Typewriters versus memes
In January 2013, a picture of a young man sitting on a park bench while typing on a mechanical typewriter went viral on the popular website Reddit. It had been designed in the typical style of an "image macro" or "meme" (Klok 16-19): On top of the photograph, bold white letters in the Impact typeface sarcastically stated that "You’re not a real hipster […] until you take your typewriter to the park".
The meme, which continued to make waves until late in 2013 (Hermlin), emblematizes the rift between digital and post-digital cultures. Imageboard memes are arguably the best example of a contemporary popular mass culture born in the Internet. They differ from older popular forms of visual culture such as comic strips because they are anonymous creations that even gave birth to the Anonymous movement, as described by in (Klok 16-19). Furthermore, they are based on creation by users, disregard of intellectual property, viral dissemination among users and potentially infinite repurposing and variation (through collage or different lettering). As small file size and low resolution images, they exhibit a favor of speed of creation and dissemination over traditional publishing processes with their slower speeds of creation, editing and distribution.
The meme image of the typewriter hipster is a negative self-reflection since it shows the opposite of itself. In a strict technical sense, even a mechanical typewriter is a digital writing system (as explained later in this text) and embodies by virtue of its keyboard the immediate prehistory of personal computer systems, including the one on which the lettering for the image meme had been typed on.
In a colloquial sense however, this machine is "analog" because it does not contain computational electronics. In the year 2013, choosing a mechanical typewriter instead of a mobile computing device is, as the image suggests, no longer a sign of being old-fashioned, but a conscious decision against electronics. It questions the view that computers, as meta-machines, represent obvious technological progress and therefore are the logical upgrade to any older media theory – much in the same way as using a bike today questions the older ideology that the car is a rationally superior means of transportation.
Typewriters are not the only media that have been revived as literally post-digital devices: vinyl records, lately also audio cassettes, analog photography and artists’ printmaking should be named, too. And when looking at the work of contemporary young artists and designers, including art school students, such media are vastly more popular than making, for example, image memes.1
Post-digital: a term that sucks but is useful
1. Disenchantment with "digital"
Through my student Marc Chia – now Tara Transitory, performing under the moniker One Man Nation -, I was first confronted with the term "post-digital" in 2007 . My first reflex was to dismiss it as moot in an age of cultural, social and economic ruptures driven to major extents by computational digital technology. Today, in the age of ubiquitous mobile devices, drone wars and the gargantuan data operations of Google, the NSA and other global players, it may appear even more questionable than in the year 2007: as either ignorance of our times or Thoreauvian-Luddite withdrawal from them.
More pragmatically, "post-digital" could be understood as a moniker for a contemporary disenchantment with digital information systems and media gadgets, and for a time where fascination for them has become historical (just like the dotcom age ultimately became historical in the 2013 novels of Thomas Pynchon and Dave Eggers). After Edward Snowden’s disclosures of all-pervasive digital surveillance, this disenchantment has grown from a niche “hipster” phenomenon to a mainstream position that will likely impact all cultural and business practices built upon networked electronic devices and Internet services.
2. Revival of "old" media
While Thoreauvian-Luddite withdrawal might appear tempting for many, it is naive. For the arts, it boils down to the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement repeating itself, with its program of handmade production as resistance to industrialization. It is undeniably at work in today’s renaissance of artists’ printmaking, handmade film labs, limited vinyl editions, rebirth of audio cassette, mechanical typewriters, analog cameras and synthesizers. An empirical study our research center in Rotterdam conducted among Bachelor students from most art schools in the Netherlands proved a clear preference for working with non-electronic media among contemporary young artists and designers. About 70% of them would rather make a poster than a website if they had a choice (van Meer, 14). Digital technology experimentation has almost completely transitioned towards engineering schools, and is often considered commercial and mainstream by arts students.
think postcolonial, not post-histoire
On closer inspection, the dichotomy between digital big data and neo-analog DIY is however not as clear-cut as it may first seem and give the attribute "post-digital" more significance than being just a sloppy descriptor for a trend in contemporary culture:
This age is clearly not a post-digital age – neither in regards to technological developments, nor in a historico-philosophical (geschichtsphilosophische) perspective.
Regarding the latter, (Cox, xxx) puts down a valid critique of the term "post-digital" as a questionable continuation of other historico-philosophical nouns prefixed with "post", from postmodernity to posthistoire. However, "post-digital" can be more pragmatically and meaningfully defined within popular cultural and colloquial frames of references, both in regard to the prefix "post" and to the notion of "digital". Rather than "postmodernity" and "posthistoire", the reference of the "post" prefix could be post-punk, punk culture continued in ways that were both punk and not; post-communism as it is still the reality in former East block countries, postcolonialism and, to a lesser extent, the post-apocalyptic whose modern iconography has been established by the Mad Max films in the 1980s. They do not suggest that the apocalypse is over, but has transformed from rupture to enduring condition (or from Ereignis to Being).
