Viewing patterns: Information and media infrastructures - Editors' introduction
First Monday

Viewing patterns: Information and media infrastructures - Editors' introduction by Zack Lischer-Katz and Aaron Trammell



Abstract
In this introduction to a special edited issue of First Monday on viewing patterns, we argue that information, iteration and incarnation are useful paths to understanding emergent media infrastructures. Here we explain the connection of this collection’s essays in the context of these overarching themes. As our media infrastructure — which encompasses social media, data archives, participatory media, and mobile media — takes on a structuring agency in the spheres of politics, journalism, and entertainment, we must contend with the changing shape of these media infrastructures as dominant forces of power-knowledge.

Contents

Introduction
Information
Iteration
Incarnation
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction

Infrastructures now dominate our media lives. From data centers buried deep in windowless corporate offices and nestled in distant server farms, to network switches and information protocols, to fiber optic and copper cables that crisscross the globe, our information, entertainment and communication channels are shaped by new media infrastructures. In the introduction to their recent edited collection, Signal traffic: Critical studies of media infrastructures, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (2015) argue for an approach to media scholarship that emphasizes critical analysis of the various scales of media infrastructures, including the micro level of computer codes, encoded bits and electro-optical signals, to the macro level of distribution networks and power grids. Parks and Starosielski (2015) suggest, “a focus on infrastructure brings into relief the unique materialities of media distribution — the resources, technologies, labor, and relations that are required to shape, energize, and sustain the distribution of audiovisual signal traffic on global, national, and local scales” [1]. A critical approach to infrastructure draws our attention away from media content to the materiality of media systems and media practices.

But, how do we integrate earlier concerns about media, such as production, consumption, aesthetics and authorship, back into our analysis? We cannot understand media infrastructure without studying the social practices that emerge from within it. We must take into account the “‘soft’ infrastructures such as daily routines, marketing, and knowledge practices” [2] that grow and change in tandem with the underlying sociotechnical systems.

This special issue of First Monday extends these new materialist perspectives by offering the concept of patterns as a meso-level [3] site for critical analysis. Drawn in part from presentations at the 2015 Extending Play Conference [4], the papers in this collection all share an underlying concern with viewing patterns, as emergent visual practices. We define patterns within a tradition of play theory exemplified by Roger Caillois (2001) who was interested in the repetitive and mimetic aspects of play. Caillois saw these aspects of play as central to human sociality and memory. We extend this thought to take into account also the ways that sociality and memory are increasingly mediated through algorithms and databases. In defining viewing we draw on the work of Martin Jay (1993) who shows how vision, and practices of “viewing,” became a dominant (yet somewhat problematic) epistemic technique for apprehending knowledge in modern Western civilization. In reconciling these two approaches, the essays in this collection draw upon three themes — information, iteration, and incarnation — that are central to understanding media practices in the present algorithmically-mediated media environments, each describing particular logics by which patterns may be seen to emerge. We can understand patterns through iteration, viewing through incarnation, and information as the material synthesis of the two.

Information refers to the transformation of all recorded visual and aural media into machine-readable code that can be placed within database structures and distributed across networks and stored in distant server farms. Scholars in information studies have made the distinction between the concept of information and its particular material carrier, or “informative artifact” [5], suggesting that the movement towards thinking of media as information is tied to efforts to move media content away from particular material carriers. Other scholars have pointed to the fact that information systems can only deal with material things (Buckland, 1991), so the movement to networked digital infrastructure can never become a complete dematerialization of information. Instead, networked infrastructure becomes the carrier for all media, and information is used here to describe this transformation in both the materiality and the phenomenology of media. In terms of its materiality, media as information is linked to ongoing trends in “technological convergence” (Pavlik and McIntosh, 2011) by which all media formats are encoded into digital form for storage and transmission along a singular networked media infrastructure that strips them of the material specificity of their original media carrier (such as celluloid, tape or disc). Encoded as digital bits, which of course have their own materialities (Blanchette, 2011), media can be stored and instantly accessed anywhere through network infrastructures. Thinking about media as information also draws attention to the ways in which human-computer interactions transform the phenomenology of media. With media as information accessed across laptops, tablets, smartphones and other networked devices, the experience of media is intimately tied to the visual interfaces and computational properties of the particular search boxes, Web browsers, and apps used for access and display. As suggested by Lev Manovich (2001) in his discussion of new media artwork: “the old dichotomies content-form and content-medium can be rewritten as content-interface[6], suggesting that computer-based interfaces become inseparable from the experience of media when media become information.

