All posts by Georgios Papadopoulos

Post-Digital is Post-Screen – Shaping a New Visuality – Josephine Bosma

If the interest in the post-digital seems to point at anything, it is that the usefulness of the digital as a discursive element in analyzing the impact and place of technology in society and culture is waning. Digital technologies on the other hand only grow and proliferate. This raises the question: why do we need or want to discuss matters in terms of a post-digital condition if digital media do not seem to loose ground by far? I look at this issue in the context of art. Here, the digital realm tends to be perceived as screen-based. This tendency is validated by popular approaches in media art, most notably that of Lev Manovich. One could argue however that the screen is not the most important part of a digital computer, and thus also not of digital media. Paul E. Ceruzzi states in his History of Computing that the computer can be defined in various ways. One definition is that the computer is a system applicable to many different tasks, even beyond a ‘purely technical arena’. Another is that it is a social construct (Ceruzzi 4). This means the definition and shape of a computer is flexible, both technologically and socio-culturally. A screen-based analysis of art in this context literally glosses over the issues in this area, and makes certain works partially or completely ‘invisible’. The development of a post-digital media theory possibly helps us break away from a dominant screen-based analyses of art in the context of digital media. The issue here is not one of medium specificity though. The aim is to develop a more comprehensive view of specific works and practices to depart from in criticism, theory, and education.

Not only does the screen get overvalued. What is not directly visible is also less likely to get noticed. Additional problems for art in the context of digital media seem to be the visual impermeability or the spatial dispersion of specific works and practices. What I mean with visual impermeability is the presence of somehow ‘hidden’ structures, like network technologies, code and software processes, and even indirect influences of the Internet or of computer technology, in specific works of art. Spatial dispersion on the other hand points to works in which the various elements of a work are out of reach physically, hiding them in another way. In the case of networked installation art or performance they are either in another space, in another town, in another country (Malpas 109; Shanken 35). In conceptual or tactical applications of networked space there often is only a second-degree, and thus also distant, network connection (Greene 119; Cramer, “Anti-Media” 221). With art consisting entirely of code executed in a computer the work of art is not just hidden inside the fiber and plastics of a machine, but it is also spatially dispersed in terms of the time consumed and the movements, inside and outside the computer, produced in the process (Arns 198; Goriunova, Shulgin, “Read_Me 2004 Edition” 20).

Art created in the context of digital media generally possesses a high degree of openness, because it is often time-based, interactive (Paul 23), and interdisciplinary, or, what Frank Popper calls, ‘poly-artistic’ (131). The shape of the works described above asks for a perspective that reaches not only beyond the screen, but which also takes into account the instability and interdisciplinary basis of the works in question. Earlier approaches suggest using Jack Burnham’s Systems Aesthetics (Shanken Digital Arts and Culture Conference 2009) or Callon and Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Lichty ISEA2011) as a basis. The enduring prevalence of the visual arts in contemporary art institutions and exhibitions seems to suggest developing a view beyond the screen however asks for an alternative visual approach, rather than a predominantly conceptual, or actor network approach. The work of Rudolph Arnheim offers a possible basis for an overarching theory for a new visuality in his book Visual Thinking (274). Arnheim describes how a non-retinal way of seeing exists in science, where the knowledge of the existence of events, structures and objects often precedes or even constitutes their visibility. It potentially connects conceptual and scientific approaches, such as also the still relevant methodologies based on Systems Aesthetics and ANT, to the visual domain.

At the same time there is of course a level of abstraction in all art, including the examples used here, which cannot be described in terms of a visualization derived from scientific knowledge or insight alone. What is needed is an elaboration of the notion of the expanded image towards forms of imagination that combine the actual and the immeasurable, or the poetic. By including conceptual visualizations of actual or virtual i.e. possible events, systems or objects in an understanding of visual art the space of interpretation and engagement with art should be enriched rather than limited. An understanding of how material dimensions of a work of art expand, exist, or behave beyond the line of sight, and in the case of digital art beyond the screen, need be no more prescriptive concerning interpretation or appreciation than seeing a painting or a sculpture. I see my work as an addition to the discussions about a new approach to or interpretation of materialism in art and media theory (Daston 14; Parikka, “New Materialism as Media Theory” 99; Dolphijn, van der Tuin 98; Barret, Bolt 3), because of the unwanted but inescapable battle about ‘what matters’ in art, a battle one has to fight in new media art all too often (Graham, Cook 6). The work of Alexander Galloway is also always an inspiration to explore the connections and crossovers between the digital and the old-fashioned ‘Real’, and this text borrows heavily from his The Interface Effect. A revaluation of the material dimensions of art and culture seems at hand, and it seems most urgent than in the fast growing digital domain.

