Ambience, Affect, and Autodocumentary


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Presentation at Newcastle (Australia) in June 2014 about life journaling apps, the quantified self, and documentary.

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  • My brief presentation today comes from earlier research in interactive video, combined with recent work in affect and interactive documentary. Today I am going to look at a variety of new online services and then use these to speculate about new forms of nonfiction.

    In a nutshell I am using Deleuze’s concept of the movement image to provide a theory of interactivity, and this theory of interactivity allows me to think of affect as a particular site and quality of interaction within interactive media.

    To be very schematic, Deleuze sees the cinema of the movement image as made up of perception, action, and affect images. Perception images are those shots (and even films) that emphasise noticing, for instance someone watching something. The action image is the shot, sequence or film that emphasises a reaction to what has been seen. The affect image is what falls between perception and action images. It is characterised by Deleuze as an interval between perception and action, and is defined by indeterminacy because the automatic relay between perception and action is interrupted or expanded, allowing the opportunity for decision and so other, non automatic, actions to occur.

    This tripartite schema is a material economy of action, decision and reaction, where generally the action that arises as a consequence of the perception image is, more or less, an adequate answer or response to it. Yet importantly affect, and by implication the affect image, falls outside of this economy for affect is understood to be a remainder or excess that is not spent through action.
  • I think this is the most elegant account of interactivity available. In the simplest model there is an interface that requires and facilitates a user to make a decision. I notice, decide, and do — perception, affect, and action. Furthermore, affect becomes the most important term in interaction because this is where experience design and consideration are located, and if nothing else I’m interested in making and theorising interactive work that allows the consideration of ideas and the world.

    Such a model of affect and interactivity, within this sensory motor schema, offers a productive way to think about contemporary media platforms in networked environments as sites and practices that document, record, list, and notice, and in so doing enlarge, slow down and otherwise interrupt the everyday. That is, they are affective systems.
  • Which brings me to today.
    I have a phone in my pocket. In my phone there is a HD camera, GPS, accelerometer, micro computer, bluetooth, wifi, and 4G. My phone makes it trivial to informally make, distribute, view, and curate media through the documentation of my everyday life practices, in situ.
  • Each have a very similar affordance of being small chunks existing within a web of services that have public APIs so that they can be addressed and reused by other services and people. Each is then very porous to the network and each in their own way has made their technological constraints an aesthetic plus.
  • These services allow for personal profiles to be created, however the most notable profile that each enables are the informally curated series of artefacts that each app lets us create — our Twitter, Instagram and Vine streams. These self declared ‘indirect’ descriptions are the media trails we leave as a consequence of our everyday practice, and unlike professional media their specificity as particular types of media is secondary to this primary role of documenting the everyday, as it happens. I am not a photographer who then Instagrams, but a person who happens to take a photograph.
  • However, these apps still revolve around media as a single artefact. By this I mean that Twitter is principally for individual tweets, Instagram photographs, and Vine single brief video clips. While these are easily woven into other places using the services available they remain single media objects. These objects may be a mix of highlights and the mundane, but they are an everyday media vernacular that is marked, absolutely, by our intent. I first choose to write, photograph, video, and to this extent these (and all similar services) have an affinity to previous media where they are deliberate artefacts (our moral panic about their apparent triviality notwithstanding).
  • However, there is now the rise of new services that are best thought of as ambient media machines. They are an always on media making that creates a new type of everyday media trail that, like previous apps, makes itself available for its own sorts of reweaving.

    One example is Moves. The screenshots here are a record of a recent Saturday of mine. They show an approximate guess of how many steps I’ve taken, plot my movements, including types of transport and location, and even allow for the editing of these. Moves defines itself as an “Activity Diary”, and it is this diary aspect that I am, at the moment, intrigued by.

