Debugging the 21st Century


The things that surround us are changing. This change is easier to understand when your mind has been trained by drinking wine at art openings. As the internet reaches out to our things to equip them with sensors and data (thereby turning itself into an ‘internet of things’), our things change. The objects gain a certain autonomy from us—their subjects—as well as a new agency. And both of these qualities we have so far located with artworks.

Of course, the autonomy things gain, when they become connected to the internet, is not the one we discussed in relation to an artwork. But so far we only approached things in art with the expectation that they have something to say. If things speak, they surely say things that are trivial. But it is not trivial that in speaking their role is shifting. My vacuum cleaner informs me that it is stuck and that I need to “move Roomba to a new location.” The self-service checkout, common here in London, advises me to put an item “in the bagging area” and calls loudly for the assistant if it thinks I might have nicked something. And on my phone Apple’s Siri pops up to tell me that he communicated with the lights but some of them are not responding.

That things have something to say has always been suspected. Heidegger famously enlightened us about their agency thereby losing himself in a jug. The lecture called The Thing was presented in the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste and ever since, when trying to understand the agency of things, we have mostly turned to art. From Bill Brown’s cultural Thing theory to Alfred Gell’s anthropological approach, we discuss the agency of things by looking at art—we all know contemporary art as a sphere in which objects escaped the functions intended for them. Now this escape is becoming the new norm: That communication mostly means to misconceive what has been said, seems to be the same for humans and things. The worry with our things, however, is that this misunderstanding will only last as long as their digital communication is in training. Soon they will function seamlessly and stop exhibiting their thingness. Informed by more and better data, they become personalized things that function perfectly. And with that, our things will have changed.

When personalized things are answering individually to specific situations, their sameness is not a given anymore. Informed by their specific location or their specific usage, their individuality becomes stronger and their seriality fades. This is worrying—according to Hannah Arendt, it was their seriality which provided sameness to our world: “The reality and reliability of the human world rest primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they were produced, and potentially even more permanent than the lives of their authors. In other words, against the subjectivity of men stands the objectivity of the man-made world.” Will the objectivity that Arendt related to the sameness of things fade, now that we live in a world of personalized things? And is it just by chance that the rise of fake news occurs at the same time as the rise of the internet of things? From our personalized things, we learned that the most important criteria is that they fit our world. Lucky us there is a solution to oppose this: to continue drinking wine at art openings.

Starship 16: Cover Klara Liden
  1. Cover print Klara Liden
  2. Editorial 16 Starship, Henrik Olesen, Nikola Dietrich, Martin Ebner, Gerry Bibby, Ariane Müller
  3. In this issue Starship
  4. Interview with Leo Bersani, Berkeley, Oct. 1995 Katja Diefenbach, Leo Bersani
  5. Untitled (Flat finish) Michael Krebber
  6. Man sagte mir, dass das Leben schmerzhaft sei ... Cornelia Herfurtner, David Iselin-Ricketts, John Allan MacLean
  7. Karl Holmqvist Starship 16 Karl Holmqvist
  8. Auf der Flucht vor der neuen Dringlichkeit Hans-Christian Dany
  9. Nilpferdkönig Tenzing Barshee
  10. Animal Farm Karl Holmqvist
  11. I started this column a million times Eric D. Clark
  12. Score for Possible Performance (Alonesome and Twosome for Two or Four Players) Michèle Graf, Selina Grüter
  13. Those ornamentals and these accidentals never they will meet Francesca Drechsler
  14. Access cont'd John Beeson
  15. Cut you down to size Robert Meijer
  16. Things Mercedes Bunz
  17. Die Welt geht unter Amelie von Wulffen
  18. Way Beyond The Pale— (An) Itinerant(’s) Meanderings Scott Cameron Weaver
  19. Mongiardino Christopher Müller
  20. Why the military should be the first client of art Robert McKenzie, Peter Fend
  21. Giraffe Birth Leidy Churchman
  22. Photos: Heinz Peter Knes – Words: Sokol Ferizi Heinz Peter Knes, Sokol Ferizi
  23. Nach dem Referendum / Over Time Pt. 2 Florian Zeyfang
  24. La femme nouvelle Nadira Husain
  25. Being invisible is the new cool? Stephanie Fezer, Vera Tollmann
  26. Octavia E. Butler Octavia E. Butler
  27. A.E.R.I.P. Mark von Schlegell
  28. BOandI Monika Kalinauskaitė
  29. Bonnie Camplin Bonnie Camplin
  30. No Gerry Bibby
  31. U.I. Matthew Billings
  32. G. Luke Williams, Natasha Soobramanien
  33. Refound Poetry Evelyn Taocheng Wang
  34. Ein Auswandererroman Ariane Müller
  35. Comedy of Reading Katrin Trüstedt
  36. Mr. Palomar's Vacation Jakob Kolding, Søren Andreasen
  37. The Scrapbooks of Teruo Nishiyama Jay Chung, Q Takeki Maeda
  38. Reality Workshop David Bussel
  39. Queer Crit Potluck Kaucyila Brooke, Louis Coy, Boz David, Jennifer Green, Blake Jacobsen, Tyler Lumm, Giselle Morgan, Ace Shi, Vickie Aravindhan, AJ Strout, Josh Winklholfer
  40. – Xorri, didn’t get the memo # Hey Majorca! Julian Göthe
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