Appification of Fitness and Technics of the Body

I modified my recent Code2K12 paper while at was at the conference to introduce a TEDx or ‘Virilio’ moment. By this I mean speculating on the future scenario of present tendencies. I wanted to isolate a tendency in the ways various functions of the magazine are not only repeated in different ways online now (my previous paper), but also in the ways they could be repeated in different ways through annotated or augmented reality technologies. My focus are those events of experience that I tie closely to the circulation of affects that we might call ‘enthusiasm’.

Everyday media technologies have been constitutive in the collective individuation of subjects for a long time. The ‘Kodak moment’ is a classic example of photography becoming part of the everyday experience of ‘family’ and the individuation of ‘parent’ and ‘child’. What I am specifically interested in are not only technologies of representation that insert relations of representational valorisation into social relations but specifically vernacular or affective epistemologies. Taking a photo of a child’s birthday party may involve the modification of setting and composition to capture the ‘perfect moment’, but this does not necessarily generate or develop new ways of knowing either explicitly or tacitly any aspect of the event captured and modulated through technologies of representation.

One of the functions of specialist magazines has been to circulate ‘know how’. ‘Know how’ is an experience-based practical knowledge. Magazines represent the conditions of experience through which (tacit, embodied) knowledge is developed rather than the (explicit) knowledge itself. There is a continuum between tacit and explicit forms of knowledge, including ‘rules of thumb’ that combine both. I’ve developed an account of the ‘How to’ article that follows this line of thinking, which should be published early next year. To help think through this relation between media representations and experience in the development of vernacular epistemologies I have called the events of experience that mobilise enthusiast bodies ‘challenges’. A ‘challenge’ isn’t something that makes enthusiasts all excited in the stereotypical delirium of the enthusiast; often they are rather daunting and can often end in utter failure. The key element of a ‘challenge’ is that like a problem they beg some kind of resolution to a contingent element or state of affairs (‘meet the challenge’), while at the same time they encourage an engagement of affirmation through which one’s capacity to act is increased through positive affects (‘rise to the challenge’). (I also delve into the virtual architecture of challenges, drawing on Deleuze’s philosophy of ‘problems’ and a Deleuzian reading of Kant’s ‘enthusiasm’.)

There has been a tendential shift from enthusiast discourse operating to shape bodies into enthusiasts suitable for a given market of certain challenges in the print era, to enthusiast discourse organised around enthusiast-produced accounts of their own challenges, to what I suggest is currently unfolding which is enthusiast discourse directly intervening into the challenge itself through the specific affordances of AR technologies. The future-oriented historical process I described in my conference presentation involved the suggestion that AR technologies will directly intervene in specific events of experience. In this situation the locus around which the subject, the technology and the media content is organised is ‘this’ singular event of experience through which ‘this’ subject is individuated. All of these involve modulations of challenges, but there is an accelerated relation of temporality now and a more granular relation between the specific conditions of experience through which vernacular knowledges are developed and the ‘How to’ steps that must be followed.

To a certain extent this is playing out already in the world of consumer-level health and fitness enthusiasms. I just spent a stupid amount of money on a set of Withings weighing scales that are equipped with a wireless internet connection so it can sync up with various ‘fitness’ applications on my iPhone. It is a good example of the next iteration of machinic metrology that combines technologies of measurement with algorithm-based modelling of my personal fitness project. The knowledge produced here is of my performance for the day or week. Have I been working hard enough? Have I been disciplined enough? My physical activity still requires me to manually input data (type, time, work, etc.) because I only use gym equipment. If I was running or cycling then one of my apps (Runkeeper) would automatically calculate how much ‘work’ (energy/time) I had performed.

Such knowledges have circulated within specialist media for a long time. I used to subscribe to Men’s Health magazine (or I had a free subscription because of one of my utility providers), and I sometimes still buy it. The relations of valorisation that drive the algorithms of my iPhone apps are discursively embodied in photographic and text-based form in Men’s Health. It was very useful for gaining an appreciation of different modes and levels of mobilisation in terms of the levels of work required for different kinds of challenges. Now my apps have the capacity to modulate the events through which I mobilise as I am mobilising based on my singular conditions of mobilisation (my specific weight, age and type of activity).

These algorithmic technics of coaching embodied in such fitness apps are only a very simple example. I imagine scenarios where knowledges that circulate are far more complex and closer to the mechanical, scientific and design knowledges of different kinds of enthusiasms (modified-car enthusiasts, fishing or gardening enthusiasts, and so on). The ‘googlefication’ of knowledge so it can be parsed and indexed for the purposes of ease of machine-assisted searching renders knowledge incredibly granular, as many people have noted. Some critics have lamented this as a dire turn of events for the state of knowledge. The granulated forms of knowledge will now be able to be delivered to specific subjects through emerging AR technologies within specific events of experience as the event is unfolding at the rate and level of expertise suitable for the subject.

