Monday, April 16, 2012

The things you learn from The New Aesthetic(tm)

Others here may scoff, but Sterling keeps circling around the issue really, really ,really, trying to figure out whether The New Aesthetic project is the first strike in an attempt to come to grips with the digitization of everything. Says Sterling in an essay entitled "Still Freaking Out!!!!!"

How would you know if some new aesthetic was really and truly a “new way of seeing?” How would you prove that this had happened in real life? What would be convincing evidence that such an event had taken place in our world? What proofs could one demand, or offer, that such a thing was an authentic cultural change?

So far, the best evidence that something has really changed is of this kind. Imagine you were walking around your own familiar neighborhood with some young, clever guy. Then he suddenly stops in the street, takes a picture of something you never noticed before, and starts chuckling wryly. And he does that for a year, and maybe five hundred different times.

That’s the New Aesthetic Tumblr. This wunderkammer proves nothing by itself. It’s a compendium of evidence, a heap of artifacts, and that evidence matters. It’s a compilation of remarkable material by creative digital-native types who are deeply familiar with the practical effects of these tools and devices.

They’re looking for instances when this use-activity pops out of the background of some older, contrasting worldview. Without this eye-catching glitch aspect, without this sharply perceptible and thought-provoking contrast, it wouldn’t look or feel “new.”

Consider, for instance, the Indian legislators porn-surfing on iPads while their legislature is in session. These dignitaries are not performing-freaks who are there to amuse us. They are fellow human beings just trying to get through their day. Real legislators are always bored silly by legislation. That’s rather the point of grinding down the opposition in long procedural debates. But it doesn’t occur to these Indian nabobs that their brand-new Apple anti-boredom toys are big screens flashing sleazy softcore pr0n to indignant shoulder-surfers.

That’s why this interesting incident shows up on the New Aesthetic tumblr radar. The prurient Indian press thinks that this story is all about porn and the class privilege of the Indian ruling caste. The New Aesthetic crowd thinks it’s about the social impact of handheld-device deployment. They’re both right, but porn and class privilege are both eternal, while iPad deployment is a phenomenon we’re all still getting our heads around.

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