After the launch of n.e.w.s. at ISEA2008 in Singapore I did get attend Lev Manovich's lecture, author of the seminal work, The Language of New Media, (2001) MIT Press, Cambridge Mass, USA, where he pitched his 'cultural analytics' research project, as an ad for data-mining and fancy animations in academia, soon to takeover the world.
Manovich began his lecture by delving into the background of data, terming it a 'data revolution'. As we all realize during the last few years there has been an exponential explosion in the amounts of data, for example in 2011 the digital will be 10 times bigger than in 2006, a 60% growth increase. While people in dozens of areas of science and other fields such as business, banking, retail, etc. are using data-mining and interactive visualization; one area is lagging behind... culture. Manovich is into visualizing the cultural in digital form.He places the rise of interactive visualization at 1988, with the capturing of information in new ways and discovering patterns of data. In 2000, the 'data mining society' appears along with the extraction of knowledge or monetizing it. It seems to hit everybody except people in culture, as culture is the 'most regressive' part of society. We are now living in a society called various names which all apply to this: society of risk, society of information, or what he coins the 'data-mining society.'
Manovich then poses the question, which areas of computer science show the most important and interesting advancements in the next years? Research like 'homeland security?'. By using statistical methods, analysis of data sets (data-mining is Lev's sexy name for it) the 'real-time' trend is what dominates the Internet, from airline prices, online stores, retailers with their up-to-the minute inventory, banks following fraudulent transactions or even the reconfiguration of weather conditions. And it's all REAL-TIME! The prices, the laws, the controls-but how do we measure these patterns and effects?
With technology like the perceptual mapping (GIS) of Geographic Information Systems), or Wikipedia, we can go further and think about the analysis of what type of content is used. Who buys what, for what purpose and what is interesting? Manovich seems to be on an academic mission to save culture, as it were, so he has come up with a project that measures, in this case visualizes the massive digitalization of cultural assets.
He starts by showing a few examples of this mass digitalization: an example would be artstor http://www.artstor.org/index.shtml (only open to those with jobs in academia or students btw) containing 800,000 high quality digital images in art and architecture supported by the Mellon Foundation. Or take Google books, where 3000 books a day are scanned in, and, according to Manovich, by former MA graduates from art academies world wide. Partners included 20 leading university libraries and millions of hours of video in BBC motion gallery.
So where does all this data come from? Manovich equates this to the rise of user-generated content through social media sites, software and consumers. Part of the rise consists of terminology describing these 'gadgets' of electronic and social media as 'cultural objects' produced by non-professional users and the conversations around and through these objects. When writing his forthcoming book (The practice of everyday media) his 'MySpace became a non-place', Manovich winks towards a plug and emphasizes that this is the first time in history where massive amounts of people are creating things together visually. Some facts and figures: Flickr had 600,000,000 million images a few months back, now it has 1,2 billion. Facebook now has 14,000,000; other places like 'Cyworld' in Korea are even bigger. At You Tube, 65000 videos are uploaded every 24 hours. In Manovich terminology this is the end of 'new media' and the beginning of 'more media'.
How is art possible after Web 2.0? Professionals in the big art business that is also exponentially spinning out of control are in competition with a world where 1,5 million people are creating content. 'The number of images uploaded to Flickr every week is maybe larger than all objects contained in all art museums in the world.' The reproduction or copy of images is part of this trend; 'user-generated content is one of the fastest growing parts of expanding information universe'. Within this, '70% of the digital universe is created by individuals.'
The sixth point Manovich makes is the parallel expansion of the professional cultural universe: agencies (educational institutions, companies, museums) actors (professional cultural producers, students) publishing (books, catalogs, web sites, blog) all producing cultural objects. The point he makes here is that China, Singapore, Eastern Europe, South America, etc, have joined the cultural world; growth will also be exponential- from all over the world. So newly globalized countries along with the instant availability of cultural news over the web also has dramatically increased the number of cultural professionals who participate in global cultural production and discussions. Hundreds of thousands of students, artists, designers, now have access to the same ideas, information and tools, so it is not possible to talk about centers and provinces. In fact, the students, cultural professionals and governments running newly globalized countries are often more ready to embrace latest ideas than their equivalents in 'old centers' of world culture. http://www.archinect.com/gallery/ or http://www.coroflot.com/public/individual_browse.asp
In 1998-2007 visualization emerges as a new area of culture. In the growth of global culture the 'website' is default behavior, within a global, conscious space. How do you produce a theory about 'global digital cultures' with its cultural objects and hundreds of millions of contributors? Before you could write about professional culture, in these capital schools, but how can we follow the development in tens of thousands of cities and educational institutions? Through visual display, a daily aggregate or view counts? Certain institutions in culture Manovich mentions who are already doing this to various degrees are MOMA 'Design in Elastic Mind', the New York Times building 'Listening post', Volkswagen, Germany: Autostad and IAC building NYC. These cultural institutions support the growing number of visualization projects and uphold the required features of mobility, changeability and dynamism- 'information aesthetics' in other words. http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/.
Anyway, here is where Manovich defines his field with the topic: Cultural Analytics. By mapping the visual flows of culture, ideas, Cultural Analytics represents how culture and lifestyle preferences change over time. This is the jumpstart and theoretical discussion of all new cultural areas that are recently emerging for which we don't have an analytical language anyway. Via computers the analysis of large numbers of objects in these areas is possible.
For example, in graphing the story of the old world paradigm, to a 'flat world' of now what would be an inverted world? Newly developed countries are more culturally innovating than 'old world' ones. If so, what would this graph look like?
Manovich declares that we should discover these patterns and graphics and start thinking about culture as data. This is situational awareness for culture analysis. Go inside the objects, in an anti-structuralist way and show the diversity of culture. Look at something like 'Google trends'. Create an open cultural analysis research environment full of cultural data, cultural information that is now both professional and user-generated content.
Much like the way Amazon analyses our choices and gives recommendations, or something like 'Pandora' for music, n.e.w.s. could eventually generate recommendations for projects that might be of interesting based on our users on the website by monitoring where they look, what interests them.
In the closing words of Manovich, 'making stuff visible, the statistical distribution of content' is the future. Manovich now comes to his point, stating that the rise of 'culture visualization' is the graphing of these cultural patterns; his example is the website http://culturevis.com/cultural_analytics.html
'Humanities is dead anyway, culture is behind in following the development of other fields. Science is way ahead in creating a map, of all information.'