My first intention for this project was to play around with the idea of sending tweets with Arduino. The first thing that jumped to my mind, mostly for the exercise, were these « what’s your porn star name based on your birthday » or the « pet name generators » that I’d seen invading my facebook timeline, and didn't seem too challenging in terms of syntax.
(link to prototyping C1) Each sentence, or in this particular case, nominal group, was beforehand divided into three parts, the value of each knob defining what will be sent the serial monitor.
Trump on the couch
The idea of generating tweets quickly led to a critical exploration of the new forms of leadership in the post-truth age, with a particular focus on the types of narratives and counter-narratives that circulate on social media (and that even, at times, dominate it).
TOTAL WITCH HUNT ! 🤢
Sometimes I do believe that to say that what-we-call-truth is no more than a social construct is a reasonable conclusion to reach, especially when some things as clearly constructed as opinionated news footages are being referred to by a politician as the truth, or when scientific data is being referred to as fake news by figures of power.
After I’d managed to create a simple « If/else if » code format for generating text, I collected a set of data of trumps tweets and divided them into three-part sentences. (https://medium.com/swlh/analyzing-trumps-tweets-5368528d2c90)
http://trumptwitterarchive.com/ (to be truly honest, this wasn’t too challenging in terms of syntax either)
"Yesterday around noon my confidence absolutely plummeted to the point where I was sobbing uncontrollably on the bathroom floor and thinking that this whole programming thing was all over for me and I could never tell anyone about any of it because no one could ever love me as the pathetic broken loser crybaby moron that I am."
This was the most brilliant blog post I read this week. It dates back from 2013, and it’s about an Arduino project that sends tweets written by a Markov chain. (I wrote an answer to that post hoping she would still have her code somewhere, but I guess she probably didn’t even have the code for entering that blog anymore.)
Anyway, what I liked the most about that post is the way she calls herself a sorceress for sending newly-made fake Pride & Prejudice sentences to twitter. This not only reminded of a full range of conversations I have had the pleasure to participate in last year, about magic and technology (See Magie et Technologie - Manuela de Barros), and Arthur C. Clarke’s famous rule number 3:
But it also reminded me of the idea that sometimes, even when things may seem pretty pointless, the pointlessness is the point. I read that in an article called « 7 Technologies Shaping the Future of Social Media » https://mashable.com/2009/06/01/social-media-future-tech/?europe=true (because that’s the type of article you need to read when you’re feeling as low as Ava and I). Anyway, the article suggests that Arduino is revolutionary because « The revolution of objects notifying human beings of their state (e.g., The Internet of Things) isn't happening in the R&D labs of large multinational conglomerates, it's happening in the spare rooms, garages, and bedrooms of developers. » And then it mentions Gutemberg but I didn’t want to copy-paste that.
Sound, our fastest sensor ?
What I liked about the idea of a module publishing to the internet was the idea that the outcome would be live-tweeted, and data would be sent directly to the public sphere. This gave a different aspect to the act of participating in the use of the module, you would be pushing data, creating archives. This made me reflect on the idea of tweets being generated without consent, or at least without notice from the user of the device. In this sense, every time the program would run, it would sneakily send out some made-up fake sentences to the world: you’d be playing around with your music without knowing you were spreading lots of data to the internet. 💚
As a framework, we started off by working with sound, our fastest sensor, through the idea of having a range of modular synthesizers. When the module receives an input sound, moving the knobs will trigger modulations. I wanted to stick with the idea that the module would also have some sort of sound output. If the human body can hear faster than it can see, taste, smell, or feel, it means that the sounds produced by the object will be understood by the user before the information is. What if in the end, every user actually gets a different narrative depending on the sound they like.
This rhetoric was developed through the lens of a retrospective approach. First you play with the sensors, then you are given access to the twitter account you’ve been feeding, The act of publishing (fake)news occurs with nearly any control over it, it led to a reflexion around the idea of « commerages » (Gossips, in English, but I thought that word sounded way better in French), so to imagine that we easily buy into information when we enjoy the sound of it, when it fits the imaginaries that we already have for ourselves. We buy into narratives when they satisfy our perception of the direct world.
