Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Understanding the Digital Realm - On coming to ISEA 2013

Duchamp must be laughing in his grave as we go forward towards the future, as we appear to be walking backwards staring into the past. Duchamp might laugh because he was always strong on pushing the concept rather than the material – or at least balancing the two. But now we are having real trouble disentangling the real from the unreal, the material from the immaterial. Trying to understand the things that flow past us as we walk backwards – effectively part of the past as soon as we notice them – we reach for descriptions of these things fashioned with the terms and ideas we understand so well, from the past. Ideas that once fitted like gloves. But these are of course inappropriate to grasp the naming of the needs of the new.

Were we facing the right way when walking forward we would see an unfamiliar landscape and we’d have to invent names for the things that we see coming towards us, some animate, some inanimate and sometimes we’d confuse the two. But we’d have a new language that would describe the form and behaviour of the new things that approached us – or as we approached them, because it is we that are moving.

We would have to remember Einstein’s dictum that everything is relative and what we think we see as we red-shift our way towards things that in the distance would appear different from the way we see them close-up, and then differently as they fall behind: we’d have to realise that they have a changing nature as we apprehend them and lose them from sight.

Right now in walking backwards as we go forwards we use the nomenclature of things we have become familiar with from past experience, because of their similarities with the new things we perceive – but of course there is a moment when our metaphors start to fail in their description of what we are seeing – and the language is no longer fit for purpose. But we cling to this language because it has served us until now. It will be our older selves or even our children who will laugh at the misconceptions we generate and wonder why we didn’t walk forwards, facing ahead, describing what we once saw, in new language rather than old.