies that constitute the body of this work are a digital photograph taken of a teapot at Tall Dhiban in Jordan, a digital video of an unexpected excavator participating at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, and a 3D reconstruction of a Neolithic building excavated at Çatalhöyük within the virtual world of Second Life. In these object biographies I weave together narrative, imagery and rigorous, theoretically informed analyses to provide a reflexive investigation of digital archaeological artifacts. Drawing from this research, I advocate a critical making movement in archaeology that will enable archaeologists to use digital media in an activist, emancipatory role to highlight inequity, bring the voices of stakeholders into relief, de-center interpretations, and to make things and share them.

And here’s the link on Academia.edu:
http://www.academia.edu/2997156/Emancipatory_Digital_Archaeology

Archaeology and the Panopticon

Image

(a dissertation snip)

Working on archaeological projects is often like living in a fishbowl, and this was especially true at Çatalhöyük (Ashley 2004). When we were not being watched by the daily site visitors, there would be specialists or guards, and sometimes artists or anthropologists would wander through. This feeling of being watched was especially true when videographers or people recording sound would come on site without warning. It was disconcerting to look up and realize that you were being filmed—what was I saying? Chadwick and his colleagues “found the cameras at Çatalhöyük intrusive” (2003:103). The availability of inexpensive video tape allowed a more casual use of filming around the site, and the zoom lenses and directional microphones allowed videographers a false proximity to excavators who may or may not be aware that their actions and conversation were being captured and subsequently used without their knowledge or permission. As previously mentioned in Chapter Three, after conducting a video interview with Roddy Regan, one of the long-time archaeologists at Çatalhöyük, he gave me a direct look and said, “I’ve filmed hundreds of these things but I’ve never ever seen any of the results.”

Surveillance is deeply implicated in the lineage of new media. Lev Manovich traces the history of the computer screen from photography, through radar, and then the development of tracking software by the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) command center that controlled U.S. air defenses in the mid-1950s (2001). With nearly instantaneous online publication available for videos, there is the potential for embarrassing or inappropriate content to become widespread before the subject of the film can take control of the content. This behavior is relatively innocuous compared to the notorious, ubiquitous tracking of social media companies who use and sell data about your interests and your interactions with your friends (boyd 2011). Yet there are “discriminatory social implications of panopticonism” that reveal the differential social status of those under scrutiny and those who hold the cameras (Elmer 2003:232). While this has abated somewhat in light of the growing availability of video cameras, there still remains a certain wariness of archaeologists toward filmmakers.

Film is not the only means to surveil the members of excavations; mandatory site diaries or “blogs” can be framed as a reflexive measure yet without reciprocity throughout the team and an explicit assurance that they will not be used against the individuals who express their opinions, the blogs quickly become dry accounts of stratigraphy. To remedy feelings of surveillance while taking photographs and videos on site there should be a relationship of trust, that the filmmaker would not abuse the trust of the subject by videotaping while the subject was unaware of the person, nor would they publish any media without the permission of the subject. I discuss the issues of assent and Human Subjects Review in regard to video later this chapter, yet it is relevant to note that feelings of surveillance can be mitigated by the position of the filmmaker within the team. If the person is another archaeologist or a long-trusted site media expert, there is an intimacy and trust present in the media that is completely absent in media made by outsiders (see Chapter Three for discussion of this phenomenon in photography).

Blogging Archaeology – Week 3

The Ides of March edition of Blogging Archaeology is finally here, coming to you from the inside of a sand-tornado. First, a few stragglers from week one:

Alun Salt broadens the question to include other disciplines, linking to several interesting blog posts from our colleagues in Botany and the History of Science. He emphasizes that the comments that we can receive with blogging are similar to feedback at conferences, that is, short and to the point. Though in my experience most conferences don’t leave time for this Q&A–the papers run too long and most people just want to be out of there, sadly.

Bill Caraher, who has written one of the earliest and best pieces about blogging in archaeology, states that blogging is a tool, “neither specifically short-form or long-form, and is probably at the ragged edge of being anything at all except a piece of software running on a server and accessible via the web.” (I would take up the point that many former zine writers, myself included, turned to blogging as an easier-than-kinkos way to extend their genre and distribute an “alternative” voice, perhaps a point I should elaborate on in another post.) I especially appreciate his comparison to former “academic correspondence” or notes–Dan and I have discussed publication of sites as a series of letters, much in the way that Rosemary Joyce explored this genre in The Languages of Archaeology.