Time flies so fast.
One minute I understand that it’s actually a thing to draw your own circuit to have it printed out on a neat and (sexy?) PCB board, and the next I discover that it’s actually a thing we’re planning on doing. Now. I hadn’t really thought ahead of that.
One thing’s for sure, it completely overturned the course of events.
Breaking news, only one analog input can work with the wifi shield.
After a bit of research on the matter, we figure out maybe I could make it work by getting my hands dirty with multiplexing, in which case three analog sensors can be read, but not at the same time.
The whole code is built on an IF/AND structure, and I’m not ready to sacrifice my narrative about half-truths and all that. It quickly became a bigger issue than I thought it would be.
I had to commit to my decision of not posting to Twitter anymore and decided it would be sent to an OLED screen. It does sound like it takes a lot of its revolutionary aspects out of the project, but after a few conversations, I figure I’d rather sacrifice my wifi shield than my 3 analog sensors… and multiplexing, hmm, sounded like I needed a lot more time for that………. (good to be honest sometimes)
But this adventure brought me to understand the core of what I was trying to look into: Storytelling. 📗
« What is truth ? Consider the following idea: The significance of a statement does not depend on its correspondence with reality or its truth or falsehood, but rather on the effect the statement has, what this statement does, what this statement produces. »
-To protect us from the truth, Dora Garcia, in Fiction as method.
It’s a matter of subjectivity.
When I was asked to write a synopsis for Writting Machines’' by Katherine Hayles, and that I’d randomly picked to concentrate on A humument as technotext, here’s what I had writen :
« A Humument as technotext: Layered Topographies »
- Katherine N.Hayles
In her chapter, « A Humument as technotext : Layered Topographies », Katherine Hayles develops a reflection around Tom Phillip’s artist book, « A Humument », where he basically cuts-up William H.Mallock’s novel « A human document », by adding a bunch of pictures and drawings on top of the text.
(To understand Katherine N.Hayles’ introduction to Tom Phillip’s artist book, I suggest you read Mallock’s preface for the novel first. Not only was it pretty cool, serving this 15th century / Dangerous Liaisons vibe, but also will it save you from spending the too-many-hours I have spent trying to understand the challenging syntax (for my not-so-well-read brain at this point, at least)
Her analysis uses as a base for reflexion the suggestion that Tom Phillip’s artist book is a re-enacting of Mallock’s own strategy : recasting a hypertextual profusion. She starts with a quick and very subjective overview of Mallock’s own introduction (of his novel), in which a narrator depicts himself as an editor, asked by a countess to transform her dead sister Irma’s scrapbook into a novel.
PART ONE: Recasting hypertextual profusion
(disclaimer: I’ll be the devil’s advocate for a moment, and then I’ll come to my actual point)
In the preface written by Mallock, we learn that Irma’s journal consists in « broken by pages of letters, by scraps of poetry, and various other documents » of different handwritings*. The guiding thread in the construction of Mallock’s preface starts with our editor having absolutely no clue on what exactly he’s being asked to do by the Countess Z— with these documents. As the introduction goes by, we understand (at the same time as the narrator), that these documents are actually an interrupted work, and that Irma, the countess’ sister, was trying to write a novel out of her love story.
At one point in the introduction, the editor says “as they stand they are not a story in any literary sense; though they enable us, or rather force us, to construct one out of them for ourselves”, and Katherine Hayles jumps on that to assume that the editor believes that this profusion of materials is actually what disqualifies the scrapbook from being a potential novel.
Thing is, when the narrator mentions the idea that « as they stand they are not a story in any literary sense; », he doesn’t even know whether the narrator has actually existed, or if the story has actually happened. Only gradually, through his conversation with the Countess, will he be getting the contextual keys, to understand what this said stack of scrap paper represents. To be fair, he’s not asserting anything at that point : he’s only suggesting to the countess, right after she asks him if he thinks it would be generally interesting to work up these contents into some « presentable » form, that he thinks an interesting novel could only be written out of this if it was written « in an adequate way » and by this he means « in such a way as to impress the reader with the truth of it ». As he learns more and more about the truth, he’s more and more interested in the writing of this novel.
