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Xárene Eskandar
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Apr 4, 2007
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    A series of rambles by SpaceCollective members sharing sudden insights and moments of clarity. Rambling is a time-proven way of thinking out loud,...

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    In the 1970s space colonies were considered to be a viable alternative to a life restricted to planet Earth. The design of cylindrical space...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    Staring at the night sky one August, anticipating the Perseids, I realized two things: first, that while facing westward, I was tumbling backward through Space at 860 miles per hour; and second that we have a fundamental existential problem by living under an opaque sky.

    Not long after, a news blip on NPR induced uncontrollable laughs when the reporter read something to the effect of 'the United States positioning itself as the World Leader'. Let's take a moment and think about the absurdity of this position and of these power games, and all games for that matter, from the personal to global. With naked eyes alone one can see the depth of Space and begin to grasp the immensity of its scale. We can immediately understand how inconsequentially small we are, how in the scale of space and time our existence is as insignificantly temporal as a momentary air bubble in the ocean... or a mote of dust.



    What does it mean to be a World Leader on Earth when Earth exists within a Universal scale where it doesn't matter if we implode today or keep on going another billion years? We fight and war and steal and lie and cheat and kill, because we don't realize the real scale of our existence as a direct result of living under the Opaque Blue Ceiling.

    What if, instead of the opaque blue ceiling, under which the majority of humans spend the majority of their waking hours, we lived under the Transparent Night Sky? What if we could see, for most of our waking hours together, that not only are we insignificant in the scale of the Universe, but as far as we know, we are alone and that we only have each other. The view of Space changes our attitude. The awe of this realization is empathic. In the basic familial and social units, we seek each other's company when we feel alone. Seeking company is not a cultural, racial or class thing; it's a human thing. But our World Leaders separate us through differentiation and discrimination—and compared to what? To each other, in this blip of a scale that we occupy in all of Space?

    In Orion Magazine, William L. Fox tackles this question of how we see ourselves and how it affects us from another point of view—losing the view of the whole from Space. Both views teach us about ourselves and while I also mourn the inability to see Earth from space and angry that our Leaders have robbed us of the View, the scale is difficult to grasp and the image has become too familiar. Lying under the ever-changing night sky, the scale envelopes us, becoming cognitively and emotionally accessible. The bare night sky, under-experienced because of light pollution, is under-utilized as a space of learning about humanity and humility, and the basic principle of equality.

    Drop everything and go camping this week. The Perseids are back 11-13 August. Go far away from the city and the light of your smartphone screen. Grab a telescope or just take fresh eyes, and do not use any star-gazing apps. Take a kid, a friend or just yourself, but instead of naming constellations, look for Us within and as the Whole.

    Fri, Aug 9, 2013  Permanent link
    Categories: realization, space, rant, earth
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    I rarely share CNN stuff; they suck in journalism. But this little window into Shishmaref, Alaska is interesting.

    There is a concern of dialects and languages being lost, and as a result, cultures being lost. Of 4000 or so spoken languages, we have about 2500 left, some spoken by as little as one person, and when that person is gone, the language is gone unless it was successfully transmitted.

    However, at the same time that we are losing ancient languages and cultures, we are gaining new ones. This is either happening the way it has happened for centuries, which is by the fragmentation of social and cultural groups that leads to dialects; or in more creative ways such as completely new construction—which also has historical roots—such as Esperanto, Klingon and now Na'vi. Are the linguists and scientists too worried with loss of old languages (and cultures) to realize the new emerging ones? But the concern for loss of language extends to regular people too, speakers of a particular language, not just scientists. Let's take current English as an example. In the comments of the io9 post linked above, one person says "Work on America speaking better English first." And a few comments are exchanged on what is really about the action the limitations of technology have taken on changing our language, primarily SMS and IM by altering our spelling, and now tweets that require new abbreviated grammar, which also incorporates the new spelling, all compounding the transformation of informal written English.

