9 essays
Compiled by Fernanda Cubas Pinella

In the fourth essay of this reader, Boris Groys explains that the goal of technology, according to Heidegger, is to “immunize man against change, to libertate man from his dependency on physis, on fate, on accident.” Undeniably, coping with quarantine in the digital era has its advantages. Technology enables us to remain socially connected through our internet persona, as well as to continue to fulfill from home many of the daily tasks that have been affected since the Covid-19 outbreak, such as working and learning.

Is internet our vital lifeline during this confinement period? Clearly, that seems to be the case of those practicing isolation within the comfortable bubble of privilege, wherein smart devices have become the easiest way to fight boredom, fear, loneliness, and anxiety. Screens are the window into another space which hosts a broad spectrum of activities and content, designed to keep our minds and bodies entertained and occupied in the midst of the current crisis.

Looking ahead, it seems pertinent to ask ourselves whether we will give ourselves the well-deserved #DigitalDetox when life goes back to normal, or will we prefer to remain absorbed in our phones?

The following essays might aid in reconsidering the impact of technologies on our bodies and daily life, on the reconfiguration of the domestic sphere, but also on the field of contemporary art and its institutions.

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Filipa Ramos
The Company One Keeps: Laptops, Lap Dances, Lapdogs
Originally published in September 2018

Affects, contemplations, stimulations, and struggles happen in and through the lap, this site that accumulates the contexts of motherhood (associated with the womb and with the bodily grammar of caring), sexual entertainment (the lap as a space where two bodies come closer through a clientele dynamic), and domesticity (the pet dog as an extension of the family sphere, a receiver of libidinal transferences, and as sublimator of privately occurring sexual drives). The lap constitutes a space at once para-sexualized—where the relation between the mother and the child, the caretaker and the cared for, takes place—and a space at the core of the unfolding of a relation of intimacy, as the lap opens itself to both male and female sexual organs, with potential physical consequences for its beholders. The significance and potential of this accumulation of functions in this space that is at once intimate and public opens itself, when the laptop arrives, to a new configuration.

Geert Lovink
On the Social Media Ideology
Originally published in September 2016

Scraping the Social: “We are unknown to ourselves—and with good reason.” Friedrich Nietzsche—“Even the retards are starting to figure it out.” (comment)—“In data we trust.” Priceonomics—“The Internet fails to scale gracefully.” Chris Ellis—“I want to be surprised by my own bot”—“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leo­­nard Cohen—“Just did my sheepish biannual LinkedIn visit, which felt too much like my sheepish biannual sweeping of dry cleaner hangers into the bin.” Dayo Olopade—Organic Reach Technologies (company)—“It’s not a pilot study. It’s small batch artisanal data.” @AcademicsSay—“No Reply” The Beatles—“A Facebook-Op occurs when one takes a photo just to upload it to Facebook later.” Urban Dictionary—“If you start to think that people are awful, you can always sign on to Twitter. Get some further proof. Then go on about your day.” Nein—“The right people can work around a bad technology, but the wrong people will mess up even a good one.” Kentaro Toyama—“My secrets won’t make you happier.” Amalia Ulman—“You can wake up now, the universe has ended.” Jim Stark—“Stop treating internet like it’s a different thing and start focusing on what you actually want your society to look like. We have to fix society, before we can fix the internet.” Peter Sunde—“We may be decentralised and disagree on a lot of topics amongst ourselves, but operations are always carefully coordinated.” Anonymous—#Apply: The same boiling water that softens potatoes, hardens eggs—“Insults from complete strangers. This is the true promise of social media.” Neil—“How valuable is reputation if any idiot off the street can rate me?” #peeple—Social media or “how to turn our thoughts violently towards the present as it is” (Stuart Hall)—“Man is the master of contradictions.” Thomas Mann.

Justin McGuirk
Honeywell, I’m Home! The Internet of Things and the New Domestic Landscape
Originally published in April 2015

In 1972, as part of MoMA’s exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape,” the Radical Design group Superstudio installed a small cubic room with mirrored walls that appeared to replicate itself into infinity. The group’s proposal, submitted to the curator Emilio Ambasz, had taken the form of a one-page statement describing exactly how this “microenvironment” should be installed, followed by a further nine typed pages of theoretical exposition by Superstudio’s cofounder Adolfo Natalini. In those nine pages—a manifesto of sorts, veering off into prose poems and short stories—Natalini outlines a new way of living. The attributes of this hypothetical existence include “permanent nomadism,” “life without objects,” and “life without work.” These conditions are made possible by a mysterious gridded structure that Natalini refers to only as “the network.”

