Augmentology" a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

In 2008, several articles here at Augmentology examined the concepts of Synthetic Presencing and Synthapticism. Both concepts are part of a theoretical framework that attempts to explain developing cultural > augmentological patterns. Presencing embodies a rethink of conventional entertainment modes:

Fiction and non-fiction classifications are designed to map to boundaries of known forms [think: cinema, literature, television and music]. They are so designed to provoke audience responses introspectively and externally. Current synthetic practices are refashioning this entertainment base via the perpetuation of types of unintentional and deliberately augmented recreation. These recreation types are reliant on immediacy of response, play, and Pranksterism. They employ Sandboxing, Gonzoism and spontaneous engagement. This type of entertainment is termed _Presencing_. Presencing involves loose clusters of pursuits that evolve in, or are associated with, synthetic environments. Examples include the Streisand Effect, Supercutting, Flashmobbing, the Slashdot EffectGeohashing, Image macro generation and Internet meme threading…Presencing showcases accidental or reflexive entertainment elements where the fictional/non-fictional divide is erased; associated validity qualifiers are also removed and reconceptualised. Amateur production is equated with valued expression. Presencing also offers adaptive potential for augmented attempts at mediating geophysical constraints.

The complementary concept of Synthapticism involves:

…Crowdsourcers [who] produce clusters of user-mediated data through surges of concentrated attention… Synthetics display attentional surges appropriate to synthaptic shiftings. Synthetic environments operate in accordance with this surge potentiality, with users adopting platforms that offer a contemporary catering for the relevant surge…Synthapticism produces unprecedented connections between synthetic participants. Adjunctive relationships are constructed via Identity interfacing and cushioned by support networks with a comparable emotional weighting to those found in traditional sociocentric structures [acquaintance>friendship>family>community]. Synthaptic communication may appear as fractured or trivial to those not connected synthaptically…”

One contemporary example of a Presencing/Synthaptic Campaign centres on a PR-created character called “The Old Spice Guy” or @OldSpice. This campaign, which makes extended use of social media > network dynamics, initialized with a Synthaptic threading system directly developed from conventional advertising:

Anything is possible when you smell like an Old Spice man and our hero, Isaiah Mustafa, is back to illustrate just a few of the amazing things that an Old Spice man can do. The latest effort is a fully integrated campaign with TV, print and digital executions, targeted at both men and women.

On July 13th 2010 [USA Portland time] the Old Spice brand extended this “personalised” social presence/character via synthetically dependent platforms including Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook. “The Old Spice Guy” character urged cross-platform users to AMA [a popular internet thread on several boards which means "Ask Me Anything"]. The humorous > quirky responses included almost instantaneous @OldSpice micro-video answers to selected users, including meta-referencing by Isaiah Mustafa:

One response that encapsulates the Synthaptic aspects of this campaign began with the user @Jsbeals asking @OldSpice to make a marriage proposal on his behalf:

@Jsbeals later tweeted that his girlfriend had accepted the proposal:

@Jsbeals: @OldSpice SHE SAID YES!!!! #OldSpice @Jsbeals

….and who then changed his Twitter Biography to:

The Old Spice proposal was real. Thank you Old Spice for helping me with this.

A second response set resulted in the sending of roses [referenced in a micro-video response] to Alyssa Milano. A third instance that highlights the episodic > cross-platform > Synthetic Presencing aspect is summed up by Twitter user @rob_sheridan:

Presencing In Action: @OldSpice + Reddit Contributors

Each episodic response illustrates the flattening of traditional entertainment factors [think: @OldSpice responding to "everyday" users as well as more established Hollywood/Internet celebrities]. The campaign realigns passive entertainment construction and distanced absorption via real-time Immediation and Regenerative Comprehension. The Old Spice Guy Synthaptic threading is currently ongoing with replies continually being posted via Youtube.

The User named “showmeurcock” from Kentucky does not respond to the picture I send of the space heater next to my desk. The User named “whispers” from California rates a picture of my feet three out of five stars. The User “guest43723” from Germany sends a picture of a jar full of coins. I reply with a smiling emoticon and receive “Uu” in response.

A World of Photo is a geosocial multiplayer game during which:

…you ‘spin’ your phone, like spin the bottle, to select some random user, and then they take a picture and send it back to you. Once they do that, they can ‘spin’ and get a picture sent to them”.

Users involved in A World of Photo [AWOP] are a tightknit community where users’ attentions dilate and episodically contract along with fluctuations from their Android devices.

Although this background-running application rarely seems to have more than 100 users currently active, the game prods you towards constant connections with other users as it yanks you into a space of outright voyeurism.