The concept of iteration draws attention to both the repetitive (re)production of derivative media such as transmedia franchises, sequels, reboots, crossovers and memes, as well as iterative and sustained viewing practices. The mechanics of mass production meet the promises of niche marketing via big data aggregation and analysis to produce models of potential viewers/users/customers that encourage iterative engagement across multiple, synchronized media platforms. Just as cinematic production becomes caught up in intensifying cycles of iteration, the deployment of streamable video encourages intensified modes of sequential and repeatable viewing supported by personalized search engines, on sites like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.

Incarnation describes emergent patterns of recording and replicating embodied sensations and movements through digital media systems. Quantifying bodies through the use of such technologies as Fitbit and Apple Watch, as well as experiments with 3D and immersive visual and aural environments, such as Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift, and new visual genres of media making encourage the creation of new ways of encoding bodies and bodily experiences that can be reconfigured, transmitted and incarnated across distance and time. From new data collecting technologies for mapping bodies in motion to ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) [7] videos that combine, light-weight media technologies, social media networks and networked databases to reimagine an eroticism of synesthetic pleasures, new media environments facilitate patterns of incarnation conceptualized as encoded embodied phenomena. Thinking about incarnation extends the analytic focus to consider the ways in which media infrastructures enable us to inhabit new types of bodies, or to interact with other bodies in new ways. Incarnation extends the concept of affect to consider transformations in the relations between human and computer bodies, their boundaries and socially-inscribed constraints on pleasure.

These three themes of information, iteration, and incarnation, as applied to media infrastructures, can help us understand such contemporary phenomena as resistant practices of user communities employing TOR [8] and BitTorrent [9] to circumvent global surveillance regimes and intellectual property enforcement; practices of automated meme-creation and the production and dissemination of fake news that iterates and remediates other sources of information; and the emergent practices related to new media technologies that engage with the viewer as an embodied subject via 3D, 360 video, virtual reality and haptic interfaces that may problematize the ability for media to produce violent simulations of pain and death. The six essays in this special issue offer a range of ways in which to think through the idea of “viewing patterns,” using these three themes. They show how the various ways in which thinking about “viewing patterns” as a level of analysis in new media infrastructures involves employing multidisciplinary research methodologies in order to integrate traditional media studies concerns into a theoretical framework that takes seriously the materiality of the current media environment. This collection of essays directs its analyses at the sites of rupture in traditional areas of media archiving, avant garde filmmaking, journalism, television consumption and the production of images for visual pleasure.

As the multidisciplinary essays in this collection begin to articulate, thinking through viewing patterns in media infrastructures suggests ways in which individuals creatively adopt the new tools presented into their viewing practices, even as they are constrained and shaped by new regimes of control and capitalist resource extraction. In the end, the creative resistances embedded within these media practices have the potential to transform whole networks of media production, circulation and consumption, and this radical potential of our new media infrastructures can be seen as the ultimate form of ludic engagement.

 

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Information

This special issue begins with Zack Lischer-Katz’s paper “Studying the materiality of media archives in the age of digitization: Forensics, infrastructures and ecologies,” which applies new materialist perspectives [10] to thinking about the changing epistemologies, politics and ecologies of media archives as their collections are increasingly digitized and made available on networked infrastructure. Lischer-Katz argues that the insertion of media archives into global digital networks opens up new directions of analysis for media scholars and archival theorists. This essay shows how the JPEG2000 format, a media artist’s papers at New York University’s Fales Collection, and the Library of Congress’ audiovisual collections reveal the media archive as a site of contested power. Three lenses for understanding this problem are suggested: Critical forensic, institutional/infrastructural, and global/ecological perspectives. Lischer-Katz weds archival theory with new materialist perspectives that draw attention to the dynamics of media storage and archiving at multiple scales.

