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Postdigital Aesthetics is a contribution to questions raised by our newly computational everyday lives and the aesthetics which reflect both the postdigital nature of this age, but also critical perspectives of a post-internet world.



1. Thinking Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design

When examining our historical situation, one is struck by the turn towards the computational in many aspects of life. There have been numerous claims to epochal shifts from the post-industrial society, the technotronic society and the knowledge-based society, to name just three. Equally, with the introduction of softwarized technical systems, it is sometimes claimed that we live in an information society (for a discussion see Berry 2008). While numerous definitions exist, we now appreciate that around us algorithms running on digital computers mediate our lives by creating and re-presenting a world that appears more comfortable, safer, faster and convenient — although this may paradoxically result in our feeling more stressed, depressed or drained of meaning.
David M. Berry, Michael Dieter

2. What Is ‘Post-digital’?

In January 2013, a picture of a young man typing on a mechanical typewriter while sitting on a park bench went ‘viral’ on the popular website Reddit. The image was presented in the typical style of an ‘image macro’ or ‘imageboard meme’ (Klok 2010, 16–19), with a sarcastic caption in bold white Impact typeface that read: ‘You’re not a real hipster — until you take your typewriter to the park.’
Florian Cramer

3. Genealogies of the New Aesthetic

Whether or not you believe in the theoretical and art-historical value of the concept of a New Aesthetic — and the related buzz surrounding the labels of post-digital, post-internet, post-medium — their rapid spread throughout art networks testifies to a need for terminologies that capture a certain condition of cultural and artistic practice in the early 21st century. Some definitions of the New Aesthetic may sound like the much-parodied marketing speak one encounters at the SXSW festival, but the term still captures an important moment in the evolution of the digital realm and its impact on image and object culture.
Christiane Paul, Malcolm Levy

4. The Postdigital Constellation

The postdigital, as an aesthetic, gestures towards a relation produced by digital surfaces in a bewildering number of different places and contexts. This interface-centricity is not necessarily screenic, however, and represents the current emerging asterism that is formed around notions of art, computation and design. In this conception, the postdigital is not purely a digital formation or artefact — it can also be the concepts, networks and frameworks of digitality that are represented (e.g. voxels, glitch, off-internet media, neo-analogue, ‘non-digital’ media, post-internet art). Nonetheless, the interesting aspect is the implicit notion of surfaces as theatres of action and performance — such as through data visualization, interactivity or material design — above and beyond a depth model, which highlights the machinery of computation (see Berry 2014, 58).
David M. Berry

5. Communication Models, Aesthetics and Ontology of the Computational Age Revealed

In this chapter I look at the postdigital in relation to the way in which it manifests a real-time phenomenon that affects many fields of contemporary business, social and cultural activity. Technological advancements still to some extent based on Moore’s law are resulting in an exponential increase of the computational capacity of electronic devices. Thanks to powerful processing units and creative software, we can create visual hybrids and perform any kind of media editing and transformation. Visual media became programmable pieces of data which are often perceived as high-definition still images, computer-generated imagery (CGI) or movies. They are displayed on ultra-high-definition retina displays and can be accessed and edited thanks to intuitive user interfaces. However, the very computational materiality of today’s visual media is hidden beneath layers of user-friendly software, hardware, networks, cloud-based processing and storage services.
Lukasz Mirocha

6. How to Be Theorized: A Tediously Academic1 Essay on the New Aesthetic

On 6 May 2011, James Bridle — who self-identifies as ‘a writer, publisher, technologist, and artist, based in London’2 — launched a Tumblr blog entitled The New Aesthetic, featuring an initial 25 entries.3 Over the course of the following year, new entries were added to the Tumblr on a regular basis, between 100 and 150 each month. Parallel to this, Bridle presented his concept in several lectures. But the New Aesthetic only really took off in spring 2012, when it was the topic of a panel at the South by Southwest conference,4 which was reviewed for the popular online magazine by science fiction author Bruce Sterling (2012). From this moment on, Twitter messages and blog entries referring to the New Aesthetic increased tremendously (see, as an example, Kaganskiy 2012). In parallel, a number of further conferences and festival events on the topic were organized, including a book sprint.5 Even while the initial Tumblr blog was (temporarily) closed,6 the concept continued to spread across the digital networks and has been related to quite diverse visual and objectual, material and immaterial artefacts — in blog posts and Twitter messages all over. The New Aesthetic thus underwent a kind of viral dispersion — it resembles an internet meme (see Watz 2012), although with a proper name.
Katja Kwastek

7. A Hyperbolic and Catchy New Aesthetic

Ever since first hearing of the New Aesthetic, I have been reminded of what Schopenhauer used to say about some of Hegel’s more impenetrable philosophical writings: the author provides the music, but it is up to the reader to come up with the words. James Bridle’s catchy New Aesthetic tune has prompted many, starting with Bruce Sterling (2012), to try to set lyrics to it. And here we are at it again. What are we to make of this New Aesthetic phenomenon?
Daniel Pinkas