None these words – post-punk, post-communism, postcolonialism, postapocalyptics – would be done justice if one read them as Hegelian notions. Rather, they describe cultural shifts and ongoing mutations: Postcolonialism does not mean the end of colonialism akin to Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s "end of history", but quite on the contrary its transformation into less clearly visible power structures that are still in place, have left their mark on languages and cultures, and most importantly still govern geopolitics and global production chains. In this sense, the post-digital condition is the post-apocalyptic condition after the computerization and global digital networking of communication, technical infrastructures, markets and geopolitics.
"digital" as sterile high tech
The second half of the word "post-digital" refers to a popular cultural – rather than scientific or media theoretical – definition of "digital", the kind of connotation illustrated by contemporary Google image search results on the word "digital":
"Post-digital" first of all describes any media aesthetics leaving behind those clean high tech and high fidelity connotations. The word was coined by musician Kim Cascone in 2000 in relation to glitch aesthetics in contemporary electronic music (Cascone, 12). In the same year, the Australian sound and media artist Ian Andrews broadened it into a "post-digital aesthetics" that rejects the "idea of digital progress" and "a teleological movement toward ‘perfect’ representation" (Andrews).
In other words, Cascone and Andrews primarily thought of "post-digital" as an antidote to techno-Hegelianism. Their papers were firmly based on the culture of audiovisual production where "digital" had long been synonymous with "better": the launch of the Fairlight sound sampler in 1979, of the digital audio CD in 1982 and the MIDI standard in the same year, software-only digital audio workstations in the early 1990s, real-time programmable software synthesis with Max/MSP in 1997. Such teleologies are still effective in video and TV technology, with the ongoing transitions from SD to HD and 4K, from DVD to BluRay, 2D to 3D, always sold with the same narrative of innovation, improvement, and higher fidelity reproduction. By rejecting this, Cascone and Andrews opposed the paradigm of good technical quality altogether. "Post-digital" was a confusing coinage in Cascone’s paper because the glitch music it covered and advocated actually was digital, even based on specifically digital sound processing artifacts. But just like post-punk as a reaction to punk, Cascone’s notion of the "post-digital" might best be considered a reaction to an age where even tripods are being sold with "digital" stickers attached in order to suggest that they are new, superior technology:
"digital" as low-quality trash
Such post-digital rejections of high tech oddly coincidence with post-digital rejections of digital low quality: the persisting argument that vinyl LP sound better than CDs let alone mp3, that film slides look better than digital photographs let alone smartphone snapshots, that 35mm film projection looks better than digital cinema projection let alone bittorrent video downloads or YouTube, that paper books are richer media than websites and e-books, and that something typed on a mechanical typewriter has more value than a throwaway digital text file let alone E-Mail spam. In fact, the glitch which Cascone advocates as something "post-digital" is exactly the kind of digital trash that "post-digital" vinyl listeners dismiss.
against the universal machine
But no matter whether they reject high fidelity or trash, both post-digital attitudes dismiss the idea of the digital computer as the universal machine – and hence digital computational devices as all-purpose media.
Cascone’s "post-digital" resistance to digital high tech echoed older forms of resistance to formalist, mathematically driven progress narratives in music; particularly, the opposition to serialist composition in 20th century contemporary music which started with John Cage, continued with the early minimal music of La Monte Young and Terry Riley and did not end with improvisation/composition collectives such as AMM and Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra. The serialism of Stockhausen, Boulez and their contemporaries was digital in the most literal sense of the word: It broke down all parameters of musical composition into computable values in order to process them by the means of numerical transformations. In the later times of mass consumer media technology, computation shifted from a means of composition to a means of signal processing, and from audiovisual production to audiovisual reproduction. (Sometimes involving the same companies, such as Philips which founded a studio for contemporary electronic music in the 1950s and co-developed the audio CD in the early 1980s.)
Most serialist music, however, was not electronic but composed with pen and paper and performed by orchestras. This reveals a crucial issue: unlike in its colloquial meaning (which includes its common understanding in the arts and humanities), "digital" does not necessarily involve electronics. In this sense, the technical-scientific notion of "digital" can – paradoxically enough – be applied to devices that would be called "post-digital" in the arts and humanities. By virtue of its differentiated letters, the hipster’s mechanical typewriter is "digital" system" according to information science and analytical philosophy (Goodman, 161), "analog" by virtue of its mechanics for the anonymous creator of the hipster meme and maybe "post-digital" for an art curator.
What is post-digital then?
