the more Holland thought about this idea of coherent, self-reinforcing clusters,
the more subtle it began to seem. For one thing, you could find analogous examples
almost anywhere you looked. Subroutines in a computer program. Departments in
a bureaucracy. Gambits in the larger strategy of a chess game. Furthermore,
you could find examples at every level of an organization. If a cluster is coherent
enough and stable enough, then it can ususally serve as a building block for
some larger cluster. Cells make tissues, tissues make organs, organs make organisms,
organisms make ecosystems - on and on. Indeed, thought Holland, that's what
this business of "emergence" was all about: building blocks at one level combining
into new building blocks at a higher level. It seemed to be one of the fundamental
organzing principles of the world. It certainly seemed to appear in every complex,
adaptive system that you looked at. ... a hierarchical, building-block structure
utterly transforms a system's ability to learn, evolve and adapt. Think of our
cognitive building blocks, which include such concepts as red, car, and road.
Once a set of building blocks like this has been tweaked and refined and thoroughly
debugged through experience, says Holland, then it can generally be adapted
and recombined to build a great many new concepts... And that fact, in turn,
suggests a whole new mechanism for adaption in general. Instead of moving through
that immense space of possiblities step-by-step, so to speak, an adaptive system
can reshuffle its buildingblocks and take giant leaps."
Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, M. Mitchell
Waldrop, page 169
An interactive system can also be focused around
interpersonal or group communication
; we've seen many different manifestations
of this - e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, chat boards, mailing lists, narrative environments
such as MUD's and MOO's, etc. These tools have enabled distributed, self-organized
we flock according to our interests, searching out self-similar communicative
group communication means all messages simultaneously
propagate to all members. As a direct result of the creation of a near instantaneous
any-to-any network, we have injected the forces of complexity and chaos into
the organizational and communicative structures of our culture. Yet complexity
theory alone is inadequate for the task of understanding these phenomenon, as
it makes no place for sentience or the vagaries of human perception. At the
intersection of complexity, theoretical ecology, cybernetics, media theory and
cognitive psychology lies a description of the emerging ecology of information,
and of ourselves.
network itself also engenders interactivity; its nature as a distributed communications
medium providing us with easy access to a wide range of information previously
unavailable, either due to limited distribution or the economics of print. While
the content we're interested in might be quite limited in interactivity, our
access to it is a by-product of the technologies of interactivity; our request
and the informations return becomes the act of interactivity. The content could,
and usually does, mirror the structures of print, but our access to it and the
means of delivery are unprecedented.
we have developed a view of connectedness in ecological systems such that connectedness
of a system, whether measured by interaction
terms, connectivity, or connectance, has a direct relationship to system stability.
(...) "The overconnected condition will often overexcite the parts such that
they overstep the organizational constraints of normal functioning of the system.
With emergence of an overconnected state the old rules of functioning of the
system become irrelevant (Allen and Iltis 1980). (...) In evolution to higher
levels of organization the interaction rates
associated with the overconnected condition give rise to a mode of system functioning
which operates within new organizational constraints (Allen and Iltis 1980)."
Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity, T.F.H. Allen and Thomas
B. Starr, 1982, University of Chicago Press, page 223.
you look at very complicated systems in physics or biology, he [Stephen Wolfram]
said, you generally find that the basic components and the basic laws are quite
simple; the complexity arises because you have a great many of these simple
components interacting simultaneously. The
complexity is actually in the organization - the myriad possible ways that the
components of the system can interact." - Complexity, pg. 86
Others have discussed hardware far more elegantly and completely than I am able
to here. My main interest here is in hardware and networks as information processing,
transmission and storage systems, which also happens to be a way to describe
a biological organism
Three main topics are relevant to the larger discussion: the current state of
our information storage as effectively
random access devices
, and the relationship between processor speed and visual
Memory) represents perceptual instantaneity, an information storage
device in which all information is equally accessible and where time and space
are effectively eliminated within the confines of the chip. The limiting factors
are the assemblies in which memory resides: the hardware architectures which
determine the flow of information and the speed with which it can be processed.
Representation in RAM, however, is even more fleeting than human short-term
memory; turn the system off, and the information is gone. For persistent storage,
we turn to disk drives. They are, in fact, linear storage mediums with information
retrieval speed limited by the physical movement of a read/write head over a
magnetic surface; access to that surface, however, is non-linear; the head(s)
can access any point on the disk without having to read the information which
resides in the interstitial space, the space between point A and point B.
tools, to adapt a phrase from Marshall McLuhan, are extensions of the human
animal, devices which amplify and propagate, as well as transform and add to
the capabilities of our bodies. As with any other tool, the interface, the means
by which we make the tool function, and the ease with which it maps onto our
cognitive structures and senses, determines effectiveness. The interface devices
we use to access the digital realm are simultaneously primitive and unnecessarily
complex by comparison. The capabilities of our computers are currently limited
by the tools and metaphors which we've chosen to use as interfaces. We are at
the limits of effectiveness of our current devices, the QWERTY keyboard and
mouse. We're beginning to see a proliferation of specialized devices; joysticks
and other devices designed for accessing spatial data, speech recognition, pen-based
devices which recognize some form of human writing. It's not by coincidence
that many of
the works in Digital Traces
function through novel spatial interfaces; artists
are currently at the forefront of research in kinesthetic, performative interfaces.
