Sci-fi authors have imaginations that go far beyond the times they live in. I often wondered why the “next best thing” in technology never really surprised or delighted me. It was fun to send messages in orange text to someone in 1991, but I was waiting for the pictures. In 1995 I patiently waited for the images to slowly upload on my screen, but I wanted it quicker, damn it! Even my first Skype experience was ho-hum.
I realized my “problem” was that I’ve been spoiled with ideas of things- yet-to-come by my consumption of science fiction. If you told me back in 1991 that I would be able to make a “video call” with someone in 2004, I would have said, “Sure! What took them so long!?” And in 2014 when you ask me about my “video phone” I will say, “Well, it’s not perfect, I still get cut off when I’m talking to my father. And sometimes there’s no sound, and sometimes it goes all digitally. Meh.”
Sci-fi authors wet our appetite for future technology. Often this technology works much better in their novels that it ever will in reality!
Being able to plot the course of new gadgets in our lives is a real talent. It is said that most of the technology in Philip K. Dick’s novels have come to fruition. When I saw this little video of Arthur C. Clarke talking about the future of the internet, shot in 1974, I knew I had to share it on this blog.
What he’s saying may seem obvious to us now, but even back in the 70s a lot of science and business experts did not think the computer would ever reach individual households.
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” from Popular Mechanics in 1949.
“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Editor of Prentice Hall business books, 1957
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
(read more fun, terribly incorrect predictions here and here!)
So, thanks to the combo of art and science, we still patiently await new technology and strive for gadgets that will make our lives better, easier, and more enjoyable. And if we’re smart, we will re-read these old texts and notice when things are getting a little out of hand…notice when WE become the things being controlled, rather than being the controllers.
“Before Dada was there, there was Dada.”
– Hans Arp, 1919
In high school I learned about the art movement of Surrealism. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I discovered the wacky, thoughtful, wonderful world of Dada that paved the way for Surrealism.
Responding to the chaos and horrors of World War I, Dada artists saw the beauty in everyday objects and slashed at conventional thought. What is art? Who decides? Is a toilet art? Are ticket stubs pasted on plywood art? Is Mona Lisa art? Do you have to have “talent” or a degree to make art?
Dada insisted that art by the “masters” needed a second, skewed, look.
Dada also insisted that itself wasn’t an art movement, that it was “nothing”. “Like everything in Life, Dada is useless,” said Tristan Tzara, a Dada artist, in 1922. Meaningless, made-up words and phrases often found their way into Dada pieces.
What captured my attention, and keeps me thinking it was the greatest (anti-art) art movement in the history of art, is the humour, irreverence, and political nature of Dada work. What better way to poke fun at the establishment and bring them down a notch? Taking familiar images and every day, modern items and making people think or laugh at them.
One technique the Dadaists used in creating works was the law of chance. Forever pushing back at the status quo, Dada artists purposed that complete and utter thoughtlessness could give birth to art just as good and interesting as pieces that required countless hours and precise technique. The unconscious was allowed to rule. “The ‘law of chance,'” Hans Arp wrote, “can be experienced only in a total surrender to the unconscious.”
Arp tore the pieces by hand, instead of using a precise instrument, tossed them down and pasted them where they fell.
I began thinking about the vast array of webpages on the internet and looking at it from a Dadaist point of view. Internet Live Stats tells us that the second I write this there are 1,091,056,628 websites with about 10 new sites every second. It’s like thinking about how vast the universe is. Very incomprehensible. And what are all these sites? Can you even fathom the vast array of subjects, designs and purposes?
In the early days of the internet, we are talking 1992 for me, I would occasionally browse around and check sites randomly. It’s not something I do today. Busy life, too much time already spent staring at a screen, and it would be like scrutinizing one grain of sand in a palm-full. You could go mad!
But I decided to take that chance and do an internet Dada art piece. The idea is try and unearth some random, obscure webpages. The most popular sites show up in the first two pages of a Google search. There are thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of webpages linked to a specific keyword search that no one checks out because they do not show up in the first two pages. What are these sites? Who created them? When were they created? How closely are they associated with the Google keyword?
Step one: Randomly choose a subject for Google (English) to search on. This required randomly typed letters that Google would use to suggest a topic.
Step two: Humming the first phrase of “Skip to my Loo, My Darling”, I clicked forwarded through Google search pages by 10, then randomly, and then stopped when the song ended.
Step three: With eyes closed, I moved the mouse around, counting to five. I chose the closest link my mouse landed near.
A Jakarta steakhouse website with a chef named Afit. The page discusses an anonymous matron “J” who can eat 12 pieces of pork ribs or 400 grams of rib eye in one sitting. (Not the most appetizing site for a vegan to be on!)
Numerous live music videos uploaded by Eh Films. There’s a German band looking for a drummer, a travel video with some poorly edited “industrial” music, a “fingerboarding” video (two fingers “skate” on a mini skateboard doing “tricks” and picking up various toys), etc. Among the pretty women ads on this sight, there is a strange one of a pole dancing cow called “Funny Cow at the Black sea resort in Crimea”. I did not click on it.
Curious about Eh? Films, I went to their website (circa 2006?) where the home page reads, “Where reality ends and confusion begins.” And confusion there was! The site is minimalist animations with a curious focus on “dress up” games, where you choose a girl and dress her up in a variety of clothing and accessories. Also interesting was the fact that all the comments about how great it was were apparently from men. There’s a parody of the “Sixth Sense” film, a cute “people are full of shit” animation, and a link to Eh? Film’s Cafe Press where you can buy hoodies and thongs with the Eh? Film’s logo! Definitely the most interesting Internet Dada result of the bunch…
Have fun with Internet Dada! Find obscure and strange websites! Do one and post the results below!
Like most blogs, This Analog Earth! is made up of research and wise knowledge gathered over the years. Here is a list of resources I got information and images from:
“Pah!” retorts one. “This new-fangled gadgetry will be the demise of our civilization!”
“Luddite!” retorts another. “Humankind can only move forward and never wallow in the past!”
I understand both lines of thought but I believe there is a happy medium. While I struggle with society’s idea that owning a smartphone is necessary (I don’t believe it is), I also very much embrace my laptop and compressor ice cream maker.
Nostalgia can be looking back into the past with blinders. It’s easy to see, say, exotic postcards from the south seas in the 50s and forget about commercial colonization and racism.
But I believe there is beauty in old things and ephemera will always hold a dear place in my heart. Worn records, a dress from the 1930s, perfectly preserved can labels of a product that hasn’t seen the shelves in 60 years – these are all things that make me smile and trigger the creative side of my brain.
Old technology can still have a purpose in our modern world. Even as I pop a USB drive into my parent’s huge television and show them my latest travel pictures, I will take some super 8 footage of the local carnival and know in all likelihood the super 8 film will probably survive past the jpegs. Why? Because film has proven itself to be a long-lasting medium; it will survive over 100 years in a box in your closet. Remember your first word processing software? Try reading those files now… I bet it’s impossible!
And let’s not forget: whatever is here today will be gone tomorrow. Technology that we currently embrace will be replaced in a year or a decade. Even this most technologically with-it person may find themselves missing the subtle differences of “the previous version” or even waxing nostalgic about an obsolete model.
So let’s let ourselves find beauty, comfort and amusement in art and technology that might not be up-to-date or modern. They are the basis of things we hold dear this year, and they could be the basis of things not yet invented.