Something I have noticed recently is an increase in books, programmes and articles critical of our relationship with new media and technology – challenging the preconception that our quality of life has improved through our use of them.
A few months ago we had the excellent series by Adam Curtis – All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace in which it is argued that computers have failed to liberate humanity and instead have “distorted and simplified our view of the world around us”. To check the series out: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace/
Jaron Laniers new book ‘Who Owns The Future’ and Evgeny Morozov’s ‘To Save Everything, Click Here…’ have added to the debate. Jaron’s book is of particular significance, in that he is as The Guardian calls him ‘one of the most respected voices in tech, a visionary who has helped shape our digital culture.’ One of the original digital utopianists Lanier is now a dissenting voice arguing that the business models set up by the internet are making it increasingly difficult for certain types of worker to earn a decent living and his predictions for the future are even less hopeful.
This got me to thinking. The views I’ve started to see expressed feel like part of a bigger sea-change in public opinion and I’ve begun to wonder is the digital honeymoon now over? Do we see ourselves as the colonizer or the colonized in regard to the machines we use. Analogue vs Digital – Are we happier now, than we were?…
Being an illustrator who has managed to make the career-hop over to graphic design I know I have definitely benefited – at least in the short term – from the advent of the computer. In fact it is the arrival of the apple mac that facilitated it. I left college at just the right time for someone who might want to make a career diversion. The introduction of computers into the world of graphic design and publishing in the mid to late 80’s had just started to dissolve the boundaries between creative disciplines for the first time. Hierachies which had hitherto been strictly governed had started to break down. I still have a copy of Creative Review while I was at college which advertises the required needs of a graphic designer: paste up and scalpel skills, the ability to visualise with magic markers! Nowhere was there an ad requiring someone to use a computer.
The analogue design world had rigidly defined job roles and requirements. Account managers and studio heads would have frowned upon anyone regarding themselves a designer, unless they had the requisite 3 years training in typography branding and marketing and a degree to prove it. However the introduction of digital working methods from the mid to late 80’s transformed this situation out of all context. Knowledge of the right digital applications, keyboard shortcuts, speed and technical knowledge in front of a glowing monitor suddenlly counted a whole lot more than knowledge of typography.
So the desktop publishing revolution and access to cheap affordable ways of getting copy and images to press felt like being given keys to an otherwise locked building.
But I like to define this as the soft revolution. Digital work practises filtered in inexorably as invited guests into our homes and into design practises up and down the land. It was a slow and organic change-over from analogue to digital and it wasn’t really till the early to mid 90’s that computers even started to live up to their potential. For the real bloody revolution, where people literally fought in the streets to save their old analogue working methods you would have to rewind a few years to the unassuming borough of Wapping. A story I’ll pick up on in my next blog post.