Amanda Stanhaus

Tag: nelson

Creative Condominiums

Writer’s note: originally submitted for McGill University’s New Media class with Professor Caroline Bem.

We can determine technology & media, but they can similarly determine us. McLuhan, a technological determinist, recognizes the power of any medium to impose itself on the unwary, but “the power of technology [is] dependent on alternately grasping and letting go in order to enlarge the scope of action.”[1] Comparing technological determinists with the view of symptomatic technology, Williams describes the nuances, for technological determinists see that technology creates new ways of life, while the view of symptomatic technology understands technology to provide materials for new ways of life.[2] In “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?” Viola is deeply aware of technology’s determinism; he alerts artists to the symptomatic ability of technology, as technology can be a tool that artists use to improve and create new art forms, but only if artists conduct the construction of condominiums in data space.

Viola ponders the holistic potential of technology to benefit creativity, knowing that the tools are available for artists to use. Creation is a holistic experience; Viola describes how in Central Java, “the music was learned and conceived as a whole in the minds of the musicians.”[3]  Piece-by-piece video editing is a thing of the past, just as humans carve their realities out of an interlocking whole, computers will allow for “a spatial, total-field approach of carving out potentially multiple programs (…holistic software models, data spaces, and infinite points of view).”[4] Building upon Bush’s “Memex”, Nelson similarly saw the holistic possibilities of computers; with digital storage and hypertext the written word could finally reflect the non-sequential path of ideas.[5] Nelson proclaimed, “writers do better if they don’t have to write in sequence (but may create multiple structures, branches and alternatives), and readers do better if they don’t have to read in sequence.”[6] Viola expects artists to benefit from similarly embracing technology.

Specifically analyzing video art’s technological possibilities, Viola recognizes that video is gaining intelligence from the holistic approach of computer editing. Previously, the curse of video art was to record everything, but with the advent of the computer, Viola proclaims the seeds of the ultimate recording technology are being planted.[7] Viola is inspired by the impact of computers on fashion design; from inspiration to creation, from checking on fabric stock to sharing with others for comment, “all phases of [the fashion designer’s] work could occur on the same screen as digital information. He could travel in space (Europe, the Far East), as well as in time (art history), all in an instant and available either as written text or visual images.”[8] This system was not a mass produced condominium; the fashion designer is not working within the parameters established by someone else. Instead, whoever created the system the fashion designer used had a deep understanding of what the fashion industry needed from technology–the ability to holistically look at a design-in-progress –and the technology was programmed accordingly. Computer video creation and editing could be similarly revolutionized. Viola writes to persuade and achieve institutional recognition of the technological possibilities, which Gaudreault & Marion claim necessary for video’s second birth.[9]Artists must build upon their existing habits of media use with new uses, as both are essential to a new media’s identification process according to Gitelman & Pingree.[10] Viola urges artists to determine technology’s creative abilities and create a new media identity.

Viola urges artists to embrace technology and dictate its use. Otherwise, Viola warns technology will be determined by the“boring domain of linear logic in the school classroom.”[11] It is on the shoulders of artists, Viola explains, as “we will find that the limitations emerging lie more with the abilities and imaginations of the producers and users, rather than in the tools themselves.”[12] Viola concludes, “today, development of self must precede development of the technology or we will go nowhere–there will condominiums in the data space (it has already begun with cable TV).”[13] Artists must have a vision for technological artistic use and implement that vision. Otherwise, technology will stifle creativity, just as tv channels limit the range of content shown. Viola closes with an anecdote; by turning off his headlights, he tricked a porcupine into believing it was not in danger, “I realized that he was probably walking proudly away, gloating over how he really gave it to that big blinding noisy thing that rushed toward him out of the night. I’m sure he was filled with confidence, so pleased with himself that he had won, his porcupine world-view grossly inflated as he headed home in the darkness.”[14] The porcupine mistakenly believed it was in control.  Vaidhyanathan would relate this porcupine tale, to the dominance of Google and its soft power, “Google understands the fact that default settings can work just as well as coercive technologies. Overall, Google orders our behavior and orders the Web without raising concerns that it is overbearing. It’s a brilliant trick.”[15] Viola similarly alerts artists in “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?” to technology and it’s ability to control users with surprisingly strong “soft power.” Viola wants art to be a part of that new way of life that technology creates. Artists must not be ignorant of technology, as the porcupine was. It is up to artists to decide how technology will be incorporated into the creation of their artwork. Technology provides unlimited possibilities for new artforms, as long as artists take part in the construction of condominiums in data space.


