Growth is not only life itself—it is also a deeply embed process in (Western) society. The desire to constantly grow drives your daily life. On a cosmic level it is the never-ending expansion of the universe. On an economical level it is the driving force of capitalism which produces a $600 wifi-connected-juice-press. And on a personal level it is the voice in the back of your head telling you that you had to buy it because that juice might be healthy for you. Time to look at growth from all angles. How does growth keep producing innovative juice presses, and can it still your thirst?
Your thirst in this case is my thirst. From now on You are Me and from now on You have to deal with the things I deal. Potentially it is helpful from time to time to remember that You are Me. You are part of what they call Generation-Y. You are not really sure what that Y means but that probably just comes with it.
You are the designer who potentially makes the Facebook-ad popping up in my news feed, telling me about a new juice-press. But you are also the guy who potentially makes the YouTube-video that tells me: I can squeeze out the packs of mashed carrots that come with it by hand, instead of using the press at all. You are wondering what your role is as a designer, in a society where everyone is in constant need to design every aspect of their lives. And if it would also be OK to just buy juice from the supermarket.
You live in an age of endless possibilities. Your society does not only change at an accelerating speed through more and more technological developments. Your ever mediated environment forces you also to ask yourself if it is cool to eat meat, if your job is fulfilling, if you should break with your religious affiliation or gender binary. In this environment you constantly question reality in favor of the possibilities which surround you. This keeps you busy—Improving, Perfecting, Streamlining, Innovating. And of course You think you can do better than that.
You could build more applications and integrate more features which help you to measure, quantify and understand you and your surroundings. Or you throw away all of these shiny toys and go on a detox with a monk in the mountains of Tibet. Start complaining that everything was easier back in the days. Better could mean more of everything or less of everything—or maybe both.
In this search for better you find yourself seemingly disoriented, simultaneously thrilled—slightly anxious. Look! There are manifold ways of living which the Age of Possibilities holds prepared for you. These possibilities increasingly put you in need to decide and design for yourself. Of course, the big bad guys exploit this situation.
Getting lost in this Quest is vital. Better watch your attitude. People invented various modes of individualization and they will force you into action. But on slippery ground you are allowed to quickly change directions. Surely it is easier said than done, but you will find out how it is possible to stay in balance as a consuming, creating creature. Both perspectives need time in front of the looking glass. But what is already there, that is all it takes.
Tones switch, just like You switch your orientations. That is not arbitrary, but its significant. Find yourself, sitting upright in a comfortable position. Tranquil but alert, this is a good mode for observation. Your spine is either straight or twisted, it doesn’t really matter. What does, is a sensibilisation for your surrounding. Imagine yourself whispering this while typing. Find the community which serves you best. Stick with it for a while and let go when necessary. All this is, will and has to happen in the society you live in, at this current time, in your Age, now. You might notice that you can always give it a different name. In Fact there are many names for the thing you live in.
“It is supposed to be the age of "industrial society" or "late capitalism" or "scientific and technical civilization," or the "atomic age"; it is supposed to be the age of the "work society" or the "leisure society" or the "information society"; it is supposed to be the age of "functional differentiation," or the "epoch of epochal breaks," or the "postconventional age," or the "post- European age" (already), or simply "modernity" (or even "postmodernity" already)—and so on.” (Odo Marquard, The Age of Unworldliness, 1984)
For the german philosopher Odo Marquard, the fact that we have so many name for the time we live in speaks for a indirect form of anonymity. He says that this is the reason why we find ourselves in “a crisis of orientation”. You are not sure if he is right. Maybe that uncertainty proofs him right. Some people tell you: “You look at your phone, have full bars, but no connection. You like post-industrial spaces even though you’ve never seen industry firsthand. You are aware that your eyeballs act like agents. You spend your hours syncing, sorting out the inner life of objects. That moment of intimacy when you look into the eyes of someone who is looking at you on a screen. The world has never felt more radically left or more right-wing reactionary. You are not your shirt or your religious affiliation. Transparency can’t hide the shade.” You are not sure what all that means exactly but it sounds legit, dystopian with a hint of redemption. For Marquard, our time is also what he calls “The Age of Unworldliness”. And this time it is a fresh blend between Utopias and Apocalypses, the moment where the instant expectation of either heaven or hell on earth form your perception of reality.
In the idea of progress for the sake of progression, you induce technology into every possible device. You compose big ideas. For Marquard it is, “the idea of mankind's self-improvement or even self-perfection: Everything gets better and better faster and faster, and may even soon, finally, really become good.” The old is replaced by the new, and the stupid by the smart, which is to say, concretely, the raw veggies which are surpassed by the mashed.
