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Lisa Parks

Professor of Film Studies and Center for Information Technology and Society Humanities Coordinator, UC Santa Barbara

Lisa Parks

Lisa Parks is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual (Duke Univ. Press 2005) and co-editor of Planet TV: A Global Television Studies Reader (NYU Press 2002) and of Red Noise: Television Studies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Duke Univ. Press forthcoming). She has published in numerous books and in journals such as Screen, Television and New Media, Convergence: A Journal of New Media Technologies, Ecumene: A Journal of Cultural Geography, and Social Identities. She won a Distinguished Teaching Award at UCSB in 2002 and has taught as a visiting professor in the School of Cinema-TV at USC and at the Institute for Graduate Study in the Humanities in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Parks teaches courses such as global media, television history, television and new media theory, video art and activism, war and media, advanced film analysis, and feminist media criticism. She is also co-producer of Experiments in Satellite Media Arts, a DVD produced with Ursula Biemann at the Makrolab in 2002, and is a co-investigator in several international funded projects including the Missing Links/Oxygen Media Research Project (UCSB-Utrecht) and the Transcultural Geography Project (Zurich-Cologne-Ljubljana). Parks sits on the editorial boards of the Velvet Light Trap e-journal and on the advisory board of the Center for Information Technology and Society at UCSB, where she is also taking on the new role of Humanities Coordinator. She is currently writing a new book called “Mixed Signals: Media Technologies, Geography, and Mobility.”

Links: Home page | UCSB Center for Information Technology and Society

Research Sample: “Kinetic Screens: Epistemologies of Movement at the Interface,” in Mediaspace: Place, Scale and Culture in a Media Age, ed. Nick Couldry and Anna McCarthy (London and New York: Routledge, 2004): 37-57 [excerpt from pp. 37-39]

In a recent essay, entitled ‘Transporting the Subject’, Caren Kaplan suggests that ‘The value placed on mobility in representations of subjectivity in cyberspace or new technologies is not new … but can be seen to be the full articulation of something old: travel’ (Kaplan 2002: 35-6). Rather than consider web navigation as a form of travel, I am interested in exploring how it is that we have come to imagine or know ourselves to be moving—whether navigating or surfing—while sitting (or with the advent of wireless, while walking, driving, riding, flying) at an interface.’ I use the term ‘epistemologies of movement’ to suggest that there are different ways of signifying and interpreting (or seeing and knowing) movement at a web interface. I do not mean to suggest that all web-users experience movement in the same way; rather, I want to develop a way to understand the meanings of online navigation in more material and semiotic terms. Each of the interfaces I discuss structures opportunities to supplement the somewhat amorphous term ‘cyberspace’ with a consideration of the ‘place of the interface’, which I delineate in this chapter through discussion of data visualization, web art, translation portals and documentary photography. By considering the place of the interface, I hope to complicate critical and popular discourses that promulgate fantasies of digital nomadism as unfettered flow or networking, bodily transcendence, or instant connectivity, and expose the prevailing tendency to understand web navigation as yet another example of the ‘annihilation of time/space.’

This ‘annihilation of time/space’ discourse emerged over the past several decades, underpinned by the work of such scholars as Marshall McLuhan, Stephen Kern, Harold Innis and Joshua Meyrowitz, all of whom offered (sometimes technologically determinist) accounts of the cultural changes wrought by communications technologies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While this work provided crucial observations about changes in the social, economic and political order, it tended to sidestep the fact that time/space shifts have been experienced unevenly and in different ways in different parts of the world. As a result, its assimilation into the mainstream has spawned widespread acceptance of the idea that new technologies of communication inevitably generate a placeless globalism and enable individuals to move through time/space much faster and more extensively. What is troubling is the extent to which such ideas have gone unquestioned in the context of digitization. That the annihilation of time/space discourse holds powerful sway in the computer age is evident in the very selection of the term ‘navigator’ to describe the web-user or in the celebratory naming of the World Wide Web as an ‘Information Superhighway.’

What is perhaps most unfortunate about the idle embrace of the ‘annihilation of time/space discourse’ is that it has deferred research into how the meanings, knowledges and experiences of time/space and movement have themselves shifted with different technologies, geographies, users and sociohistorical conditions. Instead, the annihilation of time/space logic has served a fantasy of digital nomadism that imagines the web navigator is able to move freely, change identities at will, and travel the world without restriction. Such a fantasy is also an extension of what I have called the fantasy of global presence that emerged with the first live international satellite television broadcasts in the 1960s. Both negate the material specificities and limits of network infrastructures in order to privilege and centralize a transcendent Western subject that is imagined as existing above and beyond technology rather than in relation to it.

In this chapter, I attempt to complicate such logic by discussing movement in relation to specific web interfaces and by demonstrating how epistemologies of movement are derived through a combination of geographic, artistic, linguistic and photographic systems of signification. First, I consider how we can understand the place of the interface with a trace-route application called VisualRoute and a web mapping art project called 1:1. While these interfaces target different users they articulate movement with technological literacy rather than transparency, exposing aspects of the web infrastructure that are often buried beneath the veneer of ‘cool’ design. Second, I explore how machine translation interfaces organize epistemologies of movement based on the recognition of linguistic differences. While there is a tendency for translation interfaces to structure linguistic traps by making English the lingua franca, projects such as the Translation Map emphasize crucial relations between movement, language and difference. Finally, I discuss art interface that documents a terminal form of movement—the global distribution of obsolete computers. Focusing on the Basel Action Network’s images of e-waste processing centers in Guiyu, China, I argue that we need a multivalent model for understanding movement at the interface that considers the mobility of Chinese computer salvage workers in relation to the web navigators who may access such images on the BAN website. Each of these sites of analysis is offered to make discussion of web navigation more material, to complicate discourses of digital nomadism, and to encourage technological literacy, aesthetic experimentation, processes of differentiation, and exposure of global inequalities at the interface.

The Place of the Interface

While scholars have begun to analyze the spatial conditions of computer use whether in the home, the office or in transit, few have considered the ways in which users make sense of their own navigational process. That is, few have studied the visual signifiers or mechanisms that enable web-users to imagine themselves as ‘navigating’ while sitting at an interface. When most computer users ‘navigate’ the World Wide Web, they have little understanding of the infrastructure through which they are connected and are able to ‘move’ to different parts of the world. This is in part because so few websites actually visualize or display the infrastructure, which Manuel Castells calls the ‘technical geography’, through which the user’s data move (Castells 2001). The visualization of the user’s movement through the World Wide Web, his/her process of navigation, is effaced at the interface. What we see, instead, is the economic mobility of digital corporations such as Microsoft and Netscape whose browsers feature animated logos which signal the movement of data from servers to the monitor and reinforce the corporation’s status as data portal, carrier or delivery system. In some cases, windows pop open either indicating a buffering process is taking place (when streaming media) or there is a connectivity problem, but otherwise we expect data to ‘move’ seamlessly and speedily from one place to another on the web. The issue in which I am interested here, however, is the idea that web-users are encouraged to imagine themselves as ‘navigating’, and yet most users have little or no understanding of the material conditions and infrastructure through which such navigation occurs. What is at stake here are issues of technological literacy. By effacing the infrastructure through which data moves, web interfaces tend to keep users naïve about the apparatus that organizes and facilitates online navigation and how its processes occur in time and extend across space. . . .

[Full essay]

  lparks, 04.22.05

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