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Raley's essay is a careful and descriptive reading of Hansen and Rubin's interactive installation "Listening Post" paying particular attention to complexities of reading a textual work based on live information feeds contributed by an anonymous crowd, a literary work that is perceived as a live embodied experience in a multisensoral "polyattentive" environment.
In that Hansen wrote the set of instructions (algorithms) for the collection and sorting of data, Listening Post can be read in the context of the “aesthetics of administration” particular to the work of artists such as Sol Le Witt and Andy Warhol—except that in this instance, production tasks are delegated to computational machinery rather than to a team of workers, rendering the distinction between manual and intellectual labor as a distinction between machinic and human cognition. We thus need to consider Listening Post as a virtuosic statistical work.
In some sense this is the state of the field: writers and artists want to push eye, ear, and machine to their limits. But this is not to suggest a distinction between contemplative reflection (print) and distraction (new media). Rather, we read, view, and listen to new media works such as these in a state of distraction, whereby cognitive engagement is neither conscious nor apperceptive but based on an interplay between the two.
What Hansen and Rubin have given us in Listening Post is a startling and provocative visualization of a collective, of community, on the one hand, and individual affect on the other. It may intuitively seem to be the case that large-scale, multi-user SMS works evoke or produce the more powerful notion of community (given that they feature active collaboration and participation), but in fact it is the unsolicited messages in Listening Post that give us something larger—more hopeful and possibly more disturbing all at once.
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