Notating Affect!?

A Consensual Elucidation

"'Panther Moderns,' he said to the Hosaka, removing the trodes. 'Five minute precis.'"

* * *

And so in Neuromancer William Gibson introduces the concept of an autonomous intelligent agent that can scan video data archives and return with a report on a particular subject, which (most importantly) may be set to a desired length of time.

Of course autonomous intelligent agents have been in various stages of existence and development for a long time. The ability of an agent to successfully accomplish the task above lies primarily in the emerging semantic web, in which the meanings of data and information on the web is explicitly defined such that it may be better understood and connected by human and machine agents. In other words, many of the pieces are in place or are being designed now for the Hosakas of the future.

At least when it comes to simple news reports. What about in sport?

(Carolina Panthers, Pitt Panthers, Black Panthers: database entries in the semantic web.)

We see this type of temporal compression take place all the time: Sportscenter, league-produced weekly news shows, plays of the week, plays of the year, plays of the century. Raptors NBA TV has a feature called Game in an Hour, in which they edit out all the "boring" parts of the original game (usually 2 1/2 hours in length, including commercials) so that it will fit in a one-hour TV slot (including commercials).

But what if I want 14 minutes of footage? Or if I tell my Hosaka I want a 5-minute precis?

(Or if the human editors become cost-prohibitive for the manufacture of sporting spectacle?)

As discussed earlier, professional sport is at its core about the commodified manufacture of affect through uncertainty of outcome. Hence it is not as simple as saying get 5 minutes of video from the game — which 5 minutes is important as well. This is not simply a problem of semantics, as we can, in basketball for example, determine significant events by asking filters to just extract those baskets in which the lead changed hands between teams. Rather, it is a problem of affect: which highlights generated the greatest qualities of felt intensity?

It is not simply a problem of notation, of saying what happened during the game action. There is a quality component (or sign value) for each element of the game that is captured in the statistical flow. How to communicate that to the Hosaka?

Chess offers us a clue. As we have discussed earlier, chess is a game with a highly striated playing space, with pieces that are ranked and coded in such a way that they may only circulate in a constrained, prescribed fashion. Hence we are able to notate a game alphanumerically in such a way that it is easily understood by a computer: in algebraic form, The white king commands his owne knight into the third house before his owne bishop becomes Nf3. These notations constitute the facts of the game, the objective record of what piece moved where and in what sequence. They form the incontrovertible fabric of the game in its archival form.

But there is an element to chess notation that is more subjective in nature. This is not subjective in the sense of a judgment as to if or how a particular statistic should be assessed, but rather subjective in the sense of an aesthetic or emotional consideration layered upon the objective facts of movement.

When archiving a chess game one can notate — or literally punctuate — a particularly brilliant move by appending an exclamation mark to the original notation of the move (ie. Nf3!). In the rare case of an exceptionally brilliant move, one adds a second exclamation mark (Nf3!!). Similarly, in the case of a dubious or questionable move one appends a question mark (Nf3?) or two (Nf3??).

So who determines the aesthetic quality of a particular chess move? For now suffice it to say that this responsibility lies with the "expert" authority who is notating the game.

Returning to our original question about autonomous intelligent agents that can scan the data archives and return a video report of any desired length, how might we accomplish this with a more fluid sport such as basketball?

First we need to be able to merge the video data feed with the statistical data feed such that the former may be tagged for cutting along any desired parameter. Extract all Raptor three-point baskets or all LeBron James shots from further than 15 feet, or just those baskets when the lead changed hands between teams.

This technology currently exists.

So the hypothetical Hosaka can now extract the requisite amount of video footage for a customized report, but if the specifics of the footage have not been clearly articulated at the outset (in other words, 'five minute precis'), then the Hosaka cannot determine which footage should be used. For this we need a third feed of data, one that captures a representation of the affect felt by the spectator of the game in real-time.

Though chess provides us a model of this subjective notation it suffers in that it represents an individual, "expert" point of view. The affect of the sporting experience, on the other hand, is that of the crowd and hence its notation is likely to be sourced in such a fashion, indeed, crowdsourced.

