Monday, May 4, 2009

I Click Therefore I Am

What does it mean to click?  

Steven Johnson’s assertion that the hyperlink is the “first significant new form of punctuation to emerge in centuries” is an intriguing one for thinking about the connections possible in hypermedia. (Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (San Francisco: HarperEdge, 1997), 110-11.)  To think about a hyperlink as punctuation, as a connection, in hypertext and new media leads us to one way of thinking about interactivity.

In Second Life, clicking is even more than that, though, it is action and agency itself.  Sometimes you know what is going to happen, and sometimes you don't.  I have been thinking about this since I accidentally overstimulated Oberon Onmura's compelling piece "Awareness."  I am often "near-sighted" in SL, cammed in on something and unaware of my wider surroundings.  I was looking intently at Oberon's installation, at a glowing stick, and thought it was cleverly, ironically, saying in local chat: "Don't click this," not realizing it was the actual artist Oberon standing behind me telling me not to click it, because doing so would make more obelisk generators appear.  Oh, well.  You can watch the debacle unfold in the Brooklyn Is Watching podcast # 56  at around minute 25.  
Brooklyn Is Watching Episode 56
We podcasters really liked Oberon's piece.  Recently he showed me another, related piece that is installed at the NMC sim, where the avatar walks through the stationary obelisks and turns them a specific color instead of the obelisks moving around the space.  His work explores how data moves through virtual space, and leaves traces; the pieces I have seen demonstrate a remarkable restraint and elegant minimalism in a medium and environment that too often invites excess.

If SL is more than a little like Wonderland, and when we see "Click Me," we do, it is with an exploratory perspective, and with the expectation that no real harm can come to us.  In the same way that the kids today expect that toys will DO something and not just sit there quietly like a block, I am disappointed if there is nothing for me to click on.  I want everything to DO something, want it to be interactive.  I want to be able to get into an installation, and look for a pose ball or some other way to be a part of it.  It all has a big "click me" sign as far as I am concerned.  These days, I am sitting on everything if I can't find anything more interesting to do!

And that something would tell me, "Don't click this"--or someone, as it turned out--is a directive I interpreted immediately as ironic, as a challenge.  Maybe that says more about me, or about L1 these days, than SL, but I think it speaks to an expectation--or hope--of what SL, and in particular SL art, can be.   I want to have a playful, ludic interaction with my virtual environment and the objects within it.  I want it to trick me.  I want to be through the looking glass and be dazzled by Wonderland and its inhabitants.  I want to be shown something new, and to have that be an immersive experience that grabs me, or at least my avatar, in the surprising ways that an avatar can be grabbed.  When Oberon was showing me his piece at the new  NMC exhibition (which also houses Misprint Thursday's bridge MAY,  a must-see piece),  he told me about AM Radio's Death of Marat piece, also fantastic, at NMC, and a click that does not disappoint.  

The Ars Simulacra show at NMC opens on Friday, May 8, and I'll post the slurl then.

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