8. The Genius and the Algorithm: Reflections on the New Aesthetic as a Computer’s Vision

The origin of this article coincides with two different but parallel events. The first is my recent rereading of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s book Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia (2000), followed by my reflection on the possibility (or necessity) of adopting and adapting some of its key concepts into our time. In his Preface to the Anti-Oedipus, Michel Foucault explained how, in the particular climate of the 1970s, being anti-oedipal was a truly revolutionary lifestyle, a way of living and thinking in constant opposition to all hierarchies and fascisms (including, among the latter, the rigidity of the psychoanalytical and Marxist schools of thought, and all those petty micro-fascisms ‘that constitute the tyrannical bitterness’ of modern daily life) (Foucault in Deleuze and Guattari 2000, XIII). This lifestyle was described by Deleuze and Guattari themselves as ‘schizophrenia’, a horizontal relational attitude that induced one to be inspired by a multiplicity of things rather than guided by a unique dominating principle, to become multiplied into a crowd rather than remain the same individual; in other words, to produce a life in collaboration rather than obey the exclusive and solipsistic logic of a dominating ego.
Stamatia Portanova

9. Selfiecity: Exploring Photography and Self-Fashioning in Social Media

User-generated visual media such as images and video shared on Instagram, YouTube and Flickr open up fascinating opportunities for the study of digital visual culture and thinking about the postdigital. Since 2012, the research lab led by Lev Manovich (Software Studies Initiative, has used computational and data visualization methods to analyse large numbers of Instagram photos. In our first project, Phototrails (, we analysed and visualized 2.3 million Instagram photos shared by hundreds of thousands of people in 13 global cities. Given that everybody is using the same Instagram app, with the same set of filters and image-correction controls, and even the same image square size, and that users can learn from each other what kinds of subjects get most attention, how much variance between the cities do we find? Are networked apps such as Instagram creating a new universal visual language that erases local specificities?
Alise Tifentale, Lev Manovich

10. Judging Like a Machine

The subtitle of James Bridle’s (2012) South by Southwest panel on the New Aesthetic was ‘seeing like digital devices’ (Bridle 2012). Whether that subtitle expresses a desire, a statement of purpose, or an analysis of what Bridle takes the current state of the world to be has never been clear. The subtitle has given rise to the even pithier notion of ‘seeing like a machine’ (Ballvé 2012; Sterling 2012), which, in addition to its pithiness, appears to derive at least in part from the title of James C. Scott’s fascinating 1998 book Seeing Like a State. A critical difference between Scott’s work and that of the New Aesthetic is that for Scott the word Tike’ is meant relatively literally: Scott wants his readers to understand how the world looks to the ‘engineers, planners, technocrats, high-level administrators, architects, scientists, and visionaries’ who rule and make plans for what he calls ‘high modernist’ state (Scott 1998, 88). This state is embodied in people with political power — the ‘ruling elites with no commitment to democracy or civil rights and who are therefore likely to use unbridled state power for its achievement’ (Scott 1998, 89). As in most political theory, the state is understood as being in a substantive sense constituted by the people, especially the people in power, of whom it is made up.
David Golumbia

11. Not Now? Feminism, Technology, Postdigital

‘Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live’ — so said John Perry Barlow in the 1990s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, which diagnosed and made demands around a new reality. A quarter of a century later, in the era of the quantified self, in which computational devices and bodies intertwine to measure the human day and co-constitute the world in which we live, it is clear that something has changed. This change concerns the materialization of bodies, a classic feminist preoccupation, as well as the materials of technology — ours is a world that is everywhere and nowhere, in which bodies are redistributed through a technological economy. But the sense of distance this change engenders applies not only to the matter-free and invulnerable lives Barlow glimpsed in the 20th-century net,1 but to the early 21st-century web (pre/post-9/ll) and later; even voices celebrating the social in the Web 2.0, or the pre-Snowden era, sound distant now.
Caroline Bassett

12. Postscript on the Post-digital and the Problem of Temporality

According to Florian Cramer, the ‘post-digital’ describes an approach to digital media that no longer seeks technical innovation or improvement, but considers digitization as something that has already happened and thus might be further reconfigured (2013; Cramer 2015, this volume). He explains how the term is characteristic of our time, in that shifts of information technology can no longer be understood to occur synchronously — and gives examples across electronic music, book and newspaper publishing, electronic poetry, contemporary visual arts and so on. These examples demonstrate that the ruptures produced are neither absolute nor synchronous, but instead operate as asynchronous processes, occurring at different speeds and over different time periods, and are culturally diverse in each affected context. As such, the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media is no longer useful.
Geoff Cox