Leo Goldsmith’s essay, “A MOVIE BY ... : Appropriation, authorship, and the ecologies of the moving image,” merges the media archive with the logic of the database. Here, Goldsmith considers Jen Proctor’s 2010 “remake” of Bruce Conner’s classic 1958 found-footage film, “A MOVIE.” He shows how the arrangement of media collections within database logics enables new paradigms of appropriation and authorship for media producers. While Conner assembled his film from old 16mm reels and scraps of film found in thrift shops and junk bins, Proctor uses the database and search infrastructure of the current media ecology to assemble her film by using keywords to search for the same types of “prototypical” film images that Conner employs (including images of war, accidents, erotica, etc.). The result of Proctor’s reworking of Conner’s filmic structure, according to Goldsmith’s analysis, is an aesthetic mode of media authorship that takes the interrogation of the emergent infrastructures of media storage and retrieval as its central focus. This essay helps us to better understand how the analytic techniques of film studies can help us to understand the simultaneously abstract and material conditions of the database.

 

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Iteration

Max Foxman’s essay, entitled “The playful newsroom: Iterating and reiterating the news and its publics” offers an analysis that considers how media infrastructures are shaping the viewing practices and discourse of journalists. Meme-able and iterative Web sites such as BuzzFeed contribute to a transformation of the Habermasian notion of the “public sphere” of public discourse, forcing us to re-evaluate our understandings of fact, fiction, and information. Foxman observes that journalists working for emergent and traditional media platforms are increasingly being encouraged to incorporate game-like content into their news reporting. Foxman employs semi-structured interviews and grounded theory to identify the ways in which these news production practices are shaping a new conception of the public sphere and journalistic ethics. In the context of a fast-paced, constant news cycle and “click-funded” media infrastructure, how do journalists integrate game design and iterative modes of media creation into their journalistic practice?

Ri Pierce-Grove’s article, “Just one more: How journalists frame binge watching,” moves from media production to media consumption practices. Here Pierce-Grove studies how the discourse of “binge-watching” propagated by journalists and media critics has transformed from an object of social anxiety to one that is normalized, embraced and encouraged. To understand “binge-watching,” we must recognize how conversations on the topic dovetail with conversations about respectability and self-control in today’s era of media infrastructure. Pierce-Grove’s essay helps us to understand our social anxieties around iteration, as well as how its deeply hewn contours are integrated into our physiological fabrics.

 

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Incarnation

We cannot understand incarnation without questioning the degree to which media provokes a visceral reaction. Emma Leigh Waldron’s essay “‘This FEELS SO REAL!’: Sense and sexuality in ASMR videos,” considers how ASMR videos evoke a physiological response from their viewers. Working from a performance studies perspective and drawing from theories of affect, the body and gender, Waldron considers how the production, circulation and consumption of these videos produce new affective modalities that transgress and resist traditional classifications of sexuality and pleasure. The intimate incorporation of viewers’ bodies into corporal responsiveness with the ASMR actor’s voice, face and bodily gestures reminds us of some of the ways in which the relation between body and machine has been discussed in the media theory literature (such as in Donna Haraway’s 1991 cyborg), as bodily responses begin to co-mingle with electrons moving across silicon, copper, and glass. Waldron’s essay helps point us to the intimate connections between media infrastructures such as YouTube and our bodies.

Finally, Aaron Trammell’s essay, “Cheating and resisting empire in the age of interactive media,” offers a set of resistances to the underlying entanglements forming between media infrastructures and regimes of social control. Trammell’s essay takes theories of play and gaming as a starting point for constructing a set of interventions (“cheats”) to resist the hegemony of our digital infrastructures. Trammell suggests four resistive strategies, or “cheats” that players inside games and within media infrastructures more generally, can employ to work against regimes of surveillance, technological constraints, and cybernetic feedback loops of control: Exploit anachronism; make the accidental essential; recurse strategies; and, what is good for natural language is good for formal language. Together, these four “cheats” offer tactics for countermanding some of the dystopian forces of new media infrastructures, such that they may be brought back within the influence of the creative repurposing and acts of resistances of game players, computer system users, and media viewers/producers.

