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Digital Silence

December 18, 2012 | by

Eli Horowitz is not particularly tech savvy, but he’s spent a lot of time thinking about what consumer technology can do. Until a few months ago, long after most of his friends and colleagues had bought iPhones, the former McSweeney’s editor and publisher was still taking their calls (and text messages) on a frayed LG flip-phone that was too worn down to snap closed completely; he had started to think of it as “more like a flap-phone.” By the time he upgraded, however, he’d already been long at work on The Silent History, a digital, serialized novel containing stories that, with the help of GPS, can only be read at the physical locations where they are set. “We came up with the very clunky shorthand description of a serialized exploratory novel for iPhone. Which just rolls off the tongue,” said Matt Derby, one of the novel’s authors, on a recent weekend on the Lower East Side. Read More »


Hiding in Plain Sight

June 5, 2012 | by

Hanna Shell in camo.

Why do so many American soldiers look, as one Brooklynite at the office of Cabinet magazine put it on a recent Friday, like they are trying to blend in to computer screens? The question was directed at Hanna Rose Shell, a historian, filmmaker, and professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, who had come to New York to talk about Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance. Cabinet had arranged to host a reading and sound performance, which promised “camouflage paraphernalia galore.”

We soon found out the answer. It seems the pixelated, “digitized” designs have been standard issue across the branches for a decade, while the iconic, splotchy pattern of green, brown, olive, and black seen in episodes of G.I. Joe and the military-themed action movies of the 1980s is no longer predominant. Officially known as the Woodland pattern of the Army’s M81 battle dress uniform, the older, iconic camo was initially designed, Shell found, to mimic the environment of a region in the Soviet Union where military researchers thought the Cold War would turn hot. Though no longer used to hide soldiers, close approximations of this earlier version can be found today on cargo shorts and Louis Vuitton luggage. It’s been replaced with a series of tiny squares and “micropatterns” that mimic a digital photograph with poor resolution, with the idea that the new uniforms would be more difficult to detect in images produced by contemporary digital surveillance. Also, as a military camouflage expert admitted, “the boys think it looks cool.” Read More »