Courtesy of CNN

We saw an example of such crowdsourcing with the "audience reaction meters" used during the 2008 U.S presidential debate coverage on CNN. Each member of the televised debates live studio audience — composed of a blend of Democrat, Republican and undecided voters — held a device called a Perception Analyzer, which allowed them to toggle a dial in response to the talking points and rebuttals made by the two candidates. The television audience then saw a graphic overlay tracking the real-time approval ratings from each of the voter segments present in the studio. In other words, a new data stream had been created, one of embodied visceral and intellectual response to complement other data streams such as video, audio and closed-captioned text.

Now instead of a few dozen people at a political debate, imagine a few thousand fans in attendance at an NBA basketball game, each armed with a perception analyzer, perhaps interfaced in return for perks from some corporate sponsor or as part of an exclusive fan VIP club. Call it the privilege of presence.

[I]n the capitalist regime, surplus labor becomes less and less distinguishable from labor "strictly speaking," and totally impregnates it. … In these new conditions, it remains true that all labor involves surplus labor; but surplus labor no longer requires labor. Surplus labor, capitalist organization in its entirety, operates less and less by the striation of space-time corresponding to the physicosocial concept of work. Rather, it is as though human alienation through surplus labor were replaced by a generalized "machinic enslavement," such that one may furnish surplus value without doing any work (children, the retired, the unemployed, TV viewers, etc.). Not only does the user as such tend to become an employee, but capitalism operates less on a quantity of labor than by a complex qualitative process bringing into play modes of transportation, urban models, the media, entertainment industries, ways of perceiving and feeling — every semiotic system (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 491, emphasis added).

Now we have a stream of aggregated fan perception data to complement other data streams such as video, audio, time and alphanumeric game statistics. Now the Hosaka may go to work.

a [sic] patient

or, perhaps a freudian typo…

Garrick Barr, CEO of Synergy Sports Technology, a company that provides real-time video-indexing statistical engine and online retrieval for professional sports teams and whose products support the Dynamic DNA feature in NBA Live:

"So we have 11 generic play types. In '98 when I designed the first report, I had to sort of examine and figure out, if you will, the oncology of the sport so that we could log it accurately and consistently to satisfy professionals, and having been one I was in a pretty good position to try to do that."

Secure Volumes and Docile Identities

"Two very beautiful naked girls are crouched facing each other. They touch each other sensually, they kiss each other's breasts lightly, with the tip of the tongue. They are enclosed in a kind of cylinder of transparent plastic. Even someone who is not a professional voyeur is tempted to circle the cylinder in order to see the girls from behind, in profile, from the other side. The next temptation is to approach the cylinder, which stands on a little column and is only a few inches in diameter, in order to look down from above: But the girls are no longer there. This was one of the many works displayed in New York by the School of Holography" (Umberto Eco, 1975, p.3).

2008 Olympic Ticket

Umberto Eco cleverly juxtaposes desire and reality in the opening lines of his essay "Travels in Hyperreality" and its observation of the hologram. Naturally, the objects of our desire assume greater value to us the more they approach a real that has purportedly been denied to us. Or, perhaps more correctly, when they return in a hyperrealized form from a "real" that was always already there for us to seize. And so much the better if these two writhing nymphs can lift themselves off the surface of the page or screen (not unlike those silicone or elastomeric gel sex dolls designed for intercourse) to build an edifice of technological titillation on the abject foundation of absent sensuality.

The process of creating such a hologram is in fact a double process as well as a process of doubling. A beam of light (laser or white light) is split such that one beam illuminates the object from which some of the reflected light falls on the recording medium. The other light beam resulting from the split, known as the reference beam, also illuminates the recording medium such that an interference pattern occurs between the two beams, which forms the hologram itself. Once this hologram is illuminated with a beam of light identical to the original reference beam, it becomes visible to the human eye as a represented image seemingly within the surface of inscription.

But to create Eco's beautiful naked girls requires a second process. By recording a hologram of a hologram we may create an image "in front" of the photographic plane and produce the sorts of three-dimensional projections that induce such awe in the society of spectators, with their desires and realities. As Eco points out, these second-generation holograms are no mere child's play, as they have serious applications in astronomy, medicine, manufacturing and art.

