Technological disenchantment: a new hope?

There is no escaping technology. This might sound bleak or like the plot of a disaster movie but hell, even Stephen Hawking warned us about the dangers of technology (artificial intelligence to be more precise). So it is unsurprising that this rapid rise and swift exploration of new technologies is causing discomfort to some people. But instead of painting technology in a bad light, why not see it as a means of increasing social connectivity?

Technology rules everything. Whether we look at it from an economic perspective or whether we look at social relationships, we are all digital citizens. Some may find it disconcerting whilst others will thrive at the mere thought of it. The increasing amount of social media networks and platforms have caused people to become more individualistic. The need to show yourself to the world is prevalent in most technologically advanced societies. There is an imbalance between those who bloom at the sight of new technologies and those who are completely disenchanted by it. I believe that art, generative art to be more precise, can be a medium to bring people closer to those technologies and that it can be used as a mean of increasing social connectivity.

The sociologist Manuel Castells argued that the information burst of the 1980s, and the rise of new information technologies, have created a new network society (Castells, 1996). Part of his research argues that we now have a “culture of real virtuality”, that is that our whole culture is centered around new media (ibid). This is why zombies have seen a rise in popularity in the past years. The metaphor of a zombie apocalypse has been used to depict many of our fears (Boluk, Lenz, 2011). Numerous art forms, all from paintings to films have depicted zombies as a metaphor for capitalism, consumerism, government conspiracies but also the loss of self/identity. This brings us to the use of art in this modern technology obsessed world. Art has always been used as a mean of self-expression and communication and today artists have the opportunity to use any medium they want to express their ideas (Danto, 2013).

Bringing people together, that is what art does. One of the newer forms of art is Generative Art (Pearson, 2011). It combines the use of technologies, such as various software and the artists own inspirations. There is some input made by the artist, the rest (such as the outcome) is autonomous and at times random. Now that being said, how can generative art be used as a mean for social connectivity? As stated before, technology rules the world. Unless we want to live like a hobbit, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we are bound to be faced with new technologies every day. So why not make the most of it? Generative art can be used to bring people closer to new technologies. Creating a great art piece with the use of various software can get people curious and talking. How did you create that? Maybe I can try it out…

Whilst working on my own generative art experiment, this is what I would hear from family and friends. That’s when I realized that generative art can bring people closer to new technologies and can make it more accessible to them. What I’ve learned is that most people do not oppose new technologies completely, they are just overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of it. It keeps growing every day, new technologies are being put out in the world all the time and it is hard to keep up with it. This is why I believe that using art can bring people closer and make them understand new technologies. There are so many great books and lectures to be found online that explain in laymen terms what, for example, creative coding is. To illustrate my point a bit further, I will make use of my own generative art experiments. I have created a code in Processing which will allow people to give each other physical messages. It responds to sound, so when the program is opened, the user can just speak and the program will create a random shape based on what the user said. That shape can then be sent off to be 3D printed and can then be given as a gift to another person therefore giving someone a physical message in the form of an art object. The way to get the general public more involved with technology is to make it more fun and accessible. For example, if someone had given me a book on processing a year ago, I would not have been tempted to try it.

There is a lot of stigma around trying to use new software when you have no background in it. It seems unapproachable and the fear of not being able to understand it or understand its use is big. However, through the medium of art, it has become more accessible to me. Had I not known and researched generative art, I would have never even considered trying anything with different software. Zygmunt Bauman, author of Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds argued that in our modern society, human bonds are no longer secure. With the rise of technology, people are more reluctant to form bonds with one another. Nothing is lasting, everything is ephemeral. There is no escaping the ever sprouting technological developments, it is sort of like Foucault’s Panopticon. There is no escaping it, and each individual is isolated and exposed to the gaze of others. So whilst we are shackled by this ever growing storm, art can be used to make people understand technology and no longer be afraid of it. Control it, do not let it control you.

Bauman, Z. (2003). Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Boluk, S., & Lenz, W. (2011). Generation zombie: Essays on the living dead in modern culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Danto, A. C. (2013). What art is. Yale University Press. Dijk, J. V. (1999). The network society: Social aspects of new media. London: Sage Publications.

Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. J., & McNeal, R. S. (2008). Digital citizenship: The internet, society, and participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Pearson, M. (2011). Generative art: A practical guide using processing. Shelter Island, NY: Manning.

Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind — BBC News. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540

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