Introduction: "Digital Freedom or Silicon Serfdom"?



Think of all the problems humans have inflicted on the planet. Come on, go ahead. We’ll wait.

We don’t even have to name them—they’re entering your mind right now.

They may seem daunting; some may seem like they can never be solved. Yet it is our very capacity to pinpoint, to name, to try to solve these problems—to anticipate the challenges of the future, and to muster our mental and physical energies against them—that can give rise to a certain very wild and, perhaps, culturally specific optimism.

Imagination may well be our only inexhaustible natural resource. After all, we didn’t have to name any of our more exhaustible resources for you to imagine them, did we?

Digital technology is everywhere—inescapable—and, like any would-be monism, either crushing or liberating, depending on your disposition. As we approach the “digital future,” whatever that means, it’s not clear if the vast and darkling form that has blotted out our sky is some Kurzweilian asymptote—the Singularity—or a great silicon wall.

Whatever we’re facing—now more obviously than ever—we can be glad that artists are here to engage with it. Art, after all, helps us to imagine. If we have imagined ourselves into a problem, we can imagine ourselves out of it.

K.A. Letts introduces us to three artists who have commented sharply on our current digital infrastructure and the sort of people it creates. With his The Endless Doomscroller, Ben Grosser implicates us all in shaping the Internet as it is—and reminds us of how the Internet shapes its users.

Kelli Wood speaks with Drs. Julia McHugh and Mark Olson at Duke University, who are using digital technology to make art and art history more accessible—and Nathan Worcester talks to artist Doug Aitken, who explains why he finds Instagram and other social media more promising than perilous.

Evan Carter reviews Robert Chase Heishman’s “Image Workers” at Elastic Arts. Heishman’s trans-cultural collaboration with a Bangladeshi photo editing company raises unsettling questions about the globalized production made possible by the Internet.

Neil Goodman interviews legendary Chicago artist Gary Justis, whose tech-focused practice has spanned decades. In Neil’s words, “his work is light, shadow, sound, movement.  It pulses, it glows, it rocks, and it torques. His constancy as an artist is growth and change, and like his machines, his work is ‘never still in the wind.’”

Join us as we examine this uncertain yet exciting moment in our fast-changing times. With courage, curiosity, and, yes, imagination, none of us need be “still in the wind” either.


The Editors



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