ITP blog · socially-engaged-art-digital-practice

Week 5 - Reading Response

21 October 2019


  • Tahir Carl Karmali's work
  • Data centers
  • Power, Pollution, and the Internet
  • Radical Technologies, chapter 4
  • Digitized Lives, chapter 2


This week's readings painted a depressing picture of the electronic economy and the often unseen effects of modern digital cultural habits. I was drawn to the chapter in Radical Technologies about digital fabrication since I'm taking an ITP digital fabrication class right now and it helps to answer some of the why questions around that group of technologies (3D printing and CNC milling). I think this text did a good job of highlighting the optimism around this subset of the modern "maker" movement ("Grounds for optimism [are] especially welcome in a period when the possibilities for advancement and justice can so easily appear to be squeezed lifeless between neoliberal triumphalism, resurgent authoritarianism, and the profound existential challenges posed by our collective misuse of the planet", 91) while also pointing out its dangers and flaws. Its thesis is neatly summed up here: "The challenge [is] to deploy [new fabrication technologies] in modes, configurations, and assemblages that might effectively resist capture by existing logics of accumulation and exploitation" (112).

The chapter from Digitized Lives had an equally disturbing message critiquing digital capitalism. It was interesting to see electronic culture compared to the mass media culture of film & music in the way that big companies / conglomerates take innovative ideas from independent creatores and "dumb them down" into mass-marketable products for profit. Similarly, the point about the inherent imbalance of broadcasting power on the internet was well-articulated: "The occasional exception to the rule—the blog comment or video that goes viral—serves mostly to keep alive the fantasy of a level playing field, rather like the way that lotteries keep alive the highly unlikely possibility that you may be a multi-millionaire" (45). Still, at least the author has some hope for a more just future when they state that "it is quite possible to appreciate the designers of hi-tech gadgets, cool apps, and hot video games without ignoring the human costs of putting those designs into existence" (43), but it will certainly be a challenging road to get there...