13. Dark Patterns: Interface Design, Augmentation and Crisis

In early 1951, Douglas Engelbart — a young and idealistic electrical engineer working odd jobs for research laboratories in California — was suddenly taken by an unexpected series of epiphanies. Having spent time working on radar equipment during World War II and now contemplating how to make a significant contribution to society with his career, ‘the most difference for improving the lot of the human race’ (1986, 188), Engelbart considered the increasing complexity and urgency of global problems. His assessment involved an essential rationale — that for any given problem, the product of its complexity multiplied by its urgency would provide a measure of the immense difficulty that humanity would face in developing solutions. This led to a succession of rapid illuminations:
FLASH-1: The difficulty of mankind’s problems was increasing at a greater rate than our ability to cope. (We are in trouble.)
FLASH-2: Boosting mankind’s ability to deal with complex, urgent problems would be an attractive candidate as an arena in which a young person might try to ‘make the most difference.’ (Yes, but there’s that question of what does the young electrical engineer do about it? Retread for a role as educator, research psychologist, legislator, …? Is there any handle there that an electrical engineer could …?)
FLASH-3: Ahah — graphic vision surges forth of me sitting at a large CRT console working in ways that are rapidly evolving in front of my eyes (beginning from memories of the radar-screen consoles I used to service).
(Engelbart 1986, 186)
Michael Dieter

14. Data Visualization and the Subject of Political Aesthetics

Contemporary digital formalism emerges in the concept of ‘beautiful data’ (Halpern 2015), the visualization of information in intrinsically pleasing patterns which may or may not also provide useful ways of using the data. Data visualization is now both big business and a ubiquitous feature of digital arts and the aesthetic of the ‘postdigital’. It is also a privileged vehicle for the mimetic impulse to re-enter contemporary aesthetic practice, and it is this new formalist mimesis that forms the focus of this chapter.
Sean Cubitt

15. School Will Never End: On Infantilization in Digital Environments — Amplifying Empowerment or Propagating Stupidity?

Analysing a recent trend in interface design, this chapter examines the question of software and the interface in relation to the aesthetic of the postdigital. To do this, it first looks at contemporary trends in online design, such as ‘flat design’, created to address adults while looking as if it should be for children. After having described the phenomenon of infantilization in digital environments, the second part of the chapter looks into forces that produce it. Why does it occur especially in a technological environment, and what is the specificity of its occurrence? Considering historical influences on interface design to answer these questions — computer scientists such as Alan Kay or Seymour Papert were informed by theories of Jean Piaget — we find an ambiguous figure at work: there is a fine dividing line within infantilization, between the adaptation of learning to ‘children of all ages’ to emancipate users and manipulating them, engendering stupidity as the desirable state they should be in.
Mercedes Bunz

16. The City and the City: London 2012 Visual (Un)Commons

There is the city, and then there is the city. Sharing starts already on the level of perception and sensation; they ground the political. This can be understood in the way in which Jacques Rancière (2004) suggests to understand politics of aesthetics that refers to the distribution of the sensible and conditions participation. But we could actually also say that this is a line from China Miéville’s (2009) fiction novel The City & the City, a weird fantasy of the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma that are perhaps almost identical in physical space, but perceived as two different cities — where part of belonging to one city is to be able to unsee the other city and its action: a sort of complex, ongoing negotiation at the level of perception of what you see and what you must not see, forming the tension of common and uncommon. Cities are multiple, they overlap. One city multiplies into different zones, experienced in different ways, but also governed, regulated in alternative ways pending on your position, perspective, situation. Miéville is able to show how finely regulated space and commons are in terms of the bodies that inhabit, sense — and hence create — these spaces. This also, to a point, concerns the policing of that common, uncommons, to which I will return at the end of this chapter.
Jussi Parikka

17. Going Beyond the Visible: New Aesthetic as an Aesthetic of Blindness?

‘Seeing like digital devices’, which is the call made by the New Aesthetic, is essentially impossible. We, as humans, have our own bandwidth of perception, which was exceeded not only with the dawn of ‘digital’ media technologies since the last 30 years, but for more than 100 years with the emergence of old analogue media technologies such as the gramophone and film around 1900. But, as ‘a postulated creative position’, a design-fictional concept, ‘seeing like digital devices’ provokes epistemological differentiations.
By metaphorically pretending that machines are our friends, we can see what they ‘see,’ and think what they ‘think’... We do get a payoff for that effort. We achieve creative results that we would not have gotten without that robot disguise.
(Sterling 2012)
This chapter explores the discursive potential of ‘seeing like digital devices’ from a media-archaeological perspective and argues that we need to go beyond, below and around the visible for a comprehensive understanding of the media-theoretical implications that come along with this metaphor. In so doing, it explains in the first section the reasons for taking the position of the ‘hypothetical blind’, not in the conventional negative sense, as done by René Descartes or Denis Diderot in the 18th century and criticized by Georgina Kleege, a visually impaired scholar working at the Department of English at the University of California Berkeley (2005), but in the hopefully more accurate meaning of appreciating the non-visual and including the alternatives of the auditory and tactile senses into a more comprehensive approach to understand the implications of the ‘New Aesthetic’.
Shintaro Miyazaki

