Progress – Are You With It or Against It?

Technological progress has become second nature. It’s generally assumed that technology becomes better all the time. It used to mean that more quantity led to higher quality (more pixels, bytes, options, etc). Nowadays it’s often the opposite. Quality comes from stripped down interfaces, curated collections, filters, etc.

While this techno-progressivism grew alongside consumerism, there was an opposing idea within art and academia. They opposed this development, usually from the perspectives of critical theory. There was already a long history of anti-modernism anyway.

Today it’s still popular to talk about critical uses of media. I’m not sure what it means, but it usually implies a better use of technology. It can be smarter (hacking) or more stupid (dadaist circuit-shocking) or even mainstream (spectacle subversion). And it’s been like that for atleast 50 years?

They are two sides of the same coin. They need eachother to survive and they sustain eachother. The expression “creating something new with the old” is one example. This is relevant to say because of the wide-spread misconception that cutting edge ideas require new technologies. But they don’t. The retrofuturistic hauntology – going back and exploring forgotten paths – is another example. These paths are not old. They are new!

The argumentation here is far from solid. It’s a bit explorative. So I appreciate comments. But it feels like these things somehow confirm techno-progress as second nature. It takes it for granted and makes it stronger. But is it possible to avoid that? Is it something to strive for? I’m not sure. But here are three suggestions.

If you don’t like planned obsolescence, don’t talk about it all the time. And stop calling my tools obsolete. What’s your agenda, soldier? They are obviously not obsolete. Retromania is commercial. Old media are expensive. New media is trying to catch up with the qualities of their ancestors. Teletext has everything that the webb lacks!

Stop talking about limitations. It doesn’t matter if you use quotation marks – you’re still saying the same thing. Every medium has unique potentials (theoretically, atleast). It’s not a bug it’s a feature. Always!

We like friction! It seems pretty popular. Tumblr and Twitter have pretty bad interfaces, right? Instagram is described as quirky, iirc? People want odd interfaces – we’re not really looking for invisible and ultimate interfaces anymore. If we spend time and effort to do things (instead of some automatic super solution) we feel good! We don’t want Newton, we want DIY. He he.

12 Responses to “Progress – Are You With It or Against It?”

  1. brytburken Says:

    Originality sucks…. been telling u that before it was cool.

    The all-consuming focus on artistic, scientific and technoligical innovation is the flipside of society’s all-consuming focus on economic profit.

    New ways of making “art” = new ways of making money.

    Much like capitalists steal from workers, artists steal from “the scene”, the social situation, the interconnectedness of a great mass of human bodies in motion, heating things up, getting it on.

    In a society based on community and pleasure instead of specialization and profit, I guess culture would be more about the social situation, the scene, than the artifacts, the “commodities”, extracted from said scene.

    “The retrofuturistic hauntology – going back and exploring forgotten paths – is another example. These paths are not old. They are new!”

    Yup. Time is an illusion. The world view of Spinoza, renaissance carnival people, north american indians, chinese taoists, etc were far more progressive (hehehe) than ours.

    Enlightenment and the modernism that followed must be seen as a detour, from human community and an all-including/beyond-good-and-evil/non-alienated/immanent kind of world view.

    In this hypermodern/postmodern scene we’re in now, all ideas, sounds, images, exist at once. Hypermodern techno and bass music is the same thing as stone age drum orgies n shit now is it not? The whole thing with modernist phases and paradigms is dead. Progress is over dude.

    I guess this has something to do with economic crisis and peak oil, too.

  2. goto80 Says:

    I guess for me the talk about anti-originality, anti-art, anti-modernism and anti-progressivism doesn’t really point the way towards something else.

    In pop culture it feels like more originality would be a good thing. Copying makes so much sense so everybody does it. And retro. And for all many of the more interesting philosophies around, it seems difficult to handle the idea of original works.

    After all – there are people who usually do things different from the rest. And I think that’s really positive. But I find it tricky to make that fit with theory that I like. Because it’s just about networks and culture and remixes and posthumanism and all that. Humans as signal filters.

    But anyway – this post was more aimed towards technological progressivism. And to try to say that the proponents and critics are basically building on a similar kind of discourse. Seems really difficult to come up with alternatives, but that’s what I was going for.


  3. FTC Says:

    I’m against!

  4. brytburken Says:

    “I guess for me the talk about anti-originality, anti-art, anti-modernism and anti-progressivism doesn’t really point the way towards something else.”

