May 13, 2011
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Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied’s talk on “Digital Folklore”, at the New Museum a month ago, was a great trip back. Like Lialina’s “Vernacular Web” essay series, the talk was “I Love The ’80s” with a lot more guilt: Every minute or so you’d get a laugh out of seeing a Felix GIF again, and then a few seconds later realize your laughter was what killed the Felix GIF in the first place. Somehow, on the web, we all became modernists, and Lialina and Espenchied’s quest to retell the story of web design with a more suspicious eye towards “progress” is a useful one. That said, somewhere in the translation from essay to lecture the pair seem to have acquired a kind of missionary zeal about the aesthetics of the early web that I don’t agree with. The early web had a distinctive look – a look that hasn’t yet recurred as a dominant style – but that look had little effect on the way people interacted with (or on) the Web. It’s the crossing of this boundary – from design following use to design dictating use – that weakens their argument considerably.