    As both student and teacher, I have always been meticulous of proper spelling and grammar. I am even picky with tweets, SMS and IM and spell everything out (yes, I face space and character limitations too frequently because because is not bcuz). However, after reading and re-reading De Landa's chapter Memes and Norms in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, I am more convinced of allowing English to be changed through our use of technology. Technology is adding new words (blog) and redefining old words (blackberry). As we are becoming more intertwined with and defined by our technologies, why can they not define new grammar and new spelling? As De Landa puts it, 'the sheer weight of numbers decides its ultimate fate.' He provides Norman French and Roman Latin as examples where though one was the language of English aristocracy, and the other was regulated and forced through the language of law and religion, neither were able to 'take over as the language of the masses', because the masses were speaking their own languages and dialects and they outnumbered the ruling classes. So we can enforce proper spelling and grammar by attaching consequences to it like the Romans did—with grades instead of arm power—or we accept that the growing number of English speakers are adopting new spelling and grammar. This is not a new idea, it's called Spelling and Language Reformation.



    Ed Rondthaler illustrates redundancies of English spelling.

    I think I may have written somewhere on SC, about my anxiety over losing languages; saddened over the switch from blackberry to Blackberry. I still feel sad when I learn of nature words omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary for Children. How can children be taught to care for nature and environment when they do not know or understand the words that define it?

    Omitting words and redefining word spelling are different though. Marcos Novak disagrees; he asserts that 'changing spelling, changes meaning therefore completely changing the language because the connection to the root word is lost'; the original word may as well be omitted from the language. I disagree on the premise that society and humanity are constantly changing and cannot be defined by old words and older meanings. As technologies create more modes of interactions and emotions, our old language will not have enough words for describing and expressing ourselves. In turn we create new words and redefine old words. As we evolve, we advance our language. But if we are adamant about tying everything to proper root words as they were being used in 800AD, 1600 or even 1980, will we not face a problem of inadequate expression? A while back some members of SpaceCollective began brainstorming new word definitions—in a way, reclaiming the language to fit our current needs and modes of expression. (I can't locate the post and it's string of comments. If you do, please create a synapse.) Etymology is vertical and hierarchical, while redefinition is horizontal and mesh-like. The vertical is a slice through strata with diversity across time, while the horizontal stitches together from a larger cultural sample where time is not varied, but common (or has little variety, ie. 15 years, not 150 years). A word which was relevant at one time, is not relevant at another time. Loyalty to the root is therefor not feasible as it slows down emotional and cognitive evolution.

    My title for this post, Language as Virus, is not from William S Burroughs' quote, "Language is a virus from outer space." I have not even been able to locate the context of that quote. (the internet may seem like a good place to look for something, but sometimes it is too big to find what you are looking for.) I came about the title when I began thinking how words are formed and accepted between a group of people, and drew a literal parallel with a virus, an agent that replicates through a host body. This also came about from reading the opening paragraph to the Memes and Norms chapter:

    Human languages are defined by sounds, words, and grammatical constructions that slowly accumulate in a given community over centuries. These cultural materials do not accumulate randomly but rather enter into systematic relationships with one another, as well as with the human beings who serve as their organic support.


    In the case of our ubiquitous technologies, who is the virus: (the) language (of technology) or technology itself? Are we the hosts, or is our language the host? Are we the agents of change through the language or is technology changing us? My mind went wild thinking of the cycle: We create mimetic systems; they take control; we become mimetic systems; we take back control, and the cycle continues—a popular sci-fi plot. However, the "they" are not the machines, the robots, etc. it is the language, the vowels, the consonants, the syllables. Soon we will speak code. The break down and baring of language to shorthand logic for everyday communication and transmission of information is inevitable. We already do that through email and text messaging where all words are reformulated to codes and eventually broken down to two numbers. We are already internally vocalizing the same complex-to-simple shift when reading w/ r u 2day? (Is SMS written or spoken language?)

