Have you seen this man?
So the Web is a buzz (or at least a good contingent of one of the overlapping niches I follow) with discussion on the New Aesthetic. But I fear the visual focus may result in us missing the real area of intrigue.
As Bruce Sterling commented:
“I left with the conviction that something profound had been touched. Touched, although not yet grasped.”
Now far be it for me to have the audacity to attempt to grasp this, not being a part of any of the relevant worlds – more an observer of my own. However there is something here that fascinates, Aesthetics is only a part of it, and perhaps this is why we are having a problem grasping it. Visuals having become our dominant means of interpreting the world, it stands to reason that this is what we should first observe.
“The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.” James Bridle
As artifacts, or representations of them cross between our realities, they help to bring them closer. Creating an Object Hyperlink between worlds. Mentally they may merely right now be perceived as a wink to that other world in which many of us spend our time. A space into which we have been busily reconstructing at least one if not many new images and stories, not just of ourselves, but of community, of values, currency, work and process. There is is more to this alternate reality that witty memes about cats.
But are these “highlighted differences between realities” or are we bearing witness to the blending of realities?
This is not just aesthetics. There’s far more to it. Realities are crossing over, merging. On one hand the Old World Paradigm is seeking to migrate it’s stories of command and control online. We are taking the ideas of personal branding and broadcasting, we learned from television into online social platforms. On the flip side, the new digital culture – an as yet also unnamed and ill defined set of behaviors and movements (open source, sharism, P2P, community, remix culture, to name but a few) is pushing through into physical reality (hack spaces, coworking, open design, digital production, flash mobs, viral graffiti, anonymous masks (borrowed artifacts themselves from another constructed reality – could go really meta on this one )). The internet has been an experimental playground for new social rules, these rules and even the idea and desire to prototype and explore new ways of being arise from this space, and now find themselves in the world manifesting. Yes there are robots, algorithms and AI’s, but there is also a human element to this that I feel is more important – hence my focus. The New Aesthetic is one of the ways in which we can clearly perceive some of this cross over from the web into our world, but it is by no means the only manifestation.
Therefore I would caution those excited by this trend to look beyond the aesthetic, to the underlying significance, of what this could be an expression of.
Stories have always shaped our reality. We are governed by myths. Our construct of self is just that, a construct. Money a story of transferable value we agree on (for now).
Our means to tell globally transcendent stories is accelerating fast, and with it our ability to shape our collective notion of self. The internet has allowed us to prototype alternative stories of engagement with each other and with reality.
New Aesthetics is interesting because it allows us to perceive with our self prescribed dominant sense, glimpses and hints of the emergent future reality (I have a separate rant brewing on the loss of our aural traditions and how vision focused technology polarises our technological engagements). Often a caricature, an abstract extrapolation, but a hint nonetheless at a world where our reality has become mixed, mashed up, and is continuously being shaped by ourselves, software and robots.
Multiple realities have always coexisted side by side – just take a walk in your city and imagine the world through different eyes and minds – is your world the same as the drug dealer, the punk, the beggar, the drunk, the lawyer, the businessman or the hipster? (of course all of these are in themselves stereotypes, purely for illustration purposes). Our realities exist side by side, only sometimes do they cross, at events, meeting points and junctions in our lives – even then differing by virtue of the filters of our minds. Online realities are much alike, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get a grip on this New Aesthetic thing. When realities cross it’s hard enough to comprehend, without the digital becoming physical and vice versa.
The edges and boundaries are blurring, we are moving towards not so much an Augmented Reality, as a Mixed Reality. Realities occupying the same physical space that we can shift through at will, transcending time, space, and even context – we will be able to choose the social constructs with which we want to engage, and what social mediums through which we wish to conduct our lives and business. We’ve always possessed this ability, but often struggled to find others to engage with (new social constructs not being a game that can be played alone), but now our imagination can be assisted by new tools and means to share these alt spaces with others.
Parallel realities are pushing through into our physical plane. New Aesthetics gives us the chance to perceive them. This perception itself an act of changing and shaping our reality further.But for me it’s not the aesthetics that excites, it’s the opportunities presented by what we have socially prototyped online. It’s not the robots, or the pixels or the AI – it’s the sharing, the collaboration, the openness, transparency and access to everything and everyone. It’s our ability to become co-creators of or world, and read/write our own reality.
Maybe the above is bullshit, maybe the real beauty of New Aesthetics is that it’s just real enough that we can have a conversation about it, and just vague enough that there’s room for interpretation in order to facilitate such a convoluted brain dump. As always an ill defined provocation. Feel free to comment, augment, remix and dispute.