The second question, in short, the consequences of blogging, brought in a huge response again. In asking this I was hoping to start a conversation about sharing and the still-secret arcane archaeological knowledge that we must still keep to ourselves in the digital age.

We’ll start with John Lowe, our resident CRM archaeologist at Where in the hell am I? who manages the difficult balancing act between acting in the interest of the public and working in the professional sphere. The clearest consequence of blogging for him is “having the food taken out of my mouth.” He also has to confront artifact looters who could use the information that he posts to raid sensitive archaeological sites. Fortunately he uses this engagement as an “educational opportunity” and “a chance to create a steward.”

Shawn at The Electric Archaeologist provides some excellent insights about the positive feedback loop that blogging creates, and how this can change the blog (and the blog writer). He also mentions blogging as a way to document failure, something I hadn’t thought much about. I’m about to write a report on negative findings, so I should keep it in mind.

Mick Morrison and Terry Brock have similar responses, urging academics early in their careers to maintain an air of professionalism. Terry Brock extends this argument, reminding us that we “represent something bigger than yourself” as we speak for our universities, professional organizations, and various archaeological projects. I should probably re-read these posts next time I feel like grumbling about line-levels or when a publication goes awry. I worry a bit about blogs losing personality or interest though. There’s a big trend toward “research blogging,” or blogging journal papers that you’ve read and while I’ve done some of that myself, I like to hear about what people are researching themselves, and all of the quirks that go along with that process. Pure research or news blogs without a personality attached is, well, boring. Not that either of the blogs I’ve linked go down that road, thankfully.

Michael Smith acknowledges these risks, even stating that he won’t discuss impacts of blogging regarding “agencies and governments that are responsible for funding and overseeing archaeological research.” There is another side of risk though, that of disappointment from lack of interest or readership. His new blog on comparative urbanism looks fascinating though–I don’t think he’ll be let down. When I get two seconds I look forward to reading his take on Black Rock City. See you on the Playa, Michael?

I was chuffed that Johan Normark at Archaeological Haecceities, whom I specifically referenced in the second week’s question, elaborated on his ongoing conversation with 2012 folks. While 2012 has brought a lot of traffic to his blog (moreso, he states, than discussions of archaeological theory) Johan has had to develop a certain finesse in dealing with particular branch of public outreach. People passionately believe in the 2012 misinformation and they “get upset about the way I (Johan) debunk these ideas. They feel that I am patronizing, that I think I am better than them, that I am fooled by academia itself.” He also mentions getting abusive comments and emails from an astrologer. I think we all owe Johan a beer for taking on this monster of a task–I could not have done it so tactfully, that’s for sure. Johan also elaborates on his posts regarding archaeological theory and how there are very few responses from his fellow Mayanists or archaeologists in general. It’d be interesting to start an archaeological theory blogging discussion group–I’d try to write a post or two and comment.

Matthew Law and Brenna at Passim in Passing delve into some of the specifics of research that are unbloggable. Similar to John’s experience of working in CRM in the US, Matt states “I may be an archaeologist who believes passionately in public access to heritage, but I’m also a paid professional representative of the developer and while fieldwork is ongoing, that has to win out.” Matt also mentions a British archaeologist who was fired for tweeting about low pay, even though she didn’t mention her employer’s name. Brenna’s research is in bioarchaeology, so she has a very specific list of things that she cannot divulge, such as no photos of bones later in age than 1550 and no “video, photos, or recording of ‘behind the scenes’ mystery areas where analysis takes place.” Bioarchaeology is a particular minefield for public access and social media right now–this would probably be an interesting publication if one was so inclined.

Ryan Anderson at Ethnografix (whom I owe a way overdue email) approaches the question from a visual standpoint, “specifically posting photographs that potentially reveal sensitive information.” While Ryan is studying cultural anthropology, he worked on various CRM projects and relates his experience as a photographer and archaeologist in the field. While he had his camera and took photos, he “didn’t post all that much online, for some very specific reasons.” This is a particular issue in archaeology, and he tried to avoid landmarks in his photographs, posting generalized landscape shots. I see this a lot–either very large overviews, or very tight-in shots without context. Interesting that a profession so very obsessed with context will willfully annihilate that context in their documentation. I’ve spent the better part of a week looking for a site that was intentionally mis-marked on a map, but that’s a story for an upcoming post.

