For years now the concept of photography and art has been questioned. Can the mobile phone become an artist’s tool? Is the digital technology taking over our lives? What will be next? I explored three pieces of work that make me question the digital age, whether it is good or bad, the negatives and the positives, and most importantly how this will evolve and effect us within in the future.
Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital narratives
The Introduction- John Palfrey
The introduction to this book is very formal and plain; it states the facts, the problems and possible solutions. The first thing that we apparently need to understand is the fact that we (young people) are described as “Digital Natives”, we were born after 1980, “They study, work, write and interact with each other in ways that are very different… They read blogs rather than newspapers… Even religion is being transformed”. This book can be very condescending to ‘these people’ as technology has been present thought our lives, “They only know a world that is digital”, but I can safely say, being twenty years of age, I can remember my grandma being the first person in our family to get the internet, the long wait each time you clicked on a link, and with all honestly I think I’m slightly more anit-technology rather than pro, I’d prefer to get a book from the library and write with my own hands rather than doing everything on my MacBook like I’m some sort of hermit robot.
Palfrey also mentions two other groups, “Digital Settlers”, otherwise known as older people (you’re grandparents) who lived in an analogue world for most of their lives, and “Digital Immigrants”, people who started out in an analogue world but have become ‘dependent’ on technology now (you’re parents). This book is aimed at them, but if I was my mother reading this, it would do nothing but scare me as Palfrey points out nothing but all the “problems” we have, such as privacy issues, paedophiles, cyber bullying even copyright and legal issues, and perhaps the most current issue we have; our employers looking at our life stories before we even met them. Palfrey talks about how we don’t distinguish our life online and offline, compared to our parents, we consider them as one life, we go to sleep and wake up with comments on our statuses, friend requests and wall posts that have all been going on whilst we’ve been resting, technology doesn’t sleep. The offline world doesn’t exist to us, “They don’t think of their hybrid lives as anything remarkable”.
However, the book does have a tiny little bit of positivity towards the end of the introduction of the possibilities of what the digital age can become, “Digital Natives would never have had a chance to meet in the offline world”, and I’m hoping that this is consistent throughout the rest of the book as even though I prefer paper and pens, the internet is a powerful source and we all know of the remarkable things it can produce, “By and large, the digital revolution has already made this world a better place”. It also points out that countries that have a high amount of Internet access such as Switzerland have a higher amount of literacy and vice versa for countries such as within the developing world.
Towards the end of the introduction the book shows its true aim, “There is a huge risk that we, as a societies, will fail to harness the good that can come from these opportunities”, and this is so true, after pointing out all the bad aspects that we all know about, not many people realise how important technology can be and we really need to cherish this and work with it to benefit our country and our world. And to do so Palfrey points out five types of people that are the most important in making the most of the digital age; Digital Natives, family and close friends of the Natives, teachers and mentors, technology companies and lastly the law and law enforcement.
Overall, the most important thing I have learnt from this introduction is “Only 1 billion of the 6 billion people in the world have access to digital technologies- we prefer to think of them as a population” and “By the time this book is printed, it will already be starting to go out of date”, technology isn’t the majority of the world, but for the people that have it, it is powerful and rapid in its movement, and we need to work with it and not against it.
The IRL Fetis- Nathan Jurgenson
This article by Jurgenson is describes me to a tee. Its starts off in the same manor as Digital Natives does, and I thought oh no, another writing about how technology is effecting us and all the bad things like paedophiles and cyber bulling, however I was wrong. Jurgenson is trying to show us how we’ve now become a society that takes pride in not being online and using technology.
He uses the words of Sherry Truckle, who wrote in the Guardian “we seem almost wiling to dispense with people all together”… “Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices. So I say look at one another”, to show the same ideas that Palfrey has, and how the digital natives apparently depend on technology. “Forgetting ones phone causes a sort of existential crisis”, and its true, we tend to not have a watch on, we can’t Google a map, we can’t tell our friends where we’re meeting and we wouldn’t be able phone our parents for a lift if we did forget our phones. Mayhem? But Jurgenson discredits this and says we’re cherishing and appreciating this more than ever before, “We savour being face-to-face”. Personally, I love having a bath, no phone, no laptop, no alerts, and no messages. You’re given time to think and breath, and I make sure that I have this time away from my mac and my iPhone to understand my reality…“Decay Porn”
Digital Natives was published in 2008, and in digital terms, that a hell of a time ago, and I feel like Jurgenson is right on point with describing how life for us “Digital Natives” is now… “One of our new hobbies is patting ourselves on the back by demonstrating how much we don’t go on Facebook”. When Facebook became the most important thing to have in secondary school, and if you didn’t have it there was no point in living, I became almost addicted, needing to check for status updates every five seconds, but seven years on, I couldn’t really care less about someone I met at a party three years ago moaning about the price they had to pay for a Fredo. I see it as a boredom buster, only going on it when I’m waiting for a movie to come on or waiting for my washing machine to finish. “People boast about not having a profile”, yes I hold my hands up and admit to this, I refuse to get Instagram and Twitter, I personally don’t need these, Facebook is enough for me, and “Indie” trends today are pointing towards not having social media.
