[spectre] Fwd: [iDC] The Social Machine of Events

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Fri Feb 3 08:58:48 CET 2006

>Date: Wed,  1 Feb 2006 16:04:17 -0500
>From: Trebor  Scholz <trebor at thing.net>
>To: IDC list <idc at bbs.thing.net>
>Event organizing. Over the past year many experiments with conferencing
>formats took place. They were aimed at escaping the same old
>predicaments. People are fed up with the orthodoxy of traditional,
>hierarchical proceedings of keynote speakers, panels, and unconcentrated
>topical orientation! There is the soporific style of delivering a
>30-page paper to an audience that could have read this text online
>beforehand. Paperism! There is the work-shy re-inscription of yet the
>same players of the virtual intelligentsia over and over again! Peeps
>and masters! Why look at proposals of the ³young nothings² if we can
>have trophy names to pull people into the touristy event spectacle? The
>big names are all that matters, never mind if it is just another check
>off on someone¹s resume.
>Who cares if they have nothing to say. And let¹s just safely assume that
>people in the audience (stashed away in the deep dark of the auditorium)
>cannot possibly be experts at what the well-lid pundits on stage talk
>about. Who cares if that speaker is a good speaker as long as she comes
>from a long-established group of colleges? All that matters is splashy,
>energetic performativity of ideas. "Performances are judged in terms of
>their "felicity," that is, rather in terms of rules and styles than of
>meanings." (Ludwig Pfeiffer) Who cares about meaning?
>Curators visualize their networks. Events become similar to an edited
>book or a mailing list. They are the spatialization of a social network.
>That is why it is important to have a small group of curators being in
>charge of an event rather than a single individual. After the event
>participants will mostly write glaring summaries not to mess up the
>chance of getting invited again. But to what extent does that help in
>the evolution of new media discourse and the development of event-based
>practice? Let¹s stop the sing-along choir! Have a walk on the dark side.
>(Who are the Darth Vaders of new media?) Let¹s call presentations
>spineless, lazy, and substandard if they were!
>What we want is the right, fast-talking *style.* Just throw in the right
>new media speak du jour and you will be OK! We want to be wowed by
>charismatic, odd figures. ³Wow! Did you see that! That presenter amazed
>me. I could not tell you what she said but she was a-m-a-z-i-n-g.² It¹s
>the domination of affect over content! "Communication is envisaged less
>as an exchange of meanings, of ideas about..., and more as performance
>propelled into movement by variously materialized signifiers"
>Peeps and masters. The renowned masters never have to worry again. They
>can say whatever they want and the event flock will bow. Who cares if
>they feel too snazzy to actually stay after their presentation and pay
>attention to their fellow presenters?  And, no sweat: Just a few
>PowerPoint slides will do. (Yes, the lecturer apologized for not using
>the politically correct open source program that is not stable enough to
>hold two hundred images). Or, maybe just pull up a website quickly- that
>will do! We don¹t need event divas!! We lack contributors who can
>improvise and are sensitive to the needs of an event...
>Diversity. Who gets invited? The male whiteness that the Guerilla Girls
>railed against in the art world of the 80s is boldly represented at
>today¹s new media events. Ok, it¹s tough. We don¹t care about skin color
>or gender-- all we care about is expertise. I heard those argument
>endless times. Well, that¹s just flat out ignorant! Expertise takes all
>kind of forms. But also don¹t fall into the trap of tokenism.
>If you put your ear to the ground of new media events (and like John, I
>have been at very many) you hear the same problems over and over again.
>Organizers try to squeeze in as many insightful presenters as they can
>get. Attendees become deeply frustrated by such over-programming and
>surely miss something they came to see. This phenomenon can be called
>*audience tournament.* Even perceptive and sharp-witted presentations
>get few, if any ³patrons² because the event planners did not accentuate
>that ³slot.² You see a few people far away with their faces lid by the
>screens of their laptop spread all over the huge auditorium.
>And in the end the logic of funding demands that the event was a
>stunning and total success! No experiments please! Failure (even
>partial) is not an option! It does not really matter if the participants
>walked away energized. How would they recognize each other anyway at the
>event? How would you know that the person next to you just drops a tea
>bag into a double espresso next to you to overcome her jet lag. You
>would not know it is her! Forget about nametags. They usually disappear
>under coats or hang down on bags. As Marc affirmed, the best thing about
>conferences, or so we are told, are the coffee breaks. Because what most
>people actually try to get out of these occasions, cut out of their
>daily routine, is inspiration, continuing education and perhaps
>exchange, and dialogue. There is not much room for that if lecturers go
>on for 50 minutes.
>Crediting economies! Just like in the film industry the production of a
>project is enormously work intensive and always collaborative. Free
>Cooperation was a 24/7 nine-month job. And of course, nobody can pull
>that of alone (or in that case: 2 people can¹t pull that off on their
>own). Events are always group efforts. But all too often the invisible
>labor is just an addendum in the event notes. a comment at the last day
>of the conference. How do you differentiate contributions? Hollywood
>rattles down unending credits at the end of each film. They specify
>exactly what each person did. But the role models of the director and
>producer are not established yet in event organizing. A problematic
