In conclusion to her talk with Richard Grusin and Clemens Apprich at Transmediale 2017 in Berlin, theorist of digital media and Prof Wendy Chun challenges artists to create viable alternatives in response to the increased networking of our digital world and the elusiveness of mediation.
Invoking art as an “agent perturbateur” is interesting as it calls for challenging established rules before creating as it means chaos before emergence of a new order. In a very Simondian way, it is looking for tensions. It is waking up from the delusions we have created ourselves and break the infinite feedback loop we are living in. Life is not linear , seldom logical. Why trying to fit so hard in a logical system which leads ultimately to segregation? Chun ’s answer is homophily or “tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others”(Wikipedia).
W.Chun defines how networks are structured by habits and homophily and how habits are shaped and embodied into a monogamous network environment based on similarities , likes and dislikes. “We become our machines”. As Richard Grusin tells us too, not only the present but also all potential futures are pre-mediated and expectations are pre-formatted by algorithms. To reduce segregation induced by homophily, W.Chun invites us to foster another type of network where clusters would be mutual indifferences rather than likeness.
“Homophily create clusters, it is about collaborative filtering, similarities breeds connection. What matters, it is that people likes you, who follows you. Network not only finds connections but also create them for us”.
According to W.Chun, we are living in a world auto-fed by continuous updates ignited by crisis over habits and dependencies embodied in our environment. We are“creatures of the update. To be is to be updated: to update and to be subjected to the update.” (Chun , Habitual New Media, p12). She also warns us that updates means erase the old and replace it by the new. “Things no longer updated are things no longer used, usable, or cared for, even though updates often ‘save’ things by literally”.
According to W.Chun, in a world defined by networks, we are like any other variables : defined or used by functions. As such, in order to create viable alternatives, not only we would have to resist to homophily but also our needs for belonging and our quest for a definite identity /value.
W.Chun recognizes creativity’s existence in the network system and quotes Elisabeth Grosz : “Habits enables stability, which in turn gives us the time and space needed to be truly creative: without habit there could be no thinking, no creativity and no freedom.” But I would say, not only. Chaos is also another reliable source for creativity.
If we were to create another system, where clusters are not relying on similarities, it could be an open system where input could have no output, where the equation input/output is broken, a system where the traveling salesman problem is solved by optimising the order of visits to several places in a way that the total route is not as short as possible, but the longest.
It would be a permanent chaotic process, where solutions are morphing from one to another, not an infinite loop of updates, but infinite explorations, not only going forward and vertically but also backwards, transversally and horizontally, because the world is not binary, the world is wonderfully messy (Kathleen Vohs). Certainly, not everyone is ready for this. As W.Chun and R.Grusin suggested, artists could find alternatives to the over-controlled networks system as chaos is part of their creative process. About pre-mediated expectations and order over messiness : creativity flows even better when there is no expectations.
Other propositions to break the loop and paths for researching :
We are wearing the mask of social media composed by our likes, dislikes and tweets even in the everyday life. Have we forgotten that we could take it off and choose to express ourselves with other masks? How about reversing the trend for empowerment of digital and visual realities over other realms?
How about reconnecting with our embodied cognition to be able to create alternative social systems?