(The following is an attempt of recapitulating and ordering observations which I had gathered in previous publications.2)
post-digital = post-digitization
Going back to Cascone and Andrews, but also to post-punk, postcolonialism and Mad Max, "post-digital" most simply describes the messy state of media, arts and design after their digitization, or at least after digitization of crucial parts of their communications. Sentiments of disenchantment and skepticism may add to the mix but not necessarily so. Somteimes, "post-digital" can mean the opposite. Contemporary visual art, for example, only slowly begins to accept net artists as regular contemporary artists (and among them, rather those whose work is white cube-compatible like Cory Arcangel’s), but its discourse and networking have profoundly changed through the e-flux mailing list, art blogs and the electronic e-flux journal. These media that have largely superseded paper art periodicals in circulation, power and influence at least for the art system’s in-crowd of artists and curators. Likewise, paper newspapers have become post-digital, or post-digitization, media wherever they shift their own emphasis from news (for which the Internet is faster) to investigative journalism and commentary, like The Guardian in its coverage of the NSA’s PRISM program.
post-digital = anti-"new media"
"Post-digital" thus refers to a state where disruption through digital information technology has already occurred. Which can mean – such as for Cascone – that it is no longer perceived as disruptive. Therefore, "post-digital" is positioned against the notion of "new media". At the same time, as its negative mirror, it exposes (arguably even deconstructs) the latter’s hidden teleology: If "post-digital" evokes critical reactions concerning the historico-philosophy inscribed into the prefix "post", then it also the reveals a previous lack of such criticality towards the older yet no less Hegelian term "new media".
post-digital = hybrids of "old" and "new" media
"Post-digital" describes a perspective on digital information technology that is no longer focused on technical innovation or improvement but rejects innovation narratives. Consequently, it eradicates the distinction between "old" and "new" media, in theory as well as in practice. Kenneth Goldsmith notes that his students "mix oil paint while Photoshopping and scour flea markets for vintage vinyl while listening to their iPods" (Goldsmith, 226). Working at an art school, I observe the same. Young artists and designers choose media for their own particular material aesthetics including artifacts, whether they result from analog material qualities or from digital processing. Lo-fi misbehavior is embraced no matter whether in digital glitch and jitter like in Cascone’s music or in analog grain, dust, scratches or hiss, as a form of practical exploration and research that explores materials through their misbehavior. It is a post-digital hacker attitude of taking systems apart and using them against their design intentions.
post-digital = retro?
Mo doubt, post-digital mimograph printmaking, audio cassette production, mechanical typewriter experimentation and vinyl DJing overlap with hipster retro media trends including digital simulations of analog lo-fi in popular smartphone apps such as Instagram, Hipstamatic and iSupr8. On the other hand, there is a qualitative difference between using superficial and stereotypical ready-made effects and the thorough work and study required for making "vintage" media work again driven by an desire for non-formulaic aesthetics.
Still, such practices can only be meaningfully called post-digital when they not simply revive older media technologies, but functionally repurpose them in (critical) relation to mainstream digital media technologies: zines that become anti- or non-blogs, vinyl as anti-CD, cassette tapes as anti-mp3, analog film as anti-video.
post-digital = "old" media used like "new media"
At the same time, ethics and cultural conventions that became mainstream with Internet communities and Open Source culture become retroactively applied to the making of non- and post-digital media products. A good example are collaborative zine conventions, a thriving subculture documented amongst others on the blog fanzines.tumblr.com. These events, where people gather to collectively make and exchange zines, are the perfect opposite of the zine cultures of the post-punk 1980s and 1990s where most zines were hyper-individualistic product and personality platforms of one maker. If one maps Lev Manovich’s new media taxonomy of "Numerical Representation", "Modularity", "Automation", "Variability" and "Transcoding" (Manovich, The Language of New Media, 27-48) to a contemporary zine fair or mimography community art space, then "modularity", "variability" and – in a more loosely metaphorical sense – "transcoding" would still apply to the contemporary cultures of working with these "old" media. In these cases, "post-digital" usefully describes "new media"-cultural approaches to working with so-called "old media".
DIY vs. corporate instead of "new" versus "old" media
When hacker-style and community-centric ways of working are no longer tied to specific technologies, but can equally be found in computer labs and zine fairs, the classical dichotomy of "old" and "new" media, analog and digital, shifts to a new differentiation between shrink-wrapped versus do-it-yourself culture. No mainstream medium embodies this better than the magazine and web site Make, published by O’Reilly since 2005 and instrumental for the foundation of the contemporary maker movement. Make covers 3D printing, Arduino hardware hacking, FabLab technology, as well as classical DIY and crafts, and hybrids between them.