The perceptional model borrowed from Arnheim needs to be understood in all its variability if it is to be used for art. Refinements from specific fields and sub-fields of media theory, contemporary philosophy, the media art field and the contemporary art field are necessary to complete any picture of art after the collapse of the digital screen: the post-digital sphere.

The Bright and Blinding Screen

In her book Where Art Belongs the art writer Chris Kraus puts what she calls ‘digital forms’ in the same realm as video (119). She is but one of many critics and theorists that describe art in the digital realm in terms of the image and the screen (Bourriaud 69; Foster 105; Jameson 110; Krauss 87; Virilio 14; Rancière 9). The manner in which it is described is almost always negative. Computers are described as the present day epitome of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, or as problematic because prolific image copy machines. Virilio, in all his poetic paranoia, expresses this feeling precisely: ‘What was still only on the drawing board with the industrial reproduction of images analysed by Walter Benjamin, literally explodes with the ‘Large-Scale Optics’ on the Internet, since telesurveillance extends to telesurveillance of art.’ (14)

This superficial view of the computer and digital media in general is supported or at least barely countered by influential writers from the media art field. Lev Manovich’s bestseller The Language of New Media describes the computer almost entirely in terms of cinema. Even the chapter called The Operations, after a chapter on screens, solely focuses on image editing and image sequencing (117). In his book The Interface Effect Alexander Galloway starts off with a respectful yet also critical analysis of Manovich’ cinematic approach of new media. Galloway takes his criticism of this approach further by connecting it to another popular approach, that of remediation (20). The theory of remediation draws a straight line from medieval illustrated manuscripts to linear perspective painting to cinema to television and lastly to digital media (Bolter, Grusin 34). The radical transformations brought on by digital technology are explained only by stating it ‘can be more aggressive in its remediation’ (Bolter, Grusin 46). Galloway however observes that, far from remediating a visual language like that of cinema, the computer ‘remediates the very conditions of being itself’ (21). In terms of art practice this means that digital media remediate art as is, with all its complexities and contradictions. Digital media however do so from their own form of Dasein, which comes to be through their design and application.

The focus on the screen therefore is not a problem produced by digital technologies per se. To find a possible cause and solution for this problem it seems more appropriate to approach it as a continuation and amplification of issues in art criticism and cultural theory at large. Though a variety of approaches to discuss art involving digital technologies exists (Blais, Ippolito 17; Cramer 8; Popper 89; Bazzichelli 26; Holmes 14), “no clearly defined method exists for analyzing the role of science and technology in the history of art” as a whole (Shanken 44). Edward Shanken notes how after the heydays of modern art historians stopped describing technological developments in art (45). In this period especially digital technologies have prospered exponentially. This change in art historical method seems to have created a lack of analytical tools to grasp the realities of art in the age of digital media. What the ongoing screen-based analysis of digital media shows is that this causes the consistent variability of the digital in art to go largely unnoticed.

Visualization of Highly Complex Forms

The illusionary malleability and disappearance of digital media in the remediation of being Galloway describes, should not be interpreted as digital technologies having no form. What Galloway’s Interface Effect means for art is that the art object exists within a complex system of elements that are technological and political at once. A certain amount of institutionalization slips into the deepest layers of life and practice through everyday tools for expression, production, and recollection. Galloway speaks of an ‘anti-anthropocentrism of the realm of practice’ (22). We run our economical, cultural, social, and military environments increasingly in collaboration with machines, rather than that we simply use those machines. For art this means we have bypassed the stage of the medium almost completely. Art exists within an ecosystem of humans and machines, whereby the latter reproduce their design in the way in which they compose an outcome. Though digital technologies are human-made and can be subjected to a huge variety of possible applications and couplings, their underlying structures are created with and from a mathematical efficiency that is highly rigid. Galloway illustrates this quite literally by discussing the way the Internet itself is visualized through various digital imaging software. Galloway implicitly criticizes screen-based analysis of digital media technologies when he reveals how all visualizations of the Internet look more or less the same (83). Analyses and views of art and culture today based on images and imaging alone miss the point. He calls for ‘a poetics as such for this mysterious new machinic space’. Galloway writes: ‘Offering a counter-aesthetic in the face of such systematicity is the first step toward building a poetics for it, a language of representability adequate to it’ (99).