    I think what it points towards is a focus on community – instead of toiling away in ur bedroom we should build infrastructures and physical places for a new way of living, based on community and sharing IRL (AFK).

    My comment was all over the place, but so was your post I think. What exactly is it that you are looking for here?

    “In pop culture it feels like more originality would be a good thing. Copying makes so much sense so everybody does it. And retro.”

    This sort of cultural cannibalism common in pop culture – doesnt it have everything to do with that it’s the cheapest way to make a profit? Make a sequel or a remake – no need for script writers, etc. Copy each other’s articles – no need for proffesional journalists.

    “After all – there are people who usually do things different from the rest. And I think that’s really positive. But I find it tricky to make that fit with theory that I like.”

    There’s an old, great quote from Stanley Kubrick where he says something like – “I’ve never aimed for originality. If someone has something new to say, a lot of times he will have no choice but to say it a new way” (the quote is way different, but I remember that as being the general idea).

    That’s more or less it. Why do artists do things differently than the ones before them? Basically, in my opinion, because they are reacting to a new social situation, trying to make sense of it in their way. So originality is always based on changes in the world. Changes that sometimes are driven on by cultural expression. The chicken or the egg? It’s a two way system.

  5. goto80 Says:

    The post was supposed to be about technology. Progress in digital technologies, I suppose. That it this constant progress has become second nature, so it’s hard to talk about alternatives. But they are there. I hope?

    I like it when there are some sort of fresh perspectives. Not the same quasi-political dont:s. More do:s and yes, I’d say. So much of the “critical” practices seem stuck in traffic, on the wrong side of the road.

    One way is to go for communitarian ways. But it seems tricky with technologies. It feels almost silly to think about alternatives. But for example – what if we could unite around old technologies and develop them further. For most of the things we do – or atleast that I do – there’s no need for super-technologies.

    Yeah. It’s vague. I don’t have any answers. But sooooon!

  6. chunter Says:

    Do you have any thoughts regarding oft-failed ideas that make periodic comebacks, at least one of which you’ve already named:

    The computer that is indistinguishable from your TV set (home computers, set top boxes, PCs shaped like TV/DVD combos on purpose, etc)

    The computer that you carry on your person (smart-calculators and calendar watches, Apple Newton, Palm Pilot, iWhatever)

    A universal network for both exchange of knowledge and commerce (Compuserve and its ilk, The Internet)

    Software that allows one to pretend to be something he or she is not, sometimes in the company of others who are doing the same (Video gaming, text adventure, sims, MUDs, MMOs, Virtual reality, Augmented reality)

    To answer the question that the title poses, I think that I am 80% “with” technological progress. I cannot buy and try every new idea and device that appears in the world, I simply want the best tool that is accessible to me at a given moment. I like that there are new tools available all the time. Although I wonder what happened to the proverbial “flying cars” we have tools and abilities today that I didn’t imagine would be possible or even plausible when I was a child. I first noticed this when I played a Game Boy, because it had been ten years earlier that I thought the Game Boy was a bad idea, the notion of carrying a video game device around was not something I wanted yet. I was also an early hater of the mouse-clicking user interface, not just because I was averse to the changes, but also because I thought CLI-based operating had not yet reached its potential. A few years later, my brother showed me Linux…

    Perhaps progress is not such a black-and-white thing, and like success, maybe it depends on the observer.

  7. goto80 Says:


    My sarcastic headline was a obviously a very bad idea. :)
    I agree that it’s not a black and white thing. Definitely not.

    “Failed ideas” is very relevant to my interests. What was it that failed, exactly – and why? In the case of big networks, the Videotex was actually a reason for writing this text. It was an incredible service not unlike Compuserve, but they were too early. The desire for it had not been created yet.

    Did it fail? No, it paved the way for other services. Videotex and similar services made us understand that it was possible. In an article I wrote about it, someone claimed that it takes 30 years for people to adjust to “progress”. Perhaps there is an important point in that. I’ve got a post about Videotex in the pipe, so stay tuned.

    Just an idea I got now. Perhaps these large-scale government-funded mega-projects, are more scarce today. There’s not a similar headroom to experiment with new technologies, if you have to cut costs and think more short-term. The government in France wanted the Minitel to be a success, so it was (by giving ppl free terminals).