“In short, the earlier, which is underage and immature, is surpassed by the later, which is adult and mature, and by the latest, which is most adult and most mature.” (Odo Marquard, The Age of Unworldliness, 1984)
You could say that you are busily engaged in not being a child anymore. The adults are allowed to do all the fun stuff and you continually want to become more grown-up. At the same time everything is so much easier as a child. The world of your frazzled dad is fucked up and all those great ideas you had—they tear 'em apart. They expose you as not significant. You can go either into flight or fight mode. Ultimately it will not stop them from shutting you down.
Your ideas for the modern world are doomed to end a self-fulfilling prophecy. For Marquard it is “The idea of decadence and downfall, of mankind's self-destruction or even self-annihilation: Everything gets worse and worse faster and faster, and may even very soon, finally, really become fatal.”
You have heard that before? Indeed, there is nothing new in your inbox, even if the latter is full of spam. For Maquard the attempt of leaving childhood behind, the pattern of increasing maturity is the same, it is just looked at from another angle. Where we previously cheered like children cutting cake at a birthday party, we now moan like an exhausted Deliveroo rider facing flexible working hours, and no tip for cake. Hope is replaced by fear.
“Seen in the perspective of catastrophe, the history of the world is the history of the decline that the loss of childlikeness represents.” (Odo Marquard, The Age of Unworldliness, 1984)
Will you ever grow up? What happened in the 18th century is what can be described as the discovery of the child. Since then, Marquard says the child is regarded as the actual human, more pure and authentic. More cheer, less moan. Since then children and youth define the standard for what it means to be human. With the applause of your parents, you now practice the revolt—No more stale veggies, no more nine to five, no more survival, more self-fulfillment.
“We do not lack childlikeness, rather, we have too much of it; for the rule, with human beings in the modern world, is that they no longer grow up, because this is the age of unworldliness.”
Not growing up while everything else grows, will certainly produce unscheduled detours. Where everything changes ever faster, experiences quickly fade. You will have to rely on second-hand -experiences. You base our beliefs more and more on hearsay. Learning never ends. And when school is never over, the kids start getting restless, because they want to go home. Your perception of reality blurs in with fiction. Fictions and expectation of a more peaceful place, where belonging frees you from this demanding reality. Belong anywhere. But don’t think that this would be it. The long tail comes with a bunch of more issues at hand. Your willingness to accept illusion might save you those for now.
“What one expects then is just what one can no longer experience, which is familiarity or "at-homeness." The more this familiarity is no longer experienced, the more it is—impatiently—anticipated.” (Odo Marquard, The Age of Unworldliness, 1984)
You could look at what you can actually do while being immature, forever stuck in youth mode. In 2013 the trend-forecasting group K-Hole published an essay called "Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom“. They describe „Normcore“ as „a path to a more peaceful life“. Normcore as a fashion trend has never moved away ever since. K-Hole talks about the term as an attitude, rather than a fashion trend. In the idea of mass individualism we became so tired of finding new ways of defining our individuality because there are just too many to keep up with, and because it would render you into such a weirdo that no-one would like to hang out with you anymore if you would explore them all.
Normcore comes as the solution to these problems. Instead of all being special we all are the same. And because we are all the same, we are can also belong all together. No reason to stress, we are still all different, we don't have to wear the same clothes and our minds are complex. But now we have the right to wear a handlebar mustache, devote to artisanal pickling today and have a Big Mac after Yoga class tomorrow.
„To be truly Normcore, you need to understand that there’s no such thing as normal."
It is important to not confuse Normcore with acting ‘basic’. That is what Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Doug Funnie do. Because as K-Hole says: „sameness is not minimalism“–and especially not repetition. Always wearing the same is a simple solution but opts out all the fun of the endless choices you already have in your wardrobe. Black turtlenecks and the grey T-shirts of Mark Zuckerberg stand in one line with the iPhone evolution from 2007 till now, and your never ending crave for improvement.
Your battery is empty again. The plastic brick in your palm starts getting sweaty. You are in constant need for new energy. Zarathustra is whispering in the wind. The NoPhone is the moment in which you are unsure if you got the joke. You are wondering why their makers actually have to step up on a TED stage to explain it. CChances are that most one-size-fits-all solutions will always taste more bland in the end. That goes for binge-watching, bulk-buying and pre-cooking as well as for your monthly clothing subscription. And the time you gain will be spent on making an Unboxing Video anyway. You will be the one who either makes it or watches it. Having more time is not more fun, as long as your friends still don’t have fixed working hours. Count the minutes and take a photo.
What seems to be the practicality of that time gain, is in question. Usually the branding of these products promotes agendas as such. Less choice, less friction, less distraction, more time for leisure, more time for work, simply more time for other things. But what to do actually? Netflix does not produce fast enough for that and you are already meditating for two hours daily.
“What to do? Breakfast wasn’t an issue. Neither was lunch. I had work to do, but I didn’t want to do it, so I went out for coffee. On the way there, I passed my neighborhood bagel place, where I saw someone ordering my usual breakfast: a bagel with butter. I watched with envy. I wasn’t hungry, and I knew that I was better off than the bagel eater: the Soylent was cheaper, and it had provided me with fewer empty calories and much better nutrition. Buttered bagels aren’t even that great; I shouldn’t be eating them.”