Conversely, the 1990s/early 2000s equation that the "old" mass media such as newspapers, movies, television and radio are corporate and "new media" such as web sites are DIY, is no longer true ever since user-generated content has been co-opted into corporate social media and mobile apps. The Internet as an self-run alternative space – central to many activist and artists’ online projects from The Thing onwards – is no longer intuitive for anyone born after 1990. For younger generations, the Internet is largely identical to corporate, registration-only services.3
Semiotic shift to the indexical
The Maker movement, whether in FabLabs or on zine fairs, embodies a shift from the purely symbolic, as privileged in digital systems (for which the login is the perfect example), towards the indexical: from code to traces, and from text to context. 1980s post-punk zines, for example, resembled manifestos such as those of the Berlin Dadaists in the 1920s and 1980s Super 8 films made as part of the Cinema of Transgression and other post-punk movements created underground narratives against mainstream cinema. The majority of contemporary zines and experimental Super 8 films, however, tend to shift from content to pure materiality where the medium, such as paper or celluloid, indeed is the message; from semantics to pragmatics, and from metaphysics to ontology.4
When ‘post-digital’ is ‘digital’ and vice versa
misunderstandings of "digital" as binary and electronic
From a technological and scientific point of view, the word "digital" is wrongly understood and used by Cascone. That also applies to most of what is commonly labelled "digital art", "digital media" and "digital humanities". If something is "digital", it neither has to be electronic, nor involve binary zeros and ones. It does not even need to be attached to electronic computers or any other kind of computational device.
Conversely, analog does not mean non-computational or pre-computational, since there are also analog computers. (Using water and two measuring cups for computing additions and subtractions – of quantities that can’t be exactly counted – is a simple example for analog computing.) "Digital" simply means that something is divided up into exactly countable units – countable with whatever system one uses, whether zeros and ones, decimal numbers, strokes on a beer mat or the digits of one’s hand. (Which is why "digital" is called "digital"; in French, for example, the word is "numérique".) Therefore, the Western alphabet is a digital system, the movable types of Gutenberg’s printing press constitute a digital system, the keys of a piano are a digital system, Western musical score notation is digital aside from such non-discrete value instructions as adagio, piano, forte, legato, portamento, tremolo and glissando. Floor mosaics made from monochrome tiles are digitally composed images. These examples show, too, that "digital" never exists in any perfect form but is always is being abstracted and idealized from matter that, by nature and the laws of physics, has chaotic properties and often ambiguous states5.
misunderstandings of "analog" as non-binary and non-electronic
"Analog" conversely means that something has not been chopped up into discrete, countable units. But it consists of a signal that by itself has no discrete units but is gradually and continuously changing, such as a sound wave, light, a magnetic field such as on an audiotape but also on a computer hard disk, the electrical flows in any circuit including computer chips, a painted color gradient. (Goodman, 160) therefore defines analog as "undifferentiated in the extreme" and "the very antithesis of a notational system".
The fingerboard of a violin is analog, because it is fretless – undivided -, the fingerboard of a guitar is digital, because frets divide it into single notes. What is commonly called "analog" photographic and cine film is actually a hybrid of analog and digital: the particles of the film emulsion are analog, because they are undifferentiated blobs in organic-chaotic order and not reliably countable like pixels -, the single frames of a film strip are digital since they are discrete, chopped up and unambiguously countable.
The only ordering principle for analog signals are their analogy: their physical mimesis of the signals they reproduce. In the case of the photographic emulsion, the distribution of the otherwise chaotic particles mimics the distribution of light rays making up an image the human eye sees; on the audiotape, decreasing and increasing magnetization of the otherwise chaotic iron or chrome particles mimics the rising and falling of the sound wave it reproduces.
Technically, there are no such things as "digital media" and "digital # aesthetics"
This means that media, in the technical sense of storage, transmission, computation and display devices, are always analog: The electricity in a computer chip is analog because its voltage can have arbitrary, undifferentiated values between its minimum and maximum just like a fretless violin string. Only through filtering, one can make a certain range of high voltage correspond to a "zero" and a certain range of low voltage to "one". Hardware defects can make bits flip and turn zeros into ones. The sound waves produced by a sound card and a speaker are analog, etc. (This is what (Kittler, 81-90) refers to, albeit opaquely, when arguing that in computing "there is no software".) An LCD screen is a hybrid digital-analog system because its display has discrete, countable, single pixels, but the light they emit constitutes an analog continuum.
There is hence no such thing as digital media, only digital or digitized information: chopped-up numbers, letters, symbols and whatever other abstracted units as opposed to continuous, wavelike signals such as physical sounds and visuals. Most "digital media" devices are really analog-to-digital-to-analog converters: An mp3 player with a touchscreen interface, for example, takes analog, non-discrete gesture input, translates it into binary control instructions that trigger computational information processing of a digital file, ultimately decoding it into analog electricity that another analog device, the electromagnetic mechanism of a speaker or headphone, turns into analog sound waves.