Of course in credit cards, Olympic tickets, or NBA merchandise the "lesser" first-generation hologram also eludes mere play, having become a serious marker of value and authenticity (one of many in what me might refer to as a security assemblage). The hologram provides a sufficiently complex technology of mass-produced inscription that fashions a volumetric projection of a three-dimensional figure in the non-space created on a two-dimensional plane (credit card, ticket, authentic replica jersey tag). In representing the "authentic" it also serves to assure the identity of the owner.

Is it so difficult then to entertain the notion that the superstar identity-vehicle within an NBA videogame, a three-dimensional or volumetric construct within the non-space created on the two-dimensional plane of the screen (and its offer, rooted in desire and hyperrealism, of prosthetic talent or surrogate style), might also stand as an assurance of identity?

In case this wasn't clear from the outset of videogames, it becomes even more certain in the age of online multiplayer gaming communities (eg. PlayStation Network, Xbox Live). Those who wish to participate in these online communities must gain passage to the space and its identity-vehicles by following two steps: first, by paying the toll of a subscription fee, and second, by guaranteeing identity through the financial means of payment.

FirstnameLastname (the unasked-for original gift) to SocialInsuranceNumber to BankAccountNumber to CreditCardNumber to OnlineGamingCommunityID to SportsVideogameIdentityVehicle, each link in the modulating chain of identification a unique number in a relational database table.

We reiterate: if the function of power in disciplinary societies served to produce docile bodies, its correlate in the societies of control is to produce docile identities, which may also include docile bodies.

small sutras

small sutrasmall sutra

i hang my hopes out on the line
will they be ready for you in time?

if you leave them out too long
they'll be withered by the sun

full stops and exclamation marks
my words stumble before i start

how far can you send emotions?
can this bridge cross the ocean?

(la roux, in for the kill)

* * *

sportsbabel, 2001-2009
remix, language, translation, affect

Not Global

(a response to reader karima, who thoughtfully questioned the use of the word "global" given the technological requirements to join the global village basketball game, anticipating some of the same questions that i have been asking myself)

Global Village Basketball 2009 took place last week at gym locations around the world. Despite the seemingly grand title, it was a humble affair: a few thousand points scored by a few hundred people hailing from a handful of countries scattered across a few continents. Can one truly call such an event "global"?

Of course not. But imagine a little. More people learn about the game and more baskets are scored in more places. Do we approach the "global" at this point? There is certainly a technological limit that is eventually reached, since one requires internet connectivity in order to upload one's points and photos to the collective meta-game.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

one. equal area cartogram of worldwide internet users, 2002

As the (slightly outdated) equal area cartogram above shows, worldwide access to the internet is dramatically distorted, which leaves certain areas technologically "in the dark" as concerns communication connectivity. Or does it? The latter word — connectivity — complicates the issue slightly, for connecting to this meta-game of basketball does not necessarily imply a desktop computer, colour monitor, router and ISDN line. It may simply mean the ability to exchange digital bits of information, which one may accomplish just as easily by telephone.

Courtesy of Worldmapper

two. equal area cartogram of worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, 2002

This equal area cartogram from the same year shows worldwide cellular telephone subscribers, and one can easily see in contrast to the first map how certain areas of the world are beginning to expand while others contract. Global? No, but certainly a different context than what we were considering at the outset. And when we shift the analysis from proportion to raw quantity of mobile cellular phones, the question of connectivity is complicated even further. Bangladesh, Colombia and Venezuela have more cellular phones than Canada? Ghana, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more cellular phones than Finland or New Zealand? There seems to be a disconnect between (Western) perceptions of economic prosperity and the reality of connectivity-in-potential around the world (a motif that by no coincidence weaves itself continually through the music of M.I.A.).

Courtesy of Google Analytics

three. geographical distribution of visits to the global village basketball web site

Perhaps the best thing that happened to me personally during the inaugural event is that the technology at our game location didn't work. We had lavish plans to bring a laptop to the gym and upload each game as it was played. We were going to take photos with a digital camera and add them to the Flickr pool while the game was in progress. We were going to hook the laptop to a data projector and display the global meta-score on the wall as it changed in real-time.

