University of Minnesota Press

Electronic Mediations

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Electronic Mediations

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Program Earth

Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet

Jennifer Gabrys

Sensors are everywhere. Small, flexible, economical, and computationally powerful, they operate ubiquitously in environments. They compile massive amounts of data, including information about air, water, and climate. Never before has such a volume of environmental data been so broadly collected or so widely available.

Grappling with the consequences of wiring our world, Program Earth examines how sensor technologies are programming our environments. As Jennifer Gabrys points out, sensors do not merely record information about an environment. Rather, they generate new environments and environmental relations. At the same time, they give a voice to the entities they monitor: to animals, plants, people, and inanimate objects. This book looks at the ways in which sensors converge with environments to map ecological processes, to track the migration of animals, to check pollutants, to facilitate citizen participation, and to program infrastructure. Through discussing particular instances where sensors are deployed for environmental study and citizen engagement across three areas of environmental sensing, from wild sensing to pollution sensing and urban sensing, Program Earth asks how sensor technologies specifically contribute to new environmental conditions. What are the implications for wiring up environments? How do sensor applications not only program environments, but also program the sorts of citizens and collectives we might become?

Program Earth suggests that the sensor-based monitoring of Earth offers the prospect of making new environments not simply as an extension of the human but rather as new “technogeographies” that connect technology, nature, and people.

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Reading Writing Interfaces

From the Digital to the Bookbound

Lori Emerson

Lori Emerson examines how interfaces—from today’s multitouch devices to yesterday’s desktops, from typewriters to Emily Dickinson’s self-bound fascicle volumes—mediate between writer and text as well as between writer and reader. Following the threads of experimental writing from the present into the past, she shows how writers have long tested and transgressed technological boundaries.

Reading the means of production as well as the creative works they produce, Emerson demonstrates that technologies are more than mere tools and that the interface is not a neutral border between writer and machine but is in fact a collaborative creative space. Reading Writing Interfaces begins with digital literature’s defiance of the alleged invisibility of ubiquitous computing and multitouch in the early twenty-first century and then looks back at the ideology of the user-friendly graphical user interface that emerged along with the Apple Macintosh computer of the 1980s. She considers poetic experiments with and against the strictures of the typewriter in the 1960s and 1970s and takes a fresh look at Emily Dickinson’s self-printing projects as a challenge to the coherence of the book.

Through archival research, Emerson offers examples of how literary engagements with screen-based and print-based technologies have transformed reading and writing. She reveals the ways in which writers—from Emily Dickinson to Jason Nelson and Judd Morrissey—work with and against media interfaces to undermine the assumed transparency of conventional literary practice.

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Jean-Luc Nancy and the Networks of the Political

Philip Armstrong

Significantly advancing our notion of what constitutes a network, Philip Armstrong proposes a rethinking of political public space that specifically separates networks from the current popular discussion of globalization and information technology. Analyzing a wide range of Jean-Luc Nancy’s works, Reticulations shows how his project of articulating the political in terms of singularities, pluralities, and multiplicities can deepen our understanding of networks and how they influence community and politics. Even more striking is the way Armstrong associates this general complex in Nancy’s writing with his concern for what Nancy calls the retreat of the political. Armstrong highlights what Nancy’s perspective on networks reveals about movement politics as seen in the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, the impact of technology on citizenship, and finally how this perspective critiques the model of networked communism constructed by Hardt and Negri. Contesting the exclusive link between technology and networks, Reticulations ultimately demonstrates how network society creates an entirely new politics, one surprisingly rooted in community.

