Augmentology"...is 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.

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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]:

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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.

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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.

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

Dimensionality is a concept that attempts to define reality through scientific framing. Dimensionality refers to the theoretical construction and quantification of fundaments. These fundaments, or dimensions, act to define the:

…parameterization of the conceptual or visual complexity of any geometric object. In fact, the concept can even be applied to abstract objects which cannot be directly visualized. For example, the notion of time can be considered as one-dimensional, since it can be thought of as consisting of only “now,” “before” and “after.” Since “before” and “after,” regardless of how far back or how far into the future they are, are extensions, time is like a line, a one-dimensional object.”

Just as the idea of dimensions can be applied to non-concrete elements in order to frame theoretical states:

…the principle can expand to encompass aspects of emergent social actions. These actions are evident in shifting social dimensions/states. These states [collectively termed "Social Tesseractions"] emerge from certain communication patterns displayed through synthetic interactions. If you’re a user of augmented technology in multiple forms [think: MMO/Mobile gaming, iPhone or Android apps and social networking sites] you will inevitably become part of engagement procedures that promote a type of “social froth”. This froth manifests via electronic gesturing:

These gestures are created through:

The important factor for both connection modes are the resultant patterns a user creates through social inscriptions/gestures:

These gestures create complex interpersonal streams that provoke additional connections and accompanying interactions. Sending remote tweets is considered an example of a synthetic interaction [via electronic gesturing]. As this incremental data melds with other user-streams and crossmodal platforms, aggregative patterns emerge. These combined patterns may be considered as a parameter space blueprint that produce, and are in turn produced by, synthaptic communication tides. Examples of such variables include information traffic patterns or “hot” social tracts [when certain users are active according to time zone variations].

Social Tesseractions assist in shaping contemporary notions related to Sociorelational information. Just as raw geophysical encounters evoke varying psychological and communicative responses [think: Communication Accommodation Theory], Tesseracting engenders similarly relevant synthetic loadings. In attempting to establish a conceptual structure surrounding Social Tesseractions, contemporary theorists display a pervasive tendency to shrink all synthetic interactions to a geophysical/biological endpoint. In order to establish whether Tesseraction can be considered a tangible phenomena, this assumed standard of endpoint interaction should shift from a reductionist angling towards more appropriate markers. These markers will be discussed in _Social Tesseracting: Part 2_.

Presencing – as described in an earlier entry – is a type of synthetic engagement that extends contemporary entertainment. Fan fiction illustrates how Presencing utilises traditional entertainment spin-offs within “amateur” arcs. The Urban Dictionary describes Fan Fiction as:

1. “A piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films, and comic strips.”

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2: “…Fanfiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, tv show, movie, etc, and create their own story based on it. Sometimes people will take characters from one movie and put them in another, which is called a cross-over. ”

Leoben Character Entries

The Cylon Twittercast is Presencing that creates a type of “nesting fiction” similar to nesting functions employed in computer programming. The Cylon Twittercast uses the 2003 -2008 Battlestar Galatica series [which is in itself reimagined from an earlier series] as a procedural plate from which to construct a “character-based RPG over twitter”.

Cylonhybrid RPG Entries

This RPG is made up of microblogged output from BSG personas, both Human and Cylon. Some characters are known [intentional], some are unknown [self-initiated] and some are yet to be represented. Several of the Twittercast players choose whether to adhere to the plot developments and conventions established by the TV series. An example of this mirroring where certain BSG TV series script/semantic markers ["Frak" and "Gods"] are employed by Twittercast players:

Saultigh Entries

The Cylon Twittercast promotes character development through extensions that accommodate alternate characterisation, elastic narratives and fandom overlays. Twittercast participants operate as character controllers or puppet-masters which acts to push this RPG into conventional ARG territory. Feel free to participate and shape the resulting narrative/player architecture:

“…it’s a pretty anarchic situation — there’s no Laura Roslin on twitter as far as I know….I’m open to the idea that she could participate in some way. and Leoben and Galen are off amusing themselves — I’m sure they would appreciate having someone else to talk to. make a big entrance, if you’re going to jump in? I could help? Tory was just about to show Laura around the baseship”.

RealXtend Breakdancing

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There are components ready to create a decentralized universe of virtual worlds: open source clients (Indra – the official SL client) and open source server software. OpenSim seems to be the current decentralised contender (which offers some SL interoperability) plus others including WoW server software. With the creation of Google’s _Lively_ we’re already seeing a lack of concern with interoperability through name collisions or name theft incidences.

Who stands to benefit from this kind of lack of interoperability? Obviously corporations with the goal of controlling the only available synthetic world would benefit enormously from halting interoperability. Users, then, need to demand interoperability or create systems that operate as such and make those that are not unusable. As users of virtual worlds and synthetic environments, we are responsible for the choices we make about what software we use. Users of Microsoft software are as much responsible for the Microsoft monopoly as is the company itself.

What stands in the way of creating interoperability? One major component of the web’s success is open standards. We need open standards in – and for – synthetic worlds. IBM and Linden Labs are currently working on developing such standards [see: Architecture Working Group].

I don’t think I need to explain how open standards have facilitated the growth and acceptance of the web. Yet, one disturbing element of Second Life that differs from the web is the lack of an underlying value of openness over intellectual property”. Richard Stallman argues that the very term intellectual property is a term that corporations readily co-opt and abuse. No surprise then that Linden Labs, in their official announcement on OpenSim interoperability, state that “intellectual property is the engine that drives Second Life”; not openness, sharing, social engagement, creativity or passion.

Friends of mine who are daily Second Life users describe it as just another social networking site – just another place to chat with their friends, buy a cool outfit and have a nice house too. In this way, one can see that the real value of Second Life is in making synthetic worlds accessible. While the initial openness of the web allowed anyone to write html and make websites, one could argue that it was only with MySpace that a true explosion of web authoring took place. MySpace allowed every kid to suddenly have a web page because of the combination of simplicity (fill out this form, pick your song here, upload your photo here) and social value (express your vanity here, look good to your friends here, show how cool you are here). Second Life does something similar; playing to sociability and degrees of vanity through the use of an easy interface designed primarily for creating and buying 3D objects. Perhaps Google’s Lively will demonstrate whether ease of use and a lack of catering for creativity is the adoption benchmark for the next synthetic world interface.

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