The event of experience is still pre-personal and able to be co-individuated and transduced into other contexts, but the relation between media representations and experience will be far more complicated in the specific sense complicating something involving many more folds (‘pli’) in the relation. I am describing how media content will be delivered tailored on ‘this’ experience (fitness project) for ‘this’ subject (Glen) rather than working to produce enthusiast cohorts for the purposes of individuating markets (print-era model of specialist media). My technology consumption is infrastructural of a given lifestyle, it enables me to act or perform in certain ways, but these are different to the identity-building ways we used to speak about media and consumer technologies.

ReachOut.com training camp

Over the weekend I led a session as part of a workshop camp training youth media advocates for ReachOut.com. ReachOut.com is an advocacy group that seeks to raise awareness about issues relating to youth mental health and suicide, and is part of Inspire.org.au. I was very happy to donate my Saturday morning and the couple of days it took to put together my session. Like most people, I’ve had some personal experience with a loved one struggling to overcome the ‘black dog’. It has been good to see depression and mental health issues receive proper media attention over the last few years as struggles with mental health issues transcend social and cultural boundaries.

In my session I introduced the youth advocates to the concept of a ‘complex media environment’. It builds on well established concepts within media studies from key figures such as Marshall “The medium is the message” McLuhan (see this video of McLuhan in Australia from ABC Open) and Neil “Media Ecology” Postman. The key outcome from my session was to get the advocates to realise that as media advocates they are no longer simply ‘consumers’ of media content, but nor are they properly ‘producers’ within the media industry. Instead, they are somewhere in between, what I described as being ‘operators’.

ReachOut.com’s own media advocacy kit for the workshop was put together (EDIT: 13/12/11) under the direction of co-manager Nathalie Swainston by Phoebe Netto and it is a brilliant practical guide for working with journalists and other content producers within the media industry. For example, it presents the well known values of news worthiness (timeliness, proximity, impact, etc) in an inverted form so media advocates know how to position their message so as to be useful for journalists working on producing a story.

I built on the media advocacy kit by reaching out to the youth media advocates’ existing mode of engagement with the media — as mostly ‘crticial consumers’ — to point out ways this could be extended and intensified so as to spot and plan for ‘opportunities’ for their message. I focused on two methods for doing this. The first involves working within the constraints of the journalistic ‘news cycle’ and also tracking the rhythm of the media activities of other social institutions, such as governmental authorities or the NGO sector publishing relevant reports.

The second involves appreciating the strucutral dimensions of the media industry. The commercial media industry basically operates as an ‘apparatus of capture’: it produces content so as to ‘capturre’ an audience, and then sell this audience to advertisers (or others). The questions the media advocates need to work through are, what sort of audience can I help produce and who would want the traffic/metrics/listeners/viewers/readership that my message can help deliver? The session after mine was delivered by the lovely and talented Pheobe Netto (who also took the phone camera snap above during my presentation!) and it was about the practical skills of crafting one’s media message. The ‘complex’ bit of the ‘complex media environment’ comes from the structural changes that the Australian media industry has undergone over the last decade or so. There are increased opportunities for engagement for those with the necessary skills to turn out good copy for many media outlets.

One of the qualities of this complex media enviroment that I discussed in my session was the way media stories can cascade across multiple channels and platforms. Most people are familiar with the concept of an ‘echo chamber’, but a more general example of a similar phenomenon is the way various media outlets will pay attention to what other media outlets are reporting on. This doesn’t only happen amongst competitors (or ‘co-opetitors’) but also sub-jacently related channels, such as local radio stories picked up by larger ‘talkback’ radio, picked up by print journalist, picked up by TV journalists, etc.

I think it was a very good day and the feedback I’ve received from participants is that they found my session to be very productive.

Theory and Research

I am going over my writing from the last few years and sorting out what should go where. The problem I face is that there is a paper I really want to write to do with Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm and there is no way, that I have figured out at least, that I fit a proper discussion of Kant’s discussion of enthusiasm into the context of my empirical research. This is not a simple matter of me trying to ‘apply’ some theory or another to my empirical research, rather my concept of enthusiasm was developed through my empirical research (fieldwork and archival research of 30 years of magazines and other materials). Therefore it is annoying, almost disheartening, to realise I am going to have split my work into two papers. One that deals with enthusiasm as a concept and is therefore primarily a philosophical work and the other that delves into my empirical research to outline a historical example of a culture and political economy of enthusiasm. This separation should not exist in my mind but there are good reasons for it.

1) Readers of the two papers would be very different. The philosophical paper is essentially a reading of Kant. The cultural studies paper is essentially a Foucaultian genealogy of enthusiasm within modified-car culture. On the one hand, I hardly think too many bourgeois academic philosophers would be interested in my empirical work. On the other hand, the empirical work presents a strong example of the ways enthusiasm can be harnessed as a resource by cultural industries and with the emergent dispositif of labour relations organised around immaterial labour and so on it is a useful way to understand what is at stake.