Galloway’s call for a poetics as such for digital environments is a challenge to Jacques Rancière, who in his book The Future of the Image discusses the unrepresentable today in terms of violent images (109), but completely overlooks the challenges concerning acts of violence in today’s information society, and how to represent these new forms of violence (Galloway 91). The difficulty to represent events, shapes, and practices within the digital realm is however not limited to those of violence. Of the many events and practices that escape simple imaging in digital media environments the highly varied field of art practices is one. The merging of machine space and, in this case, art practice asks for a visualization method that is simultaneously applicable to both. Within a context that is deeply connected to the scientific realm applying a form of visualization common in science seems fitting.

In his book Visual Thinking the psychologist and art theorist Rudolph Arnheim describes various forms of visualization, one of which is that of scientific speculation and knowledge. It boils down to ‘seeing’ things you know are there but which cannot be seen by the naked eye. It is not a form of imaginative mental construction of unreal events or phenomena. Arnheim calls such visualizations ‘models for theory’ (274). He describes examples of how such models appear in nature sciences and geometry. Even if he uses examples from the hard sciences, his approach of scientific visualizations is largely psychological (275). He explains how every scientific model of an ‘invisible’ event or object is never static or stable, as it is based on a mixture of theory, observation, experience, and psychology. In other words, these visualizations are as much subjective as they are objective views of events, phenomena, or objects that exist beyond the reach of the human eye.

As an illustration: Gallileo not only had to battle church dogmas. He also had to constantly challenge his own, learned modes of perception, and in the end he did not completely succeed. Gallileo refused to accept planets rotated around the sun in ellipses rather than in circles. His refusal was based on cultural notions of an underlying perfection existing in all of God’s creation, and ellipses were considered imperfect. Arnheim quotes Erwin Panofsky pointing out that ‘the ellipse, the distorted circle, “was as emphatically rejected by High renaissance art as it was cherished in mannerism” (278).

Models for Theory and Interpretation

A method of visualization based on that of science therefore is not prescriptive, but flexible and even dynamic. Works of art can still be explored from different perspectives, for the development of which intuition, theory and physical experience are combined. According to Arnheim, in a scientific form of visualization ‘all shapes are experienced as patterns of forces and are relevant only as patterns of forces’ (276). The shapes he refers to do not need to be physical. ‘The kind of highly abstract pattern I have been discussing is applicable to non-physical configurations as readily as to physical ones, because there again the concern is with the pattern of forces, a purpose best served by exactly the same means’ (Arnheim 279-280). Pictures, models, or visualizations developed from interpreting these patterns of forces depend on former experiences and intellectual, cultural, or emotional preconceptions of the beholder.

To illustrate how this can play out: whereas Jacques Rancière describes the future of the image and representation in terms of ‘machines of reproduction’ (9), Galloway looks at the same surface and sees what he calls The Interface Effect, which is an effect ‘of other things, and thus tells the story of the larger forces that engender them’ (preface). One sees a copy and editing tool, the other a change of what images represent. Different positions and different levels of knowledge can produce subtle differences in experience. Yet also a highly informed viewing of, say, a network installation piece, may still evoke a variety of interpretations and readings.

Artistic practice is at least as varied as that of science. Not just any model for theory will fit every individual work. Which specialism to approach an individual work from depends on obvious indications or pretheoretical intuitions about the disciplinary realm this work most clearly seems based in. When an artist presents his own software as a work the obvious choice could be to approach this work from computer linguistics and literary theory, as well as from art. When the emphasis in a work is on achieving some kind of political or social effect the obvious choice might be to include a tactical media perspective, in which a political and a technological analysis of media technologies is mixed, in an interpretation. Though in practice most works of art in the context of digital media will turn out to need an interdisciplinary approach, the ‘remediation of being’ Galloway describes does seem to preserve a continuation of the same diversity we find al through art practice, even if certain visible elements appear the same (the presence of computers, cables, screens, windows on a screen, predominant formats for sharing texts, etc.).