- What the narrator was saying is that the beholder of this interrupted work could not make anything out of it without knowing the intentions with which the novel was started, or else it would undeniably lead to an abstract interpretated version of the real story, and to that extent, would not be interesting to publish. To what he later adds that if, indeed, the author had the keys to read the truth behind these documents: « no novel that I have read for years would for me personally have half so much meaning or interest ». -
Katherine N.Hayles makes it sound like the project is to suppress the unruly complexity of the documents by smoothing conflicting paths into one coherent narrative what-so-ever, but as it is mentioned, the project was to finish the novel that Irma had started, it was the actual written of the hypertext who intended, in the first place, to translate it into a novel.
To me honestly, the most critical aspect of the idea is that a man is talking over a women’s story (the feminist issue that Katherine N.Hayles almost talked about, but didn’t). So except for the fact that we’re way too used to having men speak instead of women, who’s real experiences get shoved in the background, I thought the project of writing a novel from scraps was actually not a reduction of the content, but a genuine and interesting effort of translation. (And also it was also Irma’s original intention…) I kind of feel like this one sentence was simply unjustly taken out of context, making me forget that the actual interest in this essay was to discuss the complexity and authenticity of hypertext-image.
This being said, It didn’t completely invalidate Katherine Hayles's point on Hypertext though. Because obviously, turning hypertext into a linear narrative takes away some of its complexities.
- A « masculine » and a « feminine » hand writing…, uh……
PART 2 : ?
I actually never wrote a part two, and I stayed the devil’s advocate…
Writing machine is an especially interesting (look at me trying to bail out of this) study of the approach of media by way of its materiality. In that sense, it explores how the physicality of the object, and the way we use it directly influence our approach to the content it disposes of. It also explores the notion of technotexts as texts that suggest several ways of being navigated, and different entry points, mentioning the Encyclopedia, for example, that represents for many ones of the most impactful example of techno text, or the world wide web. According to Katherine Hayles, « Hypertext has at a minimum the three characteristics of MULTIPLE READING PATHS, CHUNKED TEXT, and some kind of LINKING MECHANISM to connect the chunks. The World Wide Web, with its links, millions of pages and multiple reading paths, is a vast hypertext of global proportions. ». It’s a step into investigating the cognitive impacts of game-changer technologies, and the convergence between older and newer information technologies; their superficial or genuine differences and similarities.
What strikes (with the benefit of hindsight) is how completely unable I was to concentrate on this aspect of it at all. Though I have been fascinated by artist books and the fetish world of print and books by the past, my absolute point of focus on that one was actually an obsession around the translation of different narratives into one single linear thread, the recasting of hypertext.
In Writing Machines, Hayles defines techno texts as texts executed electronically or printed on paper, that self-reflect upon their own material properties and operations as devices, allowing meaning to emerge. Maybe the reason I didn’t hook up so much with that analysis is that my interest in Hypertext resided more in it’s the ability to redefine truths and narratives than on its power to insist on the materiality of the medium itself and that I was expecting something that was not coming.
Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus
I wanted to see the modularity of the object to question the participative approach of news in the way Clay Shirky talks about it in the first paragraph of Cognitive Surplus, Gin, Television, and cognitive surplus.
In this Chapter, Shirkly compares similar patterns between the consumption of tv and the Gin Craze, that took place in the London area in the early 1700s. He presents both of them as coping mechanisms that occur during a crisis of transformation, periods of big transitioning. On one hand, the growing demographics of the city during industrialization, on the other, the cumulative free time available to the citizens of the developed world.
Cognitive surplus as a whole
reveals how new technology is changing us from consumers to collaborators, unleashing a torrent of creative production that will transform our world. (founds this on goodreads.com)
I thought of seeing the notion of modularity through that lens. What happens to a dominant narrative when it is mixed with an array of different subjectivities.
The idea of remote control somehow referring to Clay Shirky and the contrast between the TV, that we consume passively (in isolation from one another), and the internet, with all its mind expanding-reference tools calling for a participative approach.
