When Multimedia Wasn’t Art

The concept of multimedia is rather ubiquitous today, represented best, perhaps by the hardware that employs this ability to the utmost—personal computers. But from a humanities standpoint it is interesting to consider what previous scholars and critics have said about the concept of combining media or even artistic forms within the same medium. In my recent quest to examine the nuances of the concept of transparency (as opposed to hypermediacy—see Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation) in audiovisual media, I discovered an interesting point of view from a film scholar. In a 2005 textbook on film theory, The Philosophy of Film, there is a section devoted to the nature of film. Included in this section is a consideration of the move from silent film to ‘talkies,’ and not all of the theorist presented in this section view the change favorably. Rudolf Arnheim, in an article published in 1957, notes the “feeling of uneasiness that every talking film arouses” in him. He specifically argues that motion pictures cannot reconcile sound and image, a remarkable thought in today’s unquestioned acceptance of multimedia creations. In making this point he distinguishes between everyday reality, which is of course a multi-sensory experience, and moving pictures, designed to be an art form. He writes: “Therefore, when in everyday life an unbalanced combination of visual and auditory elements fails to produce discomfort, we need not be surprised either. In the realm of art, on the contrary, the unsure expression of an object, the inconsistency of a movement, a badly put phrase will impair at once the effect, the meaning, the beauty conveyed by the work.” Unlike real life, art has a goal of creating a strong, unified message, and Arnheim argues that this effect is greatly lessened or even hampered by employing two forms of media to communicate the same message. This distinction is further reinforced by his sense of how moving pictures are connected to other forms of media. He succinctly asserts that “[o]ne cannot put a sound in a painting!”

Obviously, the question of what is considered art is a very large one, and perhaps now that cultural studies has attempted to demolish the divisive sense of high and low culture/art, also a relatively moot one. Arnheim’s ideas are also problematic for other reasons, but it is very interesting and I think helpful that his article was included in a basic film textbook. Questioning assumptions such as the seemingly natural combination of moving images and sound seems like an important step towards a critical understanding of digital media. Even if one dismisses Arnheim’s arguments after consideration, that act of consideration is important. What else might we be taking for granted? Do we realize what assumptions we make about digital media?

start of new term

HUMlab is often engaged in activities on and off campus. This week is the official start of the new semester and today we have been telling new students and other interested about HUMlab, courses, collaborative possibilities etc.


Tomorrow we will be involved in the Humanist Mingel ( information in Swedish only). Should be fun!

Web 2.0 Soldier


Jim: Have you ever killed anyone?

SGT STAR: Unfortunately, some Soldiers do die during combat. The possibility of death exists in every profession. In the event that a Soldier dies, the Army provides compensation for the family.

Jim: That’s nice. How does it feel to kill someone?

SGT STAR: Incredible, isn’t it? Is there anything else I can help you with?

So goes the playful banter with Sargent Star, an avatar on GoArmy.com, the recruiting site for the United States Military. The US military is using the embodied agent in response to the belief that “85% of teenagers are online every day” and such a device has a “cool factor”. According to a military source quoted in Time magazine “Thousands have chatted with Star, typically staying on-site for 15 minutes – three times longer that the average visit before he went live.” Star responds with voice and text.

Having seen a talking chef on Barnes and Noble’s site last year speaking about his book (he climbed out from behind the tool bar and “in front of” the web page) and following some experiments with SitePal the use of these agents seems to be developing as a web practice.

Sargent Star’s mission is:
I am a dynamic, intelligent self-service virtual guide that will help you quickly navigate the GoArmy Web site and retrieve Army-related subject matter, while simultaneously answering questions and directing communication based on interaction with the user

Planning and fun

The HUMlab crew is now back from planning days at Höga Kusten. During our visit there we had plenty of fruitful discussions concerning everything from blogging practices and daily maintenance of the lab to strategic planning for the future, including the strengthening of the research profile “the Humanities and information technology” at Umeå University.


One of the things we planned was our presence at the Humanist mingle taking place on Wednesday. Ellen presented a concept (worked out in her group) based on us having access to a large lecture hall where we will show Machinima film and treat our visitors to Popcorn in specially designed HUMlab cones. Other planned activities include testing our haptical reach-in interface (prefereably before eating the popcorn to avoid grease on the device) and skateboard simulation. Chatting with the crew is of course part of the plan as well.

Our planning days were not all work, but we had a nice evening together as well. Before dinner, some of us took the opportunity to go for what might be the last swim of the summer.


California vs Höga Kusten

The last day in this seminar and I start to feel kind of dizzy of all the information during the last two weeks. However, it has really been an experience (or immersion? : ), the University and the academic culture in US was just as intresting as the topics we have discussed.

Sending a thought to all the HUMlab staff. Hope this weekend in Höga Kusten is fantastic.

Lilia Efimova in HUMlab

Today (in about 20 minutes) Lilia will talk about her case study of blogging practices at Microsoft. (See abstract below). We are very excited to have her here. The following link will take you to the live stream (archive link to follow) and if you would like to participate, you can skype in to humlab-seminar.

“Don’t blog on Fridays”: collisions between blogging and work
Lilia Efimova, Telematica Instituut, Enschede

One of my broader interests is to understand what happens when emergent technologies (like blogs or wikis) come to a workplace. What happens to passion and lack of central control enabling those tools when they collide with boundaries, rules and business interests of an organization?

During this seminar I’d like to present the results of my study of weblogs at Microsoft and to focus on the dilemmas faced by a blogger employed by a big company, changes in working practices and relationships because of blogging, as well as the implications of those. I’d also interlay it with the examples from my own experiences of blogging research to illustrate that many of those dilemmas and changes apply to academic environments as well.

Link to stream: http://www2.humlab.umu.se:554/ramgen/encoder/humlabseminariet/live.rm


Call me!

Scrabble, Geocaching and Saskia Sassen

The second and last week at this conference started with Saskia Sassen who talked about global network and urban spaces. Saskia is a professor at the University of Chicago and has doing a lot of research on Globalization and immigration. Todays lecture focused on the Global city and how formal political system accomendate less and less of the political. I interpret this statement as a bigger gap between the formal and the popular. Different groups that inhabit the city are also part of making this place and it surely seems to be a struggle in the process of making. Sassen also mentioned technological medias as a way of challeging national and urban structures. Here again, technological devices seem to inhabit the ability to erase established categories.

After this theoretical lecture it was time to get more practical. We spent the afternoon playing Scrabble with help from GSM and also went geocaching in Aldrich Park. My group started out really bad with not even understanding the longitude and latttude. The feeling of worthlessness was absolute… until we figured out that the GSM was mis-programmed. Eventually, after walking in the wrong direction for about three kilometers, things started to feel a bit better. And the knowldge that there were an award waiting for us afterwards, helped keeping up the good spirit…

T L Taylor on Reconsidering Emergence

I really enjoyed T L Taylor‘s Keynote Presentation on Reconsidering Emergence. I thought I would blog my notes to add to those already posted (a type of collaborative blogging).
T L described herself as practicing”qualitative sociology”. This has been recently applied to World of Warcraft. At the moment the MMORPG is running at 6.5 million inhabitants, and growing fast. T L noticed a different type of game play when she moved from the USA to live in Europe and began playing on a “European Server”. This is something that surprised her. T L said she noticed two things; avatar selection affects data and the player versus player game makes for a very different game experience. She was now on a “European English Speaking PVP Server” and noticing the difference.
“The same game can look very different based on the server”
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