News/Research

Announcing the Spring 2019 Conference Grant Recipients

14 Mar, 2019

Announcing the Spring 2019 Conference Grant Recipients

The Berkeley Center for New Media is thrilled to provide small grants to our graduate students to help them share their innovative research at the premier conferences in their field. We look forward to seeing the work of these students spread across the globe!

Jessica Adams

American Association of Applied Linguistics | Atlanta, Georgia

Envisioning the Globe: Symbolic Competence in 360-Degree, Virtual Reality Narratives

This paper presentation reports findings from an innovative digital storytelling exchange, where high school students in India and the U.S. filmed 360-degree virtual reality stories. Virtual reality stories are films that capture 360-degree space around the camera, and the stories are viewed immersively through headsets. The study asks: “How did students enact symbolic competence to construct 360-degree stories for a “global audience”? How did students across school sites respond to these alternative realities.

Through a multimodal analysis of the videos (Kress 2003), I uncover how students enacted symbolic competence, attending to their use of language and 360-degree modalities. This presentation theorizes what it means to speak with power in global, school-based exchanges and through 360-degree stories, and it extends symbolic competence to narrative exchanges.

Harry Burson

Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2019 Conference | Seattle, Washington

Stereo in the 19th Century: Space, Audition, and the Théatrophone

My paper is a media archaeological exploration of the earliest experiments and demonstrations of stereophonic sound at the end of the 19th Century. I argue that these largely forgotten applications of multi-channel sound reveal a genealogy of stereo sound as a part of a formative media environment in which the new technologies reshaped received conceptions of time and space. Histories of multichannel, or stereophonic, sound tend to focus on its widespread popularization in post-WWII America, especially in its relation to the spectacle of widescreen cinema and the conspicuous consumption of domestic hi-fi enthusiasts. Such accounts of stereo as a postwar phenomenon ignore its longer history as part of early audio technologies including the phonograph, telegraph, and telephone.

I explore how these initial audio experiments—along with the related technology of the stereoscope—alternately shape and challenge contemporary conventions of representing and shaping space. Drawing on the work of Emily Thompson’s work on sound in modernity, Stephen Kern’s history of the transformation of space at the end of the 19th century, and the methodologies of media archaeology, my paper questions predominantly visual approaches to questions of the mediation and construction of spatiality at the turn of the 20th century. My work contributes to contemporary discourse in new media, sound studies, and media environments by examining how sound technology has reshaped perceptions of lived and virtual spaces.

Miyoko Conley

Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2019 Conference | Seattle, Washington

Designing a K-pop Audience: Asian American Performance in KPOP the Musical

My paper looks at how transnational audience performance is framed within K-pop media, through the award-winning musical KPOP (2017). Produced by the Ma-Yi Theatre Company and Woodshed Collective in New York City, KPOP is about the industry’s foray into the American music market. The show strove to reproduce K-pop’s total entertainment approach, by incorporating catchy music, spectacular dances, and music videos. It also created an interactive experience, as the audience followed three K-pop groups through a behind-the-scenes tour of the industry. While influenced by theatre “experiences” such as Sleep No More, KPOP also took inspiration from its subject and combined digital media with audience interaction.

This paper examines how the multimedia design of KPOP the musical strives to turn its American audiences (assumedly not K-pop fans) into K-pop fans, while situating its Asian American audience in the in-between space of audience and performer. While many Hallyu scholars have focused on K-pop idols themselves or global Asian audiences, I will show how making an American audience into K-pop fans becomes a performance with political implications for Asian Americans. Though focused in one object, the themes in the show speak across disciplines, connecting theatre and media studies, transnational transmedia circulation, embodiment within media, audience participation, and how race intersects with these topics.

KC Forcier

Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2019 Conference | Seattle, Washington

Endless Images: Looped Media, Digital Temporality, and the Gallery

It is my contention that the endless loop in contemporary video art constitutes an exploration of attitudes about temporality in the digital age. Fredric Jameson and Jonathan Crary, among others, have articulated a belief that temporality in globalized, late capitalist society is characterized by a pervasive never-ending present, in which the rhythmic cycles of day and night give way to a sense of perpetual ongoingness. The “24/7” temporality of the digital age is enabled by the looping code of computer software, which operates outside of organic time. This paper will focus on the video installations of Jennifer Steinkamp (b. 1958) whose digitally animated seamless loops, I argue, engage formally with the iterative structure of code. Steinkamp’s animations, which depict flora rhythmically moving and abstract shapes subtly mutating, make legible, I argue, the repetitive loops of computer programing languages. Her works thematically engage with digital temporality through explorations of repetition, organic cycles, feedback, and entropy. Often placed in public contexts such as the lobby of the Athenaeum at Cal Tech (Einstein’s Dilemma, 2003) or a pedestrian walkway in Las Vegas (Aria, 2000), Steinkamp’s ambient screens critically participate in the media environments the digital age.