Why buy it if it doesn't really matter. Prestige, statement and gesture a ephemeral. You end up with another box on your shelf. Collecting neat packaging is not only a thing amongst designers. And “Artist/designer/troll” Ryder Ripps made the branding for Soylent, a meal replacement which comes in shake form. For Abacus a dietary supplement in pill form. Where the branding of Soylent stays consistently somewhere between resembling a nutrition facts table and an Innocent smoothie, the branding of Abacus Pills feels slightly more eerie—a moment similar to the No-Phone TED-Talk. You get the full package. Self-awareness and social criticism are included. But when the critique comes from within, its direction might become unclear.
Not that it wouldn't work. You still gonna make the sprint to the checkout button as long as you have the chance to post a photo on Insta. In 2007 Net-Artist, Guthrie Lonergan made the table, “Hacking vs. Defaults”. It shows precisely that tension. Although Lonergan comments on how the “ethos of internet-based art practices have evolved”, the “???” stays open for interpretation. But clearly shows two kinds of mentalities which seem to be at work, for whatever they might be applied.
“It's hard to pin down that "???," even within such a specific thing as Nasty Nets, and the people involved with Nasty Nets... I think a lot of these artists are going in subtly different directions, though we share an interest in what the Internet has done to us, how it affects culture and consciousness”
Some hold up the flag of net.art, some get called out as post-internet, some just make ads. As usual everything stay fluid. For the 2009 Berlin Biennale, DIS went mostly for being and critiquing the people instead of empowerment.
“Our proposition is simple: Instead of holding talks on anxiety, let’s make people anxious. Rather than organizing symposia on privacy, let’s jeopardize it. Let’s give a body to the problems of the present where they occur so as to make them a matter of agency—not spectatorship.” (DIS Magazine, The Present in Drag, 2016)
Sounds fun. But this eerie feeling numbs after a while and that “matter of agency” that comes with it will fade due to long term exposure. Complaining is not an answer to your problems, neither it is a question. Maybe you should stop complaining! You don't have an answer either! Time to relax. Somewhere in the middle, between the two columns of Lonergan's diagram it is also possible to shine some light on a topic from more than one angle and each gesture you make contradicts each other. You already criticized TED while giving a TED-talk. You hijack the startup scene ethos but still produce something useful.
Being in Youth Mode accepts that inconsistency in your lifestyle. K-Hole says our consumer choices are temporary anyway and our conflicting choices do not expose us as inauthentic hypocrites but complex beings. Because:“Normcore capitalizes on the possibility of misinterpretation as an opportunity for connection—not as a threat to authenticity.“ That can not only be applied to us as consumers but also as producers. And when everyone is a designer anyway, it is that moment when things get slippery.
What is called Slippery Design, is a mindset for you and me—the multitude of amateurs, produsers, designerz. A design essay, practice, manifest published by Manuel Bürger in 2013. On slippery ground balance and order are defied. The void opens for dissemination, may it be through irritation, mutation or failure. Empowered to be truly virtuosic masters in this form of writing and reading, we scrape out the last bits of syllables from the bottom of our semiotic pans. Discourse is not an option in that matter.
In the same way we strive for sameness when being in “Youth Mode”. Slippery Design “lives in and through differences”. Because this contradiction and its possible misinterpretation is seen as an opportunity for connection, both, Youth Mode and Slippery Design, still push forward the goal for a contradictory, controversial design-life.
But in what sense? Possibly its acknowledgment of produser Fitback as a basis for its own existence. Maybe its proclamation for an Odyssey through the depth of connotations. Or potentially its rant against the aged idea of form following function and its (n3w) fooling of it? Looking back at the current states of affairs/our society/age, our fear of failure and the by Bürger too described “commandment to always function and always improve” it might be this where Slippery Design aims for failure—”The Challenge of Dysfunction”:
Receiving a Slippery Design object is thus complicated. It’s rarely possible to understand at first glance. The failure of understanding is literally preprogrammed; the form, after all, is somehow unknown, unfinished, fragile… This encourages an open interpretation – but is not, of course, in the spirit of a design that seeks to synchronize sender and receiver. Slippery! The recipient slips and falls into the void; but if the framework is tightly built, it will catch him at a different point. The mastering of searching and finding, the being disappointed and allowing oneself to be surprised, is rewarded with wild, interwoven ideas that stretch throughout the space. One has only to follow them.” (Manuel Bürger, Slippery Design, 2013)
Now this is also where You will be caught again, after you possibly got lost in definition wobble because you missed the chance for discourse. Nobody's perfect, don't you worry. The accidental is taken into consideration, especially on slippery ground. Slippery Design takes the accidental into consideration through an openness for interpretation, it empowers its viewers and acknowledges their literacy. Rather than only pointing towards a “monotonous truth discourse” and its “critical potential” empowerment and criticality are balancing—the potential middle of Lonergan's diagram.
