TOTAL NOISE, CUTIES COOKIES AND MIND MINING
A SHORT FILM AND PROJECT DESCRIPTION RESPONDING TO THE CONCEPT OF TOTAL NOISE AS DISCUSSED BY DOMINIC SMITH IN HIS ESSAY “PAYING ATTENTION: PHILOSOPHY AS DISSENTING THERAPY FOR THE INFORMATION AGE”, WITH REFERENCE TO JODI DEANS “THE COMMUNIST HORIZON”.
“[…] (T)oday’s felt reality is overwhelmingly, circuit-blowingly huge and complex. […] Total Noise, the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one’s total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to and represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.”(David Foster Wallace cited in Smith, 2019).
I am interested in the use of narratives of time to encapsulate a perception of punctate perforations to the “wired-mind” and body through the guise of convenience and infinite choice. This piece is a comment on the burnout of the individual and how the economies of time and attention can be seen as a commodity to be mined for profit.
I struggle to find the quiet moments to piece this project reflection together. Instant messages interrupt the multiple screensthat surround me as my “To Do” list grows as soon as one thing is checked off. The Total Noise is often louder than my own thoughts: a quiet, rhizomatic mind that likes to ruminate yet is overstimulated by static, overwhelmed with experience and oversaturated with things. I am not alone in this. The way in which we are tuned to respond to the noise of day-to-day life in capitalist society is a stressful and tiring one. “[…] reacting immediately, yielding to every impulse, already amounts to illness and represents a symptom of exhaustion” (Han, 2015).
A key contributor to our exhaustion is the continuous illusion of freedom of choice - everything and anything is available at the click of a button, whether a click-to-buy purchase or multiple instant communication systems, but an emptiness grows as we fill our lives with material goods and the demand to have online presence.
“Communicative capitalism mobilizes these parts and holes, these fragments in motion, filling them in with images and feelings and bits of enjoyment. Free-floating words and images are mashed up and recombined, recirculated and redeployed, the fact of their transmission displacing previous models of message and response. How many page views? How many copies sold? The magnitude, the surplus of contributions, accumulates in data banks on server farms, potential information spies and ad-men as soon as the quants and geeks figure out how to value it and put it to use. Perpetually engaged, we search and link, making the paths we follow – even as Google claims the traces as its own. We constitute the practice that constitutes us.” (Dean, 2012).
Moreover, our consumption is needed to perpetuate the cycle of capitalism. Theyneed our attention to sell their products. They orchestrate this and we play along. They mine our minds for available brain time to sell to companies who in turn sell us the products that are needed to perpetuate the capitalist cycle.
“The myriad entertainments and diversions available online, or as apps for smartphones, are not free. We don’t usually pay money directly to Gmail, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. These don’t cost money. They cost time. It takes time to post and write and time to read and respond. We pay with attention and the cost is focus.” (Ibid).
“Our attention isn’t boundless. Our time is finite – even as we try to extract value out of every second (we don’t have time to waste). We cannot respond to every utterance, click on every link, read every post. We have to choose even as the possibility of something else, something wonderful, lures us to search and linger. Demands on our attention, injunctions for us to communicate, participate, share – ever shriller and more intense – are like so many speed-ups on the production line, attempts to extract from us whatever bit of mindshare is left.” (Ibid) .
From the endless wormholes of the internet, the cookies help with that,right? That pop-up that refuses to get out of your face until, fed up, you click “accept” and the intrusion disappears. But, by accepting these seemingly innocuous, ‘cute’ cookies in reality you have given permission for your data to be mined, stored and sold onto by an endless stream of companies, who in turn, sell it on to other companies.
Paradoxically our emptiness increases as little pieces of us are mined as data; the worms are kept fed so the holes multiply and spread. We then spend even more money and attention, trying to fill the missing pieces that have been mined.
“Mined Mind” - a short film responding to the concept of Total Noise in a capitalist world, is an artistic representation of the wired-mind and body that is connected to the present norm under a guise of convenience and infinite choice – and my response to the above.
A luring Scottish accent was chosen on the basis that it is one of the most trusted, regularly used in advertisements such as the familiar, female voice employed in information about our health and our safety in Scotland. The intention that the use of a wholesome voice and a smooth, clean face would generate a feeling of familiarity and trust between the woman, me, the screen and the viewer.
