Ry David Bradley
Since 2008
Works in Melbourne, Virgin Islands Australia

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the one in your example with the flashing q mark ?


Using, Using, Used

Farming, Farming, Farmed: 
Digital Folklore Reader, edited by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied
By Kevin McGarry on Monday, March 1st, 2010 at 06:15 pm.

Within the pages of Digital Folklore Reader, Olia Lialina, one of the book’s editors, refers to a claim by the social media researcher Danah Boyd, that some American teenagers identify as Facebook and others as MySpace—preferring a conformist and clean interface persona, or a rebellious and visually pimped one, respectively.
This book, co-edited by Dragan Espenschied, is by all outward appearances a MySpace, brimming with exuberant design elements culled from all over the net and reaching deep into online history. The dust jacket repeats a background image of a unicorn perched on a boulder at sunset under a meteor shower. Its reverse is wallpapered in 32 by 32 pixel gif icons representing the gamut of popular farmer-generated online imagery: cartoon characters, porno ladies, geometric designs, quotidian objects, flags, logos, landscapes and text, from WTF to FREE TIBET. One layer deeper, the cover and back of the book are white, or, probably (in RGB concept), nothing. The spine is also nude, showing off the motley sequencing of pages inside, the first and last of which are a flat, vibrant #00FF00 green, allusive of web-safe color and maybe of a green screen, primed for content to be transposed onto it.
Published by Merz Akademie Stutgart, Digital Folklore Reader is divided into three sections: “Observations” (the core texts, mostly republished essays by the charming, prescient editors), “Research” (insightful student papers) and “Giving Back” (documentation of student projects). Folklore can be considered history told from the perspective of a certain cultural group, and this conception of folklore is precisely what the book endeavors to record. Digital culture involves all kinds of players, including inanimate ones that transmit and present information, and this folklore belongs specifically to farmers. The fact is writ large, literally, right before the table of contents, in big neon letters spelling out the eerie, friendly question, “DO YOU BELIEVE IN FARMERS?”

True to the spirit of folklore, from among the nuanced, idiosyncratic accounts and observations that make up part one, there is a repeated narrative that defines the historical significance and instability of farmers. It is a trauma that practitioners of net art experienced along with all early internet farmers: digital culture’s abrupt shift from utopia to… something else. And this something else has long since revealed itself to be ordinary. Online terrain, like any other, is ripe for colonization by the corporate mechanics that pilot Western society. It’s hard to predict the future, but it seems that as of 2010 most of these stories are past tense. Farmers, whose autonomy is already diminished, remain in constant threat of being squelched out like the Na’vi. (A side note in keeping with the book’s multi-tiered, multi-tasking structure: the data cloud directory on page 16 confirms that “Farmers,” tagged 17 times in the book, and “Money,” 12 times, are indeed the number one and two most frequently occurring keywords.)
There is a semi-structural, manifesto-ish quality to much of part one, which is both instructive and playful. Text is organized into narrow columns, two per page, which keep a reader’s eyes constantly scrolling. Espenschied’s article “Put yer fonts in a pipe and smoke them,” about the control system that maintains the abysmally limited selection of browser-compatible fonts, is itself rendered in something like handwritten fine point blue marker. This playfulness, and cohesiveness, makes a great vessel for persistent and at times rigorous analysis of online life, which itself has always been rooted in exploration, discovery and excitement, and benefits from complimentary conveyances (especially when things get technical!).

Building upon the contextual foundation laid by the bubble-bursting end of Eden fable (which, I should say, is rarely harped on as such), the essays in part one—including Dragan Espenschied's on online idioms finding influence offline, and Jörg Frohnmayer’s on virtual reality, written in collaboration with Espenschied—linger on other touchstones and tangents, such as Lialina’s provocation in “Who Else is the Cloud?” (2008) that computer culture is underdeveloped because computing power is mainly spent on making computing invisible (no wires, increasingly slimmer machines). She points out that this direction is making people forget about computers. This alludes to a kind of role reversal, in that without a clear vision of the tool used by a farmer, it is less certain as to whether the farmer is really the farmer or the used (that would be: the tool).
Part two, “Research,” features four recent essays examining four contemporary online phenomena and could be read as products of the folkloric tenets outlined in part one. Each is crisp and informed, and their topics— each a bit cheekily pop, to varying degrees—are approached with a pragmatic consideration for history and scholarship. In “I Think You Got Cats on Your Internet” (2008), Helene Dams takes on the trope of the lolcat, seizing on the importance of the funny online kitty lexicon as “a gigantic, global insider joke.” This is an oxymoron that quite profoundly demonstrates the internet’s facilitation of an alternative economy in which content can carry multiple possession statuses at once—as examples: both public and private; or all of individually owned, shared, and free. An insider joke isn’t diminished by infinite insiders (or nurtured by exclusivity). Total dispersion forms social gospel.