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Viewing Media Installation Art

Kate Mondloch

Media screens—film, video, and computer screens—have increasingly pervaded both artistic production and everyday life since the 1960s. Yet the nature of viewing artworks made from these media, along with their subjective effects, remains largely unexplored. Screens addresses this gap, offering a historical and theoretical framework for understanding screen-reliant installation art and the spectatorship it evokes.
Examining a range of installations created over the past fifty years that investigate the rich terrain between the sculptural and the cinematic, including works by artists such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Doug Aitken, Peter Campus, Dan Graham, VALIE EXPORT, Bruce Nauman, and Michael Snow, Kate Mondloch traces the construction of screen spectatorship in art from the seminal film and video installations of the 1960s and 1970s to the new media artworks of today’s digital culture.
Mondloch identifies a momentous shift in contemporary art that challenges key premises of spectatorship brought about by technological objects that literally and metaphorically filter the subject’s field of vision. As a result she proposes that contemporary viewers are, quite literally, screen subjects and offers the unique critical leverage of art as an alternative way to understand media culture and contemporary visuality.

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Small Tech

The Culture of Digital Tools

Byron Hawk

The essays in Small Tech investigate the cultural impact of digital tools and provide fresh perspectives on mobile technologies such as iPods, digital cameras, and PDAs and software functions like cut, copy, and paste and WYSIWYG. Together they advance new thinking about digital environments. 


Contributors: Wendy Warren Austin, Edinboro U; Jim Bizzocchi, Simon Fraser U; Collin Gifford Brooke, Syracuse U; Paul Cesarini, Bowling Green State U; Veronique Chance, U of London; Johanna Drucker, U of Virginia; Jenny Edbauer, Penn State U; Robert A. Emmons Jr., Rutgers U; Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Clarkson U; Richard Kahn, UCLA; Douglas Kellner, UCLA; Karla Saari Kitalong, U of Central Florida; Steve Mann, U of Toronto; Lev Manovich, U of California, San Diego; Adrian Miles, RMIT U; Jason Nolan, Ryerson U; Julian Oliver; Mark Paterson, U of the West of England, Bristol; Isabel Pedersen, Ryerson U; Michael Pennell, U of Rhode Island; Joanna Castner Post, U of Central Arkansas; Teri Rueb, Rhode Island School of Design; James J. Sosnoski; Lance State, Fordham U; Jason Swarts, North Carolina State U; Barry Wellman, U of Toronto; Sean D. Williams, Clemson U; Jeremy Yuille, RMIT U.


Byron Hawk is assistant professor of English at George Mason University.

David M. Rieder is assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University.

Ollie Oviedo is associate professor of English at Eastern New Mexico University.

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The Souls of Cyberfolk

Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory

Thomas Foster

In The Souls of Cyberfolk, Thomas Foster traces the transformation of cyberpunk from a literary movement into a multimedia cultural phenomenon. He examines how cyberpunk defined a framework for thinking about the cultural implications of new technologies - a framework flexible enough to incorporate issues of gender, queer sexualities, and ethnic and racial differences as well as developments in nationalist models of citizenship and global economic flows. Beginning with William Gibson's paradigmatic text Neuromancer, and continuing through the works of Maureen McHugh, Melissa Scott, Neal Stephenson, Greg Egan, and Ken MacLeod, Foster measures cyberpunk's reach into social and philosophical movements (the Extropy Institute), commercial art (Hajime Sorayama's gynoids or sexy robot illustrations), comic books (Deathlok), film (Robocop), and music video (from Billy Idol's Cyberpunk album). The central challenge that cyberpunk poses for cultural critics, Foster argues, is to understand what happens when the technological denaturalization of physical embodiment becomes the norm. This question acquires urgency as the focus of his book moves beyond the typical technocultural concerns with gender and sexuality to consider race and models of citizenship - a shift that constitutes one of the book's most original contributions to scholarship on the topic.

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Summa Technologiae

Stanis aw Lem

The Polish writer Stanisław Lem is best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the 1961 science fiction novel Solaris, adapted into a meditative film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh. Throughout his writings, comprising dozens of science fiction novels and short stories, Lem offered deeply philosophical and bitingly satirical reflections on the limitations of both science and humanity.

