The Social Photo and the Motif of Roscoe’s Wetsuit
The Social Photo ∩ SNAP ∩ Roscoe’s Wetsuit ∩ Signal Processing ∩ Because The Internet
By Lance Mason
“ The power of “social” is not just a matter of the time we’re spending checking apps, nor is it the data that for-profit media companies are gathering; it’s also that the logic of the sites has burrowed far into our consciousness. Smartphones and their symbiotic social media give us a surfeit of options to tell the truth about who we are and what we are doing, and an audience for it all, reshaping norms around mass exhibitionism and voyeurism. Twitter lips and Instagram eyes: Social media is part of ourselves; the Facebook source code becomes our own code.” — Nathan Jurgenson in the Essay The IRL Fetish
Systems and Signals
“. . . a system designed to perform a particular task often uses measurements obtained from the environment and/or inputs from a user. These in turn may be converted into other forms… In performing its tasks, the system may need to manipulate or combine various signals, extract information, or otherwise process the signals. These actions are called signal processing or signal analysis.”- Kulkarni
The album describes the difference between the analog world and the digital world. How the digital world affects the real world and vice versa.
The digital world is literally binary. Polarized. Computers store data in a discrete format. Which means that the data being measured can only take on certain values to digitize signals in the analog world. In the case of computers, this is called binary code, 1s and 0s.
“Often the domain and the range of a signal f(x) are modeled as continuous. That is, the time (or spatial) coordinate x is allowed to take on arbitrary values (perhaps within some interval) and the value of the signal itself is allowed to take on arbitrary values (again within some interval). Such signals are called analog signals. A continuous model is convenient for some situations, but in other situations it is more convenient to work with digital signals — i.e., signals that have a discrete (often finite) domain and range. Two other related words that are often used to describe signals are continuous-time and discrete-time, referring to signals where the independent variable denotes time and takes on either a continuous or discrete set of values, respectively.” — Kulkarni
What is happening in the Gif
The domain is the set of all inputs — x values — for which a function [ f(x) ] is defined.
“The range is the set of all possible output values (commonly the variable y, or sometimes expressed as f(x)), which result from using a particular function.”
“Sometimes a signal that starts out as an analog signal needs to be digitized (i.e., converted to a digital signal). The process of digitizing the domain [x values] is called sampling.For example, if f(t) denotes temperature as a function of time, and we are interested only in the temperature at 1 second intervals, we can sample f at the times of interest as shown in Figure 2.4.” — Kulkarni
What is happening in the image, is the literal sampling and quantization of Childish Gamino “the boy” in the screenplay, and then his return to normal. But as evidenced by the work of Nathan Jurgenson, and a reflection on the screenplay written by Childish Gambino, “the boy” does not return to normal after he witnesses someone get killed while videoing the event through his phone
In the sampled versions of the image, the blocks of constant intensity are called pixels, and the gray level is constant within the pixel. The gray level value is associated with the intensity at the center of the pixel. But rather than simply showing a small dot in the center of the pixel, the whole pixel is colored with the same gray level for a more natural appearance of the image. The effect of more coarse sampling can be seen in the various images. Actually, the so-called “original” image in Figure 2.5a is also sampled, but the sampling is fine enough that we don’t notice any graininess.- Kulkarni
What Nathan Jurgenson argues and what Childish Gambino expresses in his screenplay is that the offline world and the online world are connected, the online world influences the logic of how we experience the offline world.
“. . .this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline. That is, we live in an augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say “IRL” to mean offline: Facebook is real life.
Facebook doesn’t curtail the offline but depends on it. What is most crucial to our time spent logged on is what happened when logged off; it is the fuel that runs the engine of social media. The photos posted, the opinions expressed, the check-ins that fill our streams are often anchored by what happens when disconnected and logged-off. The Web has everything to do with reality; it comprises real people with real bodies, histories, and politics. It is the fetish objects of the offline and the disconnected that are not real.
Those who mourn the loss of the offline are blind to its prominence online. When Turkle was walking Cape Cod, she breathed in the air, felt the breeze, and watched the waves with Facebook in mind. The appreciation of this moment of so-called disconnection was, in part, a product of online connection. The stroll ultimately was understood as and came to be fodder for her op-ed, just as our own time spent not looking at Facebook becomes the status updates and photos we will post later. “ — Nathan Jurgenson in The IRL Fetish
The above also ties in with the motif of Roscoe’s Wetsuit and how a term from the internet shows up in the “real world”
“Sometimes the Internet seems to jump from the screen: When that avatar you only knew on Twitter materializes in physical space in front of you; when you see graffiti on a wall with a Twitter hashtag; a mouse-pointer-arrow charm necklace; a QR code protest sign; when you get dizzy trying to come to terms with these physical instantiations of what began as digital.How do we understand these objects? What do we call them? Why do they exist? What do these objects say about the complex relationship between information and material, digitality and physicality, atoms and bits?
Reading the last example from Gene Becker, I am at once excited that we are discussing information and materiality as interrelated, but also worried that all of this is reinforcing the problematic “digital dualism” I critique above. Cyberspace is not oozing out into reality, that which we encounter on some glowing screen was always reality, never locked away in a separate, mythical, cyber space. Terms like “ectoplasm” reinforces a dualistic view of separate digital and physical realities: “ecto” means “outside,” describing that which crosses between words.
These are not digital objects becoming real; these objects were always in our reality. What we are experiencing is not a Matrix-like teleportation trick, but a rearrangement, a different flavor of information. We need new terminology that makes reference to the enmeshed, imploded, overlapping, interpenetrating nature of the physical and digital. I dig some of the suggestions above, but I think we need to chew on this more. What are some other terms we might use? Who has written about this before (be it academic, popular or fiction)? — Nathan Jurgenson