This system of abundance and ambidexterity is what marketers study to orchestrate the internet’s capitalistic effects. Specifically they look at farmer behaviors within the system, which is a subject of Dennis Knopf’s paper “Defriending the Web” (2009). He begins with well-chosen industrial/post-industrial parallels, noting the late nineteenth century philosopher Georg Simmel’s observation that the urban-dwelling (thus more besieged by technology and interfaces) “metropolitan type of man” copes with her surroundings by shifting from a reliance on the heart to “that organ which is least sensitive and quite remote from the depth of the personality.” Knopf relates this to the further stripping away of personality that occurs nowadays when a farmer constructs an online profile. Further, just as Fordism (mass production—supply courting demand) was usurped by Toyota’s “post-Fordism” (mass production, to-order—demand dictating supply), the author explains how progressive marketers make use of this wealth of indexical personal information to discern what consumers want produced (so that they can consume it, duh). Netflix, with its algorithmic recommendations, is appraised a perfect example of this Sisyphean modern convenience.
Isabel Pettinato’s inspection of viral media’s attributes, uses and historical trajectory, “Viral Candy” (2009), identifies the effective Viral as “susceptible to imitation” by other farmers, thus proliferative. The essay synthesizes (probably by virtue of part two’s order) ideas about farmer behavior and economic power structures, touching on aspects of Dams’s and Knopf’s. Pettinato explains how Chris Crocker, the blond, electrifyingly distraught Britney Spears fan “became an Internet celebrity via the dynamics of cultural participation alone," which is essentially an apocalyptic example of the post-Fordist farmer want-realization machine, in which the commodity that is produced began as and remains a farmer himself! When the author pinpoints the plot and genre qualities that make for a successful Viral she summons Henry Jenkins’s interpretation of a Cadbury commercial in which a huge Gorilla performs the stirring drum solo in Phil Collins’s “Something In The Air Tonight”. Jenkins states that “[The Viral’s] absurdity creates gaps” (in the words of John Fiske) “wide enough for whole new texts to be produced in them.” Just as with the interior/exterior pleating of the lolcat paradigm, the individual viral video is read to contain an unlimited potential for expansion, based on its ability to open up attentive experiences in an environment carrying a serious attention deficit.

On a lighter note, Leo Merz in “Comic Resistance” (2009) investigates the symbolic significance of the cult font Comic Sans, tracing its origin to a failed Microsoft operating system, and linking its embrace by the electronic music scene to their co-morbid affinity for Roland synthesizers, whose originally intended purpose was also failed. Merz explains that "electronic musical instruments like the Roland and Comic Sans were both conceived as solutions to specific functional needs," and after their services were no longer required, they were repurposed through a transgressive act of abuse, that is ab-use: wrong use—a semantic framework that underpins much of the section’s concluding essay.
The book’s third part, “Giving Back,” reads more or less as an appendix. It is a sampling of projects made by new media and interface design students at Merz Akademie, presumably under the tutelage of the editors. One work, by Florian Kröner, cleverly titled Emolator (i.e. emo-generator), is a web application that applies template looks consisting of jet black, razor-styled hair, melodramatic body markings, etc., to farmer-uploaded photos. In effect, while a desired facade is achieved, the self-styled entity in the source image is immolated, amounting to a tight little double entendre. If the project is not particularly moving as an artwork, it does, as do many featured in “Giving Back,” have a prolific life as a farmer interface, having served thousands around the world.