Only we didn't have connectivity.

Wireless access was confined to particular areas at the school in which we were playing. We didn't have an ethernet cable long enough to reach a classroom and get connected that way. And the Global Village Basketball web site didn't want to cooperate with an iPhone that one of the players had with him. Despite the wonderful technological capital available to us, we were reduced to keeping score on paper and uploading the information later.

But it didn't matter. Save for the scribbling of a local score on paper at the end of each game and the periodic update of the overall score total from someone's Blackberry, this Wednesday night scrimmage was pretty much like every other Wednesday night scrimmage created by this micro-community of basketball players in terms of structure. Yet in terms of style it was radically different: there was an energy (or affective tonality) in the air that can only be considered the byproduct of an imagined sporting meta-community.

If this is the case — that is, if one can still feel "a part" of the event in an "offline" sense and connect at a later point to "commit" one's local score to the global repository of scores — then the questions about connectivity raised earlier are complicated even further. As Paul Virilio repeatedly illustrates, the speed of instantaneous electronic communications forces us to consider time rather than space as the fundamental parameter governing social relations. For Global Village Basketball, one really needs to be only within 24 hours of a telecommunication access point in order to have the group's baskets count. And this is what the event proposes in its purest distillation: an offer to be counted or accounted for.

Courtesy of YouTube

four. distribution of visits by country to the global village basketball youtube video

Nonetheless, the original question remains: can we really use the world "global" to describe the event, no matter how open-ended its linking infrastructure attempts to be? Absolutely not. The word "global" connotes too much the idea of a "total" system, which is by no means the goal of Global Village Basketball, nor should it be the goal of any sporting multitude. If individual sports are linguistic forms, then it would be akin to seeking one global language and the consequential limits to thought systems this would imply.

But this is not the intent of the event title. Rather than reading "global" one ought to instead read "global" and "village" together as if the two words formed a single concept. The term "global village" was coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, who suggested that the electricity-based technologies of telegraph, radio, television, personal computer, internet, telephone, etc. would reconfigure spatial relations and draw the 6 billion people on the planet intimately closer together as if living in a single village.

This is not to suggest a utopia in the age of telecommunication networks! In fact, claims of utopia by other scholars form the laziest critiques of McLuhan's work, for McLuhan himself was quite ambivalent about the latent promise of the global village.

There is more diversity, less conformity under a single roof in any family than there is with the thousands of families in the same city. The more you create village conditions, the more discontinuity and division and diversity. The global village absolutely insures maximal disagreement on all points. It never occurred to me that uniformity and tranquility were the properties of the global village. It has more spite and envy. The spaces and times are pulled out from between people. A world in which people encounter each other in depth all the time.

The tribal-global village is far more divisive — full of fighting — than any nationalism ever was. Village is fission, not fusion, in depth. People leave small towns to avoid involvement. The big city lined them with its uniformity and impersonal milieu. They sought propriety and in the city, money is made by uniformity and repeatability. Where you have craftsmanlike diversity, you make art, not money. The village is not the place to find ideal peace and harmony. Exact opposite. Nationalism came out of print and provided an extraordinary relief from global village conditions. I don't approve of the global village. I say we live in it (McLuhan: Hot & Cool, 1967, p.272).

When the density of our stereoscopic existence intensifies, in other words, we become increasingly human, all too human.

In conclusion, a note on semantics

We ought to clarify the difference between "global" and "global village" that is implied by Global Village Basketball. To that end, from now on we shall endeavor to call the event Global+Village Basketball, the plus-sign indicating two ideas: first, that the two words must be read together as if one concept; and second, that our ability to play in an environment not conducive to peace and harmony is only possible because of the relationality that fashions each individual who decided to connect and be counted.

imaging, imagining

GVB 2009 Montage - Courtesy of the Players

"To appropriate the historic transformations of human nature that capitalism wants to limit to the spectacle, to link together image and body in a space where they can no longer be separated, and thus to forge the whatever body, whose physis is resemblance — this is the good that humanity must learn how to wrest from commodities in their decline. Advertising and pornography, which escort the commodity to the grave like hired mourners, are the unknowing midwives of this new body of humanity" (Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, p.50).