From Space to the Clouds

For the last 30 years, computer culture has moved from outer space into the clouds. From the dark and mysterious into the bright and familiar. From the alien and unknown to the heavenly.

Look at computer magazines from the 70s and 80s and you’ll see joysticks flying around in space, space exploration metaphors, black backgrounds, otherwordly vector grids, and star fields in space (I sometimes post these things here).

Space was the place, and not only for computers. A lot of movies, record sleeve covers, design and advertising were often out in space. Mars was exciting. Governments spent a lot of money on space exploration. And in the computer underground, space aesthetics was the shit. Personally, I feel like the Amiga crack intro aesthetics in the years around 1990 had something eerily space special, that hasn’t really been matched since.

Another way of describing this shift is to start in the depth of Hades instead, and move upwards to the clouds. Then you can also fit in all the metaphors about water and oceans (Pirate Bay, surfing the web) and land (information highway) and biology (swarms, flows, feeds). Computers started out in Hades, looking pretty evil and frightening (like many other “new” technologies). The computer world was something dark, something unknown and unexplored. Like space. Like Hades.

If you listen to how computers sound in movies and tv-series, you can get a sense of that. If you look at a movie from the 70s or 80s, or even earlier than that, computers were usually sonified with fast arpeggios of random squarewave bleeps. Scary and harsh, not easy to process for a human, as from another world. In the 90s computers started to sound differently. A sort of high-pitched ticking sound; a single tone/noise iterated into eternity. Rational and trustworthy. Reliable.

Those sounds are still heard in movies and series, especially when the computers are doing something important for the plot. To emphasize its cold power, for bad or for good, usually in scenes with advanced stuff, rather than everyday use.

In everyday use, it’s the sound of the operating system that is perhaps the most relevant. Brian Eno invented ambient in the 70s and, through his soundtrack for Windows, also invented the genre of operating system music. Soothing, kind, soft, business/beach, cloudy, comforting. Sort of vaporwavey today, I suppose.

This could be seen as a step away from the complicated and clumsy computer world of the 1980s, to a new era of user-friendliness. In a way, it was part of a general move away from hardware. Since the 1990s, software has taken over from hardware. We don’t want hardware anymore; we want it to be ubiquitous, invisible, unnoticeable, transparent. The interaction between computers and humans is disappearing. Designers no longer design interfaces but experiences (UX), something that Olia Lialina has written about many times.

Again, this brings us into the clouds. The dirty and dark cyberspace is being replaced by the immaterial and heavenly clouds. It’s a quest for perfection in a secluded world, protected from bad cyberd00ds and bulky hardware and political conflicts.

Everything solid condenses and turns into clouds that pee precicious data on us.

Greets to FTC for inspiring this post in the kolonistuga!

One Response to “From Space to the Clouds”

  1. Rico Says:

    i couldn’t put the finger on the issue when i first read this article, but in the context of prioritising software (spirit) before hardware (body), i’d say it is the perfect occasion to reflect on the implications of cybergnosticism.

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