The farmers involved with Tobias Leingruber and Bert Schutzbach’s Hoebot and LoveBot (2007) have also been served. Both bots infiltrated online communities of “crazy parties and hot girls” on the German counterpart to Facebook, studiVZ, to conduct a creative anthropological experiment. The former automatically posted misogynistic, beer-oriented comments on the hosts’s walls, and in turn received access to personal data about the girls, along with invites to keggers. The latter utilized the information gathered by Hoebot to tell compatible subjects that they should get to know each other, earning a reputation as a creep and social pariah.
Overall the projects are simple, practical exercises testing many of the topics discussed throughout the book. While in one sense I found the section to be a bit anti-climactic, it is interesting to consider these students as examples of farmers, in terms of how farmers have been positioned throughout the book—that is, as active entities, but as ones that are nevertheless subscribed to external protocols (commercial software, website templates, etc.). The students are more or less subscribed to the protocols of their teachers and to the ideas presented in this book. I don’t fault this at all. It’s a further illustration of the compromised but vital role of the farmer, as an evolutionary figure whose contributions to culture come by tests and trials, rather than mastery and molding. Similarly, Digital Folklore Reader is honest, inventive and comprehensible rather than comprehensive, chronicling what in digital culture is going and gone, while pivoting for the even longer trail of what is yet to be completed.


Using, Using, Used

Thx Heidi yeah true..

I'm sure it's a good read, as was the review. A text that we are fortunate to have had produced. When I read it will I be a temporary user of it's paradigm?

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: People using computers
Home directory
Identity correlation
User profile

The end-user is a concept in software engineering, referring to an abstraction of the group of persons who will ultimately operate a piece of software (i.e. the expected user or target-user).
This abstraction is meant to be useful in information which is believed to be relevant in a specific project.
When little constraints are imposed on the end-user category, i.e. when writing/publishing programs for the general public, it is common practice to expect minimal technical expertise or previous training. This is also the general meaning associated with the term end user (see also Luser). In this context, easy-to-learn GUIs (possibly with a touch interface) are usually preferred over more sophisticated command line interfaces for the sake of usability.[1]
In certain projects where the Actor of the System is another System or a Software then it is quite possible that you do not have an end user for your system. And the end users for the system, which is an actor for yours', would be indirect end users for you.

So in the end, although USE is implied, by that logic we USE everything we interact with. By breathing you are a user of trees. Etc. It can either be retained as a specific computing term (in that it is not commonly 'used' in other contexts) or if it were used in it's broader sense of usefulness, it becomes meaningless in that it applies to almost everything.

Our cognitive limitations may be due to cycling on a fixed term here (USER), more so than it's actuality and historic precedent as a fact of life where everything is part of a system and effectively uses that system. To assume that there was a time not so long ago (ie. before the internet) when cultural production was pure and proto-original (it's a difficult one because in fact much artistic does purport to be....), in that it did not rely upon or spring from a prevalent system is still now as preposterous as it was then.

The internet and software still have a long way to go before they are understood holistically and historically as instruments in the great line of instruments, perhaps it's not as novel a situation as it appears. Yet without doubt, we have certainly again expanded and connected to each other and in turn to what had gone before.

An easy way to begin to understand the limitations of language would be to recreate any critical text in a Microsoft Word document for example, 'using' a Find and Replace action on the term 'user', to then see if it reads differently (swapping for an active term like 'farmer' perhaps over the passive 'user'). I will paste an example of the modified article in the comment below.

However it must be noted that all other terms do not refer so strongly to computer culture as does the term USER, and therefore their substitution dilutes the meaning, into a broader interpretation. I still think this is a good thing. Separation is much easier to discuss than fusion. Both are equally valuable. Especially if we are to transcend the current boundaries imposed upon originality and production within a software centred horizon.

Sometimes I think our base fear of the systems is what prevents us from truly understanding them.

Whether understood as users, surfers, farmers or otherwise - the fact remains that the communicative impulse is one that we have sought to transcribe for thousands of years. In effect it has always been mitigated by feudal systems of power and knowledge centralization for almost as long, save for our much loved and perennial 'outsiders'. Yet, no-one is truly outside the ultimate system of life. If anything, in a time when popular ideas suggest we are more limited in our 'autonomy' than ever before, the notion of language to lock down and define our relationship just keeps failing to cover all those excellent gaps.