    Language is communication. Language is culture. Language is poetry. Language is a hand-woven silk rug. Language is a hunting scene painted on the wall of a cave. They all communicate a story about their originating and executing culture. The 'etymology' of these languages are varied; we cannot trace them to a common or single poem, rug, painting, etc. So why should we insist on tracing our spoken and written language to a single common word, an instance in time, so long ago that we cannot even identify with?
    Fri, Dec 18, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: language, code, rant
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    I wrote this post December 2008 but didn't publicly post it here. I don't why, other than I hate facebook, I was ranting and thought I'll keep it to myself.

    But, appearing in this past year (2009), there are already solutions to what I see as new emerging problems with the internet and usage being confined to pre-designed and pre-determined spaces. Social networking needs to move into a broader collaborative environment for generating meaning, as well as moving away from information consumption to knowledge building. I don't want to hear of 'user-generated content'. Content doesn't always contain meaning; it is a neutral word and neutrality in the space of the internet is what allows it to deviate from full integration with the greater human network.

    The World Wide Web was meant to connect everyone without boundaries and borders to everywhere. We were hotly pursuing unique and personal web and email addresses. YourName@hotmail.com and YourName.com were the catch of the day. Web addresses had permanent 'open house' for all to enter and visit and they were growing by the day. If you were a 'creative' you had your own dot com address and if you were not, you were on Tripod, Geocities, Angelfire or something of the sort. Site designs were personalized on the low-end with centre-justified mutli-coloured fonts and flashy animated gifs, or on the high-end with flashy Flash interfaces which come as presets and tools in new versions of Flash these days, or are just coded in HTML. Regardless of looks and limits in terms of who was online, and minus members-only forums, everyone was welcome everywhere.

    Type the address and click Enter, the World Wide Web was an undiscriminating portal.

    This trend of personalized websites and addresses became more and more sophisticated and by the dot com bust, if you Google a band or DJ, local or international, you would find their website; if you Google a friend you may have found them as well. You were also likely to not find your long-lost friends and classmates. You could pay up and use FindYourClassmates.com or some other people-finder web service, or you could use orkut and a select number of other newly minted "social networks." Your web just got cast bigger and wider because now you can find those who never had the personal web space nor the Tripod or Angelfire public spaces. Simultaneously blogs and vlogs start popping up and the web is getting bigger because every mom is now blogging about their toddler's eating habits and their family vacations and DIY home projects.

    The web is out of control! All the people you find, all the information all the happenings!

    But one day, you are forced to make an account before you can view a friend's profile, or read a blog or view pictures. You're closed off unless you join. What's the harm, so you make a friendster profile—but soon switch to myspace because you don't like friendster telling you who you can or cannot be on the web. You make a profile for yourself (and one for your cat for shits and giggles). Soon after you're barraged with friend requests (even for your cat from some obscure band trying to create a fan base). Well, you have the myspace so why not try the next popular marketing trick, facebook. This is all a blast because you are re-connecting with friends you didn't even know you have!

    We are under the illusion—or is it delusion?—that our network has grown.

    The web has allowed for everyone to have presence in the world, and to be reached and read and viewed and reacted upon. Social networking sites and blog sites have taken this connectivity one step further by allowing for everyone to have a "personalized" presence regardless of skill and technical capabilities. But three issues have emerged:

    1_The true meaning of personalization is lost.
    2_The web is compartmentalized and actually made smaller.
    3_All information is secondary and tertiary. Primary sources are lost.


    1_
    I do not miss rainbow comic sans and animated gifs, but I do miss the obvious effort one made to create a personal website in an attempt at having a presence all their own. Despite the abundance of custom designed and coded websites, and personalized WordPress sites which veer far from standard WP, a massive majority of internet users link to standardized facebook/twitter/myspace profiles—the status quo of our online presence, masked as personal spaces of expression. The IKEA and DWR of the internet. A personal website (YourChosenTag.com) is hardy viewed unless it is the provided direct link on one of these social networking portals or if one makes a conscious decision to include a personal website in lieu of the social network profile.

