Lifestream Week 1 Notes

The first week of this blog was mostly about setting up my Lifestream and getting the various feeds to work. Although I’ve used WordPress before (for the IDEL course and some years back when I did some of the blogging for a company I worked for) I’ve never been a serious user, and haven’t looked at the various set up options, let alone how posts can be made automatically using a service like IFTTT.

Hello Void

The cover for The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross.

My first ever post on the stream was a standard blog post titled “Hello Void”. This was a reference to The Laundry Files, a set of books by Charles Stross. While these novels aren’t directly linked to the concepts covered when looking at Digital Cultures, the main character in them uses computer technology to defeat eldritch forces from another set of dimensions – the techniques he uses would have been considered magic in ages past, but they depend on higher mathematics, which is much easier and safer when carried out by machines.

It struck me later in the course that there _is_ a link between the fictional world inhabited by Bob Howard (the main character) and the course – when looking at the types of cyborg discussed by Miller, V. (2011) (Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.) we can see that Bob’s use of computers, mobile phones and electronic “grids” positions him as an Enhancing type of cyborg – he uses technology to improve his innate human abilities (to see creatures and energies beyond the usual visible spectrum, to detect and defuse wards and magical effects left in place by his enemies and many similar functions). Thinking along these lines, many characters from a range of different fictions could be considered to be cyborgs. James Bond’s gadgets, Sherlock Holmes’s magnifying glass, even Aragorn’s Sword That Was Broken, are all examples of technology that is synonymous with the character. Thinking of the steps in The Heroes Journey (Campbell, J. (1949)The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.) one of the key steps for the hero is to receive “talismans” or special objects that help him on his quest. Could it be that we have always to an extent been fascinated with the concept of people who are enhanced beyond the normal by the tools that they carry?

An awful lot of Tweets and Facebook posts with pictures of cats

Amusing cats – the life force of the internet

These are just the way that I tested out my IFTTT links. I wanted to make sure that shared media would also transfer along with the body of the Tweet or Facebook post. This took some figuring out until I got the format looking how I wanted it. Once I had the look right I went back and edited the earlier posts so that they would have the same appearance, but they have mostly been left in because they show an interesting chronology of my attempts.

Why cat pictures? Well, it has often been suggested that the internet either exists for cats, or is made out of cats. This is a long running internet joke (or meme), so it makes sense to use it in the context of looking at Digital Cultures.

Music videos posted from YouTube

There are a few reasons why I posted these. Firstly it added another feed from a website that I use often. Secondly, I like to listen to music when I’m writing (both for atmosphere and to help me measure the passage of time). Thirdly, I kept these particular videos on my Lifestream because they relate in some way to the first block on Cyber Cultures.

Arctic Monkeys – Four Out Of Five. This song is part of an album that looks at the concept of having an hotel in space, so already it’s pretty sci-fi. However, the overwhelming feeling of the album, especially this track, is that the whole thing ends up being a bit naff. Although Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino was ahead of its time as a resort, it has been superseded and now it inhabits the same sort of niche as Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Butlins. We see this with technological advances all the time – Betamax, VHS, DVD, Google Glass, MySpace, Bing, Zunes, vinyl records, the list goes on of things that where heralded as cutting edge, but now are seen with a sort of  ironic nostalgia bordering on kitch.

Muse – Plug In Baby. This is just directly a song about cyborgs. However it can also refer to the instruments played by the band – their own cyborg enhancements. Muse are linked peripherally to the 90’s Cyber Goth sub-culture who’s adherents enjoyed Dystopian and Cyberpunk fiction and music.

How to Embed a YouTube Video in WordPress Like many people, I find video tutorials on how to do things with software incredibly helpful. I thought it might be a nice idea to embed the video that showed me how to post embedded videos (some Inception type of thing going on there!). Looking back, this may also have been a memory of the MOOC that I took part in as part of the IDEL course in the autumn of 2018 – that MOOC was about how to use Unity to create virtual worlds, and it was really just a set of linked YouTube style videos with a couple of quizzes thrown in. There was no element of community on that MOOC, and it was quite an isolating experience.

Karl Bartos: Atomium – The Film  This is probably the closest I could get to a piece of music to represent Utopian fiction, without being bored to death. For some reason Utopian films have incredibly dull futuristic music or rely on classical music. Perhaps this is to hint at the idea of people losing some of their humanity? Humans are messy and conflicting, whilst Utopias are clean and united – is it something fundamental in humanity that prevents Utopias from becoming reality? Karl Bartos who wrote and performed this piece of music is probably best known for being a member of Kraftwerk, a band that experimented with synthesizers and unusual electronic instruments well ahead of them coming into mainstream use. Their music often revolved around concepts such as robots, cyborgs, computers, AI and other high tech subjects.

As if by magic, the Tweets appear…

This post was pretty much just about me being baffled. I’ve kept it in as a sort of milestone in the ongoing story of me trying to work out how to make this blog look the way I want it.

Booyah!

Cyborg from Teen Titans GO! Loud, bad jokes, eats too much, likes terrible 80’s soft rock… Human.

This post marks the start of the course proper. I’d set up the Lifestream in a way that I liked, so I thought I’d start posting about some of the themes we had started to look at. A lot of the representations of Cyborgs and AI that we looked at during activities such as the Film Festival tended to be quite negative, while I’d notices that similar characters in fiction for a younger audience tended to be more upbeat. Cyborg from Teen Titans GO! or Inspector Gadget both have more of a feeling for the potential of cyborgs, rather than seeing them as innately dangerous or inhuman. I began wondering if perhaps the cyborgs in the film festival could just be a product of lazy writing (“Here is an easy villain to write – people already know he’s inhuman and capable of monstrous behaviour because he has non-human parts”). Whilst we should keep a critical perspective on the potential benefits of technology, it seems that by looking at the perils shown in the darker type of science fiction we could be throwing the baby out with the bath water. I posted another YouTube video about the character Cyborg, and returned to this train of thought in my end of week 1 post about “White Hat” synthetics.

Facebook post with some code as a suggestion

This was posted initially because it made me laugh. However it was also one of the major influences on my writing when I came up with the plot for my short film Tinkering that I made as my Artefact for Block 1.

Black Hats or White Hats? Do writers have a bit of a downer on Cyborgs, Robots and AI?

This was my first weekly summary and it picked up some of my thoughts about cybernetic “good guys” from fiction and what they could tell us. It’s quite a lengthy post in itself so I won’t add any further commentary here.

Steam Powered Giraffe – Automatonic Electronic Harmonics

This was a different take on robots that I enjoyed. The band Steam Powered Giraffe present themselves as being robots from a parallel dimension where Victorian design persisted. Robots there are powered by steam and are filled with cogs – part of a sub-culture known as Steampunk. Despite portraying robots, the characters in the band all have very recognisably human traits. They have friendships, emotions and even have a few love songs. Perhaps when we think about the robot villains of fiction all we are seeing is an “uncanny valley” stage, where they’re close enough to human to be disturbing but not human enough for us to feel empathy with them? Do the robots of Steam Powered Giraffe represent some stage of robot development beyond that? They look obviously artificial, but have human personality and emotions.

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