Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Life Imitates Art


We act as though the power of digital is an unmitigated good. Not only do we think so, our whole economy behaves as if digital is the be all and end all. From digital cameras to dot coms, everything—our entire future—is coming up digital.

Yet, like everything else in human affairs, nothing is inevitable. It isn’t, but digital most certainly will take over unless we look for alternatives. Let’s start with what digital isn’t.

Digital isn’t immediate. It’s only a representation of the real world. Thinking about representations, makes me think of art. Using digital to make art distances the artist from the art.

These are, of course, just exploratory thoughts. Then memory steps in, and I remember this quote by Raymond Chandler: “There is . . . no art without the resistance of the medium.”

If you’ve ever pushed different grades of pencils over different textures of paper, you’ve felt this. Or different brushes, paint, canvas, etc. Chandler meant all media, even the blank page.

Look at a sculpture and you feel how the sculptor’s hands shaped the form. Will tomorrow’s 3D printers give us that same feeling? In a very literal sense, all human feeling is tactile.

Human intimacy is rooted in touch. Without touch, there is no real connection in any human contact. Recall that the word for the exchange of ideas by writing, speaking, etc., is intercourse.

Using digital devices as an intermediary—replacing direct touch—separates artist from art, each of us from the other. There is no feeling, no sensation without the resistance of the medium.

Adding a digital layer decreases involvement, makes it easier for the artist (or person) to disconnect. Physically diminished, the connection is more easily broken.

With digital as an intermediary, art becomes more remote and less real. Creation and communication become less human and more machine-like. Another step backwards for civilization.

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