    I think that the distinction between computer and other digital media, is fuzzy. Technologies that have computer potentials (ie, programming it the way you want to) are handicapped today by its producers in order to get more control. iPhone didn’t allow C64 Basic because that changes its function (into a dangerous free radical, hehe). Universal computing is not part of the consumer products anymore, unlike the 80s. This also makes some sort of ‘potential for progress’ built into the device. Upgrades are made with software rather than hardware. There are many functions inside that work and are ready to be used, but it’s just not possible until you buy a software upgrade.

  8. chunter Says:

    I can’t stand the idea of a device that has features that are present but deliberately blocked until paid for- and for clarity, I don’t mean paying for satellite radio subscription, I mean buying a car with cruise control but you’ll have to pay another $500 for the dealership to activate it. I’m sure all reading here agree, if the hardware is in my possession I am free to use it as I please, even if it is not used as intended.

  9. Dragan Says:

    Technical product development on an engineering level, where an attempt is made to create the most versatile and transformative products for the largest possible audience, has been replaced by political product development, balancing features and annoyances so that a product and connected goods (tools, digital “content”, accessories, events) can make more money, indeed.

    But what is more interesting is products based on market research or user research. Visionary products are replaced by products based on future customers’ opinions. Naturally these products need to be built to common dominators. And most people are not good at inventing disruptive stuff, but quite good at thinking about quick hacks to improve on a current setting. This leads to lots of skeuomorphic, average, boring stuff being produced. To make something exciting yet authentic in such an environment is very challenging.

  10. iLKke Says:

    The text attempts to open up a discussion, but I fail to find the comments more than vaguely related. Possibly I am not understanding either the text or the comments.
    Anyhoo, trying to touch on some of your thoughts, apologies for wall of text and clunky English:

    The tech progress seems a necessity and a fact, and I believe it is a significant factor in our perception of older technology. One of the reasons we go back to exploring new paths with old tech is linked to the fact that any tech becomes old (replaced?) far too quickly to have it’s potentials thoroughly mapped. Then we go back and do it at our own pace, free from the momentum and free from the commercial factor that might limit our ‘rights’ to use said technology fully.

    What progress gives us is luxury of choice. Filtering, as you put it, has always been necessary in order to pave new ground, it is just that sometimes we have to create our own arbitrary filters and sometimes platforms provide us with filters that have a certain elegance to them, elegance that we embrace.

    And this leads us to the notion of people opting for quirky interfaces, and it does seems very natural. These provide character, and that’s precisely why we want them, what makes them different. Same thing applies to our choice of say, people or a musical instrument. While in theory we might want our tools to be invisible in what we make with them (in a similar way that ideal commercial art will have no traces of the artist in it), in practice we want them to give a special feel to the process, perhaps similar to a creative chemistry between people.

    And pardon me but I just have to comment on brytburken’s view of anti-originality sentiment that is supposedly present in your text.
    From that quote it seems obvious that Kubrik refers to striving for originality for originality’s sake as being pointless, far from saying that all originality should be avoided. And this brings us to the second point, that anti-anything has no inherent value, especially not compared to whatever it is against, as it is defined by it. Avoiding originality and striving for it for it’s own sake are the same, just as doing something because majority is doing it is the same as not doing something because the majority is doing it. You are still letting the majority choose your actions for you, instead of making your own choice.

  11. goto80 Says:

    When we go back to the old tech, I think we’re still affected by the present tech-dogmas around. For one: we go back to old tech because the contemporary ones have been boring for atleast a decade. Like Dragan also said. But we understand them in a different way than before. Use them in other ways. Talk about them from our current situation. We emphasize the features that are interesting for us, now. “Nostalgia” can’t be ruled out. :(

    Perhaps we can say that old media has more character. But all media have character. It’s just that the traits of new media have been normalized to the point of becoming invisible. And it is politically important to never treat technologies as neutral.

    But by saying that a C-64 is “old” and “limited”, that’s exactly what we do. It is irrelevant! Or should be. Nobody talks about a piano being old and limited.

    We could just aswell say that a C-64 is in fact better. They don’t break after a few years. When you press on you can use it directly. They’re not bloated with crap consumerism. Etc. And from that linear sense of progress, a C-64 is even newer than an iPhone. Because you’re not even allowed to code C-64 BASIC on an iPhone.

  12. Are Humans More Disabled Than Ever? « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] to and those norms grow from limitations of human perception and, in the case of computers, from progress as second nature. The conflicts concerning human disabilities is a much more pressing matter than legitimizing […]

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