Literature on art in this context shows a variety of forms, of which a poetic use of code (Baumgärtel 11; Goriunova, Shulgin 4; Arns 194; Cramer, “Words Made Flesh”, 8), a sculptural use of networks (Popper 181; Weiß 175; Shanken 140), and conceptualist practices (Greene 9; Holmes 20; Hand 10) are examples that show the heterogeneity of the field. I concentrate on these, while being aware of the interdisciplinary character of each work in these areas, and of the physical and conceptual overlaps between them. What all have in common is of course a connection to the digital field. This means all include some form of application of, or reference to, executable code.

Visual Thinking in Action: Code Art

Various authors have described the deep entrenchment of code in culture and society, and its defining role in new systems of power (Galloway, Thacker 30; Galloway 54; Wark [029]). Others have emphasized the generative aspect of code, and its prominence outside institutional realms (Arns 201; Goriunova, Shulgin 6). Some even go as far as describing code art as a virus, or as an antibody against a sick culture (Blais, Ippolito 17). What is clear from all descriptions of code art is that it cannot be represented on a retinal plane in its entirety, or in its full capacity. Code as a written text, deep within a computer or presented on screen or paper, encompasses a potential activity that cannot be grasped from a literal reading or retinal observation alone. Code is perceived through textual representation, as screen-based results of software, through its effects within a physical environment, or through all of these. To create visualization, a ‘model of theory’, it is necessary however to be fully aware of the potential activity inherent to any work of code art. Visualizing the work in full force would entail movement through time and space, however minimal in the machine or subject it runs on, as well as its relation to cultural, social, and political realms.

Let us take a work like Jaromil’s Forkbomb for example, a highly aesthetic and minimal string of code designed to replicate itself endlessly. When seeing it displayed as text, like it was painted on a wall at Transmediale 2012, we could admire the beauty of the string of signs. Awareness of it being a piece of executable code of a very specific kind, a fork bomb virus, however leads us beyond this relatively simple visible dimension. We could imagine a proliferation of that string of code in the shape of maybe a family tree, much like the poetic experiments Florian Cramer describes (“Words Made Flesh”, 94), but constantly splitting, moving, growing. We could at the same time see the hard disc working away and filling up, its design standardized so as to allow indeterminate applications and thus also viruses, along the observations in Matthew Fuller’s Media Ecologies (93). We could wait to see how much time it takes for the computer to crash, placing it in both the media archeological domain and the new materialism described by Jussi Parikka (97). We could also see a computer failing at being a productive machine in terms of expectations of what its purpose is in ways Galloway describes (22).

I already mentioned this paper is not a call for a renewed medium specificity per se. What I describe is explicitly also not the splitting of the work into a collection of elements or aspects. In a criticism of influential and limiting art theoretical models Garry L. Hagberg explains the tendency to downgrade physical forces in a work of art to ‘aspects’ as a justification and reinforcement of institutional approaches of art. Isolating physical traits of a work into separate elements or aspects facilitates an equally isolated, narrow path of interpretation. Yet, he writes, ‘What we call an “aspect” of a thing, in a particular context of perception, is not successfully generalizable’ (502). An interpretation of Forkbomb purely from the angle of visual poetry effectively would block the wide reach of the work from view, as does an approach of it as a virus alone. When ‘the art object is described as having aspects, only a set of which are put forward as candidates,’ (Hagberg 502) a work tends to be judged on simple traits: the presence of a screen, be it interactive or not; the production of image cultures; technofetishism; etc. We want to avoid that a strategic or simplistic selection of ‘aspects’ comes to ‘constitute the aesthetically relevant part of the work’ (Hagberg 502). What I describe however is a pattern of forces, some of which are stronger than others and pull the work in a certain direction, i.e. poetry, sculpture, performance, installation, or activist art.