2) I have misgivings about my own abilities to do a reading of Kant justice. Some philosophers specialise in Kant and his various works (and secondary readings) are practically all they study for their entire lives. I am a competent reader of Kant, I think. In that I recognise an interesting argument made about Kant’s work when I read it. Maybe I’ll present some readings of Kant here? (I just created a Kant category for my blog.) The issue of course is that I am only interested in his discussion of enthusiasm. His general philosophy about the legislative function of reason as a synthesis of the faculties is not that interesting to me at the moment. Anyway, a separate paper on Kant’s enthusiasm would force me to properly engage with Kant’s enthusiasm in a sustained manner.

3) Theory. I loathe the notion. I am not sure what people were thinking when they thought it was a good idea to invent this category of academic work. There are only conceptual tools. Theory should be banished. I don’t want my Kant paper to appear as if it were ‘theory’. That is why I am so reluctant to give up on a paper that incorporates empirical research.

4) My style of writing is to trace influences on my work and influences on others’ work to the page or series of pages and reference these pages so readers can follow exactly where I am getting ideas from. One of the best things about A Thousand Plateaus for example are the footnotes. There is a question of competence here, particularly when reading or using something in a particular way, so others familiar with the work can follow what you are doing. There is also a question about a creative ecology or milieu to which my own work belongs. Its totality is only ever a partiality of another totality and so on. I want to be able to frame the horizon of intelligibility of my understanding and imagination. This makes my writing rather dense and requires a patient reader. Splitting what I am working on at the moment into two papers will at least save the reader having to be patient on two counts for the philosophical stuff (Kant, Deleuze, etc.) and the empirical historical work (magazines, newsletters, etc.). I can understand why Foucault chose not to include footnotes in some work. Splitting it will make each paper appropriately energetic or at least less of the inverse.

An Office Needs a Multiplicity of Windows

I got paid for my new role for the first time today, which is a relief. Now I am economically connected to the institution. One thing I’ve observed being noted by most existing staff when they visit me in my new office is that it doesn’t have a window and that I don’t have a name on the door (rather it has a sheet of paper says ‘Journalism 9B08’ with the 08 crossed out and a handwritten 34 beside it). None of this is too much of a concern for me. The window, of course, is a signifier of prestige, while the lack of a name on the door bespokes a deficient professionalism. What I’ve been far more concerned with is developing a ‘window’ on my pevious research and thinking and developing it into journal article length arguments.

This other ‘window’ is not a hole in the wall, but both a discursive framing and a question of visibility across a number of registers. I guess it is a common problem for anyone entering into academia from a professional background and it is compounded if, like me, the new entrant has carried out extensive research in the past. My research has become far more fluid. Sure my dissertation was organised a central argument regarding the character of enthusiasm within the subcultural scene of modified-car culture and an historical investigation into the way enthusiasm has been turned into a resource by the cultural industries that service a given scene, but I also produced a huge amount of other material. This blog served as one of the sites of ‘overflow’ of research and thinking, but I have dozens and dozens of other pieces of work that only exist on my computer.

The challenge for me right now is to produce what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘plane of consistency’ that enables me to organise the different threads of my existing work and adapt them to the context of the current state of various research fields. My scholarly disposition will therefore by an expression of the ‘virtual office’ that emerges on this plane of consistency. The ‘virtual office’ will be actualised according to the ways my research can connect with the current state of various research fields. In effect, I shall be producing multiple ‘windows’ on this research.

My main two interests now involve positioning a concept of enthusiasm that is useful as a tool for other researchers and critically engaging with the niche magazine publishing industry based on my archival research, but influenced by my professional experience.

Media Startup

So, you want to work in the media? Really? Hopefully it is not for economic gain. No, you are doing it for alternative economies of value, what the weekend broadsheet magazine insert feature stories call ‘lifestyle’.

Online entrepreneur magazine Startupsmart has an article posted today listing ten startups that can be started for less than ten thousand dollars. I find this exciting as I have been thinking a great deal about using my skills and starting my own company. It seems to me that the future of the media for the majority of practioners will be as sole traders or small media production companies.

Note I haven’t been talking about journalism. Journalism is something else and quite rightly. What I am talking about is closer to a media ad agency mashed with the everyday production activities of a digital native. That is, the skills of photography, video production, writing and social networking that I take for granted as an ‘expert’ user all packaged as a service and sold to (mostly, small) businesses. This is very different to the anaemic ‘branding’ activity of actual media ad agencies as there is a level of intimacy that they could never capture.

Branding is about telling a story you want consumers to believe in and experience so they want to exist in the world of the story by consuming whatever is on offer. I am talking about isolating whatever is already of value in the activities of the business and representing it as part of a world that already exists. Rather than an imposition of a world, it is an exposition of value. We already do a lot of this in niche magazines as each magazine functions to service part of a scene.

I need to increase my skill set further and then test my business model to see if it is, firstly, sustainable.