Monthly Archives: March 2011

Spectacle, Space, and Production of (Alternate) Reality

Below, I’ll try my best to represent the scattered thoughts I have at the moment for potential paper topics. Bare with me, as, in hindsight, I meander in the middle sections (or maybe everywhere), as I’m still working through many of these ideas. But, I think that, by the end, I do consolidate these threads into a larger, if still imperfect, research question. As far as help, general suggestions on further readers for keywords mentioned below is always helpful. As the draft comes together, clarity of terms and context is always a concern when I talk about unfamiliar media.

One metaphor that several of the writers this semester have employed uses spatial language to describe our collective relationship to media and mediation. I first recognized it in Benjamin, with his mention of closeness, a section of text that I featured heavily in a blog post on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”–and a post where Anne called into question my reading of the term as a positive concept (i.e. that being “close” to objects and their representations is a good thing for the proletariat in Benjamin’s view). As I still haven’t figured out how to read this “close”-ness, I feel the want to explore it more.

Early in the first section of Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, he focuses on the separation of reality from a part of lived life to “unfold[ing] in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation” (Thesis 2). Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of Benjamin’s “close,” but not necessarily because it seems to be as opposite as close and separated might seem to imply. (Again, I’m in need of revisiting Benjamin.) One way “into” a concrete discussion of these ideas might be to analyze one of the concepts the Debord ties to this spectacular separation: the manifestation and perception of reality.

This is where my interest in alternate reality games forces itself onto the screen. Debord goes on to write that “the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world… it is the very heart of society’s real unreality” (Thesis 6). This paradoxical “real unreality” encourages me to analyze the ARG as a type of spectacle, or, moreover, as a genre that resonates with some because it can be situated into a society of the spectacle. The connection is more than the convenience of the term “real unreality” or Debord’s continual use of the word “reality” early in his book; I see this pull between “close” in Benjamin and “separate” yet “unified” in Debord as potentially leading to some understanding of immersion–a relationship between humans and media that Jane McGonigal argues to be one of the key features of the ARG genre. While Debord and Benjamin do not explicitly address immersion as such, the ubiquity of images in the mechanical and post-mechanical economy and our ability to distinguish between original and reproduction (and the perhaps artificial distinction between the two categories) are of key concern to both. And, as Paul Virilio argues in The Information Bomb, the predominance of images, especially those mediated by digital networked technology, create an immersing effect of overlapping virtual realities.
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Examining a sustainability infographic

Design as Directing Users

Analyses based on this infographic:

• Color coordinates the three main areas of the page, which illustrates the interconnectivity of the information. Also noted that population is set off in a different color scheme.

• There is a visual break so you see that there are three main pieces of information to review.

• The white circle in the center of the graphic draws the eye first, then the longer of the radiating lines draw the eye to the other information areas on the graphic. (royal blue — to the title in the upper left, teal and green — to the population graphic in the lower right, gold stands out and draws the eye up toward the cluster of pie charts in the top right corner)

• The relative size of the individual pie charts corresponds to the amount of recycled materials. 8 of the 19 materials are not recycled at all. (Perhaps their scattered placement down the right side is meant to make the reader slow down and absorb each fact individually when moving through, rather than to show relationship to each other?)

Design as Rhetoric & Distortion

• The graphic seems to be missing a main title. Without this, the reader must work to discern the overall theme and goal of the display.

• Circle widths represent years, decades and centuries, moving out on the circle. This distorts the difference in longevity of some elements.

• Because it doesn’t have a corresponding graphic, the “If Demand Grows” information seems to be less important.

• It seems as though the impact of the American consumer’s role in depleting these resources is minimized by *not* comparing American per capita consumption to that of the rest of the world. We only see our own figures, which are interesting — but not frightening — because there’s nothing to compare them to except the levels of the other materials we consume.

• Interesting that the radial structure of the “central” graphic implies a meeting of ends, rather than a more temporally accurate spatial representation of the staggering of resources disappearing. For instance, the lower estimate for time remaining of indium is 4 years, while the upper estimate for aluminum is 1027 years. Yet, the graphic, which uses coterminous bar graphs (almost a kind of video game-like resource meter) to show quantity remaining (in a somewhat logarithmic scale).

• The sleek and simple quantification of resources almost removes the consequences of acquiring and disposing the material. These ignored consequences range from environmental to the political