 

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Conclusion

Using the concepts of information, iteration and incarnation helps us begin to better understand the ways in which these new patterns of media practices emerge through media infrastructures that rely on networks, distributed storage, databases and algorithmic control. These papers point towards the creative potential of everyday people engaging with media infrastructures to transform those infrastructures, recode them, bring in strategies of countergaming, aesthetics of reuse, binge watching as critical gesture, the growth of alternative affective modalities, sexual or otherwise, and new models for information distribution.

Overarching the sense of destabilization and change that pervades these essays is also a glimmer of playfulness. The ludic spirit of these essays cannot be denied: Lischer-Katz’s essay sprints across ecologies, spaces and times to capture normally disparate archival contexts to identify analytic strategies for studying the current trends shaping media archives; Goldsmith excavates a playful re-creation of a classic film of the avant garde that orchestrates video search engines as archival re-appropriation of Conner’s underlying thematic structure and the disposable images of violence, car crashes, porno, etc., circulating merrily with little regard for puritanical decorum across media platforms and databases; Foxman takes us inside the ludic machinations and discourses of traditional and new media journalists as they struggle to wrap their professional ethics around the gamification of the news; Pierce-Grove offers a discourse analysis of the journalists who played the part of media-bingers, offering phenomenological and ludic retellings of lost weekends to whole seasons of Battlestar Galactica; Waldron plays with performance, media and the intimacy of YouTube video production techniques to explore how ASMR videos, their creators and users resist and recode traditional notions of sexuality, pleasure and sensory stimulation; and Trammell offers a ludic manifesto proffering resistance to the surveillance power of information infrastructures through “cheats” as acts of “countergaming.” Trammell offers a potential, not quite utopian, resistance to the gamification of the world, enabled by media infrastructures, and offers an antipode, and perhaps antidote, to Lischer-Katz’s opening essay that considers the increasing ecological, geopolitical, epistemological dissonances between media archives, media infrastructures and the shaping of visual memory. For Trammell, the solution to a rigged game is not to retreat, become despondent, disconnect, or move to Canada, but to “countergame” — to play smarter; and the first step is coming to grips with the underlying media infrastructures that shape and are shaped by our evolving media practices.

Employing multidisciplinary approaches to studying media practices, conceptualized as “viewing patterns” along the vectors of information, iteration and incarnation, enables an analytic orientation that foregrounds the knowledge-power dynamics that shape viewing patterns and the ways in which viewing patterns work to identify and engage with radical practices embedded in the cables, network switches and servers of media infrastructures. End of article

 

About the authors

Zack Lischer-Katz, just finishing up his Ph.D. at Rutgers University in library and information science, is a CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) Research Fellow at the University of Oklahoma, where he studies the preservation of virtual reality and 3D data for scholarship and pedagogy. He was co-organizer and programming coordinator for the 2015 and 2016 editions of Extending Play, a play and game studies conference hosted by the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. With co-organizer Aaron Trammell (Assistant Professor at UC Irvine), he co-edited a volume of papers from the 2015 edition of Extending Play in the Journal of Games Criticism (July 2016), entitled, “Considering the sequel to game studies ... .”
E-mail: zlkatz [at] ou [dot] edu

Aaron Trammell is an Assistant Professor of Informatics at UC Irvine. He was a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar for Faculty Diversity in Informatics and Digital Knowledge at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and he earned his doctorate from the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information in 2015. Aaron’s research reveals historical connections between games, play, identity, and the United States military-industrial complex. He is interested in how military ideologies become integrated into game design and how these perspectives are negotiated within the imaginations of players.

