Responses: Control Societies & the Enduring Ephemeral

Postscript on the Societies of Control

Deleuze’s essay, “Postscript on the societies of control,” did not seem to me to completely contradict Foucault’s chapter on the Panopticon from Discipline and Punish. Instead of control, conformity, and discipline being enforced by institutions, the larger system develops the mechanisms of control that reflect its values. We are moving from enclosures to “societies of control.” Decline of institutions and trust of institutions was a common trend of the 20th century, and persists into the 21st. We are all actually serving a capitalist agenda: “Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt.”

While I feel, see, and understand the results of the capitalist values the motivate and control people, I think this view (and Foucault’s I guess) is overly pessimistic (perhaps because I’m lucky). People are motivated by un- and anti-capitalist urges all the time. That people are somehow blindly being made to serve struck me as both hilarious (because it’s true) and ridiculous (because it’s also not).

Many young people strangely boast of being “motivated”; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It’s up to them to discover what they’re being made to serve, just as their elders discovered, not without difficulty, the telos of the disciplines.

(Ambition is a trap.)

People still do plenty of things because out of hedonism, curiosity, love, mischievousness–and you can’t really stop them.

The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory

One component of Chun’s [link] critique of the academic new media landscape is breaking apart the comparison between memory and storage. She recalls the memex, the imaginary device Bush posited could expand and improve human’s recollection of information, and save some piece of our cognitive load devoted to mechanical and repetitive tasks. Chun points out the memory degenerates, and rather than save us from repetition, media allows the same texts discovery and re-discovery, amplifying repetition and “trapping us in the past” where “response is demanded over and over again.” New medias, like the internet, also degenerate: texts change, are deleted, and reappear.

She also notes that just because information is stored and retrievable, it does not make it universally accessible, since accessing it requires human reading and re/interpretation:

A machine alone, however, cannot turn “an information explosion into a knowledge explosion.”

Chun’s main thesis unites these aspects with new media to posit it is not the speed of change but rather their “enduring ephemerality” that is the “defining characteristic” of new media. This idea that we are trapped in the past of this amplified and constant repetition reminded me of Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis: we are inundated with the outputs and suggestions of predictive algorithms (I would argue a kind of new media) that are (necessarily) based on old data. Is the logical conclusion that nothing new or original will ever happen again?

…because everything is endlessly repeated—response is demanded over and over again. The new is sustained by this constant demand to respond to what we do not yet know; the goal of new media czars is to constantly create desire for what one has not yet experienced. To put it most bluntly, this nonsimultaneity of the new—this enduring ephemeral—means we need to get beyond speed as the defining feature of digital media or global networked communications.

Midterm ideas


I want to use information from the political party time API to create a web or physical experience with information about legislators’ campaign fundraisers. One idea for a physical result would be to create a glitter snow globe based on how many fundraising events a state or legislator has in a particular day or week. I like this because it evokes the dance parties held as protests by queer activists in front of Mike Pence’s house.

Another twist on this idea is to trigger this based on venmo donations (to somewhere like The Center for Responsive Politics, which promotes government transparency). I like this because the transparency of our transactions on the app contrast the transparency of money in politics.

Something like this

Discrete aspects of the project of which I could do a portion:

Oops this is too many things to do in 5 days
venmo api

I found the term webhook in the venmo api documentation. I didn’t know what this was but it seems like this would allow real-time updates from a venmo account to trigger something happening on my server. I found some documentation to set this up using node and express and added a webhook to my venmo account that points here. The webhook was validated according to venmo but I can’t tell if it’s working correctly–I couldn’t get anything to log.

What exists?
  • Projects using Open Secrets/Center for Responsive politics data.
  • A number of organizations that maintain APIs.

A number of tutorials on how to control Raspberry Pi GPIO:

Discipline and punish, Panopticism: response

Foucault examines the idea of the panopticon as it relates to social control, a metaphor of the architectural design that Bentham proposed as an efficient surveillance structure and “enlightened” solution for hierarchical/authoritarian institutions like prisons, hospitals, schools, and workplaces. For the guards, doctors, teachers, and employer, there could perhaps be some relief in the utilizing the threat of surveillance to exert control rather than actual, continuous surveillance. Unlike Bentham, Foucault characterizes the panopticon as “a cruel, ingenious cage,” and a “mechanism” that “automatizes and disindividualizes power.”

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it…Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.

