Night Surfing - Aaron Kreisler

hello, hello, hello, hello, hello........
with the lights out yes it's less dangerous
here we are now,
entertain us,
I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now entertain us,
a mulatto, an albino,
a mosquito, my libido,
yay, yay,........
Smells Like Teen Spirit
, Nevermind, Nirvana, 1991

We are inhabitants of a semiotician's paradise, 'the information age', a period which has become synonymous with the proliferation of visual candy: we can drive-thru, scan, download or hack together a montage of disparate images, sounds and words from our everyday and digital worlds. It is in this realm that we are starting to witness or experience a dissolving of outside and inside, public and private, fact and fiction, reality and illusion. We are literally living on-line.

  Charles Baudelaire's flaneur, whose meandering through a nineteenth century Parisian mise-en-scene, watching, recording and projecting himself into the everyday, is the odyssey we now live. Today we can tune-in/out to reality from the comfort of our living rooms. We have become stationary flaneurs watching bite size portions of 'reality TV', programmes where competitors are put in foreign or controlled environments and are presented with a series of tasks which they are subsequently judged on and against each other, with a competitor being removed each week, or a winner who has endured the most public humiliation announced.

We have ultimately become voyeurs of survival, watching in a suspended state of disbelief as 'normal' [demographically friendly] people: sleep, eat, fight, have sex, cry, lie, commit crimes and are tried before us on the screen. It is in this live morality play that we assume the position or are placed in the position of peeping tom, eavesdropper, snoop, judge and jury.

  Like Baudelaire's male flaneur, who swaggers through seamy back alleys for entertainment/enlightenment and recognition, we are a society which is increasingly finding sanctuary in the spectacle of other people's lives. We find solace in watching from a distance [behind a screen] and measure our pleasure/distaste [can be one and the same] through remote control [play a part in the rating game by watching], as we flick from channel to channel. We are becoming night surfers, dropping in and out of the digital soup, as we wait for the next instalment of someone else's life. In this state of perpetual daydreaming the spectator takes on a primordial existence, staying semi-awake through the routine of their lives in order to 'switch on' when it is entertainment time.
  Signspotting- Aaron Kreisler  

Objectivism constitutes the social world as a spectacle presented to an observer who takes up a 'point of view' on the action, who stands back so as to observe it and, transferring into the object the principles of his relation to the object, conceives of it as a totality intended for cognition alone, in which all interactions are reduced to symbolic exchanges. This point of view is the one afforded by high positions in the social structure, from which the social world appears as a representation (in the sense of idealist philosophy but also used in painting or in the theatre) and practices are no more than 'executions', stage parts, performances of scores, or the implementing of plans.
Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice
(1972; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

Signs are produced to make the public aware of their responsibilities or the rules which are associated with any actions they might make in that particular area. Signage is designed both linguistically and visually to give clear instructions and guidance to the public. Of course there is a nationally recognised set of codes or a formula by which this information is to be set down. This distillation of information into a set of standardised/recognisable, objective/authoritative and logical/modernist texts exists to be followed and not questioned or, more precisely, to be invisible. In many respects it is produced in such a way that what it is stating and how it looks should be accepted as a given. These social markers are produced for our benefit. They help us navigate through the world safely, continually reminding us where we stand, or more particularly, where we should not.

  I have found it an increasingly satisfying form of spectator sport to locate, document and ponder on the occurrence of what is invariably accidental or lost signage. It is those instances where the context which surrounds the sign, or the environment that it establishes, plays a key role in shifting the meaning or legibility of the text. What a committed signspotter is able to record is the inherent disorder or irony in the seemingly most stable system, and subsequently invest a new form of interpretation (a 'point of view') into this impenetrable form of language. The more trivial end of this activity is simply adjusting the way we read or decipher what a sign is saying. For example:

No Dogs

Seems inherently obvious if it is read as a series of points. But if we read this list as a sentence, the sign takes on a slightly surreal edge - I have not witnessed dogs skateboarding or scatting, for that matter.

This is a Smokefree Building

Surely a smoking building is either a foreboding sign or a chimney. And are not all buildings designed to be smokefree?

The process of encoding public signage is the next phase of signspotting. It is when contextual slippage starts to impinge or undermine the authority of a universal message.


The classic road sign or cautionary temporary signage with the generic figure sliding on a puddle of goo always offers the intrepid signspotter the key parts to represent and act within the everyday world. It is the temporary nature of the slippery series, which opens up the public spaces which they inhabit, or more particularly those sites which they are shifted to, when form doesn't equal function, which provides the perfect stage. Subsequently, slippery resides under a set of stairs, against the pot plants, in the dusty recesses of the building, on the burgundy and grey tartan (circa 1970) carpet.

