cybernetic megastructure

London IP address density

The above picture is taken from the section Mapping Cyberspace Using Geographic Metaphors of An Atlas of Cyberspace. The image is a result of research analysing the geography of Internet address space by Martin Dodge and Narushige Shiode [↑Working papers by them]. It shows the geography of ownership of blocks of IP-addresses in the United Kingdom. When I saw the image for the first time it immediately reminded me of the following passages from Count Zero (
Gibson 1986):

  They jacked.
  She died almost immediately, in the first eight seconds.
  He felt it, rode it out to the edge and almost knew it for what it was. He was screaming, spinning, sucked up through the glacial white funnel that had been waiting for them …
  The scale of the thing was impossible, too vast, as though the kind of cybernetic megastructure that represented the whole of a multinational had brought its entire weight to bear on Bobby Newmark and a dancer called Jackie. (↵Gibson 1986:230)

“My systems are overextended today,” the man said, his hands in the pockets of a loose tan overcoat. “This is really quite extraordinary. (↵Gibson 1986:231)

“An accidental spillover,” the child said, his voice light and beautiful. “We’ve engaged the bulk of our system via New York, in an attempt to prevent Angela Mitchell’s escape. This one tried to enter the matrix, along with another operator, and encountered our system. (↵Gibson 1986:231-232)

On the way back, he’d seen the big thing, the thing that had sucked them up, start to alter and shift, gargantuan blocks of its rotating, merging, taking on new alignments, the entire outline changing … (↵Gibson 1986:233)

circle of the year

Google on Halloween
Another reason why Malinowski’s postulation that the fieldworker should stay at least one year in the field should be transposed to the online-fields, too. The festivities, you shouldn’t miss the festivities and their consequences. In order to celebrate Halloween Google changed its logo for one day. I already was struck by this adapting of logos, banners, or the whole design to events dictated by the calendar, while following the Max-Payne websites through the years. During Christmas time icicles, snow, and Santa-Claus paraphernalia suddenly pop up at websites. But it is evident that only sites which understand themselves to be institutions—e.g. institutions of the Max-Payne community—follow that practice.



Detail of a promotional picture for 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers' (Sears 1956)
On 4 October 1957 Stephen King was at the cinema. Together with the other ten-year-olds clustered around him he watched the morning performance of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Just as the flying saucers started their attack on Washington D.C. the movie was interrupted and the houselights went on. Pale and nervous the manager entered the auditorium. “‘I want to tell you’, he said in that trembly voice, ‘that the Russians have put a space satellite into orbit around the earth. They call it … Spootnik.'” (King 1993[1981]:21) For the assembled post-war kids a world crashed. The world of US-American supremacy and absolute security. (Chace & Carr 1988) There was complete silence in the cinema. Within this silence everybody realized that far above their heads there was an electronic tin-ball cruising through space, beeping triumphantly. And this tin-ball had been invented, constructed, and built beyond the Iron Curtain. In the race for space the Russians had beaten the American pioneer-spirit.
A technician does last work on Sputnik 1 before it is launched into space
In 1957 the abbreviation ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) already had found its way into public discussion. The American understanding of those four letters went like this: If the Soviets would undertake something audacious, rockets would instantaneously carry the nuclear death to Moscow. This recourse flew in pieces on 4 October 1957, too: “After all, ICBMs were only big rockets, and the Commies hadn’t lofted Sputnik I into orbit with a potato masher.” (King 1993[1981])
    In order to regain military-technological supremacy, to regain security, the US-ministry of defence founded the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958. The idea behind ARPA was to mobilize and fuse research-ressources—especially those of the universities. One mistake should by no means be repeated: To lose ground because of the own hybris and torpidness. So it was carefully avoided to lay aside or miss any chance—may it appear ever so small on first glance. In consequence many small projects flourished at ARPA which would have quickly died away everywhere else due to negligence. But at ARPA it was not only possible to securely work on projects of that ilk, but there was the chance to gain access to substantial ressources.

A key to the rapid growth of the Internet has been the free and open access to the basic documents, especially the specifications of the protocols. The beginnings of the ARPANET and the Internet in the university research community promoted the academic tradition of open publication of ideas and results. (Leiner et al. 2003, compare Kelty 2001)

The Internet is as much a collection of communities as a collection of technologies, and its success is largely attributable to both satisfying basic community needs as well as utilizing the community in an effective way to push the infrastructure forward. (Leiner et al. 2003)


writing hypermedia

The secret of the stairs at Aragon

Essentially, hypermedia is a non-linear multi-media document. By its inclusion of data stored by using the more traditional technologies of representation (film and text for example), in a user-directed, non-linear publication, hypermedia creates a fresh, user-driven means for reading and writing culture. [↵Anderson 1999]

So far I agree—but I’d like to amend that ‘a piece of’ hypermedia can contain a linear path, at least there is the possibility to propose one [or more?] linear path[s] to the recipient. Like Astrid Blumstengel did it in her hypertext Entwicklung hypermedialer Lernsysteme [in German].