According to wikipedia, “The use of prisons can be traced back to the rise of the state as a form of social organization.” To move from a mechanism of surveillance to a mechanism of control assumes some consequence for disobeying the institution/authoritarian power. An important design aspect of the panopticon is that the surveillant cannot be seen, or counter-surveilled, and those surveilled are separated from each other, alone. The implication is that subordinates cannot know of, or communicate with each other to gain power, and cannot know anything of their surveillant, another avenue to power.

These constraints weaken the metaphor, since only prison-like structures can maintain separation and isolation such that people lose the power to organize and hold a central authority accountable. However, the latent surveillance apparatus has a psychological impact stemming from the knowledge that it could be employed at any moment. This calls to mind the de-facto surveillance structures that exist in low-income/urban areas, wherein institutions like schools and hospitals turn into places to avoid or be arrested. More recently, ICE has also targeted social gatherings and places people receive social services. A parallel is often drawn to dragnet telecommunications surveillance, but in this case the surveillant is not central and visible, but rather distributed and somewhat invisible. The opacity of the surveillance infrastructure results in an additional undercurrent of uncertainty.

Besides for “observation,” Foucault posits the panopticon serves as “laboratory… a machine to carry out experiments, to alter behaviour, to train or correct individuals.” The discussion of “disciplinary mechanisms,” such as schools and charities as “centers of observation” feels particularly insidious in an age of big data. Between school records, reporting and research related to social services, particularly those that serve the poor, police records, video surveillance, and our digital traces, we cannot live without producing information about ourselves. It seems as though capitalist incentives perpetuate the results and insights from that data into our realities and into the future. How will we maintain a healthy ecosystem of free thought, resistance, and emergent sub-cultures?

…the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies.

HW 4

Updated here and previous versions are now on github.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace: response

declaration of the independence of cyberspace is some kind of techno-libertarian-utopian fantasy text about a virtual world outside of government intervention, written in response to the Telecommunications Reform Act. Barlow’s ideology seems to disallow any kind of nuance, but his privilege allowed him a platform for an impetuous response anyway. As a critique of legislation, it would be poor and unproductive, which is why it is instead a declaration to embolden people like him, against institutional interference in favor of “enlightened self-interest.” The EFF does some really great work but Barlow is a contemptibly obnoxious person.

Many of the grand declarations Barlow made in 1996 about the internet have ceased to be, or were perhaps never, true. With some exceptions that ran counter-current to the existing social structures, the internet mimics many power dynamics that exist in all other aspects of life. Access to and literacy in the tools to produce and manipulate our internet reality are unequally distributed. This alone contradicts the dream of his utopia. The “norms” he cites have been eroded, insofar as it is accepting of fringe ideas, it proliferates some of the most repulsive kind, and our bodies are definitely not physically disconnected from our internet presence. Humans minds are inextricably linked to their bodies. This fact combined with existing societal power asymmetries has resulted in real devastation for many people.

The piece is also shocking in it’s apparent disregard of the history of the inception of the internet, when organizations like DARPA and RAND played integral roles. The government may not have “solutions” to problems that arise in relation to the internet, but it seems a bit blunt to ignore the potential role of government in allowing for and expanding the infrastructure that allows people access to and the literacy in this “liberating” space. But Barlow was making a point about a law, and 20 years ago he was probably really excited that cyberspace was providing a playground for his ideas and a loudspeaker for his opinions.

Hw 3

My assignment from last week has been updated.

ITP Craigslist

What if the student list, itp help, all the alumni networks, and something like the media lab’s resume book existed for just ITP? For this week I made a super-low fidelity ITP craigslist to try it out. I checked out the craigslist model and html but significantly pared this down. It also occurred to me that for the stuff exchange especially, it would be useful to have a file upload.

Potentially useful elements

Useful elements of craiglist: community, personals, housing, jobs, for sale, services, gigs, resumes

Content of the ITP student listserv: questions, housing, midori announcements, tno

ITP facebook group(s): articles, parties, events, including workshops, alumni networks, jobs

Things that would be useful if they were more easily searchable: old tno videos, old thesis, media/press from ITP shows, everything that someone makes a random google doc for (useful pcomp materials, book exchange, etc), students blogs/instructions for something new to you that has been done before

It would be cool if it could also serve as aggregator of many things ITP students care about: news/blog roll (hackaday+fastcodesign,nyc/mit media labs, etc) roll, adafruit & sparkfun deals


The medium is the message: response

McLuhan’s passage about Napoleon’s acute understanding of media and communications technologies struck me as analogous to Trump’s understanding of the American media landscape–namely his use of TV and twitter. National leaders acknowledge the important effects of broadcast media and journalism on their ability to lead, and of course this is one of the reasons a free press is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, “He understood the grammar of gunpowder.” Napoleon had paid some attention to other media as well, especially the semaphore telegraph that gave him a great advantage over his enemies. He is on record for saying that “Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

The comparison of hostile newspapers to bayonets seems to refer to a leader’s internal legitimacy, but beyond this, information wars are also waged across borders. We’re witnessing an increased the weaponization of the internet and mounting evidence of the ways it was used to sway the U.S. election. McLuhan’s forceful statement that, “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot,” ignores that media might be mis/used as a result of poorly thought out design. I don’t think twitter, facebook, or google sought to make Trump and fake news go viral, but rather, that they failed to see the repercussions of their design choices.