Conceptualism and the Digital Sphere

The reason I call particular practices conceptualist is that they largely manifest themselves in some form outside of digital media, yet these media do inform their shape. The technology seemingly disappears in them. Maybe more than in other art practices digital media here ‘remediate the very conditions of being itself’ (Galloway 21). Works range from performance and activist art to sculpture, painting, video, and prints (Holmes 47; Olson 59). Works in this highly diverse group of practices seem to have three things in common: they use the Internet as an information or material resource; they use the Internet as a community space; and they use digital media for publication purposes (Bazzichelli 28; Goriunova 29; Holmes 66; Hand 47). Some works, such as that of the Yes Men/rtmark, are described in books about net art and digital art (Baumgärtel 106; Stallabras 8; Greene 92; Paul 209). More object-based work, like that associated with the ‘Post-Internet’ label, still largely needs to find its way into literature. Marisa Olson describes the extensive use of found photography in Post-Internet practices in terms of a revaluation of ‘portraits of the Web’. ‘Taken out of circulation and repurposed, they are ascribed with new value, like the shiny bars locked up in Fort Knox’ (59). Like code art, these two extremes, of activist and object-based art, can only be understood fully from a perspective that takes note of those ‘patterns of forces’ that give them their power.

Sculpture and Performance across Digital Networks

The visualization of digital networks in art requires an explicit visualization of hardware as well as of information flows. In network art installations hardware is essential, and most of it is far beyond sight. Any Internet connection quite easily runs halfway around the world (Terranova 44). The myriad of specific operations to realize an Internet connection happens almost entirely automated (Weiß 36). It runs across different national borders in ways largely beyond our control. Internet connections therefore are not neutral, straightforward couplings of machines. Yet Internet connections in works of art are mostly discussed in terms of technology, virtual spaces, and telepresence, and seldom in terms of visualization of the mixed physical and techno-political essence of the network (Goldberg 3; Popper 363; Shanken 32; Paul 93). I think this is a strange oversight. By making an Internet connection part of a decentralized installation or performance, an artist creates an installation that involves the temporary application of a shared, semi-public infrastructure. By interpreting the ‘patterns of forces’ involved conceptually, spatially and physically, a larger and less abstract view of this installation emerges.


I realize I walk a tightrope when I suggest using Arnheim’s theory of scientific visualization to art. Arnheim has been accused of having a highly formalist approach to art (Fox, NY Times). The chapter Models for Theory in Visual Thinking however describes a visualization method that leaves more room for subjectivity and interpretation than one would expect. Arnheim extensively describes the subjective development of scientific models (279). He describes them as changing over time and being open-ended. There is never final outcome, since any visualization in this context concerns phenomenal events that largely escape the eye, and will undergo constant re-assessment. I am not proposing to follow Arnheim’s ideas to the letter. I propose to take the concept of a scientific visualization, and adapt it to art that involves structures, systems, or processes that are too large, too dispersed, or too small to see with the naked eye.


Arnheim, Rudolf. Visual Thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1969-1997. Print.

Arns, Inke. “Read_me, run_me, execute_me.” Media Art Net 2, Thematische Schwerpunkte. Eds. Frieling, Rudolf, Daniels, Dieter. Vienna: Springer. 2005. 194-208. Print.

Bazzichelli, Tatiana. Networking, The Net as Artwork. Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus University. 2008. Print.

Blais, Joline, Ippolito, Jon. At the Edge of Art. London: Thames and Hudson. 2006. Print.

Barrett, Estelle, Bolt, Barbara. Carnal Knowledge, Towards a ‘New Materialism’ through the Arts. London: I.B.Tauris, 2013. Print.

Baumgärtel, Tilman. [ 2.0], Neue Materialien zur Netzkunst, New Materials Towards Net Art. Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg. 2001. Print.

Bolter, Jay David, Grusin, Richard. Remediation, Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2002. Print.

Bourriaud, Nicholas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du Réel, 1998. Print.

Ceruzzi, Paul E. A History of Modern Computing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

Cramer, Florian. Anti-Media, Ephemera on Speculative Arts. Rotterdam: NAi10 Publishers. 2013. Print.

Cramer, Florian. Words Made Flesh, Code, Culture, Imagination. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart online publication, 2005. Web.

Daston, Lorraine. Ed. Things That Talk, Object Lessons from Art and Science. New York: Zone Books, 2004. Print.