Where it is still possible to catch semiotic grip with some proper awareness for your surrounding, it becomes more difficult trying to find the light switch in your today’s apartment. Try to avoid spilling your innocent fruits on the concrete floor of your host. If you stumble barefeet through such an environment it is possible to fall flat on your face with that kind of accidental slipness, and the result will always be the same. Only Alexa will hear you cry.
“In the next installment: Slippery Design vs. Slick Design, or Slick Design – How Design Becomes Truly Invisible” (Manuel Bürger, Slippery Design, 2013)
Another kind of sameness which barely lives through differences is one that might come somewhere from Snow White Design, moves somewhere between terms like Flat Design, Material Design and has been widely proliferated through techno giants, the sharing economy and in human interfaces. Is this the potential next installment to become truly invisible?
Looking at the portfolio of the design studio with the surprisingly ambiguous name “DesignStudio”, suggests heavy nodding. Based in London and San Francisco it reflects a feelgood Design language fitting in its infantile simplicity and color palette perfectly to a late afternoon at the Julius Kahn Playground. But this geometric-sans-serif sunset quickly turns cloudy once you take a look at the scale and political implications of the brands which this DesignStudio represents. What remains, besides the pretence of having a soul is an uncanny aftertaste in the similar flavour of Abacus Pills or the NoPhone. (other example)
Where risk and failure are avoided at any price, you face an atmosphere leading towards a universally understandable language, ultimately escaping any form of articulation. Besides the pretence of being true, real or authentic to any extend this kind of feel good design constitutes a similar trajectory as the term “critical” in front of the word design. Leaving you smug or indifferent. What falls flat in both cases is an openness towards a reception which remains with yourself.
“Slippery Design does not want to direct attention to the possibilities of the critical perspectives that can be gained through slipperiness. Such kudos, a slap on the back for being (wanting to be) “critical,” too often leads only to a single, monotonous truth discourse. The venue of any design remains with the recipient;” (Manuel Bürger, Slippery Design, 2013)
Surely Ambivalence or Ambiguity bear potential for indifference too. Those terms can be used as a default excuse to not make an explicit point, avoid sincerity or to forever remain in irony. But the power lies in the opportunity for thorough observations. It allows room for contradictions and complexity of subject matter to collide and being examined implicitly. What is the multitude saying?
“I would argue that not having a position sometimes is the position and I think I've come to a point that I accept that. […] As an artist i'm more interested in challenging my own opinion and looking at the comments section that comes afterwards.” (Cecilé B. Evans @Studium Generale, Gerrit Rietveld Academy, 2016)
So far, you drink Soylent, take pills. Your neck hurts from reading these stone carved lines. You orientate ourselves to a multitude of forces when choosing between Balenciaga or IKEA. Potentially get lost on the way and find ourselves half awake in the middle of the night trying to figure out how to make a seamless instagram feed. But that is not it. I still have some questions in my inbox. Let’s focus on that Ultimate Nature Sounds Collection for a while. It is time for a (commercial) break from that complicated world for the next half of this Odyssey.
At the 2015, Chaos Communication Congress, organized by the Chaos Computer Club –Europe’s largest association of hackers, the artist Evan Roth gave a lecture about his newest work in progress–Internet Landscapes. A series of images and videos documenting the physical infrastructure of the internet. Roth is visiting various submarine fiber optic cable landing locations all around the world and documents these landscapes with cameras working within the infrared spectrum, the frequency in which the light carrying data gets send through the fibre optic cables. He is describing his experiences shooting the environment at these areas and also mentions how he wants to force people into a similar experience watching these landscapes through a web browser.
“I'd catch myself, like, you know, bending down to the phone again, and like, even in this like amazing environment like I was having a hard time breaking out of that really like rapid-phased sort of click-bait mentality that I'm starting to fall into as well, and so I want these websites to be super super boring, like, more contemplative, more on the timeline of what viewing nature is like rather than what viewing the web is like.” (Evan Roth @Chaos Computer Congress, 2015)
Although viewing nature on the internet often works with exactly this rapid-phased click-bait mentality. Yet the idea of viewing nature through a (browser) window or screen is a rather calming experience compared to most other things happening on our screens. And it’s soothing zenny quality is long known in interface design.
Next to the (long and nostalgic) history of desktop backgrounds, screen-savers and campfire-dvds stand current phenomena developing on content platforms like YouTube. A Zen-Master once told me: “If it exists it will be on YouTube. If it doesn't exist it will be on YouTube too.” This counts especially for calming and soothing content. Relaxation content is not only limited anymore to Rain, Thunder and Waterfalls. You can listen to hours of atmospheric ghetto-, war-, cat-, frying bacon-, womb-, or fidget spinner sound. If this is too much for you, just tune into: “SILENCE for 8 Hours”.