The same principle applies to almost any so-called digital media device no matter whether a photo or video camera or a military drone. As soon as something becomes perceivable, it takes the form of non-discrete waves. Therefore, anything aesthetic (in the literal sense of aisthesis, perception) is analog by strict technical definition.
digital = analog = post-digital…?
"Digital art" that would bebased on the above rigorous technical definition of "digital" would likely be called "post-digital" or even "retro analog" by art curators and humanities scholars: stone mosaic floors from Internet image memes, for example, mechanical typewriter installations6 or countdown loops running in Super 8 or 16mm film projection.
The everyday colloquial meaning of "digital" is metonymical: anything connected to computational electronic devices – even if it is a tripod. This notion has mostly been cultivated by product marketing and advertising. In their own name, the "digital humanities" have simply taken it over, without any questioning. By challenging uncritical notions of digitality, "post-digital" art, design and media (whether or not one should technically call them post-digital) often make up for lacks of scrutiny among "digital media" critics and scholars.
Revisiting the hipster meme
The alleged typewriter hipster later turned out to be a writer who lived from custom-written stories that he offered passengers for sale. The meme picture had been taken from an angle that left out his sign "One-of-a-kind, unique stories while you wait". In an article for the web site The Awl, he recollects how it made him "An Object Of Internet Ridicule" and open hatred.7 Knowing the complete story, his decision to take a mechanical typewriter to the park was pragmatically the best: electronic equipment (a laptop with a printer) would have been cumbersome to set up, run on battery power and keep safe from rain and stealing while handwriting would not have been easily readable enough and lack the appearance of a professional writer’s work.
If he had been an art student, even in a media arts program, the typewriter would still have been the right choice for this project. It is a post-digital choice because it didn’t default to a "new media" device for the sake of its contemporariness. It also exemplifies post-digital hybridity of "old" and "new" media since the writer advertises his Twitter account "@rovingtypist" and conversely uses this account to promote his story-writing service. He repurposed the typewriter from a prepress tool to a personalized small press, giving the "old" technology new function relative to "new media" and exploiting qualities in it that make up for the latter’s deficiencies. At the same time, he applies a "new media" sensibility to "old media" use: user-customized products, created in a social environment, with voluntary amounts of payment. Or rather, the notion of community media versus mass media has flipped so that typewriters repesent the former while participatory web sites have turned into the likes of Reddit and replaced yellow press mass media – including mob hatred incited by willful misrepresentation.
Desires for agency
Cascone and Andrews partly contradicted themselves when they coined the notion "post-digital" in the year 2000. On the one hand, they rejected "new media" advocacy, on the other, they heavily relied on it. Cascone’s paper drew on Nicholas Negroponte’s Wired article "Beyond Digital" (Negroponte), Ian Andrews’ paper on Lev Manovich’s "Generation Flash", an article that promoted the very opposite of the analog/digital, retro/contemporary hybridizations associated with the term "post-digital" today (Manovich, Generation Flash). If post-digital cultures are made up of, metaphorically speaking, postcolonial practices in a communications world taken over by the military-industrial complex of only a handful of global players, then it can most simply be described as mental opposition to phenomena like Ray Kurzweil’s and Google’s Singularity University, the Quantified Self movement, sensor-controlled "Smart Cities" and similar dystopian techno utopias.
Nevertheless, Silicon Valley utopias and post-digital subcultures (whether in Detroit, Rotterdam or elsewhere) have more in common than it might seem. Both are driven by fictions of agency.8 There’s a fiction of agency over one’s body in the ‘digital’ Quantified Self movement, a fiction of the self-made in the ‘post-digital’ DIY and Maker movements, a fiction of a more intimate working with media in ‘analog’ handmade film labs and mimeograph cooperatives. They stand for two options of agency, over-identification with systems or skepticism towards them. Each of them is, in their own way, symptomatic of system crisis. It is not a crisis of one or the other system but a crisis of the very paradigm of "system" and its legacy from cybernetics. It’s a legacy which (starting with their mere names) neither "digital", nor "post-digital" succeed to leave behind.
Andrews, Ian. "Post-digital Aesthetics and the return to Modernism." (2000) Web. December 2013 http://www.ian-andrews.org/texts/postdig.html
Cascone, Kim. "The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music." Computer Music Journal, 24.4 (2000): 12-18. Print.
Cox, Geoff. "Prehistories of the Post-digital: some old problems with post-anything." (2013) Web. December 2013
Cramer, Florian. "Post-Digital Aesthetics." Jeu de Paume le magazine, May 2013. Web. December 2013 http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2013/05/florian-cramer-post-digital-aesthetics/
Cramer, Florian. "Post-Digital Writing." electronic book review, December 2012. Web. December 2013 http://electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/postal
Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Knopf, 2013. Print.
Goldsmith, Kenneth. Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. Print.
Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art, Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hacket, 1976. Print.
