As part of The Internet as Playground and Factory, a conference series on the politics of digital media organised by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Orit Halpern, and Melissa Gregg introduced their individual areas of research and idiosyncratic takes on the notion of ‘affect’ and its evolution in meaning today as a result of technological progress.
Patricia Ticineto Clough is a sociologist currently developing a theory or logic of affect, or to use her own words, “the measurability of affect” which she calls affect-itself (a reference to the idea of life-itself) through various techno-scientific and mathematical approaches. Her proposal stressed the importance of affect as being a potential, which intangible in itself, but ‘real’ nonetheless; and that, as a potential, affect could be measured, not necessarily in terms of the human body, but rather in terms of its relation to value, measure, exchanges and accumulations. Clough referred to the quantum physicist and theorist, David Bohm, who wrote extensively on the topic of Wholeness and the Implicate Order (also the title of his book on perception and the understanding of matter), and who suggested that the world was enfolding and unfolding within itself. This lead Clough’s logic of affect-itself to include open-ended mathematical as well as biological extensions: she described it as “a scale-less matter [that holds] new curves in the temporary extension of digital experience and spatial experience.” In addition, she investigated Michel Foucault’s study of the seriality of governable populations, and noted that the ‘milieu’ should be understood as a spatial-temporal topology; which is to say that, the ‘milieu’ has both depth and breadth, and is mutating through time. This is where, I think, Clough’s idea of measurability of affect-itself takes full shape. Affect can only be measured when seen as a quantifiable value (divorced from the human body), and seen in light of its potentiality and ability to vary from past, present, and future. Clough ended her talk with a note on the aesthetics of value and measure conventions, and raised the necessity of rethinking measure and probability.
The second guest-speaker, Orit Halpern (PhD History of Science), discussed perception and data information as understood in terms of cybernetics, communication science, psychology, and cognitive science. Her presentation revolved around the works of Gyorgy Kepes (1942, 1944) and Charles & Ray Eames, who looked at vision as an organ of choice, able to link and combine abstract forms (or data points) and allow new associations to occur in the perceptive field. For them, this was an anticipatory sight of design, where making links between abstract matter could generate new patterns of perception and help people develop a more comprehensive method for interpreting information and understanding communication. Halpern also touched upon the concept of algorithms, scales of information, and data storage, and by doing so, made connections between perception and cognitive processes by distinguishing data storage from mental processes. She noted that, in cybernetic vision, perception and cognition become the same, and that the brain and the eye become closely related. She gave the example of Warren McCulloch’s mapping of the eyes and brain of a frog, which suggest that the vision is a relationship of understanding and seeing, cognition and perception.
Finally, Melissa Gregg, specialist in affect theory and work, presented her study on affective labour as it appears today in white-collar professional work and the creative industry in Australia. For her, those are today similarly equipped environments. Her documentation demystified aspects of domestic labour (or un-free labour) as discernable in undocumented migrants, conscription, containment, students, the critically ill, and workfare regimes. Some of her findings were that with an increasingly digital lifestyle, workers often express an inability to switch ‘off’, an intensification of stress and anxiety levels, and a heightened sense of responsibility. And more crucially, workers find themselves doing unrecognized work. Greggs’ presentation essentially showed that the digital, whether as domestic appliances, mobile devices or computer stations, has developed new ways of thinking about work in terms of gender, race, and environment.
The Internet as Playground and Factory. The New School, New York City, NY. Date: November 13, 2009. Patricia Ticineto Clough. “The Digital Affect and Measure Beyond Biopolitics.” Orit Halpern. “The Scanning Eyes: Knowledge and Visuality in Cybernetics.” And, Melissa Gregg. “Affective Labour: Past and Present.”