This voyeuristic space is laid out on the screen through a map of the “thread” of users with whom you have connected. Few conversations carry past two messages: those that do weave scintillating life-tapestries glimpsed through a typically external visual representation. Few users send portrait pictures of themselves and instead expose their recipients to their contextual environment: the opposite seat of a subway car, a DJ Hero controller, someone drinking a beer and sitting on the floor in front of a TV. One photo displays imperceptible imagery on a television screen located in a dark room. Like the lives behind these cell phone cameras, this indistinguishable/unfocused image seems tantalizingly real, yet is ultimately unknowable. The game provides no discernible contact data or history. It is, however, possible to save the photos you receive. Once a user decides to stop replying to a textual message thread, that thread is over. It is conceivable (but unlikely) that two people would connect more deeply than the AWOP program intends without the compulsive motivation of biological and/or sexual gratification.

The possibilities of AWOP are subtly revealing in terms of a user’s constant awareness/presence. The game weaves randomized tangents from a global user-base. Like much collaborative software, AWOP emphasizes continuous threaded networks rather than merely linking individual lines of communication. Menus allow access to various statistics, including a user’s uploaded photo total, a user’s current image record and user rating system. Ratings are instrumental to the game element: User “Rob Zombie” rates my “Pretending to rock out” picture 5 stars and in return comments “Yeah!”. This comment prompts me to find objects in my surroundings that will rate highly based on user names. User “americansoldier” rates a similar picture of myself 2 out of 5 stars: as this is considered negative feedback, I am forced to lose a turn – to receive a photo from another user – and must fulfill a request positively in order to be rewarded. Thus, the game turns everyday life into an evaluation of personal experience that borders on the perverse. This may explain the missing ‘save’ functionality for a user’s sent photos.

Through peeking into the lives of others via AWOP, a user is left with reminders of spaces that exist outside the range of their mobile phone. These spaces overlay the objects that exist in the user’s “real life”/geophysicality, contrasting and contracting with[in] the corresponding layers constructed by AWOP’s present and potential social contacts. This augmentation does come at a price: such evaluation patterns (by the self and others) are, on some level, internalized. This internalization may contribute to a constricted reality sense that projects overarching importance to immediate (“real”) stimuli over the awareness of other possible environments. The gap between the two is likely where the user resides, conscious of their perceived and reinforced shortcomings. AWOP’s strongest hook is in harnessing the user’s desire to socially (and successfully) produce items for the community. Community approval becomes currency. This currency production produces struggles between internal and external systems of representation which are hashed out in lines of resolution via a personal digital assistant. If substantial narrative does not emerge, like music, “from the dimensions of ambient night” [Harry Partch, 1949, Genesis of a Music] then AWOP certainly allows the user access to its root: the personal, the spatial, and the physical.

Becoming Dragon

I am becoming something else. In this moment, this being-in-transition, I am willfully stepping into the unknown. I am between realities. I can only imagine what I want to become, and then choose to become that new thing, but it is radically ungraspable, inconceivable. I can never know the reality of what I am choosing to become, desiring to become. My decision to transform can never be the right one, because it is always based on an illusion, a fantasy, a false conception with only a few points of data, not the rich details of an embodied life. As the transformation unfolds, those unknown events begin to occur, like seeing my breasts in the mirror for the first time after shaving my chest closely, feeling the movement in my orgasm change into something new or just walking down the street for a moment as a girl, unnoticed and not needing any special attention. My decision to become something else is always a decision to become mythopoetic, because the reality of the new state is always unknown, imaginary, a construct, a fantasy. Yet I don’t seek to decry this radical state of uncertainty but to embrace it. The very moments of everyday perception are also simply intersections of a real materiality with my symbolic and imaginary processing engines making sense of them, down to the way that I understand what pleasure is and what pain is and when the two become too close so as to be confused. And a choice to not transform is of course still a choice to transform into a different state, as our bodies are all in permanent transition, aging, training, consuming, producing, perceiving, creating new folds in our craniums.

Becoming Dragon Day 6

Through this process, I am also becoming an artist. Yet this is simply another fantasy which I use to structure my desires and find direction. Artist, porn star, student, professor, father, mother, husband, wife, lover, child, priest, these are all simply performances of being, yet their being a performance makes them no less real, nor more real, just another fold in the swirling interplay, the kaleidoscope of realities that is our being.