>example of that sort was the Utopia Station at the Venice Biennial. The
>names of the curators appeared in the height of a house while the artist
>names (printed on 8x11 handouts) disappeared in some corner.
>  Events can be precious moments of collectivity! There we are- forty or
>so of us, all in one location at a time. What a potential! This latent
>opportunity gets lost at most discursive events. That, of course, only
>matters if something is at stake! Otherwise, we should just go home!
>Getting together means that we can highlight a topic that is overlooked
>or ignored or silenced! We can mobilize discourse outside of corporate
>structures. You can absolutely organize discourse without company or
>university funding. There are plenty of examples in which consequential
>debates took place in backrooms of apartments or community centers.
>Resource scarcity is met with self-organized cultural activities. At
>such events there is an enormous chance to get something rolling! We can
>put a topic on the map! We can put our intellect, experience and
>feelings together! In the worst-case scenario, a given symposium was
>just initiated to add a line to the organizers and participants¹
>curriculum vitae. It was instigated to artificially make them appear at
>the center of a debate. But a gathering of people can introduce a
>tremendous degree of expertise in a fairly focused debate, coming from
>different disciplines. There is an awe-inspiring potential that is
>hardly ever fully tapped into. How can events really become boiling pots
>of ideas that steam over with discourse and results in follow-up
>initiatives? Sure. Locking up two people in a barn can create a
>productive situation.  Conferencing formats matter! Surprising models
>for discussion can be invigorating. Food helps to get tongues untied.
>Parties are great. In his book "Discourse Networks" the German media
>theorist Friedrich Kittler looks at the influence of the materiality of
>the machines of communication (typewriter etc) on the formation of
>discourses. Equally, event formats: the *social machine* of an event
>shapes the way we talk. Event formats sculpt their content.
>The link to actual organizations dealing with a topic at hand is also
>useful. Example:
>Right2Fight focused on police violence. Human rights organizations came
>to the Sarah Lawrence campus as much as parents whose children were shut
>by the NYPD. Students who were moved by the topics, the net art, the
>poetry, the Afro-Beat band Antiballas were able to make contact with
>organizations like the October 27 coalition right there. And they did.
>And money was generated for these organizations!
>  How could the knowledge that scholars, activists, engineers, and
>technologists bring to an event actually be brought out? How could it be
>mapped effectively? Online knowledge repositories (like wikis or blogs)
>are one response. Audio blogs and video blogs are another. For ³Share,
>Share Widely² (a conference on new media education,
>http://newmediaeducation.org) I used the latter participatory design
>formats to bring in presentations from people who were relevant to the
>topic but geographically too far away to fly them in on the available
>shoe string budget. That worked very well! The site is a useful resource
>now. Results of events matter a great deal. TATE Modern fully
>understands that. Their online resources are exceptional
>Likewise, pre-event discussion is critical! While the complete
>virtualization of conferences (term by Andreas Broeckman) seems to
>rarely work-- the link-up of virtual and embodied components works very
>well. What is the point of sitting behind a table with a few people whom
>you barely know talking about a topic that has little or nothing to do
>with your research? Such get-together is merely a going through
>preconceived academic motions. If you are a good listener you perhaps
>pick up on what the speaker before you talked about. But you may also
>think already about what you will contribute. So, there will be little
>or no connection.  If you are lucky you remember the names of the
>For such discussions *mailing lists* still seem best suited. I say this
>with full awareness of the wide variety of social software out there.
>Mailing lists push messages onto the screens of your daily life. In the
>face of massive information overload such self-assertion is necessary.
>Short biographical introductions, followed by brief, provocative
>comments seem to stir up participation on lists. But over the many
>months prior to events these lists can also serve to inform participants
>about research interests. And indeed: Spare us from reciting your
>lengthy paper at our event! Post it to the list! We will read on the
>plane! We promise.
>My experience with instant messaging is strange. You may have three or
>four windows open at once. All kinds of different discussion strings
>co-exist. That at least is what I notice about the way this
>communication format is utilized. I recently contributed to such forum
>as part of the Istanbul (Web) Biennial (Steve, maybe you can comment as
>well). There were five or six of us. The tone of incoming super-short
>messages set a rhythm for the fast paced conversation. There surely was
>no time to think. It was a very spontaneous, gut-level response. I
>decided to speak to one engaging point that was brought up. But the
>stream of messages mercilessly continued. Once I was done typing two
>sentences that made some sense to me, the question to which I responded
>was old news. I was at least ten messages behind. I can see that such
>uninvolved rapid response systems can be good for organizational
>exchanges or life sharing. I have my doubts about their effectiveness
>for thoughtful debate.
>An event is an event is an event. Each one is different. This is not a
>call for a new orthodoxy. There are no foolproof recipes for success!
>But we should demand thoughtful, concentrated, dialogical, and
>well-organized events that have urgency!
>Trebor Scholz



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