Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences

Invisible audiences drive the success and failures of mediated social life. But before we rush to further network our private and public spaces we should consider this radical cultural shift. Some lessons can be learned from a recent ambiguous website and an old ambiguous book.

[Hebrew translation available]

Mushon Zer-Aviv (il) about getting intimate with invisible audiences from transmediale.

work by Liu Bolin

Binary Relationships

The privacy debate has been dominated by the cultural leaders of our time – software engineers. Therefore we should not be surprised that the tones of this debate have been often quite binary. Private or public, 0 or 1, all or nothing… these binary dichotomies make sense for packet switching and network protocols, but they are very different from the way we lead our social lives.

Privacy has become a selfish demand, and publicness—a public good. A public demanding the civil rights of information: “information wants to be free”. But this highly celebrated “free” information does not necessarily stand for “freedom”. Thinking that free information would necessarily lead to free societies is as misguided as the similar sentiment about free markets. Yes, technologically it is easier to set something public, “to set it free”, than to define a more limited context for it. But what does it mean for the way we’ve been communicating and contextualizing social relations since the dawn of civilization?

Continue reading “Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences”

Relationship: It’s Complicated

Ignoring my grandma… friending my enemies… WTF? Is it even reasonable to expect social media to reflect the depth of our social life? And when it fails, what do we stand to lose? (+ tips & hacks)

Facebook, in a rare instance of honesty

I have recently become more interested in the “It’s Complicated” option in Facebook’s relationship status. It has hit me that it might be the most honest aspect of the site’s interface. While every third internet user on earth holds a Facebook* profile, none of the site’s users are getting an adequate representation of their social life. This is not due to some broken code or an untested interaction design. No, it’s actually our fault.

*Facebook, is a great case-study for these questions, but they can be asked about many of the social media tools we use these days (Buzz is definitely also relevant, though we don’t use it).

Why should it be so, hmmm… “complicated”?

Why should it be so complicated? We are already busy defining our social life anyway, we are in fact putting relationships into boxes all the time. Some people we call friends, others we call family, others are our group members, others we might admire and define ourselves as their fans. Many of the people you would like to associate yourself with would probably fall somewhere along these lines. In that sense what’s so wrong about Facebook giving us a tool to manage and present this?

Sign here, here and here, now we’re friends.

The only relationship I have ever signed into an official contract, is the one with my wife, Galia. Many of our friends chose to skip marriage as they didn’t feel a need for a bureaucratic intervention into their personal relationship. Yet the same friends and even non-friends send me contracts every day requesting to officially confirm our relationship. Indeed getting a “friend request” is a very awkward thing. Continue reading “Relationship: It’s Complicated”

Interface as a Conflict of Ideologies

Originally written in April 2007. Minor edits: March 2010.

Preface

In the past 50 years the digital user-interface has become a major field of cultural production, since the innovations of Douglas Engelbart in the sixties (mouse/keyboard/video-screen) through the personal computer revolution in the eighties to the rise of the World Wide Web in the nineties and the wider trends for social web applications since the turn of the century. Producers of hardware and software systems have been attempting to develop interfaces that will direct the users to produce the interaction desired by the system they represent.

Discussions about interface design have been constantly revolving around the axis of experience and usability, presented sometimes in contradiction and sometimes as complimentary assets of ‘good interface design’. As a tool the success of interface is defined by its ability to generate the desired interaction on behalf of the user and have the user understand and act by the set of rules that the system defined.

It is important to mention though, interfaces have existed for a long time before the personal or the institutional (academy/military) computer. Actually, they have been around longer than culture or man-made tools have. Yet the rapid development and consumption of interfaces have made this an important and influential part of contemporary culture.

Interface is defined as a point of interconnection between two independent systems. This definition sheds a different light on the way we have learned to know the interfaces around us. If the sides interacting through the interface are to be two independent systems, then one would expect interface itself to maintain that balance and not favor one system over the other. This essay would address the question of control and agency embedded within interfaces and attempt to find where is interface situated within the map of power. It would also use several examples and attempt to propose tactical and strategic approaches to act within this conflict.
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Radars & Fences / You Are Not Here / The Gaza Tunnel Trade

Radars & Fences III

Radars and Fences progam, with Laila & me
Radars and Fences progam, with Laila & me

On Friday March 12th 2010 I will be participating at NYU’s Media Culture & Communications’ Radars & Fences III: Borders, Affect, Space (please RSVP and come). My friend Laila El-Haddad and I will present You Are Not Here – A Tour of Gaza Through the Streets of Tel Aviv, and we’ll discuss the way geography and the concept of the border is shaping the mediated experience of the conflict. We will also discuss some of our recent initiatives to disrupt the theater of conflict resolution.