Dolphijn, Rick, van der Tuin, Iris. New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2012. PdF. Web. 8 December 2013.

Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn, Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998. London: Verso. 1998. Print.

Galloway, Alexander. The Interface Effect. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2012. Print.

Galloway, Alexander, Thacker, Eugene. The Exploit, A Theory of Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2007. Print.

Goldberg, Ken. “Introduction: The Unique Phenomenon of a Distance.” The Robot in the Garden, Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Ken Goldberg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2000. Print.

Goriunova, Olga, Shulgin, Alexei. Read_Me 2.3 Reader. Helsinki: NIFCA Publication. 2003. Print.

Goriunova, Olga, Shulgin, Alexei. Read_Me, Software Art and Cultures Edition 2004. Aarhus: Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Aarhus. 2004. Print.

Graham, Beryl, Cook, Sarah. Rethinking Curating, Art after New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010. Print.

Greene, Rachel. Internet Art. London: Thames and Hudson. 2004. Print.

Hagberg, Garry L. “The Institutional Theory of Art.” A Companion to Art Theory. Eds. Paul Smith and Carolyn Wilde. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Print.

Hand, Autumn. Intersecting Art Experiences – Approaching Post-Internet Art as a medium for dialogue in this information age. University of Amsterdam MA New Media paper. 2012.
Holmes, Brain. Escape the Overcode. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Public Research. 2009. Print.

Kranenburg, van, Rob. The Internet of Things – A critique of Ambient Technology and the All-seeing Network of RFID. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. 2008. Print.

Kraus, Chris. Where Art Belongs. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). 2011. Print.

Krauss, Rosalind. Perpetual Inventory. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2010. Print.

Lichty, Patrick. “Network Culture, Media Art: Cultural Change Dialectics.” ISEA2011. 2011. Web. 7 December 2013.

Mahoney, Michael S. “The Structures of Computation.” The First Computers: History and Architectures. Eds. Raúl Rojas, Ulf Hashagen. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2002. 17-32. Print.

Malpas, Jef. “Acting at a Distance and Knowing from Afar: Agency and Knowledge on the Internet.” The Robot in the Garden, Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Ken Goldberg. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2000. 108-124. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2000. Print.

Olson, Marisa. “PostInternet: Art after the Internet.” FOAM International Photo Magazine. Winter 2011/2012. 59-63. Print.

Parikka, Jussi. “New Materialism as Media Theory: Medianatures and Dirty Matter.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 9, No. 1. March 2012. 95-100. Print and Web.

Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Thames and Hudson. 2003-2008. Print.

Popper, Frank. From Technological to Virtual Art. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2007. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. The Future of the Image. London: Verso, 2007. Print.

Shanken, Edward. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon Press. 2009. Print.

Shanken, Edward. “Historizing Art and Technology: Forging a Method and Firing a Canon.” Media Art Histories. Ed. Oliver Grau. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2007. 43-70. Print.

Shanken, Edward. “Reprogramming Systems Aesthetics: A Strategic Historiography.” eScholarship, University of California. 2009. Web. 7 December 2013.

Stallabrass, Julian. Internet Art – The Online Clash of Culture and Commerce. London: Tate Publishers. 2003. Print.

Terranova, Tiziana. Network Culture – Politics of the Information Age. London: Pluto Press. 2004. Print.

Virilio, Paul. Art as Far as the Eye Can See. Oxford: Berg. 2005-2007. Print.

Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 2004. Print.

Weiß, Matthias. Netzkunst, ihre Systematisierung und Auslegung anhand von Einzelbeispielen. Weimar: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften. 2009. Print.

Prehistories of the Post-digital: or, some old problems with post-anything – Geoff Cox

According to Florian Cramer, the “post-digital” describes an approach to digital media that no longer seeks technical innovation or improvement, but considers digitization something that already happened and thus might be further reconfigured (Cramer). He explains how the term is characteristic of our time in that shifts of information technology can no longer be understood to occur synchronously – and gives examples across electronic music, book and newspaper publishing, electronic poetry, contemporary visual arts and so on. These examples demonstrate that the ruptures produced are neither absolute nor synchronous, but instead operate as asynchronous processes, occurring at different speeds and over different periods and are culturally diverse in each affected context. As such, the distinction between “old” and “new” media is no longer useful.

