Sensuality and Data Compression

Two samples of related interest. First, Michael J. Arlen, "The Bodiless Tackle, The Second-Hand Thud", from McLuhan, Pro & Con:

At any rate, where once people went, almost instinctively, to sporting events (perhaps in the same sort of way that other peoples once went to the drama) because both the facts and the sensory appeal of these conflicts corresponded to their own view of the world, now, it seems, they go to them, or watch them on TV, in part because of "excitement" but mostly, as a guess, out of memory, as if looking at a Colts-Packers game on TV, with all its stylized confrontations, with its lack of smells and touch and heat and cold, with its lack of any sense of what a forty-two-yard pass feels like to throw or catch, with its lack of any sense, really (except for the disconnected clack of shoulder pads), of bodies touching one another — as if even this distilled, unsensual experience could somehow take one back, back to a time when life was more densely centered on human bodies and on nature, and when men acted out things that were important to them, rushing at each other across open fields and meadows, rowing on rivers, and skating on frozen lakes (p.92).

Second, Allucquère Rosanne Stone, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age:

[T]he more I observed phone sex the more I realized I was observing very practical applications of data compression. Usually sex involves as many of the senses as possible. Taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing — and, for all I know, short-range psychic interactions — all work together to heighten the erotic sense. Consciously or unconsciously phone sex workers translate all the modalities of experience into audible form. I doing so they have reinvented the art of radio drama, complete down to its sound effects, including the fact that some sounds were best represented by other improbable sounds that they resembled only in certain iconic ways. On the radio, for example, the soundmen (they were always literally men) represented fire by crumpling cellophane, because to the audience it sounded more like fire than holding a microphone to a real fire did.

The sex workers did similar stuff. I made a mental model out of this: The sex workers took an extremely complex, highly detailed set of behaviours, translated them into a single sense modality, then futher boiled them down to a series of highly compressed tokens. Then they squirted those tokens down a voice-grade phone line. At the other end of the line the recipient of all this effort added boiling water, so to speak, and reconstituted the tokens into a fully detailed set of images and interactions in multiple sensory modes.

Further, what was being sent back and forth over the wires wasn't just information, it was bodies. The majority of people assume that erotics implies bodies; a body is part of the idea of erotic interaction and its concomitants, and the erotic sensibilities are mobilized and organized around the idea of a physical body which is the seat of the whole thing. The sex workers' descriptions were invariably and quite directly about physical bodies and what they were doing or what was being done to them (p.6).

These passages were written nearly three decades apart. In that time, we see two different perspectives on what is happening with electronic media. For Arlen, it is the absence of tactility, a nostalgia for bodily experience manifest through the primarily visual medium of television. For Stone, it is the compression of bodies and their delivery through the primarily aural medium of the telephone.

Anaesthesia? Telesthesia?

Or both?

Central Intelligence

Jeff Ma, ProTrade: "I had inside information — and in sports, there's no SEC."

Ma is excited because ProTrade is about to launch the ability to short stocks on its stock market of professional athletes.

As an aside, for those who don't know what shorting is, here is a quick definition:

A short sale is a three-step trading strategy that seeks to capitalize on an anticipated decline in the price of a security. First, arrangements are made to borrow shares of the security, typically from a broker. Next, the investor will sell the shares immediately in the open market with the intention of buying them back at some point in the future. Finally, to complete the cycle, at a later date he/she will repurchase the shares (hopefully at a lower price) and will return them to the lender. In the end, the investor will pocket the difference if the share price falls, but will of course incur a loss if it rises.

Ma recounts a time that he was out drinking and ran into then-Texas Rangers relief pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who was in town for a game with Ma's favourite team, the Boston Red Sox. He proceeded to buy Loaiza a few drinks, which turned into a few more, and then a few more, until Loaiza was totally shitfaced. Puking his way out of the bar, there was no way Loaiza would pitch well the next day, if at all.

If only there was a way for Ma to capitalize on this insider information …

With ProTrade's new short-selling feature, now there will be. All Ma would have to do today to capitalize on Loaiza's presumed inability to produce would be to sell shares in Loaiza's stock short. When the stock dropped after Loaiza's poor or non-performance, Ma would earn a profit and be rewarded for his intelligence.

In THX 1138, George Lucas visions a society in which citizens may electronically report to a central authority violations of its strict cultural codes — codes generally designed to ensure continued production and consumption from its members. But it appears that Lucas was slightly off: if we have inside information that production/consumption is at risk we need not file a report to a central authority, but rather take that information to the central intelligence of the market — the inverse of a central authority — and sell that person's stock short.

Hardt and Negri: "Perhaps, just as Foucault recognized the panopticon as the diagram of modern power, the world market might serve adequately — even though it is not an architecture but really an anti-architecture — as the diagram of imperial power" (Empire, p.190).

The Virtuality of Sporting Spaces

Consider the life cycle of a sports stadium:

  1. From detailed blueprints, a model of the stadium is constructed in a 3-D virtual reality environment.
  2. This model is used as a tool to condense flows of investment capital and form the structure of the physical building proper.
  3. The stadium is constructed and becomes a fully realized place, in which flows of people are carefully tracked, striated, monitored. There is some freedom of movement, though it is limited, for both patrons and employees of the stadium.
  4. The place becomes visually overexposed, in terms of its optoelectronic surveillance and its production of video flows for spectacular consumption. It is here that we begin to see the reduction of the space to the screen.
  5. This is a precursor to the reproduction of the stadium in the videogame environment, a 3-D non-space that is rendered in the flattened 2-D of the telescreen.
  6. CAE: "Currently, VR takes a very secondary position to older nonimmersive screen-based systems" (Flesh Machine, p.21).
  7. There exists a limited freedom to choose one's identity in this simulated environment: either the corporate manufactured professional athlete avatar or one that is custom designed by the user from a limited menu of rendering possibilities.
  8. On the other hand, one has only an illusory freedom of movement within this environment: beyond the limited body movement possibilities that are programmed into a sports videogame, one also is prevented from moving outside the parameters of the playing field/ice/court by a "glass wall" that keeps the user enclosed within the ideological environment of the game at all times.
  9. Virilio: "In fact, since men first began using enclosures, the notion of what a boundary is has undergone transformations which concern both the facade and what it faces, its vis-à-vis. From the fence to the screen, by way of the rampart's stone walls, the boundary-surface has been continually transformed, perceptibly or imperceptibly. Its most recent transformation is perhaps that of the interface." ("The Overexposed City", Architecture Theory Since 1968, p.543).
  10. CAE: "In terms of the spectacle of consumption, the real problem for VR is that there are very few occasions when the institutions selling the products want to give even the smallest amount of authentic choice to the consumer" (Flesh Machine, p.21).
  11. CAE: "VR’s primary value to the [Ideological State Apparatus] is not as a technology at all, but as a myth. VR functions as a technology that is out on the horizon, promising that one day members of the public will be empowered by rendering capabilities which will allow them to create multisensual experiences to satisfy their own particular desires. … This combination of myth and hardware sets the foundation for the material posthuman world of the cyborg" (Flesh Machine, p.23).