Drawing on theories of temporality of visual media and of the digital age, as well as scholarship on expanded cinema, this paper will consider what notions of time are represented in the loop, and how they relate to discourses about temporality and technology in the twenty-first century. It is my belief that this research will have broader implications for the study of temporality in the digital age, for critical engagements with the structure of code, and for the expansion of moving images into non-cinematic contexts.

Grace Gipson

Michigan State University Comics Forum | Lansing, Michigan

Marvel Comics Misty Knight's Technological (Dis)Ability: Combatting Fear and Prosthesis

In the wake of the popular second season of Netflix series’ Marvel Comics Luke Cage and the introduction of a revamped Misty Knight, along with the featured role of Cyborg in the DC Comics film Justice League (2017), popular media culture has contributed to numerous discussions surrounding the perceptions and treatment of race, technology and disability within our society. This rise in popularity reinforces the need to explore the comic book trope of the “disabled superhero” and the ways in which disability and technology intersect.
Despite recent and evolving academic scholarship on comics and disability, and cyberfeminism, the Black female narrative specifically is not as prevalent. Thus, an examination regarding the intersections of race, gender, disability and technology is needed. Black women superheroes’ experiences with disabilities and transformation offer a fictional opportunity to investigate how they function in day to day situations. This is seen in Marvel Comics character, Misty Knight. With the loss of one arm and the regaining of an enhanced bionic one, we witness (via comic or Netflix) how her narrative provides a new illustration of how technology and disability can be complicated, challenged, and uniquely performed. Furthermore, highlighting Misty Knight’s story also provides an innovative narrative that disrupts the following argument that "female, disabled and dark bodies are supposed to be dependent, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies ... portrayed as helpless, dependent, weak." Ultimately, Misty Knight as a comic book character exemplifies how we can approach the representations of disability and technology and the intersections with gender and race.

Nicholaus Gutierrez

What is Technology? | Portland, Oregon

Model Machines: Alternative Programming Paradigms and the Question of Technological Subjectivity

The history of programming languages involves a series of attempts to standardize and normalize development practices that rely on particular assumptions about how best to produce software. But historically, these standards have carried their own ideological assumptions, conflating source code with computation and posing the danger of reifying code as rationality itself. In this paper I will examine attempts in the history of programming to find alternatives to some of its dominant linguistic and epistemological modes, from VR developer Jaron Lanier’s idea of phenotropics, which conceived of programming as an embodied practice using visual and tactile interfaces, to contemporary research in “harmony-oriented programming,” which posits itself as a potential alternative to the dominant Western-centric epistemologies underlying the object-oriented programming paradigm. Using these examples, I will show how the production of code and its consequent ideologies are predicated on epistemological assumptions about what counts as knowing and doing, and will argue that these programming paradigms offer new ways of conceptualizing the subject’s relationship to computers and code as technical objects.

Noura Howell

Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) | Glasgow, United Kingdom

Life-Affirming Biosensing in Public: Sounding Heartbeats on a Red Bench

“Smart city” narratives promise IoT data-driven innovations leveraging biosensing technologies. We argue this overlooks a potential benefit of city living: affirmation. We designed the Heart Sounds Bench, which amplifies the heart sounds of those sitting on it, as well as recording and playing back the heart sounds of previous sitters. We outline our design intent to invite rest, refection, and recognition of others’ lives in public space. We share results from a study with 19 participants. Participants expressed feeling connected to a shared life energy including others and the environment, and described heart sounds as feeling intimate yet anonymous. Finally, we elaborate the concept of life-affirmation in terms of recognition of others’ lives, feeling connection, and respecting untranslatable differences with opacity, as a way of helping “smart city” designs embrace a multiplicity of desires.