Sara Perry reminds us that all media is a risky endeavor, and that by focusing on blogs alone she is “concerned that we are all-too-conveniently avoiding discussion of the limitations and indeed prejudices of other modes of publication.” Publication in archaeology writ large is an incredibly fertile and interesting topic (see Michael Smith, for starters) and I would love the opportunity to push the boundaries and question our assumptions in practice. Blogging is proving to be such an expansive territory to explore–we might have to stick to the short form for now and use it to subvert other publishing paradigms.

Catherine at Dig Girl highlights the transparency that blogs lend, and how this can be scary for researchers. Many, she says, “are scared to be ‘called out’ on poor research plans or methodology.” This, as she states, undermines our ability to be reflexive and “it needs to be acceptable within the field to point out the shortcomings in our approaches.” I can’t agree more, and consider the taboo surrounding the discussion of field methodology to be frustrating and disheartening. I would also agree with her characterizing the short form (blog writing) as “an outlet for thought processes and emotional reactions” and while publishing on a blog certainly has a certain form of permanence (see the MSU response), you can change your mind on the blog and restate your argument or opinions, unlike academic publishing. If the reader chooses to only pay attention to your earlier beliefs without following up on the often hyperlinked revisions, it is their failure in understanding, not your failure to communicate. Her final point, the illusion of dialog in blogging, will be addressed in this week’s question below!

Bill Caraher at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World finishes us off here, sharing his manual for student contributions at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project–excellent guidelines to follow for most archaeology project blogging. I wrote something less elaborate but similar for Dhiban in 2009, but a lot of the considerations are specific to the politics of antiquities in Jordan. Bill makes the excellent note that “if an archaeological projet does not blog or maintain a presence in the digital world, that project is basically ceding a significant aspect of their public face to other people.” In fact, it’s so excellent I’m gonna put it in bold. Be the loudest voice in the room. Tell people about your findings before they use them to misrepresent the past. It’s pretty simple, really.

Finally, the gang at MSU sum it up for us, urging to “wield their (bloggers’) public power for the greater good” (Katy Meyers). I was happy to hear from Chris Stawski that the Campus Archaeology program protects their bloggers and provides the “wonderful, albeit unique, situation in which we can share details about our research and excavations to the public; so unique that we can use blogging and social media to show in real-time where we are, what we are digging, and what we are finding.” It’d be nice if all digs were like that–radical transparency would be a bit scary, but refreshing. Lynne Goldstein backs up Terry’s response, reinforcing the institutional link to project blogging and the importance of representing the complexities of any potentially problematic situation. She also goes on to restate an ongoing theme–a candidate up for a job at MSU had “posts and photos that our faculty member found offensive and potentially unethical” and the candidate was eliminated from the job pool. This is obviously scary as hell, but I really hope that it does not encourage greater anonymity in blogging. This is exactly what the academic blogging world does not need. Kristin Sewell lays out ten rules of blogging–I agree with much of them, but part of me hopes that we’re not becoming blogging robots, thinking only of our careers and not speaking truth to power. As always, I suppose it all depends on what your goals are. Grace Krause makes the point that a good blog marries scholarly information with an attractive, engaging presentation. Specifically, “a blog that encourages creative thinking instead of endless facts and dominant opinions will be far more likely to reach a greater audience.”

I’m happy to end on this note, as this post has become tl;dr.  Thanks again for all of the outstanding responses, and I apologize that this is a bit late. Also, I apologize if I’ve left anyone out–if so, please email me the link to your post.

Catherine’s response at Dig Girl has provided this week’s question. She writes, “A final downside to the short form is the appearance of dialog. Noting this virtual round table and other blogs (like MS) as exceptions, most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward?” I would add to this, how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?

Meta-Bloggery – Masthead, Collections, Best-of

I’ve made a couple of changes around the blog, the first being the new masthead. I was a little iffy on it, and the DD’s have been the subject of some critique, but ultimately I’m happy with it. And it’s all open source/creative commons fonts! Everything except the “V” is Blackout from the League of Moveable Type. The “V” is from the Skullphabet type set from the Skull a Day Project. I had to fix the kerning a bit, but it wasn’t a big deal in Illustrator.

