CONNECTING 1 April 2005 <

Amsterdam - New York - Chicago - Los Angeles

talk to the machine!
talk to the machine!
talk to the machine!

[This artist talk was presented with CONNECTING at De Balie Centre for Culture and Politics for the Interzone 02 program, "Talk to the Machine," 1 April 2005.]

1. talking-machines + machines-for-talking-to

we're connecting. in front of our computers, our machines, wherever we are, regardless, we are facing a machine. and yes, we are talking. incessantly talking. what it is to be human, these days, post-Freud.

but are we really talking to machines? we don't feel like we are. we don't think of it that way. we insist that we're sensible, that we're talking to people. naturally. talking. talking to talking-machines. (like us.)

talking to a machine — to a network, screen, or camera — we understand ourselves as taking to: another person. not a machine. a person. THERE, beyond the machine, or, so to speak, HERE with us. that's how we feel. connected.

why? driving the development of "communications technologies" has been a continual impulse to render "Technology" secondary to "Communication", conceived in its ideal state: a state of immediacy. to once and for all render language second to voice, a postcard second to a visit from a friend, a phone call second to holding hands, an SMS second to a whisper in your ear.

to deface the technology. make it unnoticeable, discreet, imperceptibly small. to make it easy to pretend that the technology is not present here at all, just some "pure" communication. unmediated immediacy. just us. here. an inter-personal connection. CONNECTING people. 1-to-1. F2F.

2. HERE. the smallest machines.

the smaller a technology gets, the easier it is to forget it. the smallest machines fit our bodies. miraculously, they feel seamless. effortless. our bodies do just what bodies do — they move around, and the smallest machines move with us: portable computers. mobile phones.

as a concept, MOBILITY assumes that a technology is continuous with the body. mobile technologies move with the body; that is, they are subsumed in the body's movement. the body moves, and the technology, being 1 with the body, hitches a ride.

nonetheless, the term "mobile technologies" reveals a perception that a given TECHNOLOGY is MOBILE. This is despite the fact that when we look at movement in relative terms, it is clear that the technology remains still (buttoned up in a pocket, secured in a backpack) while the body works - exerting itself, mobilizes - traversing space. to speak of "mobile technologies" is to take the body's mobility for granted and, in a sense, to make invisible the technology's physical presence.

in this respect, the laptops we are using today are neither small nor discreet. these machines are known as "portable computers". unlike MOBILITY, PORTABILITY is a concept that distinguishes between body and technology. something which is portable relies unabashedly on a body to get from one place to another.

the term "portable technologies" hinges on a separation between body and technology, and establishes a relationship in which the body SERVICES the technology - lifting it, carrying it, porting it. whereas mobility connotes freedom, portability connotes labor. to speak of "portable technologies" suggests that technology is a burden for the body to bear.

for the cordless generation of portable computers, the body serves as infrastructure.

the ideal of mobility demonstrates how seamlessly the smallest machines become 1 with our bodies. we seem not to talk to a person over THERE beyond the machine, or even to a machine over THERE across from us, but with a machine, HERE.

mobile machines go where we go — where we are, they are always HERE.

3. familiarity + intimacy.

the freedom of movement that comes in varying degrees with these particular machines-for-talking-to (mobile phones and laptops) is what gave rise to the experiment we are demonstrating today.

not only are these machines engineered (without cords) to move with us from our homes, through the streets, and into social spaces, but they are so slight, physically, that we easily imagine we are NOT talking to a machine, perhaps a little too loudly just now, in a crowded cafe, before a potential audience of reluctant voyeurs. we forget where we are, with whom we speak. we behave as though we're at home, chatting with a friend. 1-to-1, F2F, intimately. it's easy to confuse our habits, to crosswire our intimate behaviors.

in reality however, we find that new technologies are not quite so seamless to use. we face a learning curve in acquiring new habits and developing new etiquettes.

each new machine-for-talking-to poses a challenge. we need to learn how to use it. how to talk to it with finesse. we approach a new machine like a stranger. we want to achieve a level of familiarity before pouring our guts out. we have some questions, some hesitations.

for example, when introduced to video instant messaging, we immediately had to ask where to look? at the camera? at the screen? when looking at the camera, the machine helps us make eye contact. we can seduce, or drive a point home. but when looking at the screen, the machine lets us see the person we're talking to, however far or close they may be. we can see how they're reacting, how they're sitting, and what they're wearing. that's the point, right? we should feel more connected this way. yet, this is a machine that makes us choose. it won't let us do both at once.

4. NOW. real time vs. real time.

why, you may ask, are we talking to these machines for nine hours?

we say that something is a real time technology when something happens instantaneously. it's in real time when we chat and you can see me say something as i say it. it's in real time when the technology captures and plays-back without a moment's difference.

in this regard, real time happens in time: NOW.

on the other hand, we also say real time to refer to the amount of time something "really" takes. it's really a long way between chicago and LA, a long, long way between LA and amsterdam. really, it takes the planet nine hours to turn that far.

in this light, real time happens in distance: between HERE and THERE.

5. HERE/NOW. revised geographies.

talking to machines. talking to machines with talking-machines. HERE/NOW. the promise of instantaneous communication: a virtual HERE/NOW.

communications technologies derive from transportation technologies — the technologically enhanced ability to traverse space, to extend across distance, (as well as to explore and colonize), to be HERE/THERE in a place far away. as we chat in real time, we mark the revised geographies produced, we map the time it takes to connect. video chatting modifies geographies of communication: talking once tracked over distance, we now map over time.

CONNECTING demonstrates how distance and presence may coexist, producing revised geographies, connecting us, at once: 1-to-1, F2F, 1-FACE to 1-MACHINE in real time: right HERE-and-THERE, right NOW.

CONNECTING: Intimate Architectures was part of Talk to the Machine, an Interzone 02 program that took place at De Balie Center for Culture and Politcs in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

CONNECTING is supported in part by grants from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and from the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University.


See performance images from CONNECTING.

Read this brief explanation of the installation.

Meet the CONNECTING participants.