A while back I penned a contentious post entitled “Taking Stock of Art Making in the Age of “I’m a Child of The Internet”. I wrote then that I didn’t believe describing oneself as an “internet native” qualified as describing one’s artistic practice. I still don’t, but as I discovered six months ago there are plenty of people who disagree. The most recent comes from Kevin Kelly, who last week on The Technium offered three anecdotes shared by friends:
- A young girl who grew up without a TV but with plenty of computers visits some friends and asks where she can find the mouse for the TV.
- A young toddler declares paper “broken” when she discovers she can’t “unpinch” the photo to make it larger the way she can on an iPad.
- An eight-year-old can’t understand what life would be like without computers because he can’t imagine a life without the Internet.
From this Kelly draws the conclusion that the Internet is not about computers, but about “humanity” and that if something is not interactive it is broken. This is a little hyperbolic for my taste, and of course, the core of this post traffics off myths I’ve spent years debunking in the art world: a child’s lack of experience may result in purer expression, but it’s not any more valuable.
Let’s begin with the obvious: Anecdotes about what kids like don’t necessarily tell us a whole lot about what we will care about as adults. They might give us a few clues about the basic ways we use technology, but I think it’s a mistake to attribute more meaning than is necessarily there.
Kelly falls into this trap when he goes on to draw the conclusion that the Internet is about “humanity”. TV is about content too (not hardware) but we at least managed not to attribute such hyperbole to the 24 hour news cycle. Kelly’s other point though — that interactivity is crucial to using and understanding the web — is worth more discussion. Arguably, there’s little agreement on this point within the art world. Just one month ago, I visited a new media classroom at MICA where we discussed whether interactivity limited group collaboration. Would this explain the decline of net art engaging interactive practices?
There’s some question as to whether we can even say there’s less interactive art being made these days, particularly since it can be defined so broadly (think the Man Bartlett’s of social media art, the Rirkrit Tiravanija’s of relational aesthetics, the Camille Utterbacks of interactive installation art). Certainly, we’re seeing a lot less David Rokeby-esque work that directly responds to body. It’s unclear if this will change in the next couple of years, but I am seeing some of the same obsessive forces that drove the creation of Rokeby’s A Very Nervous System in the world of iphone and ipad development. No one can predict the future, but I’d argue a look at what artists and other creative types are making tells us far more about the field, than what kids are doing with new toys.