The use of the word and imagery of “Cookies” also intrigued me - the cutification (Ngai, 2015) of something inconspicuous set me on edge. Juxtaposing the voice, the message and the gradual manipulation of a smoothed and cutified face was enough to tip the first section of my piece in to Jentsch’s Uncanny Valley, a play on the transition from heimlichto unheimlichand back again. Downloading a “free” programme enabled me to smooth my face to digital perfection, to mould my perfectly imperfect face into a mask of the Same. But removing the sense of the Other only created the unsettling feeling of something Other within me, and hopefully for the viewer as well.
The Holes that appear on the woman represent the punctum of what They mine: an apparently insignificant piece but representing an embodiment of “It’s just little pieces of you they need. You won’t notice.” In piercing the skin, I deliberately widened the hole, forming a funnel shaped cavity to embody the oscillation of “how far” your information might spread; the Funnel also representing the filtered and targeted “choices”.
The emotions I felt when piercing her were not something I had considered. I had formed a connection with her; note not an “object” or an “it”, something that is common in stop-motion animation as the “puppet” becomes an extension of the animator. The violence of puncturing her small, naked, fleshy, sweaty, vulnerable body became the focus of Part 2 in the short film. I did not want to hide from this uncomfortableness. I wanted it to last.
The dialogue in the first part is played in reverse for the second part to evoke a sense of uneasiness, perhaps of a hidden, subliminal message, or, an accent to the incongruity of computing algorithmic data language.
The holes would continue to manifest on her body should she continue to relinquish all freedom of choice to the Noise, a pattern akin to the static of noise otherwise known as “Snow Screen” would appear, a nod to the visual-sonic element of Total Noise.
Resolving to use a digital camera and an intensely attentive procedure of analogue animation for me embodies the middle path, a liminal place between the slow and total acceleration that explores concepts of time, as a balance of technology, and the exploration of the power of a physical object over that of a digitally composited element. Furthermore, the nature of stop-motion-animation as an arts practice allows me a sense of vita contemplativaamongst the Total Noise. As set out fully in the Appendix, I was interested in how breaking down the term “Stop-Motion Animation” might highlight this.
I have been wary to conceptualise in an artistic response the theories discussed by Smith, Dean, Han, as well as the works of Mark Fisher and Jonathon Crary as, in a sense, the work could readily act as a mirror to the unrelenting state of things. I am unconvinced that my voice and preternatural screen self does not differ from any other voice shouting to be heard over the din of Total Noise. Ihave tried to be conscious and considered with my output: the weight of the words I use, the cyclical length of the film work, to not waste the opportunity in articulating my perception of a burned out, punctated, mined mind. However, the original proposal offered a potential salvation for the woman as she felt for her sense of place away from Total Noise as she “unplugged”, regaining a consciousness to silence. It may be remedial to animate the “Unplugged” at a later date.
To examine the concept of Total Noise, respond to it and produce a piece of art within a respectable word limit was a challenge, and a concept that I look to expand on further within my studio work. Further thought and discussion could have been considered in relation to artificial intelligence and microchipping under the tags of ease and convenience, yet there is not sufficient space to delve into that in this reflection.
In further response to Dominic Smith’s essay, however, I wanted to translate his position of using philosophy as a mode of dissenting therapy for the information age, to considering how the arts could equally exist as a form of dissenting therapy from the Total Noise. This is something I actively investigate via my own arts practice: how can stop-motion animation be considered a form of dissenting therapy, and for me as an artist?
I also considered the level of engagement with Total Noise that I am willing to spend and the importance of balance. To immerse myself fully in the noise will allow me neither time nor attentionto imagine new works or moments in the silence. Equally, turning my back to it all will exclude me from a necessary level of participation in society. Both extremes are shortcuts; neither are sustainable.
This process has reminded me of the gravity of choice for conscious engagement with the Total Noise and the importance of contemplative time and silence. I advise periodical disconnection for durational lengths of time to reflect thoughtfully and engage the imagination in moments of artistic and contemplative projects. Also, go register with Ad Choicesthat you don’t want to accept all the cuties cookies already.