    HTML, CSS and Javascript are languages of our time. I see no reason for every internet user* of 2009 to not know these fundamental communication languages to create their own existence online, even if it means creating the 90's equivalent websites in the latest version of Dreamweaver. The knowledge and command of these vocabularies for self-expression, is equal to building our vocabulary for our spoken language and expressing our thoughts verbally. To be more eloquent, we will quote and borrow thoughts from others whom are well-established. However, we will never be fully realized unless we take full command of our spoken language and begin forming our own thoughts and combination of vocabulary to communicate in. Similarly, we will take a myspace page and customize it to a certain permitted degree in CSS in order to express ourself, but a myspace page for a band will never ever explore the full range of creative possibilities a band can possess when the knowledge of the markup language is limited to begin with, and further limited by the nature of the space within which it is used. LinkdIn and facebook leave no space for web languages to be exercised, and their perfect, regulated aesthetic only reveal the flawed social constructs of regulation and order: the economic system (where you worked, at what capacity, on what corporate gig) and of empty, one-way relationships ("for any one listening" here is my status for today...), where for acceptance we voluntarily stereotype and order ourselves into groups and affiliations.

    Updating news about oneself on facebook is about as impersonal as mass emails where an unknown number of recipients, maybe 5, maybe 500 are BCC'd. Though I hate CC's, I actually feel better with accidental CC's where I realize I am one of say 5 recipients 'chosen' to receive the news. I feel good to be thought of, it even feels better to know I was manually chosen; not only did s/he think of me, but actually went through a contact list of hundreds and clicked the radio button by my name. Just as the mass emailing, the facebook status updates have no intended target audience and no personalization of the subject. No, 'your network of friends' is too broad; every friend is different, and not every friend needs to know everything. As a result of receiving news in the passing, the system of empathy breaks.

    2_
    Costco and IKEA offer everything you think you need and everything you never thought you need in large and cheap quantities. Both deal with consumption, one with comfort in excess, the other with lifestyle. If we limit ourselves to these two mega-stores which offer everything, we would miss out on the whole Mall and all the other offerings and our world gets reduced from the expanse of the Mall to the confines of these two stores. The isolation and shrunken space is furthered if we get catalogues and communication from only these stores. I would sit in a cafe, airport, school, and peek over and discover a new site someone was viewing. We all catch glimpses of each other's screens and a good part of what I see these days is a mini-web of a few million: facebook.

    Social network users (being a 'user' is a key issue I have, as opposed to being a 'creator') are like the Costco and IKEA shoppers who hardly venture to other stores. Even if they do check somewhere else out, it is through a recommendation or link on facebook. Considering the billions of pages that make the internet, it appears that many have become captive users of a few compartmentalized sites, rather than discoverers and creators of a greater number.

    3_
    A friend and I decided to go to an after party one night. I asked where the party is and she didn't know. She said "it was on my facebook". She might as well have said it was on a passing taxi ad. Not being on facebook myself, I didn't even know about the party, but my friend who is a facebook user didn't have much information either. I think our party life would have been more hopping if we knew the primary source of the information, and if it was posted on a more open and accessible network. This incident was not isolated.

    Information is easily shared and spread on the internet and as a result we are in a situation where news needs to be verified. It travels fast, gets re-posted over and over, commented on, reabsorbed, paraphrased, etc. Within less than a day, the original news source is not only lost, but the message is many times transformed. We have to pick and chose to find the right source and our task is harder online with the billions of webpages out there. But Google can only pull about 17% of those anyway**. To add to this dilemma of finding the right source, many of us get subjective selections of news through facebook posts. More often than not, all information in regards to a news worthy event, or a topic of interest, is right there on the Wall, requiring no need to navigate away from that facebook page. The act of 'navigating away' has long been a concern of web designers and marketers and we have seen many engaging ways of keeping people on a website, not allowing them to lose attention and move on to something else. facebook has brilliantly solved this by utilizing our trusted network, in addition to creating an easy interface for adding and sharing information. But the very sinister convenience of staying on one place and trusting your network means many times we do not seek the primary source of information. All information is therefore secondary.