Despite this, I actually agree with McLuhan and would further argue that investment in any media represents an economic and moral choice that should be scrutinized. The things we produce as a society are a reflection of our values. This is why it’s rude to text on play video games on your phone when you’re hanging out IRL, and why Jason Pontin wrote, regarding automation and drone warfare“The development of drones should remind us that technological advances are not the same as progress (a fact often forgotten, at least by technologists).” This point is made poignantly by Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon

Is this scrutiny the role of artists? McLuhan writes, “In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists,” but this does not preclude the vigilance of everyone else, “…for any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary.”

The discussion of how “the new media and technologies by which we amplify and extend ourselves constitute huge collective surgery carried out on the social body with complete disregard for antiseptics” paired (deliberately?) cohesively with Clark and Chalmer’s The Extended Mind. The idea of a “sense-ratio” seemed supported by the cognitive thought experiments and changes they discuss–the outsourcing of particular tasks result in real changes to cognitive load. The rapid incorporation of new media clearly has profound effects on us as individuals but McLuhan’s focus on the collective also made me think back to the drones and automated warfare. We’ve so drastically changed our engagement with state-sponsored violence (I wonder if this is how the Russians feel).

As We May Think: response

I didn’t realize The Atlantic was as old as this Vannevar Bush paper from 1945. It seems as though the feeling that there is far too much information being produced to possibly organize, let alone consume, is not unique to the post-Internet age, but rather has been a struggle since the vacuum tube was considered an emerging technology.

The memex, a technology Bush imagines in the paper, sounds very much like the phones and computers we now have within our grasp so readily: “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” I have often thought of my phone, and by extension the internet, to be some kind of external brain–that things like facts don’t require memorization because they are so easily stored and found by other means. This does cause frustration when I can’t quite remember something and my email, calendar, or google won’t load. I have wondered whether there might have been some intrinsic and creative value to having all those facts memorized, and thus easily retrievable. Bush also makes the point that the sheer volume of information makes keeping up with new information impossible.

Along with the memex, Bush anticipates many of the trends that have since changed the labor market since then, including increased specialization and the mechanization of many jobs. Increased specialization does seem to go hand in hand with the organization of the massively records of human knowledge, which we’ve been able to build on like never before. At the same time, being broadly knowledgable, and being able to transfer lessons and techniques from one area of expertise to another can stimulates creativity and innovation. He argues jobs that rely on well-defined logic are well suited for mechanization, and if that’s true, perhaps this knowledge cross-over is one way human labor will remain important to the economy.

HW 1

I wanted to work within the constraints of HTML and CSS, especially since I could use the practice: Hide & Seek.

Algae Fountain

This video demonstrates the development and potential use of the fountain, as well as show the final result.

Motivation and goals

In reflecting on my motivations for creating a fountain, I went back through my documentation this semester and found a question from a long time ago that I thought encapsulated my thread of thinking the past few weeks: Can I create a visual and gustatory experience using algae that upends people’s perceptions about their rate of consumption and gives them a visceral understanding of their body in relation to the food systems that sustain human life? Some major inspirations for this were Rebecca Bray & Britta Riley’s DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee and Stefani Bardin’s M2A™:The Fantastic Voyage.

I don’t think I succeeded in creating something that did this, but I do think it touched on my goals. I also think this phrasing got away (usefully) from the many details of nutrient pollution and recycling and articulated something that I could affect, even if I subsequently lost site of this asking smaller, related questions and getting things to work. So, I presented the fountain as a way I could address this question, and a way to built knowledge for designing interventions using algae in the future.


I chose to continue working with algae since I learned so much growing it and it has such varied species, potential, and uses. I had chlorella and spirulina that could both be used to try out this fountain idea. There were some practical questions that needed proof of concept:

  • Would it be too much of a mess?
  • Would the way I imagined the grow light working hurt people’s eyes to look at when the algae were at low biomass? How could I mitigate this?
  • Would the pump work with material besides water running through it?
  • Would the algae be hurt by being pushed through a pump? Chlorella and spirulina both do need some agitation but that doesn’t preclude this potential problem.

