Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Outsourcing of Agency - From the Human Non Human catalogue essay

Once in a while there are experiences that seem to halt us, capturing our attention and in that moment exposing to us some glitch in our normality. We uncover a malfunction in social or technological systems that grasp the illusive architecture of reality, offering us a perceptive glance at the true nature of things. There was once a time when this was known as an encounter with the sublime, a state of ecstasy. Our attention has since been diverted, as we struggle to lift our gaze from the histrionic glow of pixels.

Our reality has become one that bears up against the steady totality of automation. From technology to language and even our emotional responses, we are increasingly seeking out ways to expedite the facets of our existence. We abbreviate our experiences, trusting that they can be recalled at another point in time or space. In the process, our skills, expressions and values are retired to the exiles of the imperfect tense: “I used to remember things/make eye contact/etc.”

In 2013 author Hari Kunzru worked with 20 graphic designers to produce Memory Palace at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The installation imagined a post-literate future where all recorded information had been destroyed by a cataclysmic magnetic storm. Kunzru used the global financial crisis as the impetus to imagine a reality outside of current social and economic systems. Memory Palace offers a bleak warning of the risk of outsourcing our memories to corruptible media. Though humans are equally proficient in corrupting information, the point of interest here is not the loss of content but the loss of agency, of concentrated human effort to comprehend the content being offered.

In a treatise on the difference between information and knowledge, Leon Wieseltier indicts us for being “happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency and convenience.” Whether this attitude stems from an insidious mental lethargy or is naturally shaped by circumstance is negligible. What is evident, however, is the ease and readiness with which we authorise social and technological structures to think for us. From our love-hate relationship with autocorrect, to ‘clicktivism’ and self-parking cars that render us passive objects hurtling through space, it seems we are reaching a point where our familiarity with this autoculture is irreversibly hindering thought capacity. 

Historically this has been a common response to technology. Whenever a tool could replace human effort, we have used it. We have now arrived at a point where the last thing to be automated is thought. We dance with the idea believing at once that it could never happen and at the same time spurning a dim emptiness each time we catch ourselves wishing a happy birthday to scarcely known acquaintance on Facebook.

Revolutions erupt daily throughout the world, yet in the sated West, social pacification is just an emergency iPhone charging station away. Without want for the body’s needs, we fixate on those devices that dependably aggrandize the individual’s sense of self. If we follow this passivity to its logical conclusion, where do we arrive? 

While science fiction has predicted an incomprehensible blurring of human and machine, our relationship with technology is actually far cozier, far more human. Our preference for utilitarianism buries us beneath animal desires realized through sophisticated means. If it was a loss of humanity that we had anticipated, we might now consider our efforts to humanize technology. It is possible that the technology of autoculture has undergone an identity transformation as we constantly think of and interact with it as though it is or ought to be human. It seems the more zealously we attempt to personify the android, the more completely our humanity is siphoned from us.

HUMAN NON HUMAN presents new work in the fields of illustration, photography, videography and sound art. It features the work of two emerging Australian artists, Cal Sinadinovic and Reece Cleveland. 

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