    Granted human knowledge is bazillionary in terms of the generations and number of mouths and minds it has passed through to get to us, but we still have primary sources of knowledge to refer to for building new knowledge. We shouldn't be using and absorbing information; we should be building and creating new knowledge and that isn't happening if we don't venture out into the World Wide Web without a safety net.

    I want to get lost online and never come across a familiar index page.




    * Okay, so I kinda know js.
    ** I read that somewhere online.
    Fri, Nov 6, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: rant, facebook, anti-social networks
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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    In the chapter titled Author as Producer of Walter Benjamin's Reflections, he introduces Sergei Tretiakov's 'operating writer', and how his/her mission, as opposed to the 'informing writer', is "not to report but to struggle; not to play the spectator but to intervene actively". This description is of the author not as activist—because an activist behaves reactionary—but the author as producer, one who creates the revolution field for and with the proletariat. The activist writer is counter revolutionary as that writer "feels his solidarity with the proletariat only in his attitudes, not as a producer." Then there is the 'hack writer' who within his bourgeoisie class utilizes "the productive apparatus... by improving it in ways serving the interests of socialism." Literature, photography, music and theatre are used as examples of such tools, their political functions being to show the world as it is.

    Either tool can take either stance (bourgeoisie or proletariat). The photograph for instance can present a scene capitalizing on the image of a beautiful world; with a caption, however, it can be utilized by the producer author to tell a completely different story. In case of music, Hanns Eisler observes that "music without words gained importance under capitalism". Change is impossible without words, which then makes a concert of words added to music a political meeting. Words, however, have now been assimilated into the Capitalist culture and visuals have been utilized as a political tool to be added to the music. (But now visuals are also absorbed. So what is the next emergent smooth space for production and political action? Is it reverting to the epic theatre of Brecht, the re-emergence of the soapbox and it's interruption of our thoughts and actions in order to open room for new attitudes?)

    The internet, a smooth space with no boundaries for interaction and information exchange is also a tool, with its political function being the absorbing of borders and nationalities and it's ultimate function as a production apparatus, as Benjamin puts it, an apparatus "which is able first to induce other producers to produce, and second to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers-that is, readers or spectators into collaborators." (The example of his time was Brecht's epic theatre.)

    In The Smooth and the Striated, Delueze and Guattari talk of the constant shift from striated space to smooth space and back. Neither space can exist on its own, and one continually sets the stage for the other to spring up from within it. A rational, gridded city as an example of the striated, will always have in it the smooth space of organic neighbourhood growth, community groups and homeless drifters. The internet first serving as a point-A-to-B information exchange route (point-to-point movement being a characteristic of striated space as opposed to smooth space where points do not terminate a path), became a space for people to become producers, creating and sharing new information, activities and ideologies—Benjamin's description of the ideal production apparatus in the hands of the proletariat. However, as prescribed of organic and planned forces intermingling, the smooth space of the internet has bred a new striated space of 'social networking tools', tools which threaten the act of production.

    With "social networking tools", such as facebook, we have stopped communicating directly with each other and instead 'update' our 'status' via 'wall posts'. We do not personally invite our friends with a phone call or email, but create an 'event' in the confines of the 'social networking tool' which our network of real-life friends may not learn of if they are not a part of that insular network. We don't express grief or even news of losing a grandparent other than by creating a status update that you are 'going to a funeral'. The empathic connections between members of a society are cut, and without the feelings of kinship, care, respect, etc. the human connections in a society are severed and social responsibilities to each other are lost.

    Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, point out that "No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself." We have become a smooth space of no-resistance, no production, no thought, no action, ready to be taken in by the controlled space of the anti-social tools.

    These 'anti-social' networking tools have eliminated the theatre of face-to-face interaction and have removed words from the music of social engagement and of physically hearing voices and emotions resonate through bodies and space. The 'haptic' functions of the smooth are now only 'optical' functions of reading gridded information; our organic and boundless movement across the internet is placed in the striae of 'groups' we belong to; we are no longer producers, but are readers, consumers and employees of the machine of Capitalism.
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