The non-linear format enables the user to access information from multiple points of entry and navigate through this information by their own directives and particular interests. [↵Anderson 1999]

Now some kind of disagreement starts as “by their own directives and particular interests” makes me feel uncomfortable. Of course a strategy like that helps to deconstruct the ethnographer’s sublimely unquestioned authority, but at the same time it may well make it impossible to convey a message. And conveying messages is an integral part of representing anthropological knowledge. Granted, on the author’s side there still is the choice of which material to include and of how to build the structure of hyperreferences [vulgo: links]. But with no hint at a linear path the danger for the recipient to get lost in hypertext/media grows exponentially. Finally ‘we’ are accustomed to, and socialized into the conventions of linear representations.

Those are the reasons why I am so excited about Matthias Eberl’s invention, a technology called Reader Triggered Multimedia (RTM) [in German]. RTM allows to embed sounds, animated and still pictures into written text while the latter remains the carrier medium. The presentation of sounds and animated elements are dependend on the position of the scroll bar—in other words: correllated with the whereabouts of the readers attention inside the written text. The reader gets ambience sound, background music, snippets from interviews etc. matching the passage she is reading. Evocation at its best is possible here. In all that I sense tremendous potential for ethnographic representation. Have a look at Matthias’ paper on RTM (Eberl 2004) and into his journalistic example Das Geheimnis der Treppe von Aragon [The secret of the stairs at Aragon] demonstrating RTM.

In a way that may sound a little conservative—written text as the leading medium—and I admit that beside this choice there is the possibility of something entirely new, but I have yet to see a working manifestation of the utopia of completely non-linear hypertext/media. In this respect ‘working’ means representing and succesfully mediating knowledge.

What the reader is essentially entering into is a multi-dimensional ethnography that can include fieldnotes, various methodologically-informed analyses, citations, footnotes, film and video sequences, photographs, audio recordings, and recorded music. [↵Anderson 1999]

Exactly that is possible via RTM—without confusing the recipient, without throwing him into a mess of file-formats, popping-up windows, and requests for installing this-and-that hitherto unknown plug-in. And in a format which still resembles current conventions regarding academic representation.

Access to imagery and sound, as well as the ability to read the author’s fieldnotes, analyses, and theoretical goals, may empower the reader/viewer to take a more critical approach in their assessment of the researcher’s methodology and analysis. [↵Anderson 1999]

Completely embraced by yours truly. In my opinion a hypertext-website, offering one or more linear-paths for choice, consisting of smaller linear parts, the latter augmented by RTM has the potential to fullfil the tasks Anderson hints to. Add a weblog and the transparency already starts during the fieldwork itself—I am far from that goal, I know. Alas, by all that the down-to-earth everyday problems of the ethnographer aren’t solved, but indeed start at this point. For example ethical considerations concerning the publication of fieldnotes, and many more.


ethnographic hypermedia

ANDERSON, KEVIN TAYLOR. 1999. Ethnographic hypermedia: Transcending thick descriptions. SIGHTS: Visual Anthropology Forum. Working paper from the visual anthropology workshop and course Transcultural Images and Visual Anthropology organized by The Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, 3 to 28 August, 1998. Canberra: Australian National University of Canberra. Electronic Document. Available online:

In 1986 Marcus and Clifford compiled a series of essays entitled Writing Culture [↵Clifford & Marcus 1986], which spawned critical academic debate and reassessment of the practice of ethnography itself. Yet, for all of the arguments and debates contained within the book, and those which have followed [...], the discourse has remained within the confines of writing culture; the text itself. Within the body of this paper I am proposing the production of ethnographic research in a new format which can combine the traditional technologies of text and image into a hybrid computer-based document: hyp/ermedia. It should be noted that I am not suggesting that ethnographic books and films will, or should, be replaced by hypermedia—as books were not displaced through the advent of ethnographic film—but that hypermedia is yet another format for ethnographic representation available to the anthropologist. I propose to show how hypermedia is a valuable and effective option for producing ethnographic representations, while also highlighting some of its potential limitations. ↑[...]