18. Glitch Sorting: Minecraft, Curation and the Postdigital

Minecraft (Mojang 2011) is a mysterious game; it seems odd; its pixelated aesthetic seems out of place in a world where digital games are often characterized and judged by incremental increases in verisimilitude. It is not just that it looks odd, weird and blocky; the question is how do you play it? It is not immediately clear. What is clear is that the game is a hit, a hit big enough to be the theme of the South Park episode ‘Informative Murder Porn’.1 Naturally, the episode is about how unfamiliar Minecraft is for the adults of South Park. Corey Lanskin is hired to teach the adults how to play, he describes it as a game without an objective or goal, that is just about building. From the outside, his description is about right, although the experience of playing Minecraft is far from dull. It is a game that keeps on attracting players; by June 2014, nearly 54 million copies had been sold across all platforms. On the PC it has outstripped the sales of The Sims (EA Games 1999) franchise to become the biggest-selling PC game of all time (Campbell 2014). Its success brought it and the small Swedish independent company that made it — Stockholm-based Mojang — to the attention of Microsoft, which purchased Mojang and its intellectual property for $2.5 billion on 15 September 2014 (Peckham 2014). In the postdigital age, blocks and pixels are worth serious money.
Thomas Apperley

19. Through Glass Darkly: On Google’s Gnostic Governance

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face […] shall I know even as also I am known.
(St Paul, Corinthians 13:12)
In his 2013 novel The Circle (Eggers 2013), Dave Egger wrote of a fictional Silicon Valley corporation whose products and work environment blur distinctions between work and leisure, public and private, exposing every aspect of what was once private and personal, and thereby transforming the human condition. One need not, however, turn to fiction in order to hyperbolize the ambitions of Silicon Valley visionaries, when, at the same time as Eggers, technology journalists were writing that ‘something monumental is taking place, something that could change your life and work, your children’s future and the world in which your unborn descendants will live’ (Scoble and Israel 2013, 23). What kind of monumental event could possibly promise such sweeping transformations? The answer is Google Glass.
Marc Tuters

20. New Aesthetic in the Perspective of Social Photography

Let me begin my analysis with a pioneer of so-called net photography, Marco Cadioli, whose work is appropriate to introduce the New Aesthetic discourse. In particular, I want to focus on the abstract journeys 1 which this Milan-based artist began in 2011. Armed with a prodigious technological magnifying glass (Google Earth), he embarked on a journey around the earth with the specific aim of finding, among the forms that human beings give to the earth’s surface with their incessant activity, pictorial motifs related to European abstract painting.2 Here, he is dwelling on landscapes that seem to come from a Bauhaus graphic workshop, only to pass — after a few clicks -to compositions of natural and artificial elements that bring to mind the Utopian models of El Lissitzky.3 What we perceive in the abstract journeys are shapes and colours, but, beyond this surface, an invisible web of numerical sequences represents the real architecture of the artworks. In Cadioli’s work, it is not possible to draw a sharp line between the media objects that arise in numerical form and those that are reconverted from analogical media. In the creative process that gives rise to the abstract journeys, we can witness a dizzying jump from one medium to another. Let us try to reconstruct these steps. Some humans, through their activities (mostly agricultural activities on an industrial scale), alter the natural landscape, giving it shapes that, viewed from above, bring to mind pictorial motifs characteristic of 20th-century European abstract art.
Vito Campanelli

21. Aesthetics of the Banal — ‘New Aesthetics’ in an Era of Diverted Digital Revolutions

James Bridle, who first introduced the term ‘new aesthetic’, provides a number of examples of associated cultural practices and phenomena on his Tumblr blog (Bridle 2011–). Through the images of how pixels are used in the design of T-shirts, of 3D prints that visualize how Microsoft Kinect sees a player, and satellite photos of agricultural fields appearing as mosaics, the examples point to the side effects of technology. Such cultural practices and phenomena are often brought about by cheap gadgets and services, and produce a new and positive sense of beauty, almost at the fringe of kitsch and banality (Figure 21.1).
Christian Ulrik Andersen, Søren Bro Pold

22. Networks NOW: Belated Too Early

‘The network’ has become a defining concept of our epoch.1 From high-speed financial networks that erode national sovereignty to networking sites like that transform the meaning and function of the word ‘friend’, from Twitter feeds that foster new political alliances to unprecedented globe-spanning viral vectors that threaten worldwide catastrophe, networks encapsulate everything that is new and different about our social institutions, global formations, and political and military organizations.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun


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