In its broadest sense, this research investigates how one should design the physical environment for the contemporary subject of the Digital Era. The ease and immediacy with which one can access the preponderance of information available through digital and electronic media has complicated the development and understanding of self-identity in popular culture, and by correlation how one engages with society. The significance of the public institution as a center for information exchange and civic engagement has diminished in favor of new media , which has become a staple at home and is trending increasingly mobile.
While architectural investigations of the past two decades contemplate the formal possibilities of digital technology and the affects of new media on physical objects, few architectural proposals consider how the proliferation of these media and technologies directly affect the subject in society. This project rethinks the design of the contemporary upper school as a model for considering the affects of new media on individual and community interaction, the dissemination of information and the evolution (dissolution?) of public institutions.
This thesis challenges contemporary formulations of identity and societal engagement in an age increasingly dominated by the proliferation of digital and electronic information and interaction through the proposition of an architecture which fosters critical awareness of the (re)presentations of actuality in new media and directs critical engagement between the new subject of the digital era and the public sphere.
My complete thesis preparation document can be viewed here: Rethinking the Contemporary School
Friday, October 3, 2008
General Thesis Statement
This thesis aims to critique contemporary formulations of identity and societal engagement in an age increasingly dominated by the proliferation of electronic information and interaction, through the proposition of an architecture which fosters critical awareness of the (re)presentations of actuality in digital media and directs critical engagement in new, virtual ideas of the public sphere. Citizens of the digital media era must learn to critique the ease with which one can construct and proliferate fictive identities in contemporary society and re-engage the affects of tactile interactions, which digital technology increasingly allows us to avoid.
The Global Village
Marshal Mcluhan discusses digital technology’s ability to greatly expand the reach of individuals across the globe and how this could foster collective activity and engagement in society. According to Jean Baudrillard however, the ease and immediacy with which one can acquire information, is directing a corresponding withdrawal from tactile engagement: “All the horizons have already been traversed, you have already confronted all the elsewheres, and all that remains is for you to become ecstatic over, or to withdraw from, this inhuman extrapolation” (1). “The masses plunge into an ecstatic indifference, into the pornography of information, and place themselves at the heart of the system” (2). The individual’s passive withdrawal from society is facilitated by popular culture’s corresponding lack of critical engagement with both the media relaying the massive amounts of information and the content of the information itself.
In today’s society “individual organizations and political parties engage in public relations so as to validate their actions and improve their image rather than to encourage or engage the public in a rational critical debate involving the issues at hand” (3). If we consider the media as part of Jurgen Habermas’ public sphere, it offers unconstrained access to information which might foster critical discussion and the formulation of social and political views. In many instances, however, it is difficult for the mass audience to decipher fact from fiction because of the preponderance of information. Furthermore, because of this preponderance of information, people can often track down the ‘answers’ they are looking for, correct or not.
The boundaries between public and private have disappeared – people can engage in public activity regardless of their location. Many scholars claim digital media has democratized public space, but this ignores economic factors, which preclude the lower classes from acquiring equal access to the digital networks. Thus, while digital media has expanded our notions of traditional public space and provides us with an abundance of information, the accessibility of new technologies exacerbate the marginalization of the lower classes while the mass audience often fails to critically engage this information it desires.
The preponderance of information available through digital media has complicated the development and understanding of self-identity in popular culture. Consumers demand the latest digital technologies and products without considering implications of how the structure of these technologies might inherently limit interaction within society. Digital media allows everyone to be anyone at anytime, but always within the confines of the medium itself. It blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, real and virtual, private and public. And while individuals have the ability to construct fictive identities at will, collectively, society is homogenizing because of its lack of depth and critical awareness.
Jonathan Bignell describes the internet as a "spectacular hall of mirrors, for the attraction of a hall of mirrors is to see oneself differently, as a virtual mirror image, but also to allow this distorted image to be seen by others in a public space" (4). We construct narratives of the self, and the media helps us to formulate these narratives. We are at any given moment how we would like to appear to others (5). Contemporary society is filled with anxiety around truth and trust because of the “fugitivity of truth in the information age. Details can be reconfigured, reinstalled in settings to produce any number of virtual realities. Statistics can be offered to support most anything we like. Preoccupation with evidence marks our insecurity, our search for answers that elude us because our very search fills up the files” (6).
1. Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication. New York: Semiotext(e) (1988), 42.
2. Ibid, 86.
3. James Friedman. “Attraction to Distraction: Live Television and the Public Sphere” in Reality Squared: Televisual Discourses on the Real, ed. James Friedman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (2002), 149.
4. Jonathan, Bignell. Postmodern Media Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2000), 215.
5. Annette Hill. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York: Routledge (2005), 90.
6. Jodi Dean. “Uncertainty, Conspiracy, Abduction” in Reality Squared: Televisual Discourses on the Real, ed. James Friedman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (2002), 304.