Progression is not borne of pure originality as there is none, but of an effective lateral subset?


Using, Using, Used

I could be wrong, but i'm not sure about this word 'user' and it's implication that it is a recent computer based phenomenon.
Sure the term User wasn't applied in this way before, but the situation may have been.
A term like 'User' always naturally implies being used, which always leads the discussion down the same paranoid pathway, that the corporations are out to steal and repackage our individuality at every turn. Even if they do, it's important to remember they do that AFTER the fact, not before.
If you switch the term but keep it's function - consider "ID" as a substitute for "USER", then there is less implication about being used. It would then become more of a discussion about identity, as long standing a human enquiry as that is. It would make discussions of the internet less divine and less short-sighted at least, to me anyhow.

Have their really been no 'users' before the 20th century? Like, if I play the piano, am I not a user of the piano? Should I freak out about the fact that there are only 88 keys to write a song with? Or that all pianos are in the same tuning? C'mon. If having a limited amount of fonts is a problem, what is the solution, handwriting? If you surveyed every person to person handwriting ends up falling in categories and types and families anyhow. Limitations are real, and healthy. Constraint is a force to reckon with. A frame.

Is it really such the unique and compromising position, being a computer user? The term points to a sea of secondary authors, but maybe it is more historic to consider that anyone who even speaks is 'using' an inherited language, with it's own limitations. So what do people do? They invent new combinations and hence new meanings, but they don't invent a new language (esperanto was derivative anyway) if they want to be understood. You take what was before and you expand on it to suit. Everything has always had limitations, it's kind of ridiculous to single out the internet and it's user-generated content as the first example.

I don't want to press on it too hard, and this is just an unedited comment, but does that play?


Response to "New Media Artists vs Artists With Computers"

Hi all,

I understand what TM implies, implicitly because of what it means in relation to artists who use computers but don't know any code. A nuance Curt's conceptual equations lack is that it is possible to be tech savvy and not know any form of coding, but surely this does not equal tech-agnostic. Or does it all hinge on code? Does this lessen their practice (end users like the Sherman example) from a 'new media' perspective? What part of computer assisted art production (new media?) is there for those who use pre-developed software or tools (gasp) and don't hack or modify it in any way, but just find a personal way to use it? Arguably, from a more holistic perspective, it is quite possibly implausible to assume that anything can ever truly be created from the ground up, as we all rest on the shoulders of forebears in every project imaginable. Sometimes i get the feeling the same rhetoric, if applied to other pursuits, might mean that if you didn't develop your own text editor from the ground up the words written aren't validated in the same way as if you did. Should this really be the focal point of cultural production made with technological assistance? This situation leads to a kind of tension between artists and developers, it's an ideological boundary that is largely symbiotic. But that's not to say it doesn't exist at present and in recent years. All i can deduce from the scenario is that an artist who uses a hardware/software doesn't need to have authored that hardware of software to be able to use it in a personal vision. A true piece of art is some surface or metasurface that has been activated in such a way as to produce a visceral resonance in the experience of the broader community - but there is no higher truth to any one formal or expressive approach over another. Artists with computers and new media artists, as this post and comments indicate, do definitely need some form of non-hierarchical clarification.

From a personal perspective, I use small commercial software to paint pieces in ways I could only dream of doing in oils, and to do so I use whatever software and hardware tools are available around me, i'm pretty sure that's the way it's always been for most artists save for a few behavioral innovations. If I wanted to customize, program, hack or re-develop something, rather than purchasing a C++ manual and spending the next 5 years mastering it, i'd prefer to continue painting that entire time and work with other people who already have a high command of the programming skillset. So to boil it all down here - going by my practice I don't know if I would be characterized as a new media artist or artist with computer, purely because of the divide that TM has mentioned. I didn't write any painting programs, but i paint with them in a personal and unique process that is very mindful and interested in adding to the great lineage of this distinctly human form of visual disclosure. But at the same time I produce animated websites, digital video, audio etc, so I wouldn't say i'm either tech-savvy or tech-agnostic, but in a strange and large middleground where I feel a great deal or this division resides.

Ry. :)