See also hypermedia ethnography and evocational ethnography.
via entry at alexoehler


aggressive morning fever

BURKE, TIMOTHY AND KEVIN BURKE. 1999. Saturday morning fever: Growing up with cartoon culture. New York: St. Martin’s.

GOLDSTEIN, JEFFREY. 2001. Does playing violent video games cause aggressive behavior?. Chicago: University of Chicago. Electronic Document. Available online:


embeddedness of subcybercultures

During the recent weeks and months quite some discussion about Wikipedia in general and its academical usage in particular has aroused—especially interesting to the anthropologist are the according entries and replies over at Savage Minds. Among those teaching at my institute the use of Wikipedia by students is an issue, too. In fact just the day before yesterday I gave my students the ‘order’ not to cite Wikipedia-articles in their papers. I did that for two reasons: 1) I have doubts in undergraduates’ abilities to judge the quality of an anthropology-related Wikipedia-article. 2) I take undergraduate-papers to belong to the genre of academic texts. The school I am stemming from has a rule: [special cases excepted] knowledge taken from encyclopaedias [in Germany there is the distinction between Konversationslexikon and Enzyklopädie—the latter being by definition more academic than the former] is taken for being commonly granted and the source has not to be documented in academic papers. An exception would be if a central argument was taken from a Konversationslexikon or the Wikipedia. But then an error has occurred beforehand: Konversationslexika are no appropriate sources for academic texts—primary data and other academic texts are. So take central arguments from the latter ones, and use the Wikipedia et al. for gaining an overview—not for more. And even for that academic works of reference are to be preferred. In case of sociocultural anthropology I fullheartedly recommend Barnard & Spencer 1996—without having any reservations.

Now, my ‘order’ described above may be worthy of discussion, for sure—and even more after having had a glance or two into my very own project-website and blog, as those contain a lot of links to Wikipedia-entries. For example the appendices lingo and listofgames. Why is that? Because: 1) I consider Wikipedia to be a part of my field—at least a part of the realm into which ‘my tribe’s’ realm is embedded. Therefore Wikipedia-entries touching topics like computergames, -mods, and all things g33k constitute primary data in the from of the cyberians’ emic knowledge and/or perspective. 2) I sense Wikipedia-entries on said topics to be of high reliability. Take for example the entries on l33t-5p3ak or the hot coffee mod. Cyberians, those who culturally appropriate ICTs—I am not speaking of passive ‘consumers’ or ‘users’—have a strong sense of history, of background-information, and feel an impulse to not only document but to share all of that. Gamemodding, open source, open content, creative commons, and collaborative efforts like Wikipedia are kin to each other—and they are all aspects of that part of cyberculture which manifests itself online. Norms, values, and ideas of the members of the ‘cyberian tribes’ become visible by means of the named examples.

A slightly different, but related case is my continuous preying on boingboing-entries. A lot of boingboing’s content fills the picture of what online-cyberculture is all about. The subject of my focus—the culture of gamemodders—is embedded therein. But it is also true that I should post less about wonderful things found at boingboing, and more about original things found inside ‘my community’, like e.g. dreamscream. The wandering astray has to be dammed up.


garry’s mod

Gmod 8bit Samus

Garry’s mod [Gmod], of which version 9.0 was released just today, is a HL2-mod[ification] which allows you to do uncanny things in HL2. Wikipedia says: “Garry’s Mod (Gmod), a successor to the throne of the original JBMod, is a simple modification created by Garry Newman. While it does not have any actual gameplay value, it functions as a huge sandbox, where the player is free to manipulate most of the objects and features of the Source engine. This has allowed an extensive community to build up and creating mini-games with Gmod, therefore creating a “Game in a Game” of sorts.” For a comprehensive, collaborative, and ever-growing documentation—including the mod’s history—see the official wiki accompanying Gmod. Gmod, which is moddable itself allows artists’ creativity to run wild in the realm of HL2. The entries at the official forums are ample proof of that. The range of artefacts is incredible—everything from 8bit pixelart—e.g. a rendition of Nintendo’s Samus accomplished by stacking colored crates [see above]—to war scences [see below] reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, and beyond. Machinima, gamics, everything. Do at no cost miss the matrix-effect-style rotating views of frozen-in-time scenes in the Bowling in gm_construct thread. But be warned: Those forums are addictive and you can easily spend hours there, wondering at original artefacts.

Gmod Warscene

initially via entry at boingboing