"If you've still got a nation of people sitting of front of screens, pretending, interacting with images rather than each other, feeling lonely and so needing more and more images you’re going to have the same basic problem. And the better the images get, the more tempting it’s going to be to interact with images rather than other people. And I think the emptier it’s going to get.” (David Foster Wallace in video Larkin, 2014).
The uncanny otherness of the “[…] ‘they’ [das Man] embodies social conformity; it prescribes how we are to live, to act, to perceive, to think and to judge…” (Han, 2018).
“In 2004, Patrick Le Lay, chairman of the French television channel TF1, stated: There are many ways to speak about TV, but [from] a business perspective, let’s be realistic: … TF1’s job is helping Coca-Cola, for example, sell its product…. [I]n order for an advert to be seen, it is necessary for the brain of the viewer to be available. The vocation of our programmes is to render the [viewer’s brain] available: …to amuse and to relax it in order to prepare it…, between two adverts. What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time. Nothing is more difficult than obtaining this availability. This is where permanent change is located. We must always look out for popular programs, follow trends, surf on tendencies, in a context in which information is speeding up (Patrick Le Lay, cited in Smith, 2019)
Of further relevance: “As Berardi theorizes these speed-ups as a super-saturation of attention: “The acceleration produced by network technologies and the condition of precariousness and dependence of cognitive labor, forced as it is to be subject to the pace of the productive network, has produced a saturation of human attention which has reached pathological levels.” He connects increases in depression, anxiety, panic disorder, suicide and the use of psycho-pharmaceuticals to this acceleration, as human psyches and brains come up against their limits and oscillate between the hyper-excitation of mobilized nervous energy and withdrawal and disinvestment. Recent research in neuroscience confirms that the incessant injunctions to find out, know, choose, and decide are overloading and exhausting our basic cognitive-emotional capacities. As a summary of this research explained:
No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decisions after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
The communicative circuits of contemporary capitalism are loops of drive, impelling us forward and back through excitation and exhaustion. The more contributions we make, the more we expand the field in which others have to decide: respond or ignore? Either way a choice has to be made and the more choices on is compelled to make, the more exhausted one becomes.:” (Dean, 2012).
“…friendliness enables it to acknowledge the Other in their otherness and welcome them. Friendliness means freedom.” (Han, 2018). The heimlich and unheimlich relationship create a questionable paradox of friendliness which I applied to “Mined Mind”.
“You won’t notice” was dialogue I cut in place of “It will make your life easier” but still remains very clear in the ambience and remaining audio.
What captivates me about Stop-Motion Animation is this ability to bring life to an “inanimate” object. There is something that ignites my imagination with the belief of a creature existing (materially) and moving in the physical realm, as opposed to the computer realm. It offers a sense of materiality and tangible connection through memory. I believe this (despite Benjamin’s views on cinematographic technologies) in that, compared to today’s overwhelming pollution of images (edited, filtered, framed and reframed), stop motion animation projects a sense of authenticity and “real”, especially over creatures/objects generated purely by computers.
STOP – as time feels accelerated, is atomised and economised it gives rise to an epidemic of failure, anxiety and depression. By immersing the self in a moment and turning away from optimising time for work or self-improvement, the self can recover from “hyperactive restlessness”, as “lingering gives time”, allowing us to come up for air. “The real is a stay in the double meaning of the word. It not only offers interruption and resistance, but also affords stopping and support”. (Han, 2017). A stop, a retreat from the Total Noise.
MOTION – “Today we live in a world that is very poor in interruption: “betweens” and “between-times” are lacking” (Han, 2015). Stop-motion captures single points in time. Filmed-motion captures all of the fluidity of movement in a continuous stream without pause. It is within the pauses, that the animator works with the object. Without the interaction of animator and object, there is no enchantment to be captured on screen. Amongst the Noise we are consistently accessible and plugged in to it: patient or even boredom “between-times” in a commute disintegrate. Constantly in motion, drowning in the sea of noise. Never pausing.
ANIMATION – to bring or to have life. In object-oriented ontology no object is inanimate. This method anthropomorphises the object. In the process of working so closely with the object, there is give and take between animator and object. The very process of connecting to a creature, say, and animising it allows me to slow right down to exist as this one object, as an extension of it, to move with it, feel its existence. In this process of animating something else, it, in a sense, reanimates me. (Bell, 2019)
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