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Digital Spaces

Digital Spaces

Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 5:30PM   |  2 comments

Blog written by Dale Hudson is an assistant professor at Texas State University–San Marcos. His work on global cinemas and new media appears in Afterimage, Cinema Journal, Journal of Film and Video, Screen, and Studies in Documentary Film. He has been a co-curator of new media art for FLEFF since 2006.


The more waiting lounges that broadcast the CNN Airport Network, the less news seems to travels, particularly on September 11th. The static of U.S. patriotic affirmations can effectively generate a ‘media blackout’ on the day’s events.

Despite the cable network’s statistical claims in its press kit, I did not feel better informed about what was happening in the world, nor did I feel that its special news broadcast enhanced the airport environment. As CNN blasted on the LCD flat-panel display screens that surrounded me, I quickly realized it was not a day to get stuck in an airport without access to a 3G network.

I was waiting in the baggage claim area at Newark’s Liberty Airport for a phone call from my future mother-in-law, who’d graciously come to get me after my future father-in-law had been delayed in Manhattan traffic. As I waited, I thought that I’d check email. My network access was impaired, but I did receive am email message about FLEFF 2010.

If FLEFF was investigating and instigating open spaces this year, then U.S. airports, it seemed, can be fairly closed spaces. Not simply for visitors whose eyeballs and fingerprints must scanned and converted into digital code for easy sorting and labeling, but also for documented residents and visitors with 3G-network-enabled handheld devices. Sometimes, communications are detained.

The service on my 3G network was spotty. Reminders of safety/security regulations bellowed from the airport’s PA system, interfering with my phone’s reception, reducing the number of reception bars. Still, no voice service.

The PA system, however, did not overpower the volume of CNN on the ubiquitous LCD screens. Squeezed between reports of ceremonies and remembrances, CNN’s efforts to clarify its earlier reports of shots fired on the Potomac echoed throughout the physical space of the baggage claim area.

I waited patiently. No voice service inside the airport, but sporadic SMS and even some data services. The ‘news feeds’ on FB flashed onto my handheld screen, almost keeping pace with CNN on the LCD screens.

I read about Nick George  on the FB news feed. The story was pushed less aggressively to the public than the CNN Airport Network, circulating virally in news feeds and blogs. Apparently, the Pomona College student had been detained for 45 minutes in the Philadelphia airport when TSA officers discovered that he was carrying Arabic-English flashcards, including ones for the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘explosion’, in his backpack.

Unreported news — or some variation of astroturfing

My FB friends are well informed and repost lots of important reports, but what about other news? I was in a closed space, but people generally have access to more than CNN and FB.

Do corporate and user-generated content really did define the contours of digitally mediated information today?

What’s open, what’s closed? How do we even know the difference?

Still, no voice service.

I have heard that cable news networks prompt people to pray for technological advances that would allow airport LCD screens to function like Orwell’s telescreens . The screens’ capacity for surveillance alongside misinformation would, at least, offer an illusion of agency, of thinking differently—thinking openly.

For others, UGC is unreliable — too open, too unverified, too ‘anything goes’. CNN itself has been accused of replacing investigative journalism with web trolling on social networking sites, bulletin boards, and blogs. Not the use of FB and Twitter associated with its coverage of the protests against Ahmadinejad during the last Iranian presidential election, but its news in general.

Sites that host UGC can also be deceiving. They can be closed despite appearances of being open. They can be controlled and controlling.

Who owns the information? Who controls access to it?

The New York Times reported that FB users asked who owned the information that they upload with every quiz. CNN  itself blogged on AT&T’s blocking portions of the image-based bulletin board 4chan.

How people navigate information? Who can design a map through the information? What other options exist?

In our ‘ubuntu.kuqala’  exhibition for FLEFF 2008, Sharon Lin Tay and I learned ways that Ismail Farouk and Babak Fakhamzadeh hacked GoogleMaps to map the pluralities of the histories of Soweto in their web application mashup, Soweto Uprisings . com

Last year, the ‘sticky-content’ exhibit included a preview of the collaborative, led by Hart Cohen, Peter Dallow and Sid Newton, that used GoogleMaps fly-through function to propose an alternative interface for access to the database of archival materials relevant to the Arrernte (Aranda) community.

As I navigate through video, audio, and text streams of information from corporate, user-generated, and even the occasional state sources, I wonder what maps other have devised or discovered.


UPDATE: MediaMatters and other organizations launched a campaign to reclaim some semblance of journalism within CNN's broadcasts. They focused particularly on Lou Dobbs, who had "gone rogue" from journalism. Check out the post on the Media Matters blog:

Thanks for this great article

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