I created two new pages:

Collections - I have been amassing some kinds of archaeological photos and ephemera in a somewhat lackadaisical fashion with the help of some of my friends. I thought I’d be a bit more organized about it and share the collections as I have time. They’re a little miscellaneous, but what do you want?

Greatest Hits – I have a “Top Posts” widget, but it’s a little bit random and changeable. I picked some posts that have proved to be popular by getting linked a lot, and some that I felt were examples that best showed what the blog was all about. I should get together a sub-genres collection of my series of “Poetry and Prose that remind me of Archaeology” and my photo comics, but that will be another Sunday’s work.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

Video Game Cartography and the Magic Circle

CIV2

In partial fulfillment of my designated emphasis in New Media, I’m taking a class this semester with Ozge Samanci, the author/cartoonist of ordinary things, a web comic. I am really busy with dissertation and whatnot, but I always enjoy taking classes in the New Media department as they are truly interdisciplinary–I’ve met fascinating grad students from the School of Information, Rhetoric, and Religious Studies and they give me unique perspectives on the work I do.

So one of the students in the class is writing his thesis on Narratology and classic Japanese video games, the kind that I played years ago, like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden, and Final Fantasy Tactics. I also played Civilization II, which is where the above image came from–it’s one of the only examples I could find!

Anyway, during the course of discussion regarding Seymour Chatman’s structuralist literary theory I realized that I visualize exploring space in a way very closely relating to those early video games.  When I go to a new city or go out on survey, I think of myself as clearing a path through darkness, “mapping” the features of the landscape, illuminating them in my mind. I always have the urge to clear out all of the dark space, to explore every centimeter until it is all visible, in relief, in my mental map of the space. This is probably not deeply unique, but I find it pretty funny that these early video games gave me such a rigid mental metaphor for experiencing place. As Sybille Lammes says in her excellent Cultural Functions of Spatial Practices in Video Games, “in Latourian terms, one could state that the game space consists of landscapes as hybrids of objective and subjective spatial (re)presentations.” I’ve blogged about augmented reality before, without realizing that I already experience space in a oddly cyborgian way.

Lammes also describes the ludological term, “the magic circle,” a “membrane that encloses virtual worlds,” which Lammes states is “more about games as space than about space in games” but that it still has “major consequences for the way spatiality can be understood in games.” I’ve somehow permeated the magic circle and brought a visualization metaphor out into the real life to overlay my experience of the world.

Hmph. Maybe I should carry a sword.

Monday Miscellany

Organizing my citations (and my thoughts!) for my dissertation has been consuming most of my time, but I wanted to give a brief Tumblr-like set of links to things that have come my way lately.

John has a great post about Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, aka the George C Davis site, which was the second field project that I worked on! I must have blogged about it back in my nascent blogging days–I will have been blogging archaeology for eight years this summer, though most of those early posts are lost to the ages.  I can’t say that I’m altogether displeased about this.

Finally, I wanted to wait to post this until all the grading was done, but I’m pretty proud of the students in the Archaeology and the Media class this past Fall.  A group of the students made this video, The Stolen Key, after I told them about the old key route streetcars that used to service the East Bay.

One of the other students in class was hired by Youtube right after graduation. Who says that we don’t teach useful skills?

Finally, Sara Perry (who has an excellent new post about the Visual Ethics of Archaeology over at her blog) pointed out that the IVSA cites an email I wrote to the mailing list last June about the ethics of digital documentation in their new code of Research Ethics and Guidelines…the funny thing is, nobody responded to my email on the mailing list! It’s a little odd to get a journal article response to a mailing list query.

Tumblr in the Classroom

I mentioned at the beginning of the semester that we were tumblr blogging our classes, the Serious Gaming seminar, 39B and Archaeology and the Media: Film, 136i.  Tumblr is a simplified, speed-blogging service that provides a place to “tumble” your thoughts. I appreciate it as a sort of visual short-hand while I’m doing research–I tend to tumble what I’m reading about or thinking about, select quotes and photographs. It makes a nice, general record of your research trajectory.  I like that it is an explicit acknowledgement of the marginalia created during the construction of knowledge. Anyway, so we decided to try it out for our classes, with mixed results.

http://136i.tumblr.com

It was great for 136i. The Archaeology and the Media classes tend to be structured discussion sessions, where a lot of examples of movies, television, online video, and other forms of media come up in class. The tumblr blog was a way to track class discussion in a non-intrusive way. It helped that there were two of us–me and Ruth–so one of us could take over while the other typed. If I held the seminar by myself, I might arrange for round-robin of responsibility among the students for tumbling class discussions. Though I have a hard time on occasion with the “multi-tasking” that goes on during class.  Having folks referencing online sources and their own previously typed notes can be handy, but I’ve had to ask for “laptops down” many times this semester.

