I have been really enjoying “Mass Effect: Art and The Internet in the Twenty-First Century” edited by Laurne Cornell and Ed Halter. Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenscied’s essay “Do You Believe in Users? / Turning Complete User” should be required reading for all computer users, which I suppose would be: almost everyone. Starting out in their first paragraph, they map out the disturbing nature of a thoughtless attitude towards computing’s ubiquitousness…”it seems that in spite of its prevalence in our culture, the computer’s ultimate purpose is to become an invisible ‘appliance’, a transparent interface and device denying any characteristics of its own”. (1) This makes me think of my early days of teaching new media, where older faculty worried about the increasingly tech savvy nature of their young students. I could allay those particular fears by pointing out the fact that the students weren’t necessarily tech savvy, but excellent users of pre-scripted/prescribed software portals – in fact, they were more product than producers.

In the essay, Lialina and Espenscied talk about the contrast in understanding/adoption of computer technology vs computer culture. They then go on to propose the term “Digital Folklore” – a term that “encompasses the customs, traditions, and elements of visual, textual, and audio culture that emerged from user’s engagement with personal computer applications during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century”. (2) As we now see, technology is not the thing that will stand for our free speech. For every Arab spring, there are hundreds of thousands of bots undermining democratic elections. It is up to the educated media-specific advocate-user to parse the streaming data of technological implications in order to make decisions about the aesthetic language, cultural history and art historical context of computer culture.

  1. “Lialina, Olia and Espenschied, Dragan. ‘Do You Believe in Users?/Turning Complete User’ Mass Effect. Eds. Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2015. 1.”
  2. Ibid.

More: http://digital-folklore.org/