Some other design considerations:

  • How worried should I be/how could I address the potential for contamination?
  • How should this thing look? What should be the final form? And if I’m trying to use as much recycled material as possible, how lenient can I be?

My final fountain was made with:

  • A deconstructed grow light that I bought, took apart, and re-soldered to be used more easily
  • A small water pump
  • Vinyl tubing
  • Acrylic scrap & recycled acrylic from ITP’s shop dumpster
  • Scrap wood from ITP’s shop dumpster
  • A found/borrowed bowl: I was thinking of using recycled acrylic for this as well but this proved unfeasible (at least in the time I had)–this bowl was about the shape I was looking for

Some useful questions from classmates & reviewers: 

I got some positive feedback about it being beautiful and meditative. Marina thought the crazy straw (which serves the double-function of replicating the shape of spirulina at the microscopic level) successfully suggested drinking, so I did at least one thing right. I also got a several helpful suggestions, comments, and questions:

  • Is this a model towards the future, a home scaled solution to address nutrient pollution or a critique on the state of our water?
  • Should explain terms like bioreactor and biomass for laypeople
  • Could develop the stories/drama around cyanobacteria
  • Algae grosses people out unless they’re into superfoods
  • Should function and in it’s function also communicate this is about growing algae and consumption
  • Could be educational
  • Is the idea that we should drink out of this? One person said the openness of the fountain would make them hesitant to drink it
  • How do I imagine people would actually drink out of it? Could the ‘crazy straw’ also be functional?
  • Could incorporate “aesthetics of contamination”
  • If not drinking, then fertilizer? What other functions? Use as fertilizer may lessen the limitations around contamination
  • Do I imagine this being sold, or releasing instructions for DIY-ers?


References have been updated.


Throughout the semester I was also experimenting with microscopy. I moved way from this from the final but I still would like to do a project creating microscopic worlds using tools like unity or processing. I would still like to find a way to create an inexpensive way to capture automated microscopic video. I made a simple site to click through my daily practice images.

Since I’ve created a sort of bioreactor that works at a small scale, I think it would be interesting to continue adding useful functionality that would allow people to actually grow algae this way. Some steps to consider in making this a viable sort of product:

  • A way to monitor nutrient availability would be useful–how do you know when to add medium, urine, water, etc, to keep your algae growing?
  • There should be a way to monitor growth/biomass so that people know when their algae are ready for harvest.
  • I should develop an easy way to periodically harvest the algae. I found some research suggesting I could explore solutions that use: coffee filters, a centrifuge, or altering the pH of the algae medium.

Some steps for developing this project and determining feasibility:

  • Figure out how to test for contaminants during algae growth
  • Figure out whether there’s a way to filter the algae such that the water resulting from the process is drinkable

To further develop the idea, Marina suggested more rigorous experimental methods to try and also pointed me to the Fungi Mutarium and Dezeen.

I don’t know where this last note fits, but someone recently pointed me to Water Tower by Rachel Whiteread, which I thought was another interesting way to rethink water and resources in a city.


I began with the question of whether you could create ads for intermediary steps in the supply chains for the many products and devices that use rare earth elements. Supply chains are incredible opaque, and the need for them is driven by demand in the final products. My experience with efforts to clarify them in a way that conveys the magnitude of trade is often abstract and not impactful. Meanwhile, showing the effects of technological advancement and modern consumption at the human scale does not convey the breadth of the underlying systems. My goal was to try to reflect on these systems and the lifestyle I’m familiar with by rearranging texts related to both.

Source Texts

Through researching rare earths and exploring APIs I found that since the 1990’s an overwhelmingly large amount of rare earth mining and production is based in China. Instead of some complicated combination of trade API queries to get at supply chains, I settled on a report about China’s Rare Earth Industry from the USGS which provides detailed information.

I thought ad text like what I was looking for might already exist. Instead, looking through marketing and business papers on advertising, I found these are usually created for specific research projects. One way is to go through magazines and collect the text of ads that appear. I did this with the April 2017 issue of Wired, but specifically chose ads based on their relationship to the rare earth supply chain (directly used in their products or were in an industry that uses such products heavily- so as not to make it so broad that any company with a computer would be included, since that would be all of them). I also developed a second corpus by googling for companies who make products known to rely on rare earths, and grabbing a few of the top ads that appeared in google image search. I though this would give me a rich corpus to develop markov ads.