Ryan Ikeda

Digital Humanities Summer Institute | Vancouver, Canada

Disrupting Digital Literacy

This essay extends the art critical category of the ‘glitch’ to pedagogies of digital literacy by exploring how teaching electronic literature may disrupt the instrumentalization of knowledge affirmed and established by corporate-sponsored learning outcomes, what Stiegler calls “technoscience.” In doing so, the chapter proposes a more capacious understanding for ‘digital literacy’ to include technics, technical systems, and the location of human learners therein—far beyond its current limited definition as, a mastery of tools.

Malika Imhotep

American Literature Association | Boston, Massachusetts

On Sethe's Back: rememory, cyborgian-goddesses and black feminist ante-humanism

Black women – constructed and employed as ‘god-breathing machines’ since the beginning of the project of modernity – have been cyborgian goddesses + queer assemblages; one need only look closely at the hieroglyphics of their flesh.[1] Black studies has taken several distinct critical approaches to Toni Morrison’s 1987 time-bending narrative Beloved. And New Media studies and Queer Studies have illuminated exciting ground for the study of refigured humanity. Thinking with and against Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1984) and Jasbir Puar’s “I’d Rather Be A Cyborg Than A Goddess,” (2012) I use the work of Toni Morrison as a guide through an engagement with the complex relationship(s) between the black female body and technology. My thinking is enabled by a chorus of black feminist critical theory that challenges the bounds “human” and “body” from the position of the black maternal. Morrison’s seminal theory of rememory is joined by Hortense Spillers’ ruminations on the flesh as I engage contemporary cultural objects that contest the limits of black natality in their assertions of a ‘cyborgian’ presence that is animated by raced and gendered histories of violence and ‘technological’ intervention. Interrogating the racial blind spots of Cyborg theory, I take up the 1998 Johnathan Demme Helmed film version of Morrison’s Beloved alongside the 2016 HBO Sci-Fi drama Westworld.

Tory Jeffay

Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2019 Conference | Seattle, Washington

Body/Camera: Viewing Raw Footage of Policing through the Lens of Early Film

My paper addresses the ambiguity of body cameras’ actual effects in the field and in the courts through a return to early film, comparing new and once-new media to reveal how the aesthetic surplus and ambivalent pleasures of contemporary body camera footage impede its use as transparent visual evidence.

Looking at the design and marketing of body-mounted cameras and the production, distribution, and uses of the footage they produce, I argue that this new technology contains an excess of unexamined meaning at each level that demands critical address. By turning to the actualities through which the public first encountered “raw footage,” as well as early filmmakers’ fascination with motion (through the phantom ride) and criminality (through the caught-in-the act film), I demonstrate that these issues arising in body camera videos are not new, but date to the origins of cinema itself. Like anxious audiences watching the Lumières’ train approach the station, viewers of body camera footage feel physically implicated through their identification with what Vivian Sobchack calls the camera’s “endangered gaze,” encouraged to adopt the wearer’s power and vulnerability as their own. And as early filmmakers drew on audiences’ awareness of events depicted in their films, body camera footage, too, is most often encountered by viewers with preexisting knowledge of the depicted event, circulated in social media and news contexts that color reception of the footage on its own terms.

As body cameras become an ever more common technology of policing and the videos produced fail to live up to the stated aims of transparency, learning to read these objects critically as media becomes politically imperative. By examining the surplus of signification that exceeds their evidentiary value, I question how we should traverse through the scopic pleasures inherent in all acts of viewing and the particular reception contexts in which a video is encountered in order to read these images of police violence inflicted upon real bodies.

William Morgan

APL truth, fiction, illusion: worlds & experience | Klagenfurt, Austria

Nothing is True, Everything is Data: Computational Metaphysics and the Death Of God

This article argues that the God of Western man is being displaced on account of his increasing inability to dialectically negate falsehoods and ground himself as an avatar of Truth. Whether in the case of post-truth, rising populism, information balkanization or technological developments like deepfakes, Western man’s tools for discerning fact from fiction are losing their edge.

As a result, computational metaphysics, the technical-philosophical realization of the world as data, waiting to be discovered as such, is primed to replace Western man in the place of God. Not only does this onto-epistemic system cope with truth’s fragility, it weaponizes it: desire doesn’t have to be true or false to be data-rich (as Deleuze and Guattari put it, “it doesn't matter what it means, it's still signifying”). In terms of clicks, fake news is real revenue. As Western man’s truth becomes more fragile, informatic representations become more attractive, and eventually we start to recognize ourselves in these terms as well.