Hermlin, C.D.. "I Am An Object Of Internet Ridicule, Ask Me Anything." The Awl, 18 September 2013. Web. December 2013 http://www.theawl.com/2013/09/i-was-a-hated-hipster-meme-and-then-it-got-worse
Kittler, Friedrich. "There Is No Software." Stanford Literature Review 9 (1992): 81-90. Print.
Klok, Timo. "4chan and Imageboards", post.pic. Ed. Research Group Communication in a Digital Age. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University, 2010: 16-19. Print.
Manovich, Lev. "Generation Flash." (2002). Web. December 2013 http://www.manovich.net/DOCS/generation_flash.doc
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
Negroponte, Nicholas. Beyond Digital. Wired 6.12 (1998). Web. December 2013 http://web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/Wired/WIRED6-12.html
Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. London: Penguin, 2013. Print.
Van Meer, Aldje. "I would rather design a poster than a website." Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University, 2012-2013. Web. December 2013 http://www.iwouldratherdesignaposterthanawebsite.nl, http://crosslab.wdka.hro.nl/ioi/C010_folder.pdf
(With cordial thanks to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Nishant Shah, Geoff Cox, Søren Pold, Stefan Heidenreich and Andreas Broeckmann for their critical feedback.)
As empirically researched for Dutch art school students by (van Meer).↩
(Cramer, Post-Digital Writing), (Cramer, Post-Digital Aesthetics).↩
In a project on Open Source culture with Bachelor students from the Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam organized by Aymeric Mansoux, it turned out that a number of students believed that web site user account registration was a general feature and requirement of the Internet.↩
It’s debatable to which degree this reflects the influence of non-Western, particularly Japanese (popular) culture on contemporary Western visual culture, particularly in illustration (which amounts to a large share of contemporary zine making). This influence even more clearly exists in digital meme and imageboard culture.↩
Even the piano, if considered a medium, is digital only to the degree that its keys implement abstractions of its analog-continuous strings.↩
Such as – six years before the typewriter hipster meme – Linda Hilfling’s contribution to the exhibition MAKEDO at V2_, Rotterdam, 29-30 june 2007.↩
(Hermlin) writes: "Someone with the user handle "’S2011′ summed up the thoughts of the hive mind in 7 words: ‘Get the fuck out of my city.’ Illmatic707 chimed in: I have never wanted to fist fight someone so badly in my entire life".↩
This is how (van Meer), coordinator of CrossLab at Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam, interprets art students’ preference for working non-electronically and "rather make a poster than a website".↩
4 thoughts on “What is “Post-digital”?”
Thank you very much for the article. I find your dissection of the digital and the post-digital to be very spot on and useful! The article really provides an important analysis of how the post-digital can be understood, as well as a lucid account of what the digital is and is not.
My overall suggestion for improvement is that you tighten the outline or structure of the text by bringing the important points and issues closer together in sections (some of them are dispersed a little too much in the current version) in order to make them stand out more clearly, and also to avoid redundancy. The following elaborates on this:
The two paragraphs in the section ‘When post-digital is digital and vice versa’ does not really deal with the post-digital so much as with what the digital is (not). I find the points in these paragraphs important and would recommend that they are moved up right after the paragraph ‘Digital as sterile high tech’ (in which you should include your point about the ‘blue-ness’ of the digital, since you include the Google-result-image), because they respond (directly) to Cascone’s understanding of the digital. This makes a coherent cluster of three paragraphs, which leaves:
‘Think postcolonial not post-history’, which fits under section ‘What is the post-digital then?’ I really like the comparison to other post-movements (however, I miss post-feminism as a movement that is in alignment with the post-digital). I am not sure that the quote and reference to Geoff in this particular context makes much sense though.
I think there is a contradiction between your statement in the first line of paragraph ‘post-digtial hybrids of old and new media’ that the post-digital ‘is no longer focused on technical innovation or improvement’ and what you write in the final part of the ‘post-digital = retro?’ paragraph and the final conclusion – namely that post-digital practices ‘functionally repurpose old media in (critical) relation to mainstream media’ and that the post-digital is subculture. Many of the practices you describe as post-digital actually focus on technical innovation or improvement – but, as you describe, they do so by use of ‘analogue’ materials or by mixing electronic computer technology/culture. The question is, do you really mean that the post-digital automatically equals critical subculture and the digital equals state-industrial mainstream? (I don’t) If so, then the digital/postdigital divide is a cultural (or political) question that has little to do with technological issues misunderstandings of the digital. I think you need to be clearer on this point.
The paragraph “DIY vs. corporate…” is not clear to me. I think you mean that the shrink-wrapped belong with old, analogue media and DIY with new, digital media but I am not sure what your point is. Maybe my previous comment relates to this? Could the paragraph be left out (since the article is longer than stipulated in the guidelines)?