Otherwise you have the chance to watch and listen to people peacefully cooking Ethiopian Hummus, unboxing a Vegan Beauty Box, testing their Back Allergy or reviewing the N64 Cartridge Protector. Ambient sound and music for every mindful activity from Meditation, Studying, Yoga, Hypnosis or Sleeping will be provided. The noise range stretches over every imaginable level of the color spectrum and wavelengths potentially cover the whole greek alphabet.
In this corner of YouTube the sensation of close listening and hearing sound, becomes the crucial part of the content. But because YouTube works audio-visually, the visual part also needs some form of treatment, sometimes pragmatic, often generic and sometimes artistic. In phenomena like ASMR audio and visual input stand in a close relationship to each other.
ASMR stands for, Autonomous sensory meridian response and describes the „tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine.“ Most commonly ASMR gets triggered by specific sounds and visual stimuli.
For everybody who grew up before YouTube a potential first encounter with the qualities of ASMR was probably Bob Ross. Millions of viewers fell asleep to his gentle voice and his casual brush strokes.
On YouTube, around the phenomena of ASMR an online community has formed in which thousands of strangers around the world, form an auto-therapeutic network aiming to induce relaxation, relieve anxiety or cure insomnia in form of YouTube videos.
Again also ASMR-videos range over every imaginable setting and blend in with lots of other genre on YouTube. VR-ASMR, Unboxing-ASMR, Unintentional-ASMR, ASMR-cooking, Shopping-Howl-ASMR and of course endless amounts of ASMR-role-plays ranging from praying in the forest with a monk, to meeting the candy queen, talking to a caveman or being welcomed by your girl/boyfriend after a long day of work.
In all these different videos the performance is the crucial element and usually simulates an intimate setting which involves the care and attention of the performer for the viewer. The quality of an ASMR video stands and falls with the way the ASMR-artist speaks and acts. (+the quality of the sound and video recording). In many videos the performer speaks with a lowered voice or whispers. Close distance to the camera is common and many performances involve touching the screen or camera to simulate a POV experience for the viewer.
Although there is a fair amount of ASMR videos featuring fantastic, sci-fi or spiritual settings there seems to be a tendency towards mundane moments. ASMR-videos simulating the „Caring-girlfriend, -friend or ,-stranger“ are some of the most popular ones. Besides this big desire for interpersonal interactions which seems to get soothed with these sound-settings, the mundane as the usually unnoticed gets shifted back into the focus of attention.
Daily life in form of the objects, sounds and situations which surround us get amplified into a wellness experience, let it be the buzzing of a fan, the tapping and touching sounds resonating from our technical devices or the damped noise of a highway in the distance. But in reverse ASMR can also (re)sensibilize us for our surrounding. A common report from people watching ASMR videos is that they start noticing or searching for ASMR triggers IRL and therefore listen more closely to what kind of sound and noise they are surrounded by. John would be proud of us.
With constant visual and audiovisual stimuli through our environment and screens, noise is a common threat. Facebook and Instagram sets our video-content on silent by default and on most videos subtitles are already added. It seems as our longing for a moment of silence seems omnipresent. As the pendulum swings—silent content in its various forms is the logical reaction to a noisy environment. Potentially in reverse there is someone in a far away convent completing his vow of silence while listening to a field recording of city noises. Never satisfied with what is, right? What’s missing today?
With the rise of ambient computing and the augmentation of user interfaces into sound or actual objects, a problem for advertising space appears. Where to place a targeted ad when there is nothing to see? In an visual interface, advertisements are annoying enough but in an audio interface advertisements become the sell point for a product as spotify proofs—Buy our product and you get rid of the advertisements.
What product placement is in movies or Red Bull for Sport-events is sponsored content as an answer to the dozen of adblocks and anti-tracking plugins installed on your browser. And in the tradition of Internet Phenomena or especially YouTube phenomena getting picked up by the advertising-industry (Honda-Rube Goldberg Machine, Gucci Memes, Unboxing, Product teardown, What’s in it, Shopping Howls) ASMR provides the perfect conditions. ASMR seems to be perfectly build to serve as a vehicle where the advertisement becomes the actual content and to promote the tactile, sensual or practical qualities of your product, insofar it is a physical one.
Unboxing, testing, tearing down or reviewing products is providing a close relation to commodity fetishism already. On YouTube there is already an Ad before the content, an Ad in the content, and and Ad as the content. The focus on tangibility and the sensory quality of objects paired with the intimate and personal/private atmosphere created in ASMR videos takes it a level further.
Creating possible scenarios where you don’t listen to a product suggestion/review of a sort of client advisor. But to a suggestion made by someone who is playing to be your friend and not in the manner as a sales clerk is pretending to be your real friend. More in the manner of a “Her” like girl/boyfriend.
