Our contemporary, post-capitalist form of life invites a rethinking of our relationship to objects: we instinctively form affectionate attachments, we seek their beauty and affirm the value of their materiality. Technological objects assert their role in a surprising defiance of their very physical existence: a tech device is more than itself: imbued with surrounding culture, it tells a story of humanity, at a moment in time.
Historically, technologies have evolved to aid the human body: created by other humans, they embody knowledge and possibilities of use that enable and improve corporeal activity. However, decades of aggressive consumer culture have seeped into the way technologies are being referred to: commodities, infused with a language of desire, a logic emotional appropriation, which ignores the intrinsic values of objects themselves.
If technologies evolved to adapt the body to the environment, new technologies are forced to grapple with being deemed unnecessary by a now tame environment, and a human body fully adapted. Technologies of the third millennium step away from the single-direction machine type of earlier generations, and animate hybrid entities: pre-digital objects hosting post-digital media, which thrive on interactivity. This mix takes human affect by storm, instituting new regimes of love, desire, and self-reflection.
We grab, hold, repeatedly turn on and off our devices, and feel how our use of them makes their smooth frames grow warm. However, we are increasingly out of touch with our individual agency, as these post-digital machines announce an agency of their own. In a powerful account of love in the digital age, Love Machines and the Tinder Bot Bildungsroman, Lee Mackinnon notes the dissipating traces of humanity as agent of production or control, mentioning the “perpetual event of the upgrade, as a clouding of the complex track of a device's manufacture so that it effectively disappears, becoming a seamless set of functions that extend our own.”
Despite their translucent appearance, our gadgets are increasingly opaque, they refuse to be penetrated, or taken apart, insinuating an existence without origin. These technologies are a first generation of machines that are not built by bodies to only serve other bodies; they create realities, replace needs, and steer affection. The relationships we build with our devices are dangerously close to being the only relationships we build, as the need for human interaction becomes a residue of past times, replaced by the need for remotely networked interactivity.
We now commit to constant exposure to screens that seem to reflect our identities, but which, in fact, reflect the desire of their creators and designers, those of whose existence we often forget. Our phones contain our thoughts, track our likes and dislikes, often making decisions for us. In this stream of bits and feelings, we forget that information is not thought, and thus willingly cohabitate with this new species of cyborgs, longing daily for their presence and reaction.
Technology becomes itself a desirable object, ubiquitous, yet unattainable. In our instinctual desire for technology lies hidden a constant craving for how they make us feel, for what we could potentially be. In quite a classic understanding of consumerism, our devices are designed to produce constant desire, and never fully satiate. Although formidable in scope and technical refinement, they lack the one feature that we all instinctually need: that they make us feel satisfied.
Words: Elena Stanciu
Photography: From the series Removed, 2015 by Eric Pickersgill