In Summa Technologiae—his major work of nonfiction, first published in 1964 and now available in English for the first time—Lem produced an engaging and caustically logical philosophical treatise about human and nonhuman life in its past, present, and future forms. After five decades Summa Technologiae has lost none of its intellectual or critical significance. Indeed, many of Lem’s conjectures about future technologies have now come true: from artificial intelligence, bionics, and nanotechnology to the dangers of information overload, the concept underlying Internet search engines, and the idea of virtual reality. More important for its continued relevance, however, is Lem’s rigorous investigation into the parallel development of biological and technical evolution and his conclusion that technology will outlive humanity.

Preceding Richard Dawkins’s understanding of evolution as a blind watchmaker by more than two decades, Lem posits evolution as opportunistic, shortsighted, extravagant, and illogical. Strikingly original and still timely, Summa Technologiae resonates with a wide range of contemporary debates about information and new media, the life sciences, and the emerging relationship between technology and humanity.

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Tactical Media

Rita Raley

Tactical media describes interventionist media art practices that engage and critique the dominant political and economic order. Rather than taking to the streets and staging spectacular protests, the practitioners of tactical media engage in an aesthetic politics of disruption, intervention, and education. From They Rule, an interactive map of the myriad connections between the world’s corporate and political elite created by Josh On and Futurefarmers, to Black Shoals, a financial market visualization that is intended to be both aesthetically and politically disruptive, they embrace a broad range of oppositional practices. In Tactical Media, Rita Raley provides a critical exploration of the new media art activism that has emerged out of, and in direct response to, postindustrialism and neoliberal globalization. Through close readings of projects by the DoEAT group, the Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Civil Disobedience, and other tactical media groups, she articulates their divergent methods and goals and locates a virtuosity that is also boldly political. Contemporary models of resistance and dissent, she finds, mimic the decentralized and virtual operations of global capital and the post-9/11 security state to exploit and undermine the system from within. Emphasizing the profound shift from strategy to tactics that informs new media art-activism, Raley assesses the efficacy of its symbolic performances, gamings, visualizations, and hacks. With its cogent analyses of new media art and its social impact, Tactical Media makes a timely and much needed contribution to wider debates about political activism, contemporary art, and digital technology.

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Vilém Flusser

An Introduction

Anke Finger

Vilém Flusser (1920–1991) has long been known and celebrated in Europe and Brazil primarily as a media theorist. Only recently have other facets of his accomplishments come to light, clearly establishing Flusser as a key thinker.

An accessible and thorough introduction to Flusser’s thought, this book reveals his engagement with a wide array of disciplines, from communication studies, posthuman philosophy, media studies, and history to art and art history, migrant studies, anthropology, and film studies. The first to connect Flusser’s entire oeuvre, this volume shows how his works on media theory are just one part of a greater mosaic of writings that bring to the fore cultural and cognitive changes concerning all of us in the twenty-first century.

A theorist deeply influenced by his experiences as a privileged citizen of Prague, a Jew pursued by the Nazis, a European emigrant, a Brazilian immigrant, and a survivor keenly interested and invested in history and memory, Vilém Flusser was an outsider in a staunchly hierarchical and disciplined academic world.

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What Is Information?

Peter Janich

A novel way of looking at information challenges longstanding dogmas—from a preeminent German thinker

It is widely agreed that we live in an “information age,” but what exactly is information? This small, seemingly facile question is in fact surprisingly difficult, and it has occupied many of the best philosophical minds of the modern age. 

In this wholly original addition to the quest to understand information, German philosopher Peter Janich argues that our understanding of information is based in the much broader history of scientific naturalism—the belief that science is a fundamental aspect of the world and not a human contrivance. His novel critique of this widespread dogma grounds science in human life practices and wrestles with the very fundamentals of the scientific way of understanding reality.

Offering new perspectives on the major contemporary fields of communications technology, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence, What Is Information? provides a deep look into humanity in an information age. Its arguments show ways of reconciling the sciences and the humanities, shining new light on the relationship of science to the natural world.

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