I specialize in digital rhetoric frontiers, especially where human meets code meets hardware meets unexpected iterations and outcomes. I call this digilalia.
Digilalia and Glitch Text: Our Digital Babbling, Mistakes, and the Search for New Rhetoric Frontiers
Digilalia – “Digi“—as in “digital,” which comes from digitalus, a 15th century Latin term that meant “a number less than ten,” and later added on the meaning of “fingers” and “toes” (OED)—it was the first analogue computers that used digits in 0’s and 1’s for programming; “lalia,” – the second part of digilalia – is a Greek to modern Latin term that means “speech.” However, this is also a play on echolalia, which can be defined as a child’s repetition of speech when learning how to talk, or a meaningless repetition of another person’s speech as part of a disorder.
We are in a pseudo-anarchist state in the Internet, which is, in itself, disorder. We like to say that there is control over the Internet, but we are quickly learning that digital culture is, as rhetorician Donna Haraway said, “where text is fluid.” Copyright attempts and bullying tactics do little to curb the hundreds of thousands of subcultures online, even in countries that strictly moderate digital culture.
James Bridle coined the term The New Aesthetic, which can be used as an umbrella of sorts over art, digital text, and digital rhetoric when we look at how the Internet and digital age overlap with our personal cultures and intentions, often creating surprising results that reveal innovation, humor, disaster: Bridle (2011), “The New Aesthetic … is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our distant but overlapping realities” (Bridle 2011).
Nike+ Fuelband is used by a man, who syncs his data with his wife. If you notice to the far right, when he is usually asleep, his activity level spikes around midnight. His wife realizes her husband is cheating. Nike obviously didn’t design this program to have the outcome of discovered infidelity, nor did they realize there would be a brief backlash of privacy concerns as a tertiary result.
Similar to the observation of the New Aesthetic, Digilalia is an observation, not a movement; it’s an examination and utilization of overlapping textual and technologic boundaries. It is where human rhetoric is digitized, altered, and executed in a communicative and persuasive model. In the digital world, sometimes these overlapping boundaries create what are called “glitches.” Sometimes glitches are simply worth a laugh. Remember odd things happening in your childhood video games, for example? Your character jumped off of a building and became suspended in air?
Other times we can find our own reflection – the proverbial ghost in the machine – writing back. Like echolalia, our mimeses demonstrate our infantile babbling. We are textual babies online, searching for ways to communicate with competing technologies. And when our provider-mothers tell us to obey the rules, we don’t.
Digilalia is a new method of understanding digital rhetoric and New Media by way of new frontiers that I study and exploit. Some of the following digilalian frontiers consist of: bots and their coded, problem-solving mechanisms we call algorithms; bot caves as defined by Matthew Plummer-Fernandez; application bots; Twitter bots; what I call algo-sexism and algo-racism in the digital sphere; repetitive digital text as a commodity; and, finally, the devaluing of symbolic currency and that damn “Like” button.
Some bots, like @quiltbot, use art and algorithm and visual rendering to make a sort of complex rhetorical model that also demonstrates to coders new formats of recombining images.
The Random Darknet Shopper is an automated online shopping bot which we provide with a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week. Once a week the bot goes on shopping spree in the deep web where it randomly choses and purchases one item and has it mailed to us. The items are shown in the exhibition «The Darknet. From Memes to Onionland» at Kunst Halle St. Gallen. Each new object ads to a landscape of traded goods from the Darknet.
The Random Darknet Shopper is a live Mail Art piece, an exploration of the deep web via the goods traded there. It directly connects the Darknet with the art space (exhibition space). By randomizing our consumerism, we are guaranteed a wide selection of goods from the over 16’000 listed on Agora market place.
Who is responsible from a digital rhetoric model of communication? Are coders to be imprisoned for something they didn’t predict? This is a frontier ready for exploration by rhetoricians.
Jeffry van der Goot created a bot, which he declined to identify, that would take what was presumably Markov fragments of text from Twitter, splice them, and Tweet them back out. In this case, it made a death threat to another bot. Even more interesting, the Amsterdam police were monitoring Twitter and saw the threat. They investigated van der Goot, who tweeted the reaction. He’s also pretty obsessive at tweeting. But the fact remains, is van der Goot culpable?
This was just talked about at SXSW. “Many Tinder spammers’ approaches have grown subtler. They’ve migrated from lewd photos or women and explicit, sexual language to more plausible, girl-next-door-style pictures. And they’ve programmed their bots to try to mimic a normal conversation, “hoping to trick users into providing their phone numbers before they realize they’ve been had, security researchers say” (Vice Motherboard). Rhetorically, the bots are exhibiting – in a linguistic world, pragmatics – they are using a sense of time to slow down responses; they are presenting themselves as non-promiscuous men and women; and they are now talking about sports when luring men, instead of using sex as bait.
The contextual adaptation is being realized in an algorithm in a dubious way, but could be used and is replicated to assist people in a friendly manner to solicit information before, let’s say, a technician helps you to troubleshoot your issue, cutting down talking time and getting information without using a touchtone phone or the technician’s time figuring out basic information.
Soon, linguistics and algorithms will be solving ever more complex problems by “speaking” between bot and human.
@wayspurrchen tweeted a picture at both @badpng and @pixelsorter, which had been done before. What he said usually happens is that @badpng distorts the image and “then passes it off to @pixelsorter, who then returns the image innocuously.” But this time @badpng tweeted back to both @pixelsorter and @wayspurrchen, which prompted the @pixelsorter bot to respond with a new image to @badpng and the tweet, “Hi.” @badpng corrupted the image, and returned the image to @pixelsorter with, “Hi.” The result? A “love affair between two bots.” Of course, this is not an emotion, but rhetorically this is a complex model of persuasion and communication.