A mixed reality performance using an online 3D virtual world simply highlights the fantasy nature of our everyday interactions, of the physical world, by referring back to the physical, stirring up our memories and conceptions of embodiment. A mixed reality performance is a misnomer, as every step of our waking lives is a mix of realities, our self-perceptions, muscle memory, proprioceptions, others’ perceptions of us, our perceptions of their perceptions of us as they look at us, or don’t, our understanding that we are walking, taking on a step, on a sidewalk, by a building. A mixed reality performance simply highlights this fact, or this fiction, and allows one to see and begin to question the mythopoetic structure of reality. While performance sought to get closer to the real, to escape mediation, I embrace the pleasure of bits projected on my skin and the flickering of digital lights in my eyes, of the simulacrum of my own fantasy which creates that same fantasy. The mixture of real and imaginary is more real for being so.

While one can draw one’s fantasy, or write it out in words, 3D virtual worlds bring us one step closer to seeing in front of our eyes the fantasy films which play behind our eyes, yet there are many more steps to bring us closer to dreams. In my dreams I smell, I feel my body in action, I have visceral emotions, yet software such as Second Life is far from emulating such unreal realities. Still, we can make steps closer to dreams, with motion capture, head mounted displays, tactile interfaces, wish pressure interfaces. I wish for another reality, the electricity on my skin changes, transferring the new desired location to the system, and the pressure interface responds, as my chair morphs from a car seat to a comfy recliner in my skybox…loading world…arriving.


e) Information Deformation: akin to process centering, this Social Tesseraction involves a shift in the very definition of information:

Information may be defined as the characteristics of the output of a process, these being informative about the process and the input. This discipline independent definition may be applied to all domains, from physics to epistemology.”

These deformed systems of data are constantly in flux and available for perpetual revision. Examples include:

Users are able to simultaneously modify, update and adapt their input in real time:

This type of liminal practice results in a deformation of current information architectures. Although traditional information construction may be flexible over time, it still demands unitary data snapshots for knowledge formation. Deforming such data in real time acts to fundamentally alter meaning production. Socially structured input is the keystone of such a dynamic, perpetually fluctuating system:

Here the notion of Social Froth takes on a new level of importance: information becomes a constantly shifting construct with variable endpoints.  Rewiring information in such a way radically changes its cohesive nature. This in turn effects:

In this deformation system, facts can be reality-edited* in real time:

Information becomes pliable in ways that challenge the perceived authority of institutions. The concept of narrative deforms as:

Narrative progression repositions the representational towards the freeform [think: paidia as opposed to ludic]. An instance of this information deformation in action is troll play [or uncontrolled play]. A social example of troll play is found in the wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica which:

satirizes both encyclopedic topics and current events, especially those related to or relevant to internet culture. The wiki has been the subject of media attention given its focus on trolling and use of shock value, as well as its criticism of other Internet communities. It is also associated with the Internet subculture Anonymous.”

_Encyclopedia Dramatica_ – and the affiliated imageboard/meme propagation site 4chan - showcase the challenge faced by narrative frameworks.  Platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ encourage troll-based comedic intent. Users remix absurd, and sometimes taboo, content. In particular, invasion boards like _4chan_ utilize shock networking*: where social content attempts to subvert social codas through deliberate agitation. In comparison with established narrative conventions, platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ offer an experimental system which bypasses strict censorship and ethical constraints. These platforms cater for unfiltered interactions that operate via immediacy-of-response. They are highly idiosyncratic in execution and linguistic formation: censorship and moderation may be limited or non-existent. The output is propagative, with contributors encouraged to riff and rip-off, replace, and even delete content. Narrative is deformed beyond a sequential structure whereby the climax or pay-off event becomes the spectacle:

An example of such modification is Copypasta, which consists of repeatedly copying and pasting blocks of text designed to evoke a heightened emotional response:

A time-tested classic. This ending usually comes into play at the climax of a very troubling or exciting situation. Rather than resolve the story, one of the characters will abruptly say something to the effect of “I had Reese’s for breakfast.” At this point, the other character will completely forget about his/her worries and jump into the corresponding commercial dialogue, enamored by the peanut butter and chocolaty goodness that is Reese’s Puffs cereal. “It’s Reese’s… for breakfast!”"

_Copypasta_ derails notions of story or plot progression, resolution or dénouement. It embodies context-counteraction* and meme perpetuation. Dramatic intent shifts to reiterative moments containing affectivity spiking which ignores the rigors of institutionalized framing [think: morality, hierarchy or ownership]:


f) Attribution Modding involves an extension of Stewart Brand’s iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to “Identity wants to be freeform”. This category describes users focused on mobilization rather than individual recognition.  The group Anonymous* projects attribution modding via collusive identity constructions. The collective’s title is based on the method _4chan_ uses to brand all contributors “Anonymous” by default:

As making a post without filling in the “Name” field causes posts to be attributed to “Anonymous”, general understanding on 4chan holds that Anonymous is not a single person but a collective (hive) of users.”