Other, minor comments:
I like the informative character of your subtitles and section titles. Especially, I like the equal marks – maybe you can use them even more and perhaps supplement with unequal marks to give the text a software character that would fit your point about ‘computation minus electronic computer’ nicely.
Subsection ‘2. Revival of “old” media’ puzzles me because you write that the Thoreauviean-Luddite option is naïve but then spends the rest of the paragraph accounting for the fact that contemporary artists work in non-electronic media. I don’t think you find them naïve, but it comes out like that’s what you think.
In many European and Asian countries, the bicycle is a practical means of transportation and not a conscious protest against cars as symbols of the technological superior.
In the paragraph ‘against the universal machine’ I had to read the sentence in the middle starting with ‘In the later times…’ ten times, before I (think that I) understood it. In that sentence, if by ‘means of composition’ you mean computation used as a creative/artistic tool as opposed to a later a simple use of computation as merely helpful technology, then I get it. Anyway, you may want to clarify that sentence, and even consider moving it up toward the beginning of the paragraph, since the last part of the paragraph would follow perfectly directly after the sentence with Stockhausen and Boulez.
In the first line of Section ‘Semiotic shift to the indexical’ it appears that you describe the electronic computer as a purely symbolic, but – as you describe later – it works by means of electric impluses, which does provide it with a indexical dimension.
I totally agree that ‘Technically, there are no such things as “digital media” and “digital aesthetics” and my own article is about the latter.
I look forward to read the final version!
Fantastically thorough and helpful critical feedback. Will rewrite the article along your suggestions.
Hi Florian I would reiterate Lotte’s comments which as you say are thoughtful.
Possibly because this is a draft or maybe because it draws upon other writing of yours the various sections don’t feel fully integrated. They seem to sit as discrete (digital) ideas and some times I struggle to make them fit into the overall argument. Would be good if they were drawn together again at various points to help the paper flow and hinge more centrally around the Hipster that helps structure it.
More specific questions/comments I have are:
“The meme image of the typewriter hipster is a negative self-reflection since it shows the opposite of itself.”
Not sure I agree with that as written as the meme image is self elevating? If the voice of the text comes from the subject then he is consciously aware of his own cooler than cool ironic actions.
“but a conscious decision against electronics.”
Is it this or a more self conscious fashion statement?
“much in the same way as using a bike today questions the older ideology that the car is a rationally superior means of transportation.”
Bikes seem to question not the ideology of the car – freedom of the individual but the viability of the system given current cultural perspective. This seems quite different from questioning the ideology.
“are vastly more popular than making”
Is this true? – Analogue photography seems to still be in decline in most art schools given the conceptual thrust of art schools and the low cost of digital photography. I know you go on to substantiate this later on but I still find it questionable. For example if you asked them if they do use a computer to do design work more than analogue processes would the answer differ? If you asked them would they sooner send a letter by postal services or by email or Facebook what would the answer be?
“An empirical study our research center in Rotterdam”
Can you name the centre?
“Digital technology experimentation has almost completely transitioned towards engineering schools, and is often considered commercial and mainstream by arts students.” I really think you need to debate this more. For example is this a reflection of a technophobic entrenchment of art schools, who’s lecturers are often technically ignorant. Is creative use of technologies emerging in other fields a comment on disciplinarity, creativity or technology? I don’t think the case has really been convincingly made.
“This age is clearly not a post-digital age – neither in regards to technological developments, nor in a historico-philosophical (geschichtsphilosophische) perspective”.
The case for this statement has not been argued. The following paragraph doesn’t seem directly related at first so it hangs awkwardly. You do go on to qualify it loosely but as it such a strong declaration I feel it needs more integration into the argument.
“even based on specifically digital sound processing artifacts.”
The notion of post does not mean that the digital is rejected simply that it is no longer rarefied. It is digital advancement that is rejected not the digital.
Paragraph 17 – long sentence needs breaking up.
by virtue of its mechanics for the anonymous creator
I don’t quite understand the terms as used here.
Likewise, paper newspapers have become post-digital, or post-digitization, this shift from noun to verb changes the entire argument. I’m not sure you can mix them this way. I then don’t quite get how you see the shift in focus – news to investigation as related to post digital.
I like this paragraph a lot. – I would see this supporting my argument that the post digital is actually a form of inclusive materiality
“that explores materials through their misbehavior.”
is this a misbehaviour or simply their behaviour? Isn’t it our expectation or imposition on a material that makes it appear as a misbehaviour? A material simply asserts its self? To misbehave a material would have to have a moral? How does a material misbehave? This would be really interesting to write about another time.
“These events, where people gather to collectively make”
It might be interesting here to include the process of this publication and workshop.
“the keys of a piano are a digital system,”
I like the example of the alphabet but not sure about the piano key as this is muddied by the difference between the key itself that is digital and the note which is analogue.