Jurgenson goes on by saying, “Facebook is real life”, I find this so important and truthful, all our “digital Native” lives we have been told how bad the internet and technology is for us, for example a grandma classic “you’ll get square eyes”, but its important to understand that everything is real. That status update is a real emotion, a thought, made by a real person. “The web has everything to do with reality”.
Photographing the Prostitutes of Italy’s Back roads: Google Street View vs. Boots on the Ground- Pete Brooks
The article by Brooks, really questions how we categorise “what makes photography?” Brooks compares the two artists, Mishka Henner and Paolo Patrizi’s work; of which are similar subjects yet are completely done differently. Henner’s work consists of GSV screen grabs of the prostitutes of Italy. These ‘photographs’ as I consider them, have real intriguement to me, “The fact the woman’s faces are blurred”, I’m craving knowing who these woman are, how their lifestyles work and most of all their jobs, for these are not what we consider to be prostitutes in the united kingdom who work by the edges of docks in rainy, dark and frightening conditions, these look more like tourists exploring hidden places within a beautiful country. Am I fooled? Yes, so why isn’t this considered photography?
Brooks also mentions Alan Chin reaction to this piece of ‘art’, “navigational tool, and an educational resource”. When Google Earth first started I remember doing nothing except looking where my house was, where my family lives and random places that I’d been fascinated to explore. But today we use it as more of a tool, we can find out hidden information that can be deadly and we can see how we are really affecting the earth. But should that be it? I strongly disagree. Personally to me art can come in so many forms and I consider this to be one. I want to look it at it, I want to know these women and understand their experiences, it creates that thought process in my mind, and to me that is art. Chin continues by saying, “…then go out there and take some pictures yourself”, but we live in a completely different world, we can create a completely new person using other people’s photographs and editing them within seconds. Is this art?
So why is Paolo Patrizi’s work considered of “better” work than Henner’s? I do have to say that I personally feel a lot more emotionally by instantly looking at it than I do to Henner’s work. He goes himself into these places where these woman work and gets a first hand vision of the truth and reality that these “Italos” face. “Henner’s work allows us to keep a safe distance”, Brook is totally right, we are in our cosy homes, behind a computer screen, in another country. Safe. Whereas Patrizi pulls down that wall and makes us look at the certainty, it frightens us, as we are no longer in our safety zone, “we don’t get close”. Brooks continues, “Patrizi’s work walks us by hand to the edge of the soiled mattresses and piles of discarded condoms”, we can see the gruesome way of the world, the stains of human fluids, the attempts of homemade homes, and most importantly the blank inhuman woman who slumps lifelessly on her rotten mattress. Do we get this with Henner’s work? Perhaps not, we see the beautiful scenes of Italy and then hidden in the corner a blurred woman, and we considered her significance as we do with society, very little and ignored by us. However, Brook says, “texture, depth, legitimate colour, details and different focal points”, all artists know that this is an important consideration when creating a piece of art, but should this really define what makes a “better” piece of work? We instantly see the horror that these woman work under, but with Henner’s we have to learn through the caption and descriptions that these are actually prostitutes and really read about it before fully understanding this work, and that’s why I feel these two pieces of work are, to me, considered on the same level of art.
Henner’s work also questions copyright, is this her work or is the creators of GSV? I personally feel like this is her work as she has concepted the idea, worked with it and created a unique body of work that no machine could ever do.
So what do I really think? After looking into these three pieces of work I have began to understand the digital age and have decided that I personally believe we have gotten past it, the Internet hasn’t taken over my life, it is an object, a thing, and I appreciate it as an attribute but it certainly doesn’t take over my life. It is full of possibilities. I also believe that art and photography cannot be categorised, it can come in so many shapes and forms and that’s the beauty of it. Photography surprises us, we love it, we hate it, that’s all part of the package and as long as it makes us think than I believe that is art.
Brooks. P. (19.08.12) Photographing the Prostitutes of Italy’s Backroads: Google Street View vs. Boots on the Ground [online] http://prisonphotography.org/2011/08/19/photographing-the-prostitutes-of-italys-backroads-google-street-view-vs-boots-on-the-ground/ [visited on 28.12.14]
Palfrey .J. Gasser .U. (2008) Born Digital. First edition. Untied States:Perseus Books Group
Jurgenson .N. (28.06.12) The IRL Fetish [online] http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-irl-fetish/ (visited on 28.12.14)