I am posting an essay Laila and I wrote for the catalog of the Unrecorded exhibition in Istanbul, March 2008, curated by Basak Senova. At the end of the essay I embedded the videos of Laila & Saeed’s Al Jazeera documentary Tunnel Trade that have inspired this text.


The Gaza Tunnel Trade: Interpretations of Occupied Space

by Laila El-Haddad and Mushon Zer-Aviv

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, the city of Rafah was suddenly split between Egypt and Gaza by an Israeli wall. Families found themselves divided by a high-security international border, though their houses often lay less than 100m apart. Before long, influential families who once controlled trade through Rafah moved their business underground through dozens of secret tunnels burrowed below the border, connecting family houses on either side.

With Israel’s military withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the number of tunnels mushroomed. The Israeli military used the tunnels as a pretext for stepping up demolitions of houses to make way for a buffer zone along the border. Israel’s main concern is the smuggling of weapons to armed Palestinian groups. But for the smugglers themselves there is far more to the tunnel trade than politics and arms smuggling. Everything moves through Rafah’s tunnels: from cigarettes and drugs to cash and people. It is a vast enterprise, and pays five times an average annual Gaza salary in one month. It is a family business, passed on from father to son and always – for reasons of security as well as economics – kept in the family. Continue reading “Radars & Fences / You Are Not Here / The Gaza Tunnel Trade”

NewsShift: watchdog journalism with a long tail [Grant application]

Kevin Connor & Matthew Skomarovsky from LittleSis.org (an involuntary facebook of powerful Americans, collaboratively edited by people like you) & David Nolen and myself of ShiftSpace have teamed up and together with Eyebeam have submitted an application for the Knight News Challenge. It is a cross between what LittleSis and ShiftSpace do best, applied to … Continue reading NewsShift: watchdog journalism with a long tail [Grant application]

A Subtle Zionist Occupation of Gaza through Google Maps

Questionable priorities of archeological facts on Google Maps, divisive cross-lingual links on Wikipedia… Are the ideological distortions of history on so-called balanced online services here to stay? As I was working with Laila El-Haddad on the 2009 version of You Are Not Here, we were looking for interesting locations to feature on our mediated/dislocated tour. … Continue reading A Subtle Zionist Occupation of Gaza through Google Maps

To whom does the land belong?

This video is taken from a public debate between Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Dr. Israel Eldad and Dr. Menachem Brinker in 1980.

In the 50:40 minute an Israeli farmer asking what should he tell the Ismaili (apparently referring to the Biblical term used in the debate by members from the right portraying the Palestinians as the arch-enemies of the Jews in Biblical Israel/Palestine friend), who works in his farm and asks him:

“This land that you’re working, I sat in just 30 years ago… In a friendly manner he says that… How can you explain the fact you are working it now? And sometimes, with my labor… You hire me and my friends, to work for you on the land that belongs to me.”

The Israeli farmer continues…

“What will I explain to that Arab, which I want to live with in peace, that I want to reach the day in which he will think of me as a friend and will not think bad thoughts about me.”

Continue reading “To whom does the land belong?”

Fail Gracefully

offf-title

The following is an essay I wrote together with Florian Schmitt (hi-res.net) for the Offf 2009 festival in Lisbon. Florian and I will also host a panel on Saturday, May 9th with Aaron Koblin, PES, and Joshua Davis, to discuss the ‘Fail Gracefully’ theme. Come say hi!

Fail Gracefully

Intro

We fail. We all do, and our failures often say more about us than our successes do. But we hide failure, we are ashamed of it and we often just deny it altogether. For almost a decade the Offf festival have featured successful digital creators in design and experimental sound and have celebrated the cutting edge of digital aesthetics. This year, we shed some light on the dark side of success and discover the dynamics and aesthetics of failure. Continue reading “Fail Gracefully”