“Analog” conversely means that something has not been chopped up into discrete, countable units.
This implies that it could be made digital. Which I’m not sure about as it implies that the world is fundamentally digital in nature, an argument I tend not to accept.
“is analog by strict technical definition.” Following my previous comment the argument for a digital ontology which claims the word is fundamentally digital hasn’t been made. Although I don’t agree with that position you have made the assumption that human perception is analogue.
They stand for two options of agency, over-identification with systems or skepticism towards them. Each of them is, in their own way, symptomatic of system crisis.
Maybe its because I am in he middle of reading Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter but I cant help but feel that introducing agency here leaves much unexplored. I even wonder if agency is the right term. While in the previous section you explode the network between the typewriter, twitter, human… this is not framed as structural agency. While this would help position the closing section I still feel it’s a bit rushed and as it seems to be the focus of the argument needs more elaboration.
I have made some language suggestions and changes in a word doc and am happy to send that you but perhaps it is simpler to get the final version proof read.
Thanks – enjoyed the read.
This was badly worded. Here’s the abridged text: ‘The meme image constructs the typewriter hipster as its negative, making him represent the opposite of “digital” Imageboard culture.’
I’m not sure whether I’m getting you here. The meme was not created by the typewriter guy, quite on the contrary (as his article, which I referenced, explains), he went through an experience of serious online abuse and mob aggression against him – mostly, because the Meme image didn’t show the full picture but left out the information that he was offering a storywriting service for people in the park.
No, in this case – as I argue in the conclusion – he simply picked the most practical medium for his purpose.
Badly worded in my text. Here’s the abridged version: “much in the same way as using a bike today revises a common belief in many Western countries after WWII that the car is the best means of transportation for every purpose.” (This is/was certainly true for countries like USA and Germany.)
I didn’t write “vastly more popular than making digital images” (in general) but referred to making digital image memes. Meme creation in art school hardly exists, and is clearly less common than analog photography or printmaking. (Although memes are clearly more widespread in contemporary visual culture than analog photography, among others.)
Creating 010, now added.
This might be more specific to the Netherlands where the digital media design departments have been literally moved from art and design schools into engineering schools. I updated my text respectively: “At least in the Netherlands, digital communication design has almost completely moved from art to engineering schools, and is often considered commercial and mainstream by arts students. ”
(For the latter statement, we’re backed up by our empirical study.)
Slight update – the problem is that an exhaustive argument isn’t doable within the confines of our text length:
This age is objectively not a post-digital age – neither in regards to technological developments (where no reversal of the trend towards digitization and computerized automatization is in sight, but the opposite is happening), nor in a historico-philosophical (geschichtsphilosophische) perspective. Regarding the latter, (Cox, xxx) puts down a valid critique of the “periodising logic” embedded into the term “post-digital”, which puts it into questionable continuity of other historico-philosophical concepts prefixed with “post”, from postmodernity to posthistoire.
For me, the cross-reference to Geoff suffices to make the case for a critique of Hegelian historico-philosophy; and Geschichtsphilosophie has been critiqued so often that I dare to stay elliptic here.
But even the use of specifically digital artifacts is an example of rarifying. There’s obviously a tension between declaring “post-digitality” and making music that’s entirely based on the specificities of digital sound processing.
Hopefully this works better:
The same typewriter is “analog” for the anonymous creator of the hipster meme simply because it’s mechanical, while an art curator may call it “post-digital”.
Maybe the commas were confusing, so I removed them:
“paper newspapers have become post-digital or post-digitization media ”
The argument is that newspapers, even when they continue to appear as print on paper, have become something quite different from newspaper before the age of digitization, because they have lost some of their original function to the Internet and compensate that loss by emphasizing investigative journalism and commentary instead (things which Internet news media aren’t so good at).
Both at the same time. Misbehavior in relation to how the materials were supposed to function in their original engineering context. (I.e. the vinyl LP was not invented for the sake of its crackle, film wasn’t invented for the sake of its grain, JPEGs weren’t invented because of the aesthetics of its compression artifacts.) I think that the following sentence explains this clearly enough: “It is a post-digital hacker attitude of taking systems apart and using them against their design intentions.
I agree, but I already have to cut text from the article.
This is why I only mentioned the keys, not the notes.
No, it implies the exact opposite! The world is analog in nature, and nothing is digital before it hasn’t been chopped up/abstracted through human intervention.
I do not argue that perception is analog, but that the objects/phenomena that can be perceived by humans are analog (namely: waves or particles).
Regarding your critique of my conclusion about agency: it’s factually implied in DIY. You can’t think that you are doing something yourself without having agency over what you. I’ll try to fit this into the text.
Thanks a lot for the close reading!
Comments are closed.