In the form of EarBuds and Home Speakers your personal assistant is already freed from inhabiting your Laptop and able to appear in any device smart enough for a wifi connection. It will be Alexa, Siri or Cortana not only reminding you to hit the Dash Button before your toilet paper is empty. But also asking you how you slept today and wondering if you had a bad dream because you look so tired. Honey, maybe you wanna try this new skin lotion? I can order it now. It has lots of Vitamin B12.
In his most recent work Rustan Söderling, draws a similarly dystopian scenario. In “Tanhäuser Gate” you follow the camera through the 3D animated, abandoned ruins of an asian supermarket slowly getting reconquered by the jungle it originally replaced.
Through the continuous splatter of rain you follow the monologue of an off narrator in the voice of an old zen master. In a modest tone he slowly uncovers a story about the happenings which took place at this temple of “late capitalism”. Partly whispering his narration alternates with the sound of announcements, advertisements and animals which now inhabit this scene.
In this environment, where everything else stopped working, digital billboards, endlessly broadcasting advertisements are the last remains of functionality and desire. What they promise in this time, lost its function: “ancient hieroglyphs; ATM inside, free Wi-Fi with purchase, 2 for 1 on cup-noodles, promises of beverages variably hot and cold.” It hints towards our relation towards the ordinary objects which surround us. Through the absence of human life their function is rendered obsolete. As scattered trash, as artefacts from the past they reveal their tactile and sensory quality hinting towards our relation with them.
In Foreign Drive a short film by PWR, “a cloud-based design, research and production studio”, collageses this tactile and sensory relationship. Focussing on the subject from the angle of the User Interface they examine how it might take shape in form of various “foreign” objects, let it be through languages, liquids, shape or sound. “Infrasonic vibrations disrupt the user’s thoughts, calling for attention and demanding action.” The white noise of the AC freezes slow motion into still life. Green is healthy, relief upon sounds of confirmation. Coins tinkle, clocks tick, Processing power croaks under the weight of endless bits. Implicitly Foreign Drive displays a large repertoire in Foley work and sound design. Throughout the film the interaction between such sensory inputs unfolds the narrative in a subtle way.
In GreenScreenRefrigerator Action a “black Samsung Bottom Freezer Refrigerator was filmed live in front of an audience at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in October 2010. The Fridge stood on a green screen infinity cyc while” the artist Mark Leckey “coaxed it into revealing its thoughts and actions.” While all three works talk about different aspects of our relation towards technology they all share a strong focus on the tactile and sensory qualities of the shown objects. Although limited to a visual experience they examine each thing with close care for shape, material or feel, may that thing be physical, digital or invisible. Through these close observations they extend the usual sensation of viewing and listening. Electric humming, white noise, gongs—clear modest or distorted voices. All works feature an eclectic sound ambience derived from ordinary moments, amplified through strong focus. In this manner it drives each narration and stands in close relation to ASMR/relaxation content.
The media artists, Rafaël Rozendaal and Jeremy Bailey are producing a podcast called „Good Point“. It usually ends with a field recording they made or which got sent in by a listener of their podcast. For Rozendaal: „Noise turns into great sound once you make a field recording out of it.“
It seems as the mere shift of attention through a recording device renders most usually unnoticed forms of ambient sound into a potential option for relaxation. Not that this shift of attention could not happen without it, but when our concentration is continually scattered or directed towards the screen it can function as a reminder or amplifier for what is out of focus. May it be the eight hour sounds of a far away thunderstorm, a police car somewhere in the ghetto around you or a warzone with distant artillery.
When there is enough distance between yourself and the space where the action takes place it largely reduces the experience of such to the passing of time. It opens up space for the observations of a distant viewer, waiting for the plot to continue. This waiting sharpens one's senses for details. Minor changes light up and transform into a bigger gesture. Particularly in works made from video games, in a setting where constant action becomes the crucial element of the narrative, the tendency towards the opposite is at hand. Think of Jodis, MAX PAYNE CHEATS ONLY!, Jon Rafman's, A Man Digging, Kent Shelley’s, Ready for Action or Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds. In these action heavy environments moments of contemplation are a recurring theme. In the form of “Max Payne Car Park Ambient Sound for 12 Hours” or “GTA V Pause Menu Music for 10 Hours” this absence of action finds its way back into the fleeting loop of stillness.
From the Pause Menu to One-Liners like: Imagine someone clicking on every link on a website. Imagine someone performing a DVD Screensaver. Imagine someone making a website where the preloader is the content. The act of lingering on the UI reveals its meditative qualities. Meticulous movement for the sake of progression renders itself dysfunctional. These sensible observations result in big gestures. They allow room to dwell. Room for not-doing. A revolt against efficiency,freeing one from any need for action, in favor of a profanity which comes along so unspectacular that it screams for spontaneous combustion.