As a stand-alone module, the information you can receive is restricted, and the control you have over it as well. Chose a piece of information, and you can vary the way it is delivered only through a small spectrum. As soon as the input clicks in, you access an overload of information, through which you need to navigate completely differently. As in all areas of life, it does mean you take the bad with the good. With an input sound in and the participation of other modules in the generating of documents, the code changes and a whole new world of data open up to you. (link to prototyping C2)
"Technologies have far surpassed the wildest dreams of the most mystifying magicians, the most cunning illusionists, the most inspired wizards. (…) It is indeed a strange phenomenon to see our era, so supposedly pragmatic, obsessed with realism, quantitative approaches, economy, drift simultaneously in the unbridled rantings of American Gurus."
Because we are offering a manual with the module for it to be reproduced, I felt like it was important to emphasis the idea of it being easily reappropriated and taken into different directions, so it could evolve or mutate through each individual reproduction of it.
For this to happen, I wanted to use a protocol, so that once that this said protocole was understood correctly, it could be modified and reimagined almost infinitely. The protocol is the following : One KNOB, one SLIDER, and one SWITCH
The two potentiometers vary from 0 to 1023, and the switch offers two options:
HIGH and LOW.
From this on, you’re free to divide, cut up, section, and paste it in almost as many ways as your imagination lets you.
I want this module to be a carrier bag. A carrier bag for fiction, ideas, or prose through a device that could dispose of them in an experiential way.
Media and Materiality
According to Paleontologists, the first tool invented by homo Erectus was some kind of carrier bag.
This brilliant implement, resembling female mammalian anatomy, resembling a hungry belly, was constructed to ensure survival across vast distances of time spans of space.
It allowed us to move, to grow, to evolve. But evolution has a highly refined sense of irony.
And now we deserve a Darwin Award.
Because the thing that pulled us upright out of the depths of time is the thing that’s causing this new great dying.
But I digress…
Because when it comes to this subject, I’m an extinction emo.
A real sad sack.
So for me this book is a bag.
I am making of this bag a body.
A body of work.
A single-use carrier to collect writing.
Like any single-use carrier bag - I disapprove.
It shouldn’t, it contributes to pollution, it should be banned.
Books like this - should be banned.
And yet, in spite of the fact I know this book may be a waste product -
I’m still writing, redacting, expanding.
Even though I know a lot of it is garbage, fool’s words, so much garnish to a lil’ gold -
I’m still waiting, wasting, wanting
So I hope the poems, essays, marginalia, and juvenilia gathered her might be beautiful to somebody.
And it’s with that conceit our species is known for that I am contributing to a floating continent of plastic, a great patch of unread material.
Like all plastic on the planet - this will probably outlive me.
Please don’t choke on it.
SAD SACK, Sophia Al-Maria 💚
While the book with the green pages was sitting open next to me, as if it was to make it up to Katherine Hayles, I’ve just spent a tremendous amount of time reflecting on materiality. And the book fetish has risen as if to close a circle. I remember the intensity of the moment when I read this poem on paper, this summer, and how the story suddenly existed as a physical body. It appeared so real, so present. While re-writing it in my computer, I felt like the more it slipped out of the book, the more it was losing off of it’s most relevant aspect, its place in the physical world. The text is the book, without its materiality, its subject became practically irrelevant.
With most of the parts being ordered from China (and coming by plane), I simply owe the world an explication.
Please don’t choke on my module.
I want to provide a cognitive toolkit for producing literary works where fantasy/fiction converge with the rationality and engineering of code, as a tool for speculations.
Programming is not an outer writing of software code, but an inner building of the mental structure1. I’m particularly interested in the hybridization of two irreconcilable spaces of thought, fantasy and pragmatism, to see the module as an arena to explore how protocols can induce more inventiveness.
When different narratives are confronted, they argue for the existence of a "multiplicity of theoretical standpoints" rather than for grand, all-encompassing theories. It is a way of interweaving several stories, gradually revealing links between them, or confronting their contending narratives to create new ones, and question the pre-existing ones. 1(See ‘Programming As Theory Building’ - Naur)