generation n+1

When thinking about one cares about, there are two general positions: to care about something extent, or to care about something not yet extent. Both, in some sense, are future oriented: the first orients toward the future experiences and condition of a thing (even if in the very near, immediate future), the latter to the existence or non-existence of a thing, its conditions, and its experiences.

Those of us with children, often funnel our care through our children: they are the first locus of what we care about (outside our own future experiences). Our children’s lives, like ours, culminate in death. We care past the horizon of the death of our children to the extent that we care about their care: perhaps (and most easily) their children. We can imagine a future-chain of caring about children, in which we take concern in generation n+1 as part of our care for the interests of generation n. There will still, as far we understand, still be an end case, a last generation – the end of the universe itself, at least according to current cosmological models, but probably well before that; there are also possibilities of a post-generational humanity.

Care is contingent on time. Conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck distinguished two categories of time. I have only recently understood how materialist his conception of human historical time. He distinguishes between the space of experience (what we might call “past and present”, although by understanding it as experience, we recognizing that the past is not a “place/time” where things exist, but the possibility of producing a representation or other enactment of something experienced) and the horizon of expectation (the winnowing of possibilities to probabilities and then to expectations.)

Memory is an active process: this means that when we remember something, we are assembling a mental representation that we then identify as located in the space of the past. Even archival footage is a residue or after-effect, one which creates variably isomorphic sensory experiences (“if you had been behind the camera, you would have had the same visual experience your are having now” – very different from “this is what it was / this is what it was like.”) The technologies of history and memory – writing/reading, building statues, repeating stories, various archaeological methods – are material practices in the current moment which produce effects of past experience.

(It seems that memory is such an active, present process, that the act of recalling a memory may disrupt the mechanisms by which the memory was encoded, and then rewrite them – with revisions. The consequence of this is that the thing long-forgotten and then remember may actually be better remembered than the memory often-returned-to: the latter is a copy of a copy of a copy etc.)

The horizon of expectation includes the immediately-dawning conclusion of a process that one starts. To even begin thinking a phrase, one has the expectation of concluding it: the form of the end of a sentence one has started to think is not present to consciousness, but is held in the imminent future as the inevitable consequence of the process of thinking (or speaking etc.) Care about anything, too, is care about an expectation of its conditions and experiences, however far in the horizon of time that is. But the expectation is also a process of representation, at least when it extends beyond the completion of a current process. (The end of the sentence, the destination of a step: these are unmediated even if they extend outside the present moment – this can be said of many processes which are underway, including those with longer timescales.)

The question for the extension of care into the n+1 generation is its relationship to our ability to represent generation n when it extends past the threshold of the representable. We know a pre-hominid primate would care for its offspring, and for its offspring’s offspring. Would it care about us, even if we were it’s nth offspring? When our offspring’s offsprings aren’t human, or are alien from us in some other sense, will we care? But can we not care if n-1 does?

To Scotland.

Not even going to bother alluding to the fact that it’s been about a century since I updated this blog:

[Copy/pasted from my Facebook announcement.]

Friends and family, I have news.

Many of you may already know, but I have been offered a post as lecturer at the Institute of Art, Media and Computer Games of the University of Abertay Dundee in Dundee, Scotland, and my family and I are moving to the UK at the end of this month. It’s the oldest game design program in Europe, and I’m looking forward to pursuing my ongoing research on games, software and culture, while teaching courses on the history, theory and contexts of digital media and games.

I have been very fortunate to be part of the USC Interactive Media & Games program: I believe there is none better. I will deeply miss the colleagues and friends I’ve met here, who provided me with ongoing intellectual stimulation, creative energy, and unabashed support. Also, I will miss the students: I continue to admire their enthusiasm, focus, and dedication to making wonderful and compelling interactive work, and though it sounds like a hoary clich√©, I’ll say it: I’ve learned as much, or more, from them than I believe they learned from me.

Fortunately, I will still have the privilege of working with USC Interactive faculty and students: Abertay and USC are collaborating on a research project with the Victoria and Albert Museum, called Video Games in the Museum. And I’ll continue to advise USC students as an outside advisor. In fact, I would like to see a USC team or two participating in Abertay’s Dare To Be Digital 9-week residential game jam.

I’m going to miss California (I’m a native!) and everyone here, but I’m also looking forward to meeting old and new friends and colleagues in Scotland and the rest of Europe.¬† Many thanks to many!

Oh, and add me as a Steam friend, and let’s play some games.

Nature, childhood, Pokemon.

I read an introduction to a book filled with suggestions for back-to-nature activities for children. The book is very good and all, but it felt a need to start by decrying the contemporary (first-world, comfortable) childhood filled with “virtual worlds of Pokemon and Digimon.” There are a couple of ironies to that charge: first, that Pokemon’s rhetoric of legitimization included a lament for the loss of places of free exploration for (Japanese) children growing up in tower blocks in urban environments: the game was seen as partial compensation for the disappearing experience of youthful discovery in nature. (That rhetoric is a common one in Japanese game design.) The mechanics of Pokemon were drawn from a tradition of collecting and cataloging stag beetles, and setting them against each other in contests. Pokemon was a palliative response to the condition, not its cause. 

The second irony is that the activities in the book are themselves compensatory: the activities are supervised, structured, and involve an adult creating a managed experience usually involving crafts. Henry Jenkins’ classic article on video-games as (gendered) spaces of play focused on how vital unsupervised play and exploration was: many children still get curated and organized “exposure” to nature, but have lost the opportunities for social self-organization and development that used to be available to them. Virtual environments and game culture still offer this to them, and few of the critics provide alternatives in the “wild” which truly allow children to gather and self-organize without supervision.

Jiro Dreams of Objects

Since I don’t write about philosophy or theory or their near cousins, you might think that I’ve lost interest in them. I’m actually preoccupied with questions that are ultimately theoretical, but I don’t believe that this kind of work is served by a lot of writing. Insight is, for me, a rare and specific thing, and the easy participation in discourses does not seem to produce more movement in thought. Once a stance has been articulated – as Deleuze would have put it, a concept is formed – the dance around the concept seems like a waste of energy. Better to respond to the concept to produce other kinds of activity.

Having just seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the film illustrates the insight of the trend in thinking called object-oriented ontology, which I think of as a very productive cluster of concepts for those working in digital media and  rule-based cultural forms. The sushi chef, Jiro, exists in a relationship with a network of objects – the fish, heat, water, rice, ginger, customers – each of which is inexhaustable, the possibilities of them being both finite (bounded) and infinite (no knowledge system can capture all of their consequences, affordances, or effects, yet knowledge systems rely on them to be effective.) From the outside, at first, it seems that Jiro’s work with sushi is static, that there is nothing “innovative” about it. But the dialogue between Jiro and sushi – to eke out small improvements and enhancements in taste, working with pressure to improve the flavor and texture of the rice – is neither static nor “innovative” in the sense usually meant in, say, tech culture. In those differences lie more than just aesthetics.