#Good vs. #Evil is a quite straightforward project. It is also a hack of an existing two racing cars game. Yet in this case, the bot is counting iterations of two hashtags on Twitter: #Good and #Evil. At each new iteration of one or the other word, the device gives an electric input to its associated car. The result is a slow and perpetual race car between “good” and “evil” through their online hashtags iterations.
A different kind of data visualization combined with racing cars.
The Beast is a device that asks to be fed with money at random times… It is your new laptop companion. To calm it down for a while, you must insert a coin in the slot provided for that purpose. If you don’t comply, not only will it continue to ask for money in a more frequent basis, but it will also randomly pick up an image that lie around on your hard drive, post it on a popular social network (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and then erase this image on your local disk. Slowly, The Beast will remove all images from your hard drive and post them online…
A different kind of slot machine combined with private files stealing.
Algorithmic and autonomous software agents known as bots are increasingly participating in everyday life. Bots can potentially gather data from both physical and digital activity, store and share data, and develop ways to communicate and “learn” from their interactions. In essence bots can animate data, making it useful, interactive, visual or legible. Bots, although software-based, require hardware from which to run from, and it is this underexplored crossover between the physical and digital presence of bots that this workshop investigates. You will be asked to design a physical ‘housing’ or ‘interface’, either bespoke or hacked from existing objects, for your personal bots to run from. These botcaves would be present in the home, workspace or other, permitting novel interactions between the digital and physical environments that these bots inhabit.
ALGO-SEXISM / ALGO-RACISM
Notice that in openstreetmaps, which relies on crowdsourcing, which is primarily comprised of white men, you’ll notice differences in the map with Google Maps, which tends to use more algorithmic data from many sources.
We are beginning to discover that in a male-dominated tech sector, those who are doing the writing, editing and programming of text and symbols are mostly inadvertently promoting a sexist digital environment. OpenStreetMaps, which is available for anyone to add information, is male-dominated, and, in return, certain areas that frequented by women are not being added to the maps, creating a visual environment that is friendly to men, and furthers the ostracizing of women using the program. Furthermore, according to fastcoexist.com, companies with enormous digital “reach,” such as Flickr, Foursquare and Craigslist are now using OpenStreetMaps.
TEXT AS COMMODITY:
A photo, tweeted on Weibo, of a woman sitting in front of an array of iPhone 5Cs, with the caption app store ranking manipulation employee offers a glimpse of the workforce behind online Chinese services that, for a high price, can get you into the top ten rankings of the iTunes app store. The woman’s job was to download, install, and uninstall specific apps over and over again to boost App Store rankings. Some IOS developers are also known to fraudulently use bots to do this.
Wiley, Sutko and Becerra (2010) said that there are four interrelated features of late modernity that have become problematic to modern theories of communication and culture, which are
the imbrication of places and territories within regional and global networks (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, & Perraton, 1999; Sassen, 2000a, 2000b; Wiley, 2004); the disembedding, distantiation, and technological mediation of social relations (Adams, 2005; Appardurai, 1990; Castells, 1996, 2009; Giddens, 1991; Rouse, 1995; Sinclair, 1999); the expansion of global media, communication, and information networks (e.g., see Castells, 2009; Hargittai & Centeno, 2001; Herman & McChesney, 1997; Mowlana, 1997; Robertson, 1999; Schiller, 1992; Sussman & Lent, 1991); and the mobility of people, things, and resources. In light of these historical developments, late modernity is said to entail the restructuring of space and place (Wiley, et al., 2010).
These overlapping gaps within space and place provide areas for exploitation – good or bad – and I argue that digital space and place –when considering digital rhetoric as commodity and exploitation – must consider time, as this woman’s job will soon be stopped or rendered obsolete when the overlapping digilalian gap is “filled.”
SEMIOTIC DEVALUATION OF THE “LIKE” BUTTON:
Consider the “like” button on Facebook, or the “heart” button on Instagram, and many other sites that allow you to approve, instantly, and without comment, about something you appreciate or enjoy. Once a means of expressing a digital emotion with a positive affect, studies are now showing that, in the case of Facebook, hardly anyone looks at who is “liking” their posts or pictures or videos, compared to five years ago, when it was almost an obsessive ritual for many. Now, in order to be noticed and have your appreciation for someone reciprocated, you need to provide a comment. And these comments need to have some sort of value, using pathos, ethos or logos, with certain values such as comedy, compassion, or data.
What was once a synonymous and ubiquitous symbol will still hold a place in history, but through the lens of rhetoric scholars on modernity and culture, the “Like” button and those of its ilk lack the cultural substance that must accompany symbolism in order to achieve a sense of value or permanence (Blair, 1997; Kenny, 2008; Burke, 1935, 1950; Aune, 2008; Simonson, 2014).
The “Like” button transcends different cultures, and homogenizes the reactions of people. Once the branding and novelty wore or wears off, the framework of culture: politics, religion, humor, and other shared senses of identity, supersede the semiotic nature of the “Like.” One Digilalian outcome of this is that Facebook does not promote the coalescing of different cultures; rather, it bifurcates ideas and does not promote grafting of ideas and differences. It reflects the real world. Here’s your question of the day that should make your head hurt: What if Facebook actually employed the “Dislike” button so many people want?