This article concludes by drawing upon contemporary scholars of new media, computation and capital such as Luciana Parisi, Maurizio Lazzarato, Luciano Floridi and Wendy Chun, in order to ask what modes of political subjectivity and contestation could arise in a world of computational metaphysics, one in which our normal sense of truth and lies has been thoroughly eschewed.

Will Payne

American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting | Washington, D.C.

Crawling the City: Geolocation and/as Free Labor in the Platform Economy

Digital location-based services (LBS) like Yelp and Foursquare market themselves as trusted place-based review and recommendation platforms that help city dwellers and tourists alike to find new places to eat, drink, shop, and spend their time. But these services, and similar offerings by larger technology companies like Google (Maps/Local), Facebook (Places), and Apple (Maps), rely on a combination of in-house technology, public spatial data, and unpaid contributions from their users. By enabling passive location services queries on their phones, checking in to local businesses, updating incorrect information, and leaving tips and reviews, these users maintain a variety of competing and ever-evolving consumption maps of urban space. The geocoded content they produce is also highly valuable to third-party platform developers and services, as seen through the brisk business Foursquare and Yelp do in business development partnerships and data licensing. This paper draws on archival research and interviews with employees at LBS companies and members of the Yelp Elite Squad and Foursquare Superuser programs, which exist to recognize and incentivize the most productive volunteer laborers for these companies. Individuals' motivations for joining these programs vary, as do their understandings of their crucial role in maintaining the market values of these companies through their efforts. I explore how LBS companies deploy gamification, immaterial labor, and social pressure to ensure free access to a continuous stream of accurate spatial data.

Soravis Prakkamakul

Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) | Glasgow, United Kingdom

Exploring Word-gesture Text Entry Techniques in Virtual Reality

Efficient text entry is essential to any computing system. However, text entry methods in virtual reality (VR) currently lack the predictive aid and physical feedback that allows users to type efficiently. The most efficient state of the art methods such as using physical keyboards with tracked hand avatars require special hardware and a complex setup which might not be accessible to the majority of VR users. In this paper, we propose two novel ways to enter text in VR: 1) Word-gesture typing using six degrees of freedom (6DOF) VR controllers; and 2) word-gesture typing using pressure-sensitive touchscreen devices. Our early stage pilot experiment shows that users were able to type at 16.4 WPM and 9.6 WPM on the two techniques respectively without any training, while an expert's typing speeds reached up to 34.2 WPM and 22.4 WPM. Users subjectively preferred the VR controller method over the touchscreen one in terms of usability and task load. We conclude that both techniques are practical and deserve further study.

Cesar Torres

Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction | Tempe, Arizona

A Conversation with Actuators: A Exploratory Design Environment for Hybrid Materials

An exciting, expanding palette of hybrid materials is emerging that can be programmed to actuate by a range of external and internal stimuli. However, there exists a dichotomy between the physicality of the actuators and the intangible computational signal that is used to program them. For material practitioners, this lack of physical cues limits their ability to engage in a "conversation with materials" (CwM). This paper presents a creative workstation for supporting this epistemological style by bringing a stronger physicality to the computational signal and balance the conversation between physical and digital actors. The station utilizes a streaming architecture to distribute control across multiple devices and leverage the rich spatial cognition that a physical space affords. Through a formal user study, we characterize the actuation design practice supported by the CwM workstation and discuss opportunities for tangible interfaces to hybrid materials.

Qian Yu

Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) | Glasgow, United Kingdom

"I Almost Fell in Love with a Machine": Speaking with Computers Affects Closeness and Self-disclosure

Listening and speaking are tied to evolutionary processes of closeness and trust. In this paper, we apply the social psychology of close relationships to explain people's interaction with voice interfaces. We examine what happens when people are asked closeness-generating questions by a computer via text based (GUI) or voice based interfaces (VUI). Through a controlled experiment, we found that people treated both conversational GUIs and VUIs as social actors; VUIs increased the propensity for self-disclosure; and the gender of VUIs affected the tendency to disclose. This research has implications for future design of VUIs and deepens concerns of user privacy.