Boris Groys
Art, Technology, and Humanism
Originally published in May 2017

This status of the artwork as an object of contemplation is actually relatively new. The classical contemplative attitude was directed towards immortal, eternal objects like the laws of logic (Plato, Aristotle) or God (medieval theology). The changing material world in which everything is temporary, finite, and mortal was understood not as a place of vita contemplativa but of vita activa. Accordingly, the contemplation of artworks is not ontologically legitimized in the same way that the contemplation of the truths of reason and of God are. Rather, this contemplation is made possible by the technology of storage and preservation. In this sense the art museum is just another instance of technology that, according to Heidegger, endangers man by turning him into an object.

Mike Pepi
Is a Museum a Database?: Institutional Conditions in Net Utopia
Originally published in December 2014

In Art Project 2023, João Enxuto and Erica Love imagine the future of the Google Art Project, the search giant’s effort to reproduce images from the world’s top museums as it develops over the next decade. The multimedia performance documents the slow erosion of the museum under the logic of corporate interests and the breathless adoption of digital innovation by none other than Google, whose stated goal is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google purchases the Whitney Museum’s Breuer building and repurposes it as an “immersive” and “interactive” physical interface for the Art Project, where patrons have access to high-resolution images of the original works of art. Each room is curated based on algorithms that crawl the user’s profile to predict optimal artworks. Art history PhDs leave the academy to work as handsomely paid human docents, guiding users who log in with Google Plus accounts. Tech luminaries hail the initiative as a “democratic platform that erases the territorial boundaries and spatial limitations that hampered the circulation of the world’s greatest artworks.”

Stefan Heidenreich
Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and Speculative Realism, Part I
Originally published in March 2016

The Geneva Freeport can hold up to one million artworks. Recently its facilities had to be expanded due to increasing demand. The artworks end up in wooden transport boxes, stacked in rows on shelves in huge halls, where they sit and wait for their price to rise or fall, or to be shipped to an auction or to another freeport. The air temperature measures 21 degree Celsius, with exactly 55 percent humidity. These are considered ideal conditions for the survival of artworks.

Melissa Gronlund
Return of the Gothic: Digital Anxiety in the Domestic Sphere
Originally published in January 2014

When telegraph lines were first installed in the US and Europe in the mid-1800s, people complained of sightings of ghosts traveling along the wires. In 1848, two sisters in a village near Rochester, New York claimed that rapping coming from the floorboards of their bedroom were Morse-code messages from the dead. Telephones and electric machines were viewed with suspicion, and theater performances often portrayed them as vessels of magical powers. Such supernatural interpretations of emerging technology chimed with popular fascination with the Gothic, which functioned as a nexus for a variety of anxieties: the intrusion of the colonial Other into everyday life (symbolized as the inhuman monster or vampire), fear over women’s desire for professional and sexual freedom, and above all, the rapid modernization of daily life. From the 1700s on, the Gothic assumed its primary form in the novel. Fittingly, women constituted a large part of its audience—the Gothic novel often used architecture and private space to address questions of domestic life and the role of women. Old, creaky, labyrinthine houses (such as the Bates house in Hitchcock’s latter-day Gothic Psycho) became mainstays of the genre, serving as metaphors for both the constraints on women’s lives and the suddenly outdated lifestyles that would not go gently into that good night. The architectural elements of these sites also became characters in themselves, aiding and abetting the horrors that went on within.

Boris Groys
Curating in the Post-Internet Age
Originally published in October 2018

One hears time and again that contemporary art is elitist because it is selective, and that it should be democratized. Indeed, there is a gap between exhibition practice and the tastes and expectations of the audience. The reason is simple: the audiences of contemporary art exhibitions are often local, while the exhibited art is often international. This means that contemporary art does not have a narrow, elitist view, but, on the contrary, a broader, universalist perspective that can irritate local audiences. It is often the same kind of irritation that migration provokes today in Europe. Here we are confronted with the same phenomenon: the broader, internationalist attitude is experienced by local audiences as elitist—even if the migrants themselves are far from belonging to any kind of elite.

Zach Blas
Originally published in June 2016

On January 28, 2011, only a few days after protests had broken out in Egypt demanding the overthrow of then president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government terminated national access to the internet. This state-sponsored shutdown became known as flipping the internet’s “kill switch.” The intention behind killing the internet in Egypt was to block protestors from coordinating with one another, and prevent the dissemination of any media about the uprising, especially to those outside of the country. Peculiarly, it is a death that only lasted five days, as internet access was soon reinstated. More precisely, the internet kill switch unfolded as a series of political demands and technical operations. Egyptian internet service providers, such as Telecom Egypt, Raya, and Link Egypt, were ordered to cancel their routing services, which had the effect of stymying internet connectivity through these major companies. Fiber-optic cables were another target, as the small number of such cables linking Egypt to international internet traffic are owned by the Egyptian government. As a result, 88 percent of internet connectivity in Egypt was suspended in a matter of hours. Notably, the only ISP that remained active during this period was the Noor Data Network, which is used by the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

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