These kind of Observations capture our daily behaviour in a way that rensesbilizes us for close looking, reading, and hearing of potentially everything which usually goes unnoticed. These works accept normality in it’s accidental nature in an anticlimactic way that makes you want to laugh and cry at once—leaving you as viewer, freed from both convictions, the absence and presence of Action. In his Essay “In Defense of the Accidental” (1984), German philosopher Odo Marquard argues that it would be pretty good for us to accept the accidental, because it would benefit man's freedom by doing so. Sounds good right? But apparently this seems to stand against almost the entire philosophical tradition. "Philosophical reflection has no other object than to get rid of what is accidental." Marquard argues, getting rid of the accidental would mean getting rid of humanity itself. Of course we do not want that and therefore he makes a stand for the accidental. A tool for living with the accidental is thorough observation, in Marquards case thorough Observation of what he calls “usual practice”, but more about this later.
The idea of getting rid of the accidental is what Marquard describes as “the program of making Man absolute”. In this Idea man „is or should be, exclusively the outcome of his intentions. He is then the acting creature, to whom nothing happens any longer. Nothing human is allowed to be unintended; nothing human is allowed to happen without having been chosen. Nothing is allowed to befall man any long. For only then is it the case that human beings are not their accidents but only and completely their choice.“ It's things like not accepting that you have to eat food, that you are tired or that there are absolutely to many combinations in the ABC to make them all—missing out is predestined. Because the deal is, that we humans are not absolute. We are trying to be, but it didn’t work out yet. Simply because we are alive. That is already an accident. And once this is over we are dead. Suicide is of course an option to become absolute, but than you miss out too.
So what stands against the program of making man absolute is our daily life. Our daily life is an ensemble of usual practices. The program of making man absolute negates the usual practices. It constantly questions everything in an unhealthy way. Can’t I eat the same shit everyday? That would be so much faster and easier. (more/better example?) But in fact usual practices are unavoidable. We cannot live without traditions, mores or usages in knowledge and in action.
„What is to come requires what we come from; choice requires usual practices.“
That doesn’t mean you are not allowed to change shit or critique people who act in protection of some old tradition. In fact it is quite useful to remember that „opposition came above all from groups with intact traditions“. Critique is, the conflict between your usual practices and the ones of your parents. To be able to change the rules of your parents, you first need to convince them why that would be for the greater good for all of you and not only for you. Eat your veggies if you can’t prove why that would be bad.
So that’s why it's quite important to defend the things we usually do from the jaundiced view that is produced by the perfectionistic demands of making everything an absolute choice. Marquard argues, that precisely because our today's world is so manifold and complex and because we apparently have issues with eating our veggies. We need to make some thorough observations in order to differentiate between what is simply bad, and our existing reality“. And the reality is your fresh veggies are healthy. Your parents didn’t came up with it, they just accepted this fact.
„We human beings are always more our accidents than our accomplishments.“
And for Odo there are two kinds of accidentalness. Oh boy, its getting more complicated. There is the arbitrary accidental—the kind of accidental which could also be different and changeable. And there is the fatefully accidental—the kind of accidental which could also be different but can’t be changed by us or only slightly.
If you think absolute, everything that you usually do becomes an accident. But luckily we can differentiate. The arbitrary accidental is not something we can actually use for our orientations in life, in stuff like action, knowledge, and living. If you call yourself vegan today and carnivore tomorrow you are a hypocrite. If you believe in buddhism today and protest with pegida tomorrow you are an idiot. (needs better examples) So do not continually exchange one orientation for another, you will end up lost again. That’s not very Normcore. Neither it is mastering slippness.
Luckily the fatefully accidental seems to be the dominant in our life. It happened to be that we are born, we live in cultures with established traditions, we have to obey the laws of nature and so far we were not able to change the past or become immortal. Our life is composed out of a mixture of our actions and what just happens to us. I bet Allen Saunders would agree.
“Our usual practices are certainly always more our accidents than our choice, but they are not arbitrarily accidental, but fatefully accidental.”
So how can we design our lifes and live our designs with the accidental? Marquard says: “A way to deal with the arbitrary accidental is certainly art (and design too)—the use of form to reduce arbitrariness.” We make the rules. “A way to deal with the fatefully accidental is religion—the transformation of extreme situations into routines.” God makes the rules. Boris Groys says that Design replaced Religion so let's forget about Religion for now.
When we make the rules in order to escape arbitrariness in art and design it is useful to remember that these rules stem from observations of usual practices. The rules you set are an attempt to transform them into something which will become hopefully, fatefully— accidental.
As we figured out, living in this constantly changing world, that so called “Age of Unworldliness”, we do not grow up. That is why most perspective we have towards what appears to be accidental, are the ones of youth. What K-Hole proposes is the potential escape from this ongoing fear of arbitrary acidentalnes. Because the optical illusions of youth, only exists because of the rule that "there's no such thing as a grown-up person." But when the process of growing up stops, Youth becomes a mode, detached from aging.