Other artistic examples include Char
Davies' Osmose and Ephemere, which draw upon SCUBA diving for inspiration
in mapping lung expansion to z-axis movement in a 3D environment, and Toni
Dove's Artificial Changelings, which uses pressure pads and motion sensors
to control a video-based, non-linear narrative.
Traces version a1.1; authors:
Vicky A. Clark,
This system and the tools tied to it are inextricable from the medium which
is their subject: the printed word and image. Print is, of course, a technology,
a means to store and transmit information, to externalize thought and experience.
The variety of print experiences is the result of a complex interplay of feedback
loops: we create technology, the technology changes us, we change the technology
which in turn changes us again, etc. The delivery medium dictates form (paper
and pages) and the tools we use to generate those pages dictate functionality
and aesthetics (lead type vs. digital design). We develop methodologies for
creating content for those pages, and our thinking is shaped by it all. The
of print, the primary information storage device of the past
500 years, is one-dimensional, a line extended through space and a supreme act
of reductionist representation.
Take, for example, a well-developed system of analog information technology,
the library. The
Dewey Decimal System
provides a means of ordering
ed matter by author, subject, and title; prior to digitization, an
analog information storage device-the card catalog-provided an interface to
this system. We search for data about a book by any one of three variables,
organized alphabetically, obtain the book's unique identifying number, cross-reference
this with information about the physical layout of the library, move through
space to the location of the book. The book itself presents us with several
different systems by which we can access its content: a table of contents for
significant subdivisions and an index for specific references. This is an information
THE INFORMATION AGE
By now, we've firmly accepted the notion that the industrial Age - the age of
machines - is over, and the age of information - the age of the computer and
the network - has begun. The line of demarcation is not clear, but in the 1990s,
it has become clear that things are changing. After 50 years of developments
in information technology, it has finally reached a point of criticality and
exploded into mass consciousness, promising, like previous technological leaps,
to transform the underlying architecture
of our culture. The world seems less like a machine and more like an organism.
Digital technology affects, and perhaps even drives, the economy; that same
technology enables us to communicate
with each other in new ways, and we interact
with new forms of representation in art
media, and entertainment. The speed and scope of change is palpable. The only
certainty is that things will be different
The appropriation of the term architecture by the information industries is
a necessary preoccupation with structure or, more specifically, systems
Digital Traces is about a new category of experience: digitally mediated interactivity.
We are proposing interactivity as both a distinct realm of artistic creation
- a new
- and one of the fundamental mechanisms underlying the restructuring
, and ultimately society itself. A generic definition of
interactivity could be: an information-based or controlled system which takes
input from users in order to create or alter the form of its output
definition forces a common analytical framework for the full range of interactive
experience, from word processing to the art presented in Digital Traces. The
digital realm becomes a site of mediation between human intent and the user,
interpreting a set of instructions for receiving input from the user and making
a decision about what information to return. In varying degrees, the user determines
the character of their experience, becoming an active agent in its construction.
The framework presented here is a sketch, and an incomplete one at that; feedback
is still a largely unexplored territory. At this moment in its evolution, it
to photography in the 1850's
or film in the 1910's, still largely tied to
the paradigms of pre-existing media, and lacking a developed critical language.
We've only begun to grasp its implications.
In removing information from static storage mediums such as paper and videotapes
and placing it within a digital,
random access storage medium, any
addressable point within that information becomes instantaneously accessible.
A paragraph, a sentence, a word, a region of an image, a specific time or
region of a video clip, or an XYZ coordinate in a 3D spatial representation
- all become potential communicative objects, connectable to any other object.
This is hypermedia. Why and how these objects are connected is today largely
determined by conscious, human intent. This is interaction design. As the
scale and complexity of our information repositories grows, human intent must
betranslated into systems of structure and often a form which can operate
beyond human perceptual capabilities. This is information architecture. An
example is Amazon.com's
"Customers who bought titles by/about (insert Variable) also bought:" links.
are certainly precedents in analog media for non-linear access to discrete points
within a larger information entity, as well as intertextual references: alphabetical
indexes and content listings joined with page numbers, and footnotes and bibliographies.
These devices and the means of utilizing them are tied to the physicality of
the storage medium: paper. The transmission of the information contained within
the book is limited primarily by accessibility: how many copies were printed,
and where are they stored? Time-based media have developed their own structures
as well; TV Guide and the Preview Channel, for example, provide access to discrete
units of information called programs, which occur at a specified point in time,
for a defined interval of time. Time and space are the fundamental units by
which we order our environment.