He is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Analog Game Studies (analoggamestudies.org) and the Multimedia Editor and Co-Founder of Sounding Out! (soundstudiesblog.com). In 2014, Aaron co-edited a volume of Games and Culture with Anne Gilbert entitled “Extending play to critical media studies,” and in 2016 Aaron co-edited a volume of Journal of Games Criticism with Zack Lischer-Katz entitled “Considering the sequel to game studies ... .”
E-mail: trammell [at] uci [dot] edu

 

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the following folks whose endless support made Extending Play: The Sequel possible: Frank Bridges, Steph Mikitish, Katie McCollough, Andrew Salvati, Fanny Ramirez, James Hodges, Nadav Lipkin, Ian Dunham, Marie Haverfield, Weixu Lu, Charlie File, Heewon Kim, Si Sun, Peter Sutton, Teis Kristensen, John Leustek, Sarah Barriage, Fredrika Thelandersson, Thiam Huat Kam, Bryce Menninger, Xiaofeng Li, Jacob Sanchez, Jennifer Sonne, and Jonathan Bullinger. This one was bigger, better, and more original, team. Thanks!

 

Notes

1. Parks and Starosielski, 2015, p. 5.

2. Parks and Starosielski, 2015, p. 17.

3. The concept of “meso-level” is drawn from social science research methodology that defines the scale or site of research in terms of micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. While micro-level analysis may have as its focus social interactions between individuals and small groups, and macro-level analysis may study social phenomena at the national or global level, meso-level analysis may focus on forming linkages between micro- and macro-levels. In this context, the meso-level defines the media practices that emerge between individuals (micro-level) interacting with media infrastructures (macro-level).

4. Extending Play: The Sequel was held 17–18 April 2015 at Rutgers University, School of Communication & Information, and asked “how conceptions of repetition, iteration, mimesis, chronography and sequence emerge through the dynamics and modalities of play in an increasingly repetitive, yet playful world?” and “how do we understand the experience of play as a chain of sequels in the age of digital surrogates, cybernetic archives and networks of distributed storage?”

5. Pratt, 1998, p. 28.

6. Manovich, 2001, p. 2.

7. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos are user-produced videos posted to video sharing sites such as YouTube that present various aural and visual elements in order to stimulate a tingling response in the viewer. Reportedly, the tingling often begins along the scalp and works its way down the viewer’s spine (Barratt and Davis, 2015). Typically, the videos involve the use of crinkling, tapping, whispering, and other close-range sounds that are recorded with special binaural microphones in order to “trigger” ASMR in the viewer. Sometimes these are incorporated into first-person clinical or personal attention scenarios (Ahuja, 2013) in which the video actor appears to attend to the viewer’s body with medical examinations, hair or nail care, scalp massages, etc.

8. TOR stands for “The Onion Router,” which is an open source software that allows Internet users to navigate and communicate over the Internet anonymously.

9. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol that is often used by Internet users for sharing media content, software and games, often involving content restricted by legal regimes of intellectual property rights.

10. New materialist perspectives in media studies question the “division between content and medium” (Packer and Crofts Wiley, 2012, p. 109), and seek to investigate, among other things, the role of infrastructures, artifacts and material practices that support the establishment and maintenance of the systems that enable the storage, transmission and display of media content in the age of networked digital infrastructures.

 

References

Nitin K. Ahuja, 2013. “‘It feels good to be measured’: Clinical role-play, Walker Percy, and the tingles,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, volume 56, number 3, pp. 442–451.
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Emma L. Barratt and Nick J. Davis, 2015. “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR): A flow-like mental state,” PeerJ, volume 3, e851, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4380153/, accessed 15 December 2016.
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Michael K. Buckland, 1991. “Information as thing,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science, volume 42, number 5, pp. 351–360.

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Donna J. Haraway, 1991. Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.

Martin Jay. 1993. Downcast eyes: The denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lev Manovich, 2001. The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Jeremy Packer and Stephen B. Crofts Wiley, 2012. “Strategies for materializing communication,” Communication & Cultural/Critical Studies, volume 9, number 1, pp. 107–113.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2011.652487, accessed 15 December 2016.

Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (editors), 2015. Signal traffic: Critical studies of media infrastructures. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

John V. Pavlik and Shawn McIntosh, 2011. Converging media: A new introduction to mass communication. Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Allan D. Pratt, 1998. Information of the image. Second edition. Greenwich, Conn.: Ablex.

 


Editorial history

Received 15 December 2015; accepted 15 December 2016.


Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Viewing patterns: Information and media infrastructures — Editors’ introduction
by Zack Lischer-Katz and Aaron Trammell.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 1 - 2 January 2017
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/7262/5768
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i1.7262





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