Youth Mode represents a mindset freeing you with limitations. Limitations which are besides being the “freedom to choose how you relate; the freedom to choose how you understand; the freedom to try new things; the freedom to make mistakes” are the freedom to accept what you already are. That “emancipation from boredom, from prescription, from tradition” comes with an acceptance of it. It's the acknowledgement of your own bourgeois-ness. You now realize that you can just go home because you are tired. You don’t have to impatiently wait until the K’ kicks in. As an individual you are freed from individuality—in favor of belonging.
Knowing where you belong is an acceptance of what is accidental, which includes eating or sleeping. The right time and place are for you to figure out. It can help to remember that for Marquard you are always more your accidents than your choice. So you have to be able to bear with what is accidental, because living with what is accidental is not a result of failing to reach the absolute end of the after-hour but is your historically normal state. Even when there is at that time of the day, no such thing as normal anymore. What has been a neatly designed space until now, will soon start wobbling in vibrant colors until it melts into hundreds of abstract shapes. What you just swallowed was potentially something else then you thought.
But this accident is just another chance to accept. A chance to accept that you as the designer of this pill, took care to catch yourself at the end of this void. At the very moment where things will take shape again, where each power is balancing one another and where your freedom lives of their separation. Not only through the endless decisions you have to make while consuming in Youth Mode but also when you design what you buy while slipping through space.
YOUR FREEDOM ≠ ABSOLUTE CHOICE
As a produser, non absolute choice implies that, what is accidental can also be different. That counts for every form which pretends to follow a function. But if form and function can be something else, they often, if only accidentally, also are something else. As Marquard says your “accidental reality is often thus and also different; it embraces various things; it is multiform, motley.” This color palette is your chance for freedom. And with every happy little accident your freedom lives right there, through the separation of powers. If you are not sure, you can be sure that doubting it, is an appreciation of that separation.
Skepticism’s doubt—as the word Zweifel says (which, after all, contains the idea of multiplicity in its "zwei" [two])—is precisely the procedure, (…) of letting two opposed convictions collide with each other in such a way that both of them decline so much in power that the individual, as the laughing or crying third party, gets free of them.
What is important in this (re)search for freedom, that your doubt so relentlessly claims is, that there is never only one engine in use. You don’t just google this. You look for other results, other methods. Let them compete, intersect and interfere with one another. Like this they will reciprocally balance your findings.
It is good for you, because of the consequences in terms of being free. If you have many convictions: not none, not one, but a lot, you are free through freedoms, in the plural, as Marquard says “which fall to their lot because, in the crush of the determinants that bombard them, these determinants hinder each other, reciprocally, in their determining work.” So what Marquard puts together here is that overdetermination promotes freedom. Don’t be scared of determination, but the undividedness of its power. Your freedom relies on a whole rainbow of color. And in this design you want many convictions: not none, not one, but a lot. It is the multitude of expressions.
The laboratory and the experimental methods pursued therein are the proper place for Slippery Design. Here, forms can be developed that meet the requirements of a pluralistic thinking in entangled ambiguities. A sense of (re)orientation is constantly put to the test during development; the ability to continually conceive and nurture new possibilities is encouraged and manifests itself in drafts/sketches and, eventually, designs/communication products.
Feel free to pick your signifiers from a multitude of accidental participants. They are likely to become the colorful mixture of receivers which compensates for the by Marquard described “compulsions to unity, absolute universalization, modern uniformities, streamlining, and for the harsh compulsion to uniqueness to which we are all subject because we have only one, unique life.”
Obviously that is not the end, but through the creation of such “designs/communication products” you will be able to escape that. Sharing is Caring. Sharing is pluralising. Sharing is belonging. Incorporate the biggest possible number of determinants into this communal act of sharing your observations with the people around you. For Marquard, K-Hole and Bürger potentially this is “participatory design in the true sense; everyone can contribute to the discussion.”
This includes that the fatefully accidental pieces, from which your observations stem, need to be noticed. And you will benefit from the moment when the extremes of what you usually notice, grow. What terms like Fitback, Normcore or ASMR constitute is eventually that awareness for what usually goes unnoticed. They stimulate a (mis)understanding, a mode for observation, a sensibilization which needs close looking, reading or hearing—naturally coming before taking any position.
Potentially such modes help, communication which verbally, visually or sensually might evoke „extreme reactions“ like laughing and crying. For Marquard these reactions are the intimate acceptance of what remained, officially, excluded from consideration, but is, unofficially, part of the story.
A readiness to laugh and a readiness to cry—that is, humor and melancholy—are concrete forms taken by tolerance and compassion.
Which is to say potentially the moment to talk about what remained excluded from consideration in this story. As someone who can laugh and cry you remain free. At this very moment you could cry about the fact that no one presented any positions against the ones which have (not) been presented and have thus been excluded from this text. Yes also now, you could do better than that. Or you take a moment to rest, remember that of course also this is not the absolute end. At this very moment you could laugh about the fact that there is still more to come.