Archive for January 29th, 2010

Hot Internet Art: “Updates From An Automated Beacon” (Thompson and Craighead, 2005)

Friday, January 29th, 2010

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An Automated Beacon by Thomson and Craighead is HOT! Rather than confuse you by trying to explain it myself, I thought it would be easier to simply quote Thompson and Craighead, who have already said it so elegantly; “At 00.00hrs on January 1st 2005 an automated beacon began broadcasting on the web… The beacon continuously relays selected live web searches as they are being made around the world, presenting them back in series and at regular intervals. The beacon has been instigated to act as a silent witness: a feedback loop providing a global snapshot of ourselves to ourselves in real-time.”  (read full document) Before continuing to read this short reflection on An Automated Beacon, I would suggest you visit the site and have a look first.

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..Automated Beacon (Thomson and Craighead)

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When I first read about the idea I was captivated. Excitedly I clicked the link, but when I arrived at the site I was unimpressed. On first viewing the design seemed flat and uninteresting. I wanted more. It seemed like another brilliant idea had gone to waste. However, as I started to watch the search phrases flicking past on the small gray bar these trivial thoughts floated away. After watching for just a minute or two I noticed patterns emerge – and these patterns seemed to reflect something of the world we lived in. Keywords related to pornography, for instance, are HOT. Taking a small sample (of about 100 search words) I found that 1 in 10 were porn related (the kinds of phrases I defined as pornographic were “teen gang bang,” “milf naked” and “youporn,” for instance, but not “sensual massage,” or “how to masturbate”).

As another experiment I tried keeping a record of the keywords. However, because the search phrases flick by so quickly (visit the automated beacon to see what I mean) it is impossible to keep an accurate record of every search item (unless I recorded myself saying them outloud, and then transcribed them later – actually, I may do this at some point). So, I would simply look at the beacon and write down the first thing that came up and when I was done writing it down I would look back at the beacon and write down the first thing that came up (and so on). This generated the following (semi) random list (spelling mistakes included):

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  • Youporn
  • 2010 grammey awards
  • annoying phone calls
  • google search
  • heart attack symptoms
  • moms get frisky
  • days of our lives
  • milfs in thongs
  • best online stock trade
  • california cheap bankruptcy
  • coat zippers
  • how old is ryan edwards?
  • Porntube lella
  • part time job search engines
  • massachusetts tax refunds
  • aerospace jobs
  • pictures of brittney spears
  • facebook
  • job posting canada
  • capsule hotels
  • beverly hills bright smile
  • craigslist
  • iron man 2
  • banking debt mortgage loans
  • oren knight
  • formula 1 history
  • future verzion phones
  • used truck sales
  • algebra problem solver
  • hilton head beach and tennis
  • st louis car show
  • all inclusive vacation packages
  • thompson airsoft gun
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    4 of these search phrases I would classify as porn (porntube, mums get frisky, milfs in thongs and porntube lella). This is relatively consistent with the 1/10 ratio predicted above (particularly since the list is open at either end). Given this data we might also see that 1/2 of the searches related to porn are for naked images of hot mums (milf stands for “mum I’d like to fuck”). This raises a number of interesting questions. Also interesting is the ratio of search phrases which can be directly linked to the economic recession (either through loss of job, house or money). I would include “california cheap bankruptcy,” “part time job search engines,” “banking debt mortgage loans” as directly linked, and “job posting canada,” “aerospace jobs” and “best online stock trade” as indirectly linked to the recession. That gives us 6 out of 33 search phrases, meaning that about 1/7 searches are connected to jobs, homes and money. At this point I realised that the minimal, unadorned design of the site was HOT. Because the webpage is so functional the focus is placed entirely on the search terms. All the viewer needs to do is watch, the rest will unfold in time (that is, it draws on Bergsonian duration).

    This layer of An Animated Beacon speaks to an ideological perspective on the world, and for critical theorists it could provide a HOT source of data to analyse. For the psychoanalyst, for instance, the question of why mothers are currently popular in pornography is interesting, particularly from a post-Freudian point of view. In this way An Automated Beacon provides a unique source of data for critical theorists (a reversal of the classical theory/practice power dynamic). Often ideological critique requires us to wait in order to have data to analyse. For instance, in the years following 911 a number of extremely popular Hollywood films seemed to offer direct ideological meditations on this event. However, in order to analyse the resulting data (ie. what dominant ideas about 911 are being propagated at the mainstream level) the critical theorist needs to wait for the films to emerge from culture.

    I am not arguing that this process is flawed because of the delay, but simply that it is different from An Automated Beacon, in the sense that the beacon is closer to what we might call realtime. It gives critical theorists a random data generator for analysing the state of contemporary Western consciousness and language. As Julian Stallabrass writes, “Thomson and Craighead have recently launched a ‘beacon’ that captures text typed into search engines, forming an impromptu poetry, for online display and radio broadcast. Beacon uses only one found element; but it raises the question: how complex can such work become?”

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    HOTLINKS

    An Automated Beacon

    Thomson and Craighead Artist’s Wesbsite

    An Automated Beacon Exhibited

    Julian Stallabrass: Reasons to Hate Thomson and Craighead

    More HOT Web Art

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