Anonymous is a social-tesseractivist group who perform raid actions [think: the immediate action to halt the abuse of Dusty The Cat and Project Chanology's DDoS attacks]:

The collective broadcasts non-attribution ideologies where members are viewed as units of a social mechanism with a deemphasis on individual identification. Attribution modding illustrates the rise of collective identity cognizance and the accompanying shift from expert-centric disciplines.


g) Decline of Silo Ghettos: as information deformation impacts knowledge formation, there’s an increasing need to provide social tesseractors with comprehensive dimensional engagement. This type of borderless interaction deforms monostreams into cross-channelled productions. Social tesseracts assist in addressing the somewhat restrictive walled garden approach to software and platform production [think: the frustration levels encountered whilst experiencing the locked door syndrome].

Google Wave is one system that removes such constraints and allows users to input directly into previously distinct arenas. Other instances of interoperable systems that require the reorientation of Information Silos:

  • augmented applications that encourage a pairing of geolocative and geophysical needs:

Information Deformation, Attribution Modding, and the Decline of Silo Ghettos are paradigm-shifting markers that highlight socially directed trends. One significant user-centric challenge involves ensuring a smooth migration into a Social Tesseracted future. Such transitions should lessen future shock and encourage a type of overlaid meta-comprehension which promotes the seamless recognition of synthetic conditions.


* Shock networking, reality editing, context-counteraction and Anonymous will be discussed in upcoming augmentology entries.

In _Social Tesseracting_: Part 1, we learnt that:

1. Dimensionality defines working concepts of reality.
2. Theoretically, dimensionality can also expand to define a spectrum of nascent social actions.
3. These particular social actions encompass communication trends defined by synthetic interactions.
4. Synthetic interactions create social froth that can be produced geophysically or geolocatively. Both connection types depend on relevant electronic gesturing:

5. This mix of synthetic interactions and electronic gesturing provokes a descriptive framework of this aggregated sodality. This framework is termed Social Tesseracting.
6. In order to adequately formulate Social Tesseracting, contemporary theorists need to extend “valid” reality definitions based currently on the endpoint of the geophysical.

In assessing the growing ethological importance of Social Tesseracting, the following markers demand examination:

a) Social White-Space: Just as with the convention of white space in graphic design, social tesseracts manifest in habituated actions performed routinely over a substantiated period [think: responding to smartphone emails during geophysical-based discourse]:

Social white space exists in synthetically mediated consciousness via overlaying reality clusters. These clusters may exist outside of the geoloaded end of the Reality-Virtuality Continuum [ie the locatable "real person"]. Conjunctive or intermediary areas of connectivity mediate this “primary” reality state [think: Information Shadowing, the Network Effect and Warnock's Dilemma]. Social white-space is currently effecting educative goals and is altering engagement within the workplace.

b)  Immediation: the instantaneous modification of remote events via the removal of geo-specific time lag. Immediation highlights the impact potential of synthetic connectors. Examples of Immediation in action:

c) Regenerative Comprehension: indicated by rapid shifts in the nature of content creation and absorption. A primary example is Twitter’s chronologically-reversed tweet reading order acting to modify awareness. Other examples include:

d) Process Centering: Social Tesseractions are marked by fluid, process-oriented engagement rather than rigid procedural structuring. Process centering prompts a re-evaluation of data formation and alters the entrenched importance of institutionalised categorisations. An emergent example of process centering is Google Wave. Google Wave uses an algorithmic variation of “operational transformations” [live concurrent editing] which occur through a process called transformation:

  • The server transforms the client’s request, resulting in the client manifesting the same transformed output.
  • The notion of concurrency is invariably important as it mimics geophysical conversational states.
  • Utilizing the server as a point of relay [when more than one client's output is involved] assists in providing scalability and reliability.
  • The playback feature allows the server to present the document as a stream of operations that have occurred thus far in a particular wave/state.

Transformation relies on continual modification via process centering. This accent on process acts to rewire the notion of documents as statically defined “objects” and [by proxy] any information contained within. This has enormous implications in regards to such institutionally-governed categories such as literacy, media, the professional/amateur divide, narrative, and information construction.

_Social Tesseracting_: Part 3 will expand on these indicators through examining: Information Deformation, Attribution Modding, and the Decline of Silo Ghettos.