ICA Feedback

James Harkin, the Director of Talks at the ICA, in London, and the man who has spearheaded the Feedback sessions there, has published a piece (I think it’s an excerpt actually) from/based on his new book, Cyburbia, called Our new home Cyburbia.

In the article, he outlines the notion of cybernetic feedback as being intrinsic to the principle of what the Internet does and how it is affecting us. He cites the early work on cybernetics of Norbert Wiener who developed the notion of cybernetics as a feedback system. To quote from the above link to his biography:

The idea of “cybernetics” came to Wiener at the beginning of the forties, prompted by his work on anti-aircraft defence and by contacts with colleagues in Mexico (“Behavior, purpose and teleology” with A. Rosenblueth and J. Bigelow, Philos.Sci 1943). lt was made known to the world by the book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, published in l948 after contacts in l946 with M. Freymann of Hermann et Cie (Paris). Coined from the Greek “kubernetike” (the art of the steersman), cybernetics involves the theory of regulation and of signal transmission applied to technical devices, living beings and even societies. It may also concern the art of government, or “cybernétique” as Ampère conceived it in 1843, which Plato, using the already existent Greek word, compared to that of the captain of a ship. Two main ideas play a part in cybernetics: negative feedback with its stabilizing properties, and transmission of information, which helps to make a whole of the many parts of a complex system, whether living or not. The metaphor of the computer, with the role of Boolean logic, is also present in cybernetics. It is of interest to note that Wiener, remembering Leibniz’s “calculus ratiocinator” and his construction, after Pascal, of a mechanical computer, considered him a patron saint of cybernetics, whereas Warren S. McCulloch favoured Descartes.

Harkin feels that the Internet is a product (or a model, at least) of this cybernetic loop system and goes on to discuss how it will change the way we as humans think and behave . I know that others are already talking about this, but more in the negative (I can’t find any links at the mo). But I like the idea and also, I think it’s about time for a cybernetic culture revival again. I haven’t seen Sadie Plant for over a year at any Birmingham events, but it would be great to see her step up to the (cybernetic) plate again and, along with Nick Land (see also Mark K-Punk and Kode-9 et al), return to save us all from the drab Silicon Valley evangelists.

Cybernetics has brought us a long way, but now that its global information loop is fully built, it is in danger of leaving us lost and directionless. Now we need to spend some time thinking about the message – what it does to us to have the new communication technologies around, and how artists, culture-makers and everyone else might harness that new sensibility and turn it to their own advantage. The humble book took off, remember, not because its early evangelists went around waving them in people’s faces or attesting to their incredible power, but because talented authors took the trouble to master this new way of working and write great books.

I’m not sure we have to ‘start’ thinking about the possibilities because, many net.artists have been doing that for a while, and of course, there is a whole genre, if that’s the right word, of e-Literature that explores the networked nature of the web. But perhaps he is referring to the broader cross-section of artists.Incidentally, the ICA caused a ruckus a few months ago, because they shut down funding for media arts activities. Not that Harkin is directly responsible, but it does make you wonder if the different depts. speak to each other?

In his role as Director of Talks at the ICA, James Harkin is trying to make real this feedback loops of growth and development. Maybe ICE:cubes can play a small part in that as well?


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