    Now I do not here have time to go into the diary as an observational, confessional, personal narrative form. However, as life writing diaries are a variety of nonfiction and a significant contributor to the essay form in writing,sound, and cinema.
  • Moves, by itself, doesn’t do much. However, when combined with journaling apps, such as the one here, Momento, things change. Momento automatically talks to a variety of services and auto curates these all by itself. In my case Momento automatically collects my Moves, Instagram, blog, and Flickr content. This is a burgeoning area for apps that leverages the affordances of the device while also making explicit the extent to which our media trails are secondary effects of lived experience. Momento is a mix of life journaling and diary and partly falls within the lifestyle practice of what is known as the ‘quantified self’. My curiosity here is not in the Californian mobile fitness–lifestyle as self actualisation aesthetic but in Momento’s automaticity of affect. This translation of what I do, casually, almost indifferently, and its capture for reuse.
  • We also now have things such as Jawbone UP, FitBit, and the extraordinarily named and described Mother.
    Each of these have dedicated hardware and an app that collects ambient information that is aggregated and visualised. While some of these are personal (e.g. Jawbone UP) things such as Mother loosen this by extending the orbit of the individual to other people and things.
  • And then ambient services such as the unfortunately named “Mother”, Jawbone UP, FitBit. At the moment these are always on services that quantify personal metrics, including self describing affective states. This is a cyborg diary, easily complemented by more traditional forms of screen practice (photos and videos), both direct (deliberate), and indirect (scraped from your feeds). These, like instagram and Vine, are currently personal
  • Finally, we find Narrative Clip, a wearable camera that continually photographs your day as you go about doing it. It describes itself as a “photographic memory” with two days of battery life and storage for up to 4000 images.

    Aside from all the problems this raises about privacy and the social what I’m wanting to think about further is the role these sorts of emerging services and devices can, and will, play in emerging forms of audiovisual nonfiction, and more specifically thinking past this current generation to what they may inaugurate or foretell of what is to come.
  • These are speculative ideas to think about this intersection of gadgetry with audiovisual nonfiction. What could happen if Narrative Clip has an API that lets other apps and services talk to it? So its pictures get tied to my self reporting via Instagram, Flickr, Vine, Twitter and FaceBook? What sort of personal documentary making would this allow? And then what if this ’thing’ could also then exchange content and information with other’s stories, things, objects, and events?
  • I’ll conclude with some informal propositions.
    My first is that these might be theorised, following Donna Haraway, as cyborg documentaries.
    The second is that with the example of autoethnography and ethnographic film these are clearly ‘auto documentaries’.
    Third, all of these services are aggregators of affect, and fourth, I hope for the development of new, different, platforms and services that find a middle path between a digital narcissism and the critical project of documentary more broadly.
  • Ambience, Affect, and Autodocumentary

    1. 1. ambience, affect, autodocumentary Adrian Miles
    2. 2. the movement image everything reacts upon everything else: perception notices only that and not all so is a subtraction (a reduction of all that is) — perception image (Vertov) of that which is deliberately noticed some allows possible action, a doing — action image (Ford) the interval between the two is the gap or distance between each, the more hesitant this interval is (the more it wonders about what to do), the more affective it is — the affect image (Dreyer) 2
    3. 3. an interface a user an action perception affect action an elegant interactivity 3 notice decide do
    4. 4. in my pocket HD camera, GPS, accelerometer, micro computer, bluetooth, wifi, 4G 4
    5. 5. twitter instagram vine minor chunks 5
    6. 6. twitter instagram vine indirect media trails 6
    7. 7. twitter instagram vine deliberate artefacts 7
    8. 8. moves ambient media machines 8
    9. 9. momento an automaticity of affect 9
    10. 10. momento an automaticity of affect
    11. 11. 11
    12. 12. 14
    13. 13. A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction. (p. 149) By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. Ths cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. (p. 150) Donna Haraway. A Cyborg Manifesto ” ” cyborg documentary
    14. 14. For Denzin, autoethnography entails the incorporation of elements of one’s own life experience when writing about others through biography or ethnography. Therefore, it differs from both straight ethnography and life history or autobiography. (pp. 6–7) autoethnography is defined as a form of self–narrative that places the self within a social context. It is both a method and a text… (p. 9.) Reed-Danahay, Deborah. Auto/ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 1997. ” ” autodocumentary
    15. 15. are these a cyborg documentary? is this auto documentary, in the model of autoethnography? are they aggregators of affect and appear as a recent development that combines affective labour with cognitive capitalism toward an affective capitalism? what mix of services and apps do I want to make affective, deliberated, emergent and generative nonfiction works? That enable me to consider and participate in a poetic knowing of the everyday? 18