Touch screen communicative electronics such as smartphones and tablets demand a kind of attention which has never before been enacted by another object. Using haptic and visual interstimuli, these devices engage their users in physiological transactions which are markedly different from the interactions spurred by past tools of communication. Past in this instance includes: stone and clay tablets, scrolls, codices, books (hand and machine made), messengers, signal fires, letters, telegrams, telephones, and laptop/desktop computers. Despite the seemingly new mode of interactivity between humans and their communication tools, there are striking similarities to the old ways of information storage and transfer, ways which embody the essence of what it is to be human.
This is not the first time that there has been a significant shift in the way that information moves and translates among its authors. The advent of writing, when humans began to organize thought visually and linearly as opposed to aurally and without concrete reference to time, changed not only the way information travelled, but it also set roots for visual systems both within and without informational content. Written language is so commonplace in the developed world that at times it can feel like it is a naturally occurring pattern in the human fabric. However, writing itself is a technology, a man made apparatus meant to increase the efficacy of communication. To illustrate this point, it helps to think of Plato, one of our most revered thinkers, voicing his resistance to writing as a technological advance. In his time, Plato was adamant that the written word would ruin the capacity for true intellectual thought. In a contemporary reflection on this notion, Piercesare Rivoltella compares Plato’s apprehension toward writing as a substitute for memory with expressed cultural apprehension towards electronic communication as a replacement for writing. These questions of technology’s role in human communication point my work towards a stance that accepts a continuous flux of the means and modes of information exchange without much real change in the substance therein and the underlying human instincts and desires. The work in my thesis exhibition grapples with the notion that despite what may seem like a clear departure from writing into a new technology of knowledge storage and transfer, the root and the branches of the system are the same.
The path to written language started with something as simple as drawing a line in sand. From its humble beginnings, writing, as a system of recording grew to be incredibly complex with many iterations of mark-making systems spreading across the globe. Calligraphy was once the foundation for this structure which was then followed closely by typography. Where calligraphy values order among its forms in addition to spontaneity, typography values only order, hierarchy, and functionality. Both of these are deeply influential in shaping patterns of human thinking and seeing, and my work in this exhibition draws on patterns and aesthetics contained in these structures. As we know, both forms of writing are merely apparatuses of information, and no apparatus is without its eventual demise and transitional moment. When printing presses replaced the artful practice of hand drawing of letters, it left in its wake a memory of the preserved human presence in liquid moments.
Those moments are not gone. The apparatus of information has come full circle back to drawing in the sand. In 1936, H.G. Wells predicted the existence of a “world brain.” We have it now. It rests in our palms with a slick surface as the entry point to an increasingly pressurized flow of knowledge. Marks made by hand-tool interaction (a finger on a touch screen) are still the driver of information transfer, although the marks themselves are now spared from any visual language. The objects in my exhibition bring these hidden marks into full view and place them in their historical context. By using the visual references of ancient text and current information tools, I hope to spur some thought and discussion about the human instinct to record, and the way in which this recording flows out of us.
There is another important shift in the current state of information concerning volume. Where we once toiled tirelessly to preserve information and went to great lengths to guard it as permanent knowledge, we are now faced with creating permanent information with a comparatively miniscule amount of effort. This leads to the problem of over saturation of content which anyone who lives in a modern society experiences daily. Not only is the ocean of knowledge growing exponentially, but simultaneously the objects that communicate that knowledge are getting physically smaller. This movement towards extremes is something I hope to capture in my exhibition as well.
We are mark makers. It is in the very core of our being as humans. The goal of my exhibition is to remind my audience of this, and to show that even in our current electronic age when we might feel removed from the physicality of our presence, we are still doing what we have done for millennia.