The code imports the list of 17 rare earths from my very first rare earth poem and the USGS report for nouns and noun chunks (for the USGS report, noun chunks are extracted using I created a function that finds the sentences created from character-level markov chains on the two ad texts imported, and replaces the nouns with one of the rare-earth nouns. The output from 3 of these functions is stacked together, and the words are stored in a list. Then, the portion of the list grows with each printed line so that the poem grows exponentially until the list is done. The print doesn’t go straight through, instead sweeping down so that there’s some repetition.

The poem prints such that the beginning of the line starts to move. I don’t know if this is effective in getting across the movement between all the places and companies that come up across the poems, but this was the intent. For the final form, I wanted the sense of the growing poem to come across, and I wanted to connect back to the 17 rare earths. I decided to pick 17 (which do not necessarily correspond in a linear way with the rare earth they appear next to) and create an image so this effect would be apparent. Through the process, I also tried mashing up markov generated text from both sets of text, and other ways of presenting the result.

For the reading, I will read 2-3 of my favorites (image and text both available on my github). This one reminded me of this Young-Hae Chang poem (I love these animated poems but you need Flash!):


 Any excuse Imagine. Samsung
    LED Jiangxi Province Any This will allow the
       company to increase the recovery of rare earths to 50 percent from 25 percent in the
          separation process (China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, 2010; Wang Ganzhou . You Need it You Need it Every and much more than a wide range lives. electronics Every and much
             more than a wide the volume tungsten products . Surgical supplies ration for all you need it Every Detail Sony 3D explorings to the microphone yet. Scandium for all you need it Every ion-adsorption Sony Jiangxi Province Pacemakers to the Ytterbium yet . Lowest priced technolo Lowest priced Environmental Protection era of do. nickel-cobalt products of do . Bigger The Best Catchbook. Bigger The
                Best Catchbook . Ultra Slim. Ultra Slim . FaceTime. FaceTime . Smart creater and game. Smart Chinalco and Metal smelting producers . Feel the LG Door-in- Feel the LG Door - in-

Growing algae in diluted urine & Final project

Our Spirulina has really proliferated which presents a new problem: how to harvest it? So I’ve been figuring out how much and how best to extract the biomass. Chlorella seems much more difficult to harvest.

Successful growth with blue-green algae

I continued to research microalgae growth with urine (citations updated) and fertilized a batch of algae with urine. Spirulina grows in a more basic medium, and will die if too much urine is introduced, so I added 8.5mL to about 850mL of Spirulina medium for a 1:100 ratio. I added 10mL to the Chlorella medium for about a 1:50 ratio. I also found some evidence that Chorella can grow in a solution of urine and water, so I’m trying this as well at about a 1:28 ratio.

additional mason jars fertilized with urine

Final Form

I’ve been struggling to figure what I will build for the final next week. I loved the Drink.Pee.Drink.Pee.Drink.Pee installation and DIY kit Bray & Riley assembled. They created struvite, a recycling phosphate fertilizer I came across when I first started research phosphorus pollution, by adding magnesium chloride to the pee. The reaction separates the solution into struvite and water almost instantly. I wonder if the same effect can be achieved by using algae (it would certainly take longer)?

I realized I could actually produce a urine-based algae-growing solution presented in a way similar to the Algohol idea I had at the beginning of the semester (like as a champagne-algae fountain? Or just a fancy bottle?). I bought some materials to experiment with–I wanted to create a fountain where instead of drinking you could observe the algae with a stereoscope microscope, but I quickly realized making a stereoscope microscope, or even just a stereoscope or a microscope within the design of the fountain quickly complicated things. Since there’s only a week left in class, I won’t try to figure this out unless there’s time.

If the fountain also functioned to grow the algae, it would need to incorporate a grow light–which presents it’s own problems. It shouldn’t be directly next to the algae, and I’m pretty sure it would be bad for people’s eyes. How could they view it safely, by say, turning on an LED closer to the top of the device, while avoiding any dangerous consequences of looking at a grow light?

I’m concerned also with the materials to be used in a project like this. Maybe I can create an algae fountain from recycled materials from the floor? While I like this a lot, I don’t know if this weakens the cohesiveness of the concept. Maybe the ideas are connected in that we’re creating new things to consume from our waste?

One idea is to recycling the acrylic chunks that accumulate at ITP this time of year to build parts of the fountain, although I think I would need to dissolve them in acetone, which isn’t the best. People do this to create acrylic glues so I don’t see why I couldn’t form it into something. Or perhaps use it to create waterproof cardboard.

A bit of a joke would be: