I study and teach about digital media, so I find these frequent artistic criticisms of technology usage useful and fascinating on a number of levels. In a social scientific vein, we might interpret these clever images as intentional media ideologies, that is, as discursive statements about how and when communicative technologies ought to be used. Such digital tools are relatively new, in terms of human social and historical development, so the rules on correct usage (or might we say, ritual correctness or cultural orthodoxy, as the discourses sometimes operate in religious registers) are not yet fixed or determined. Photographic statements such as these constitute proposals for those very rules.
Although I have yet to conduct a rigorous scholarly analysis of this corpus of images, one might delineate a few provisional observations. First, notice Kortaba, Geiger, and Reilly and Farias’s digitally manipulated photographs. Data phone usage, the artists wish to convey, distorts the rituals of daily life. Technology, the pictures suggest, have disembodying effects. Kortaba’s images speak especially on this point, while Geiger’s appear to theorize technology’s distortive, manipulative effects on human persons. The series by Reilly and Farias qualifies communicants as “ghostly” and not quite entirely present in real time. The Banksy image is the most straightforward in terms of content. Two lovers distracted by seductive white screens. Pickersgill’s “Removed” gallery thematically inverses the Banksy painting, to argue that technology, while an “addictive force,” is actually becoming, in an unsettling way, something of a “phantom limb.” Tech design perpetually sharpens and develops. Soon one won’t even be able to see the digital technologies that supplement, extend, and reinforce the tasks of the human body (see, for instance, this iPhone cover. Hoax uses ubiquitous pop culture icons (produced and disseminated by Disney, itself a veritable media empire) to add another level to this body of trenchant media ideologies.
All of this is so anthropologically fascinating. At the very least, it gives me a good deal of fodder for class discussions. What are the media ideologies present? I ask my students. What do the artists wish to convey about media use? What do the photographers find unsettling about contemporary communicative devices and burgeoning communications rituals? And the more controversial questions: Do you (dis)agree with the artists’ criticisms? Is it true that data phones will bring about the demise of society or at least the end of meaningful human interactions? Are the criticisms on to something, or are we living in simply the next stage of human media development? Do data phones make us any more antisocial than, say, newspapers?
Lastly, a request for the reader. Have you ran across any other artistic and/or photographic work that constitutes a media ideology? If so, send me a link and I’ll add them to the gallery.
Image credit and/or source links: Kamil Kortaba via designyoutrust; Antoine Geiger’s Sur-Fake gallery (see also Colossal’s take); Eric Pickersgill’s Removed gallery; Saint Hoax’s Contemporary Fairy Tales series; Banksy’s “Mobile Lovers” via My Modern Met; Allison Reilly and Miguel Farias’s Gh0st L1fe series (via Colassal). The uses of the images on this page (i.e., for teaching, criticism, scholarship, and research purposes and not commercial ones) falls squarely under Fair Use parameters as outlined in 17 U.S.C. § 107 : US Code – Section 107.