The scan is both the quick glance and the measured study, it is a survey of the exterior and an interrogation of hidden interiors. Practices of scanning are a response to the increased number of things to consider and the reduced amount of time to consider them. Scanning demarcates that which is seen as relevant, interesting and important into ever increasing ‘to do’ lists, at the same time dismissing that which is not. These questions of importance or relevance are often decided through cursory glances and greater consideration is regularly left for ‘later’. Scanning engages questions about surveillance, about the way in which we surveil our self and our surrounds, and about the way we submit our self and our surrounds to surveillance by others. In many ways scanning has an impact on the way in which authority is practiced, in creative practice, scholarship and daily life.
Our feature article in this issue is by Lelia Green who discusses the way in which scanning radio frequencies, and particularly the shared environment created by the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service radio service, drew together a community of remote West Australians. “Scanning the Satellite Signal in Remote Western Australia” reflects upon the way scanning shared communication signals provided virtual connections at times lost by the introduction of technologies that provided more direct communication modes, such as the telephone. Lelia’s article demonstrates the scan as a reading practice often enabled by, or employed to negotiate, communication technologies. This is one theme that runs throughout this edition of M/C Journal. Simultaneously, “Scanning the Satellite” highlights the everyday nature of scanning, locating it within a history of communication developments that emphasise the ordinary status of scanning as a reading practice for engaging with the world around. This is the second theme that connects the articles in this edition. The scan is in itself nothing new; both the quick glance and the measured study are common practices. The articles gathered in this edition of M/C Journal consider scanning as a principal mode of engaging with the world. A quick glance at the morning weather, a hurried reading of a passing crowd, the habitual assessment of ourselves and our surroundings, an observation to ensure that everything is in its place. These are the practices of the scan that inform our everyday choices. They may be quick, habitual and disengaged, or, equally, measured, considered interrogations.
The scan often evokes questions of surveillance, as Alexis Harley explores in “Resurveying Eden: Panoptica in Imperfect Worlds.” Examining the power relationship imposed by surveillance, Harley compares three observed states: the Bible’s Eden, Thomas More’s Utopia and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Angelika Melchior also explores scanning as a mode of surveillance in “Tag and Trace Marketing”. Considering the Radio Frequency Identification tag (RFID), Melchior explores both the privacy concerns raised, and new business opportunities offered, by a technology that allows items to be continually scanned post-sale. In each of these texts surveillance is an intrusive practice that produces self-consciousness in the participants of both utopian and dystopian societies. Yet the self-consciousness that is so forcefully evoked through the practices of surveillance is provocatively abstracted by the commonplace practices of the scan. Here, the power relationships that are so familiar to discourses of surveillance are played out not by the ‘all-seeing powerful eye’ but by the practices that constitute the scan. They are the methods we apply when we scan our selves, our natural environments, our social environments, and, increasingly, our communications environments. The scan is a learnt short hand for accessing that which we consider important or interesting, alongside that which is in need of greater consideration.
Our attention is particularly directed towards the ways in which we scan our communications environments. The broad range of communications content, platforms and technologies has produced an enormous communications environment to scan. There are channels to surf, sites to visit, stations to tune in to, pages to scroll, inboxes to clear, list-servs to read, blogs to catch up on; and all before lunch! Scanning our communications environments allows us to designate and relegate information that we consider to be not-for-us, for later consumption, of great newsworthiness or interest, or for immediate consumption.
The cover image for this edition of M/C Journal, Julia Hennock’s “Future Perfect”, presents a speculative technological device so amenable to the scan: it shows a lens capable of producing perfect vision in all conditions. Her image is a reminder that scanning is very much a technological practice, and as changes to our media and communication environments encourage new scans, new tools will emerge to assist us in our response. Considering the scan as a technological practice is an element explored also in Yonatan Vinitsky’s film PANDEMONIUM. Vinitsky uses a flat bed scanner to capture 40 images of a man’s face, editing these together into a work that challenges the purposes of a domestic scanner. Jolting and at times erratic, Vinitsky encourages viewers to scan the film itself, glimpsing the still images as they pass. Robin Rimbaud’s “Scan and Deliver” also considers the constructive properties of the scan. Finding that the scan inevitably uncovers much superfluous information, Rimbaud constructed soundscapes from the excess data, discerning useful patterns from what is otherwise ostensibly random noise.
Each of these creative texts considers the scan as a productive practice. This theme is also present in Charlene Elliot’s “Colour™: Law and the Sensory Scan”. Elliot positions the scan as the fundamental experience of the brand, where the emotive identity of a product or business is ideally conjured through a glimpse of colour. Colour trademarks attempt to compress a broad range of information, emotion and association into a form that can be scanned. These trademarks rely on the act of the scan to cut through cluttered advertising environs; colours draw attention, take no time to absorb and cut across cultural boundaries, they’re ideal for the scan.
Michelle Kelly’s “Eminent Library Figures: A Reader” similarly considers the way the scan can deal with excesses of information. Discussing the function of the Cutter-Sanborn library classification system, Kelly considers the implications for authorship of the reduction of information into a scannable code – the author numbers written on the spine of a book. These numbers offer the potential of two types of scanning activity. Reducing author detail to a short string of characters, Cutter-Sanborn numbers allow the books in a collection to be quickly surveyed, individual copies to be located and their position amidst a collection specified. Representing a broader dataset, however, these numbers invite what Kelly refers to as an “analytical scan”, deeper investigation and further extrapolation of their meaning.
Recognising the scan as a legitimate form of reading practice is a theme present in many of the articles in this edition of M/C Journal. Elizabeth Delaney’s “Scanning the Front Pages: The Schapelle Corby Judgment” examines the newspaper coverage of the Schapelle Corby case by looking at the front pages of Australian tabloid papers. As with Elliot’s piece, the scan is revealed here as an everyday activity, an ordinary practice used to trace a path through a saturated information environment. As a reading practice, the scan allows this material to be accessed quickly, it allows people to fit the consumption of information into their daily lives. Studying the way newspapers capitalise on the scan reveals the implications of editorial decisions that facilitate this reading practice. These methods go beyond the use of ‘screaming headlines’ to sell their message, using the ‘naturalised’ habits of the scanning reader to purposefully present their position.
Henk Huijser turns to consider the implications for tertiary education of the ordinariness and prevalence of this reading practice. “Are Scanning Minds Dangerous Minds, or Merely Suspicious Minds? Harnessing the Net Generation’s Ability to Scan” considers the shifts in tertiary education delivery and assessment modes needed to respond to a student body more familiar with the scan than the deep read. After all, if scanning is a practice that can be learnt, it is a useful pedagogical tool and process that should be taught.
In many regards scanning seems a poor response to what is often rich and valuable information. But it does allow for the filtering of information. Stephanie Dickison’s “So Many Books, So Little Time” playfully addresses the baneful outcome experienced by the reader adept at the scan: the every growing, personalised “to do list.” Dickison shows how scanning provides readers with some simple choices – to accept or reject, to classify as urgent or non-urgent – in the creation of a list for planned future consumption. Here, the scan is the quick glance for the later considered study.
And with so much scannable information available why should we not, we argue, scan a lot rather than read a little? As we are constantly scanning, we are, after all, constantly reading and ultimately negotiating with, interacting with, learning from, and understanding about a whole range of environments. Positioning the scan as a legitimate and worthwhile reading practice shows that literacy (in terms of reading, writing and pedagogical practices) is perhaps equally a matter of breadth as it is of depth.