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Second trimester

Over the last few months, I've been mainly focused on three variations on same theme. I had an interest in how Internet content is based within certain physical places. I have been working with this open source database from maxmind called GeoIP. With the help of this database, I retrieved geographical coordinates associated with IP addresses. I played with this to obtain a representation of the place where web content is hosted. For the visual representation, I used Panoramio, a geolocated image sharing website belonging to Google. It enabled me to geographically contextualize websites that I had found in my browser.

The first thing I made was a little booklet associating URLs and photos of places. Then I also made some a few postcards, using the same method. It enabled me to make a shift from a biographic experience to a public event as subject. The project became then some kind of nod to the Snowden affair. The important “websites” become important “places” where the events took place. I also came to think that the medium of the postcards, referring to the postal system, could be some kind of functional metaphor of how we reach content. In both cases, you need an addressing system. My last experiment with that method is a browser plugin which enables you once it's activated to have the image associated with the location retrieved through the url to be superimposed on the content in the browser tab. So there is no curation from me in that case, it adapts to different contexts.

I mention Snowden about the postcards because of the act of exposing those discreet infrastructures. Before this affair people were not too much aware of what's happening backstage while they browse content or exchange online. The way that things function is very controlled but in such a way that people using the system don't really realise where it happens, there is some temporary zone of obscurity between the point A and B. Which is also what happens between the moment you put a letter in a box and the one when this letter reaches the place it was addressed to. Also, when you start to look at the places where you get content from, it appears a bit more clearly that things are encapsulated within certain nations. Most of the content you access and data that you upload online arrives mainly to a limited range of countries where infrastructures facilitating hosting and storing are hosted.

The plugin acts more like a self-tailored experience. I tried to provide people with the possibility to get a personal overview. It's still speculative, it's not exact but at least it gives an impression of localisation. As an ensemble you can have more or less familiar landscapes. For instance if you go mostly on Facebook and Google and AOL, you are going to end up with rather western landscapes representations. Personally, it is very rare that I get some impression of exoticism. To browse outside the USA and Western Europe is an intentional choice, very rarely an accident. It's just a matter of fact. I'm not trying to change things but to make their specificities appear more clearly. This is a western technology and that's what this method confirms. Perhaps this is some sort of mapping. I find that the World Wide Web metaphor becomes then super deceptive.

I think I follow some path intuitively but it's hard to formulate it. There is an obvious thematic I always get back to. Maybe this could be motivated by some scepticism towards the mystification of technology. I feel uncomfortable when people seem to envision it as some way to erase what's frustrating about being human. Things are never evoloving for the best, they just transfer properties into new shapes. That's perhaps why I search for answers in where it is built, how physical it is, how things and people get located. There is no such thing as accessing content from “everywhere, whenever” that would be accessible “everywhere, whenever”. I think Utopias are interesting but should be regarded as an aspiration that no technology would ever accomplish. Sometimes Utopias need to be proved to be wrong.

I think I try to look at how your location is determined by a system and how you understand where you are from within. For instance if you look at a map you know where you are not through something you witnessed but because you understand how to read the map and because you trust it. It's a curious thing because nothing around you tells you that you are on that continent, in this part of the world. You are where you are in relation to something else. Addresses enable machines and people to be reached through intermediaries. They are the product of a system, a regulation, a codification to be able to index places. But they're not naturally attached to the place, the system could be changed for another.

With the development of communication technologies, we may have believed for a moment that we would overpass physical limitations due to our human condition. What really happened is that we have created other physical constrains. The structure supporting it is very physical and located. When it happens without the body some particularities of being somewhere in general appear more clearly. Physical embodiment gets delegated to some other “bodies”. If the cables under the water get cut, the Internet's information delivery is disrupted. Things move at light pace across landscapes populated with humans, at first that was confusing me. Fast transport is enabled by the physical properties of the materials within the cables. Then content gets back into hardware made of components.

Ruben's asked me if I was interested by the question of identity. I never really thought about it but I guess that the prescriptions written within the infrastructures' design tell a lot about their creators. With the Internet for instance, the geographic containement of the data centers within Western countries reaffirms the sovereignty of these countries. Although I don't really feel like I have much more to say on the topic.

Recently, Manetta and I have started working on a database of Internet metaphors. It is interesting to see how an understanding gets imposed to you through the naming of things. The source domain, where the vocabulary comes from, and the target domain, on which the properties of the source apply to, can have a conflictuous relationship. It's always in a feedback loop. As you understand things in a certain way, it will influence your experience but from experience you might reconsider your definition of a category you had pre established. You understand the idea of flowers because you've seen some, smelled some etc. But because in your mind certain things fit this category, you might one day encounter a flower that doesn't fit the category you have pre established (new shape, or colour). This might force you to update your definition of the category or you will just miss the fact that this is a flower. The cloud for instance is one of the objects I am very interested in, because through that word I do very much struggled to understand what it is. I feel that it's something that is floating in the air, non located, which it isn't. As I evocked with the geolocating experiments, I have already concretely faced the problems arising with the metaphor of the world wide web. It feels like it's encompassing the entire world in a very distributed and non hierarchic way. Not every part of the world is connected the same way as another, which is no problem at all but it's not made clear. When you think that any corner of the world is accessible from one click, then it means that for you this metaphor has substituted the reality. I think that they work a bit like perspectives, like different points of view for the same object. The different experiences we have with clouds for instance get assigned to data storage, so then we naturally assign their characteristics onto the target of the metaphor. But as it speaks of data storage from a particular angle, it leaves some blind spots. It could be interesting perhaps to make a detour outside language and get back to a perceptual experience of Internet metaphors. Convocking directly the source and the target next to each other could create and interesting dialog.