In any case, I found Tumblr to be not only a great “rapid-repository” for references during class, but also appended clips from movies discussed in the readings for students to reference before class. Most of the students had never seen such movies as Double Indemnity and Stagecoach.  I was also able to provide a small collection of important links to address issues such as copyright, and finding creative commons-licensed music for their movies. I even threw in a few “fun” links to archaeology videos that circulate among academics, but aren’t often seen by students.

http://39b.tumblr.com/

The Serious Games and Virtual Worlds for Archaeology Tumblr blog didn’t fare quite as well. Perhaps it was because so much of the class was oriented toward trying to manage awkward CAD systems in Second Life, or that the readings were primarily about Catalhoyuk or other history games. The students also were not quite as engaged, and did not offer as many examples from their own experience for us to reference on the blog. This class was also completely new, and we had to wrangle material about a subject that is not a fully formed field of inquiry quite yet.

In any case, I could recommend using tumblr for both smaller seminar settings, and for larger classes when there is a TA available to follow the discussion with links to examples and salient points.  We are not quite to full immersion–live blogging a lecture so that a powerpoint isn’t necessary, but we’re getting closer. I’m guessing that in the next decade we’ll have it being done for us–word clouds, reference images, and networks of meaning appearing behind us as we lecture.  That might actually get the attention of the students…for a second or two.

Basket Weaving at Çatalhöyük

I uploaded the above test clip for the longer machinima that I posted about a little while ago.  It took an immense amount of work to get this far, and this is only a tiny clip of a somewhat awkward avatar doing a single animation.  I used Jing for the video capture and downloaded Soundflower for the system audio redirect.

I think I’ve complained before about having a hard time finding a variety of avatars on Second Life.  Well, this lady is definitely in a different  mode than my usual avatar.  “Wearing” an identity like this one is deeply uncanny, and the reactions and perceptions of other people you meet in Second Life are absolutely different.  I decided to follow a fairly popular strain of visual interpretation at Çatalhöyük in dressing her as a goddess figurine in the bandeau that I made for a decidedly younger character.

Once again, the exercise of recreating this small scene raised more questions than it answered:

She’s weaving reeds, so it must be summer.  Were there cicadas?  Yes.  Why would she be doing this inside by firelight during the summer?  It would be excruciatingly hot and smoky.  What about her vision?  I’ve put her in a less than optimal situation for weaving, that’s for sure.   Why isn’t there anyone with her?  Could she hear other people?  Maybe sheep! We’ll add some sheep sounds. I think she’d be humming to herself.  But what sounds?

It’s a lot of interpretive responsibility, wearing these second skins.

The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

By Deeveepix on Flickr

By Deeveepix on Flickr

It’s here!  I’m getting ready to go to Austin, TX to speak on a panel at South by Southwest, an annual music conference that has grown to include film and interactive media.  When I lived in Austin I would go check out hundreds of bands that were playing all over town, but this will be my first time to attend the interactive conference.  This is the first panel dealing with digital archaeology to appear at the conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it.  If you happen to be going to the conference, the panel is on Monday, March 16th, at 11:30 in Room B.
Title: The Real Technology of Indiana Jones

Organizer:
Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin
Panelists:
Stuart Eve (University College London), Bernard Frischer (Rome Reborn), Colleen Morgan (University of California at Berkeley), Adam Rabinowitz, moderator (University of Texas)
Description:
Archaeologists no longer rely on whips and fedoras; they now use a range of sophisticated digital tools to collect information in the field and study it in the lab. Too often, though, this wealth of information meets the same fate as Indy’s discoveries, locked away in digital ‘warehouses’ where no one can see it. The archaeologists on this panel present different projects that use web platforms and open-source approaches to bring digital archaeology out of the warehouse and into the public eye. Learn how archaeologists are using interactive media to open their data and processes to the public; discuss the creation of an online archaeological community in Second Life; and explore ancient cities across space and time using publicly-available online tools.

//sxsw.com)