Of course in taking up a search for the unplanned or random aspects of public signage the signspotter is setting up an observational activity which is formed according to the rules structuring theoretical operations - one will find what one is looking for. In the everyday locus: the mall, drive-thru, side-walk, motorway, corridor, bank queue and food hall the haphazard and chance are real. That's why the DANGER KEEP OUT tape wrapped around a series of stanchions in an ordinary shopping mall is not to warn you about falling debris, instead it is designed to ward you off entering Glassons.

  Radio With Pictures- Aaron Kreisler  

About a year ago I heard a medical historian discussing on radio how he could diagnose the various ailments that were perceptible in famous works of art. The speaker waxed lyrically about his various discoveries, becoming particularly animated when he started analysing the various physical and psychological states he associated with the self-portraits of Rembrandt. In his hands these works became a repository of biological information, which he proceeded to unpack - prescribing a series of late twentieth century remedies. The interviewer did not at this point find it prudent to point out that her medical professional had just treated a canvas for early signs of Alzheimer's.

Please hold ........
break on through to the other side, break on through to the other side...
Your business is valuable to us, you are now in a priority queue.......
........ha, ha, haa, haaa, heeyyy..!!!

  Maybe I would wait to break on through, but I already know what is on the other side. The sweet sound of customer service boredom, speaking with a smile and staying loyal to the company motto:

Remembering Our Goals,
Keeping Our Word
Keeping Our Promises.

Poor Jim, little could he have known that his stadium rock anthems would be reduced to a 'remember this' nostalgia slot on easy listening radio, or streamlined into muzak, that intensely nauseating sound now filtering down the fibre optic cable. The irony of listening to a dead rockstar's requiem to a drug addled spiritual ascendance is not lost on me as I fall in and out of a phone-induced psychosis. And they know that you will hold on, numbed into a state of subservience or agitated into a state of phone rage. Inquiring about a gas, rates, electricity or phone bill has become an exercise of Kafkaesque proportions; one must wait to be served to pay for something that has not been used yet, and all to the sound of LA Woman.

  This type of situation smarts of the 'in your interest' policy decisions which were instigated in the late eighties and became routine parts of daily experience in nineties New Zealand. For example, under the auspices of the Health and Safety Act it became mandatory for every public and private business to predict any accident that might occur in the work place. This was instituted as a way of minimising dangers, but it smacks of all care and no responsibility - because if you point out all possible risks to your employees then accidents should not happen and the individual becomes liable. But what has not been noted is that if you can foresee all possible dangers, then when something goes wrong, having predicted the unpredictable, it cannot be an accident. In a society that has become increasingly designed around notions of the individual it seems we are becoming victims of our own making.

accidents will happen,
but only hit and run,
you used to be a victim,
but now you're not the only one,..

Elvis Costello, Accidents Will Happen - Aaron Kreisler  

In a world that is becoming more and more paranoid about privacy there is something kind of refreshing in sharing an email site. This is a voyeuristic experience which sets up an interesting set of issues about what is personal or public material, as the temptation to read becomes a spectacle in itself. Usually you read in the knowledge that the writer is addressing a broad nebulous mass or directing their correspondence to a particular individual on a private or familiar level. The fodder email correspondence offers quite a different opportunity, here one can eavesdrop from the safety of one's office or peep through the digital keyhole into other people's amended/abbreviated lives. I would probably term this condition amateur/naive hacking - the ability to play in someone's privacy.


Hacking seems to be a condition associated with a growing computer-literate but disaffected youth - a version of teen angst which has traditionally been filtered through or conditioned by pop culture, or more recently mass media, as a representation/reflection of a dysfunctional social system. However, with hacking you have a situation where a group of individuals can subvert, convert or enter the domains which represent a traditional 'authority' [CIA, NASA, banks] and subsequently dictate the terms and conditions of those sites.

Breaking the code or entering the site through the backdoor has become the ultimate expression or indication of one's computer skills - it is a by-product of learning to navigate the web or manufacturing information - it is, in a word, temptation. Of course the uncontrollable and random nature of these 'attacks' has demonised the act and those who participate in it. Just the language, which is used in association with this practice - sabotage and vandalism - indicates how the media perceives these actions.

  This media-hunt for the perpetrators of these cybercrimes reeks of paranoid vigilantism of days gone by. The idea that the participants in these episodes might be playfully acting out a series of experiments/challenges to those who claim domain authority seems lost on most reporters who cover this phenomenon.

It seems ironic that authorities will use these invasions into personal material as sensational flag bearers to delve deeper into your individual records. What they are saying is that 'Private and Confidential' should only be the domain of those with your interest in mind, as long as you do not mind that they do it without your consent.