Circulating Indexicality, Cyberspace and the Early Web

logo the web that was

Looking back at 1990s representations of cyberspace always makes one feel alienated, a bit dislocated, and amazed at the same time. Did the American and Western European grasp of the World Wide Web really mix it with imaginations of cyberspace, all of the time? How could the mundane interfaces, modems, and slowly loading websites give rise to such an enthusiastic mapping of online spatiality, creating an unique visual culture of new cyberspaces? Some explanations for this are easier to give: Cyberpunk, Gaming Cultures and Media Arts had been engaged with online spatiality before the Web grew exponentially in a short time. Interlinking public, and especially urban space with representations of digital cities and information landscapes also did not start with the Web, as Kirsten Wagner has shown as early as 2006 (Wagner 2006). Yet some of the Web’s practices became quickly engaged with a translation of urbanity into cyber-urbanity, and affording a new situationist dérive while surfing. John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of Independence” attempted to remove the cyberspace from the realm of old statehood and legality, while addressing its representatives at the highly localized 1996 World Economic Forum in Davos.

A lot of this resonates in and with Martin Dodge’s and Rob Kitchin’s seminal work of “Mapping Cyberspace” (2000), which we want to revisit here. For them, the “Web has become such a powerful interface and interaction paradigm that is the mode of cyberspace, particularly for the mass of users who only came online since the mid-1990s.” (Dodge/Kitchin 2000, p. 3). Along with Dodge and Kitchin, a slightly more systematic explanation can be made about the dynamics between locating the Internet, and the Web, topographically while at the same time accounting for its feelingly new information spaces and attaching a topological spatiality to them. Relations between topography and topology are, as I would like to argue, always shifting and relational, thereby relying on the evaluations of what kind of indexicality a mapping wants to achieve. So neither is topography bound to mimetic mappings of actual geographic space, nor is topology something only to be found in the realm of abstract diagrammatics and mathematics that refrain from any geo-indexicality. Methodologically, Dodge and Kitchin appropriated the whole range of digital cartographic options at hand, including a multitude of distributed mappings of geographers at universities and telco companies. Geo-indexicality thus almost always remained topical, even if it was absent in representations of, let us say, a hyperlink topology between websites like Ben Fry’s Valence (1999). “[G]eography continues to matter, despite recent rhetoric claiming the ‘death of distance’.” (Dodge/Kitchin 2000, p. x.)

„Circulating Indexicality, Cyberspace and the Early Web“ weiterlesen

Standards Revisited

Thursday, 24 January 2019, University of Siegen
Herrengarten 3, 57072 Siegen, room AH 217/218

13:15 Opening Remarks: Standards Revisited
Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen) / Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)

13:30 Anna Echterhölter (University of Vienna)
Red and Black Boxes: Standardization as Mesuroclasm in German New Guinea

14:30 Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)
George Eastman and the Calendar Reform

16:00 Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California, Irvine)
Standard Time: Computers, Clocks and Turtles – via Zoom Conference

17:00 Lawrence Busch (Michigan State University)
Markets and Standards – via Zoom Conference

Friday, 25 January 2019

10:00 JoAnne Yates (MIT, Sloan School of Management)
A New Model for Standard Setting: How IETF became the Standards Body for the Internet

11:00 Thomas Haigh
(University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee / University of Siegen)
The Accidental Standard: How a Box Became an Industry

13:00 Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen)
Standardizing Digital Payments

14:00 Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam)/ Fernando van der Vlist (University of Amsterdam / University of Siegen)
‘It’s Graphs All the Way Down’

Standards are not easy to come by. As infrastructural media they coordinate the social to an ever-growing extent, thus creating conditions of cooperation. Standards do so not just by their sociotechnical power, but also by public uptake and controversies that put their accountability into question. They can also be understood as engineering and bureaucratic media that form a basis and condition for cooperation.

Historically, practices of standardization can be traced back to antiquity, especially in the history of coins, writing, and measurements. But pre-modern standards were bound to flounder and dissipate. Early modern knowledge cultures – partly – realized standardization via hand-made scientific instruments that extended metrological chains. While pre-industrial attempts to standardize the aggregation of information in administrative forms have been limited in scale and scope, 19th century industrialization interconnected with nationalized politics extended the territories of standardization. Media infrastructures such as the postal service and telegraphy became transnational through their administration in international organizations and a legal foundation via international treaties. Scale and scope of – inherently political and normative – standards and metrologies were at the same time constitutive for colonial prospection and rule.

Computing has given rise to its own regimes and obsessions of non-governmental standardizing. While early digital computers were unique, the trajectories of standardization were then tied to governmental contract research, commercialization and its coordinative and delegative practices. Serial production and the diffusion of architectural norms became a matter of economic competition in the era of mainframe computing in organizations. In multiple ways both the networking of heterogeneous computers and the success of the IBM-compatible PC did create a pathway to “open standards” that made computers publicly accessible. In the transpacific and global arena of hardware and software production, hyper-standardization has been an issue ever since. This also involves the questions of formats that mediate bureaucratic processes, textual representation, visual and auditory perception, and digital audiovisuality. Formats thus have become standards that mediate digital practices in their own right, just like network protocols and Internet standards. In many ways, the ecology of the World Wide Web is an ecology due to its standardizing bodies, communities of practice, and institutions like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Our aim is to understand how standards generalize and universalize media technologies, and to ask: How do metrology, industrialization, and imperialism/colonialism intersect with standards? What is the relation between standards, digital media, and coordination? How to explain the longue durée, ecology, and the enduring power of standards to configure cooperation? What is the relation between standards, delegative power, scale, and scope of media?

Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation, University of Siegen CRC project A01: “Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization