Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The blinded leading the blind

I've been pondering over the 'non-digital' to 'digital' to 'postdigital' cycle, and wondering where the creative potential is. I can see how this cycle can provide us with a useful way of analysing and making sense of things, and I'm sure that it will prove to be a very useful tool in the hands of capable researchers. But I want to make things. I want to do things. I want to create something useful. I want to make new art and design. I want to craft something that helps my students to learn.

I can see quite clearly the possibilities in the 'non-digital' to 'digital' bit of the cycle. It's very exciting being able to do things that you couldn't previously do because of a new digital invention. The transition between the 'non-digital' and the 'digital' is loaded with creative potential. I can see new opportunities for art and design, and for learning, when the technolust kicks in. I am guided by the guts of art and education to keep me from being completely blinded by the technolust, but new technology amplifies my ambitions and accelerates my output. But where is the potential when we come out the other side? When digital loses meaning and becomes restrictive, what can be tapped in the transition to the postdigital?

Recognising that something has gone, is going, or needs to go 'postdigital' might act as an alarm. Perhaps the creative potential disappears at this stage of the cycle, and we need to look for some newly digitalised thing to manipulate. Perhaps the postdigital alarm bell rings when we are flogging a dead horse. Time to move on. What's the next Twitter?

Maybe I'm being defeatist. One of the first things that I pondered over when the term was proposed was 'What might postdigital art be?". The term comes from the arts, but the original 'postdigital' only partly aligns with the spirit of the 52group document. In relation to music, and in particular, Kim Cascone's work, it seems to refer mainly to glitch - the deliberate embracing of digital 'mistakes' (I may well be wrong on this – I need to re-read that stuff). But if 52group postdigitalism is about the natural or forced transparency of the digital, where is the potential in that? Is it in the transition? It it in the forcing? Could an artist identify something that is stupidly digital and force it, kicking and screaming, into the postdigital? The artist as provocateur, winding things up. Smashing things down. Sounds very anti-digital to me, and I don't enjoy upsetting people, so I think this way of thinking is a dead end.

If it's not about art, could it be about design? In an earlier blog post, I quoted an essay by Beatrice Ward that explored the importance of transparency in typography. If you're busy noticing the letter-forms instead of being enthralled by the author's wit, then the typesetting is probably bad. You don't notice good typography, it is transparent. Likewise, if you notice an edit when you are watching a film, it's probably a bad edit. Transparent editing – editing you don't notice – is almost always desirable. Design might have a role to play in helping to make the digital disappear when a need for it to do so has been identified. Designers have no fear of their efforts not getting noticed. They might help tease the digital away from the thing that has been enabled by it, and bring some clarity. Perhaps we are talking about re-design – the equivalent taking a page set in 18 point Comic Sans and resetting it so that it no longer makes your eyes bleed. We could look at something that is overtly digital, and 'redesign' it to emphasise the essence of that thing. By deliberately neutralising the overbearing influence of the digital, we might see more clearly what is important, and unlock hidden opportunities.

Russell Davies describes a project by Schulze & Webb & Jones Crew (Point three in the post) as postdigital. Here, he is talking about a project that has moved beyond 'digital infatuation and analogue nostalgia'. I must admit that I'm attracted to this flavour of postdigitalism. This might be where the potential is, and it seems to align with 52group thinking to some extent. So, the postdigital in relation to design, advertising and art could be about making appropriate use of a combination of digital and non-digital processes. Oh, hang on, that sounds very much like normal practice round my neck of the woods. As I detailed in an earlier post, I feel like we have already moved to the postdigital on the course that I teach on. However, we do still spend a lot of time gently steering students away from digital infatuation and analogue nostalgia in their own best interests. We are effectively steering them towards this version of the postdigital. Maybe I will start saying to techno-blinded and techo-blind students, "Let's consider your work in a postdigital context."

Much more thinking required. I'll pin it down eventually.

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