The Gartner Hype Cycle and the idea of First Word and Last Word art seem to be closely related, and I believe there is an important relationship between them that help us to understand how new technology will affect us in a rapidly evolving society.
Technology that is between the Peak and the Trough of Disillusionment is at an important point in its development. At this stage, devices are being produced in large quantities and will soon be put into practical use, but may still feel alien, futuristic, or frightening. Many will feel unsure about what will happen once we adopt and eventually become dependent upon it. This is where the connection between the GHC and FW/LW art happens: art that uses the new technology as an expressive medium not only discovers new ways to create (this art being First Word art), but also explores the effects that the new technology will have on our culture before it is blindly adopted.
Number six of the Critical Engineering Manifesto states that we should take a certain approach when examining the relationships between human and device: to see the system as a “machine”. The word machine here is important because we see machines as something that can be fully understood and that we can gain complete control over, and therefore something we can exploit and hack.
Finding exploits in relationships and making hacks for new forms of interactivity with technology seems strange, but it’s what will enable us to think critically about and solve the current issues related to new technologies and how they affect us.
After having read the Critical Engineering Manifesto by Julian Oliver, one section I found interesting is the ninth point. Essentially, this point declares that a critical engineer must recognize that code also affects the user socially and psychologically. With that in mind, Oliver believes it is important to deconstruct user constraints and incite social action through digital excavation. Reading this made me think of the new ‘internet activism’ in which social websites such as twitter and facebook work as a medium for social activism. I find it interesting that this aspect is considered even when programing, especially the social context and reactions to it.
“1. The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology, the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision.”
My interpretation of this excerpt from the manifesto pertains to the threat of cyber terrorism. When a piece of technology becomes integrated throughout society, the risk of its exploitation becomes far more consequential. This is because the impact of infiltrating, or manipulating said technology is greater when more people use it in daily life. Therefore, it’s important for people to test the limits of dependent technology (finding bugs, glitches, flaws in security) so that safer, more efficient versions can be developed. Additionally, it’s important to study and expose the inner workings of dependent technology in order to discover new opportunities and benefits for its utilization in society.
Tenet 5 of the Critical Engineering Manifesto states:
“The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.”
Every engineered object has the potential to change its user through dependence. If a user becomes wholly dependent on an engineered object, say a computer, than that person has been engineered by the device itself. The computer has molded the user into an all knowing, powerful being by no longer being used as a tool, but rather as an extension of the self which the person must live through.
Every engineer must realise that they are creating extensions of the self, rather than simply products with which a user can live.
I find that this tenet brings up a good point, but fails to realise that high dependency on a single engineered work is less powerful than even a minor dependency on multiple engineered works of the same theme. A single work may change a primitive aspect of a person’s life while a collective of engineered works, say a gallery of interactive displays, can create dependency on a metaphysical idea by causing some extra-sensory overload.
8. The Critical Engineer looks to the history of art, architecture, activism, philosophy and invention and finds exemplary works of Critical Engineering. Strategies, ideas and agendas from these disciplines will be adopted, re-purposed and deployed.
Realms other than the ones of engineering are recognized as important and fundamental to further development and innovation. It is necessary to look back and assess history and use it for our benefit. This, I feel, is a very significant view to have in the world of engineering; to not ignore the fact that all other facets of life not only require engineering, but influence it. History provides us with the ability to view problems in retrospect, and taking advantage of this viewpoint is what allows engineers to learn more about humankind and what humankind requires of the field of engineering. For example, master painters used a device called the Camera Lucida, which was a glass prism in which to view what was in front of you onto a sheet of paper or canvas in order to trace it down. Golan Levin just recently re-purposed this device in order to make it more accessible for current artists who would have interest in using it by engineering it in an affordable way. This was an invention of the past, slightly forgotten about, but was able to be redesigned for present day.
I found the 8th tenet of the Critical Engineering Manifesto to be most interesting. It says that the Critical Engineer needs to look at the past’s exemplary works in art, architecture, activism, philosophy, and invention to understand the ideas and goals that should be reconsidered and deployed in the present.
I like this tenet, and feel I can relate. My modern visual culture professor would have many examples of looking to the past for reassurance of where our attention ought to be focused on. As artists we study the pasts struggles, triumphs, and decisions in art and in the general culture of the time period being observed. It has not yet crossed my mind that I should really try to understand the solutions of the past and revamp them. That sounds like fun and I will now consider it something I should do.
“rich user experiences”
I think I know what this means, but perhaps it should be unpacked just a lil bit. Varying levels of immersion, persuasion, and the ability to distract/aid dissimulation define the esteemed ‘richness’ of user experiences and whose legitimacy is brought into question by this manifesto. To dismantle this paradigm for creating user experiences is to dismantle the pervasive norms of design itself, to critique the monetary structures that underlie these design tropes, to tread lightly or offend sensibilities relating to the sociological disparities that stem from the manic-yet-steady history of narrowing involved in designing user experiences. You should be suspicious, people aren’t subjects responding reliably to the attentional demands of different media nodes. Experiences aren’t reaction times and accuracy rates, psychometrics, or any other amalgamation or ‘assemblage’ of quantified sense data. [and I’m gonna just ignore how this sort of tenet might run into some compatibility problems with tenet 9 in the “real world”].
Anyway this CAVE joystick-controlled installation-video by earlyish VR artist Maurice Benayoun,”Is the devil curved?,” and actually a lot of [awesome] early VR art confronts some of the issues in qualifying user experiences [at least partly unintentionally, but in a way which I think is highly relevant to the youth’s apathetic/kawaii/infantilizing/qt zeitgeist rn]. Also, it’s [badly-chosen] sound component “raises issues” about sexist defaults in tech work.
More info at ARS ELECTRONICA’S ARCHIVE
Tenet 9: My views
I believe that among all the engineering tenets, this is the most important, relevant and in my opinion, impactful. I say this because the code in anything defines how digital technology works, and digital technology is by far the biggest, most influential, life-impacting and ever-present form of technology, innovation and invention since the start of mankind.
Its very important to maintain a balance between human and machine interaction. If one confuses the other the balance will be broken. This tenet is saying how engineers should not write code purely for function but for the response and perception by people that interact with it. They should delve into psychological and social realms as the tenet says, and should work to create the most immersive digital experience possible without ruining the harmony with the physical world. There are a few large corporations that seek to create a seamless communication between the two, “perfecting” the experience, such as Apple (during the years Steve Jobs was in charge). The company has always aimed to create a simple-to use (to minimize frustration) yet powerful operating system experience on all of the devices they own, from mobile devices like the iPhone to desktops and laptops. Not only do they strive to minimize the friction between person and machine interaction, they have developed a tight and invisible connection between all of their own machines, creating a machine-to-machine environment that creates an even better experience as you switch from one to the other without problem.
I find the 10th manifesto very interesting. I think that this manifesto explains even if the programming or the engineering is good and useful to the society it is no use if no one uses it.
I think that for instance computers can be one of the best examples. Computer is a technology and machine which is used by almost everyone. People use computer from the simplest task such as researching to something more complicated as making new programs or technology and art. This technology has been exploited over the years and even creating more Critical Engineers during the time it has been exposed to the real world. The technology wouldn’t survive nowadays if no one is using it or looking for it. That is why I think that the 10th manifesto is important and interesting.