[1] McLuhan,“The Medium is the Message,”15 & McLuhan, “Media as Translators,”56.

[2] Williams, “The Technology and the Society,”14.

[3] Viola, 466.

[4] Ibid, 467.

[5] Nelson, 158-9.

[6] Ibid, 159.

[7] Viola, 464 & 467.

[8] Ibid, 469.

[9] Gaudreault & Marion, 13.

[10]Gitelman & Pingree, xii.

[11] Viola, 469.

[12] Ibid, 467.

[13] Ibid, 469.

[14] Ibid, 470.

[15] Vaidhyanathan, “Render unto Caesar: How Google Came to Rule the Web,” 15.

(Originally submitted for Amanda Stanhaus’s New Media Communications course  with  Caroline Bem.)

Information Liberation Leads to Conformity, not Creativity

Writer’s note: originally submitted for McGill University’s New Media class with Professor Caroline Bem.

Building upon Bush’s memex, Ted Nelson envisions a grand hypertext as the ultimate way for technology to mimic human train of thought and memory.  Bush penned his description of a memex in 1945, imagining a comprehensive storage device that “is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”[1] Almost thirty years later in 1974, Nelson pens Computer Lib / Dream Machines, imagining a grand hypertext, which “consist[s] of ‘everything’ written about a subject, or vaguely relevant to it, tied together by editors (and NOT by ‘programmers,’ dammit), in which you may read in all the directions you wish to pursue. ”[2]  Tumblr’s liberated hodgepodge of information expands an individual’s memory and allows users to seamlessly follow their curiosity. Nelson’s grand hypertext  is realized by Tumblr, as this technology allows an individual to post street style photos, survey others’ photos and interact with other street style aficionados.

A Tumblr blog is a hub of one’s interests, whether the user creates or reblogs the content. Tumblr realizes Nelson’s dream “that we may be able to store things digitally instead of physically.”[3] For example, no longer do fashionistas have to wait for Vogue’s September issue to know what to wear that winter. Fashionistas can assess what the current trends are by viewing posts tagged “#street style.” If a user fancies a blog, the user can choose to follow the blog for constant updates.

Nelson hoped that technology would mimic human’s non-sequential, branch-like thinking. Nelson’s ideal was that technology would allow content to be linked to each other, so humans may act on their natural curiosity and seamlessly transition to either directly or indirectly related topics. On Tumblr, users can view “#street style” posts, and click on the post’s other tags to view specific trends such as, “#cobalt,” “#denim,” or “#leather.”  These tags allow everyone to show their unique perspective on a trend.

Tumblr blogs have endless possibilities, as users can curate their blog with any content, written or visual, that piques their interest. Nelson astutely notes, “the structures of ideas are not sequential. They tie together every which way.”[4]  One’s creative impulse is uninhibited, as it is easy to hop from one interest to another by clicking on tags and reblog a post to document one’s interest in a topic.

Nelson believes information cannot be controlled and instead, it must roam free, as it does on Tumblr. Nelson’s dream of information liberation is nostalgic, “We must once again become a community of common access to a shared heritage.”[5] With universal access to common information, Nelson hopes his grand hypertext maximizes humanity’s creative potential.

Tumblr is the realization of Nelson’s grand hypertext, yet the outcome is the opposite of what he hoped would come from information liberation. In the Tumblr age, no longer does Tokyo have fashion trends distinct from Montréal.  Instead of realizing Nelson’s avant garde dream, Tumblr has fostered his nightmare of humanity’s creative capacity being stifled into conformity.


[1] Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic,  July, 1945.

[2] Ted Nelson, “Computer Lib / Dream Machines, 1974,” in Multimedia—from Wagner to Virtual Reality, eds. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan (New York: Norton, 2001), 160.

[3] Nelson, 158.

[4] Ibid, 159.

[5] Ibid, 161.

(Originally submitted for Amanda Stanhaus’s New Media Communications course  with  Caroline Bem.)