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Believing is Seeing: Is technology the material of futures?

by Ethan Tussey

by Ravindra Mohabeer for IN MEDIA RES

Over the last decade, the fortunes of Apple Computers shifted dramatically. Arguably, this was not because of incredible advances in technology, clever marketing, or business foresight. In this clip Apple summarizes the secret to its success in the simple suggestion that, "when technology gets out of the way, everything becomes more delightful." The substance of Apple's success is not in making technology more visible but in making it invisible, getting it out of the way and out of question.

As technologies grow in ubiquity, they materially pop up in every conceivable location in our lives. But is the ubiquity of technology material or a manifestation of our beliefs? New technologies are everywhere but the ones we use on a daily basis are invisible because we believe them to be indispensible and ordinary, outside of consdieration, ephemeral like the air that we breathe. As is the case of Apple's iPad 2, increasingly technologies are created and marketed as being immaterial, there but invisible, able to get out of the way and let you live your life, only better.

As digital technology use increases across a broad spectrum of human enterprise, it is important to consider not only industrial technology production but also the deep material integration of these technological things into our ordinary lives. If we believe, as Apple suggests that it does, that technology can 'get out of the way' and our analog experiences can be supplemented rather than replaced technologically, then perhaps that is why we no longer see the technologies we use everyday. Believing, after all, is a precondition for how we see.

The invisibility of technology, when it becomes ordinary and outside of the realm of questioning, is a dangerous thing. One can see this in the feeling of being left behind if we own a computer that is one or two generations out of currency. Producers build new systems and software that do not work with the material technologies that we bought just recently. To remain current we throw away these material objects, we get them out of the way, and make room for the new at an increasing pace. Landfills are bursting to the seams with material technologies that, already invisible and 'out of the way,' are quickly forgotten once the next big thing rolls through. A critical balance must be found between believing in technology and maintaining a viable material future.

Thing Power: Recognizing Our Reflections (or Not) in Our Tablets

by Ethan Tussey

by Benjamin Thevenin for IN MEDIA RES

It’s nothing new to examine artifacts as material manifestations of humanity, but in this age of new media technologies, we are especially provided with opportunities to see ourselves (or not) in the products of our collective human labor. I co-opt the term “thing power” to describe this reflective potential of our ‘technological things.’

The popularization of the tablet—iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.—provides an interesting opportunity to hear what our gadgets have to say about us. When the first generation iPad was released, criticisms were voiced that it was intended for consumption, rather than encouraging creation and communication. And it’s no stretch to see even the most recent tablet models as (for the most part) vehicles for consuming content offered exclusively by Apple, Amazon, or B&N. These corporations have made efforts to counter the consumption-argument with campaigns that emphasize their products’ abilities to foster communication and encourage learning. But whether or not the technologies’ creators or critics are correct is less important than the chance that these dialogues give us to examine what gap exists between material culture and our values as a society. To what extent are we simply consumers? Or if we do use our tablets to Skype, Tweet, record video and mix audio, to what extent are our creative or communicative acts influenced by the codes (or other constraints) of these technologies?

This ad for the iPad 2 is particularly interesting in that it seems to make the claim that Apple has overcome this gap and achieved unity between subject and object. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that not only is this claim presumptuous—Siri, as intuitive as she may be, continues to humor users with hilarious misunderstandings—but also that it is dangerous. The “false identity of particular and universal”—or superficial superimposition of thing and concept, product and person—is exactly what Horkheimer and Adorno warn that contemporary media culture works to achieve. If we immediately embrace the ‘magic’ of our tablets (or whatever new thing is sold to us), we abandon the perspective held by thinkers as diverse as Jesus and Hegel, Thoreau and Marx—that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” And if we stop examining the products of our labors and subsequently stop re-examining our social relations, practices, institutions and ideologies, we forfeit any social progress that could potentially come from such self-reflection.

IPad 2 Commercial "We Believe"

IPad 2 Commercial "We Believe"

from IPad 2 Commercial "We Believe" (2011)
Creator: Apple
Distributor: Apple
Posted by Ethan Tussey