Yet despite the qualifications and examples, there seems to be something strangely nostalgic about the term – bound to older ‘posts’ that have announced the end of this and that. I am further (somewhat nostalgically too perhaps) reminded of Frederic Jameson’s critique of postmodernity, in which he identified the dangers of conceptualising the present historically in an age that seems to have forgotten about history (in The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991). His claim was that the present has been colonised by ‘pastness’ displacing ‘real’ history (20), or what we might otherwise describe as neoliberalism’s effective domestification of the transformative potential of historical materialism.

In this short essay I want to try to explore the connection of this line of thinking to the notion of the post-digital to speculate on what is being displaced and why this might be the case. It is not so much a critique of the post-digital but more an attempt to understand some of the conditions in which such a term arises. Is contemporary cultural production resigned to make empty reference to the past in ‘post-history’: thereby perpetuating both a form of cultural amnesia and uncritical nostalgia for existing ideas and mere surface images? As Cramer also acknowledges, one of the initial sources of the concept occurs in Kim Cascone’s essay “The Aesthetics of Failure: Post-Digital Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music” (2000), and it is significant that in his later “The Failures of Aesthetics” (2010) he further reflects on the processes by which aesthetics are effectively repackaged for commodification and indiscriminate use. The past is thereby reduced to the image of a vast database of images without referents that can endlessly reassigned to open up new markets and establish new value networks.

Layering of covers of key source texts for this article, generated from a script by James Charlton

Layering of covers of key source texts for this article, generated from a script by James Charlton

The Hegelian assertion of the end of history – a notion of history that culminates in the present – is what Francis Fukuyama famously adopted for his thesis The End of History and the Last Man (1992) to insist on the triumph of neoliberalism over Marxist materialist economism. In Fukuyama’s understanding of history, neoliberalism has become the actual lived reality. This is both a reference to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit but also Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction à la lecture de Hegel: Leçons sur “La Phénoménologie de l’Esprit” (1947), and his “postscript on post-history and post-historical animals,” in which he argues that certain aesthetic attitudes have replaced the more traditional ‘historic’ commitment to the truth.

These aesthetic changes correspond somewhat to the way that Jameson contrasts conceptions of cultural change within Modernism expressed as an interest in all things ‘new’, in contrast to Postmodernism’s emphasis on ruptures, and what he calls ‘the tell-tale instant’ (like the ‘digital’ perhaps), to the point where culture and aesthetic production have become effectively commodified. He takes video to be emblematic of postmodernism’s claim to be a new cultural form but also reflects centrally on architecture because of its close links with the economy. For critical purposes now, digital technology, more so than video even, seems to encapsulate the kinds of aesthetic mutability as well as economic determinacy he described in even more concentrated forms. To Jameson, the process of commodification demonstrated the contradictory nature of the claims of postmodernism: for instance, how Lyotard’s notion of the end of grand (totalizing) narratives became understood to be a totalizing form in itself. Furthermore, it seems rather obvious that what might be considered to be a distinct break from what went before clearly contains residual traces of it (“shreds of older avatars” as he puts it), not least acknowledged in the very use of the prefix that both breaks from and keeps connection to the term in use.

So rather than a distinct paradigm shift from modernism, he concludes that postmodernism is “only a reflex and a concomitant of yet another systemic modification of capitalism itself” (Jameson xii). Referring to Daniel Bell’s popular phrase ‘postindustrial society’, Jameson instead argues for ‘late-capitalism’ (a term allegedly taken from Adorno). This preferred choice of prefix helps to reject the view that new social formations no longer obey the laws of industrial production and so reiterates the importance of class relations. Here he is also drawing upon the work of the Marxist economist Ernest Mandel in Late Capitalism (1978) who argued that in fact this third stage of capital was in fact capitalism in a purer form – with its relentlessly expanding markets and guarantee of the cheapest work-force. If we follow this line of logic, can we argue something similar with the post-digital? What are its residual traces and what is being suppressed? How are new markets and social relations are being reconfigured under these conditions?

Determining logic
To begin to think about these questions it should be understood that Jameson adopts Mandel’s ‘periodising hypothesis’ or ‘long wave theory’ of expanding and stagnating economic cycles to explain developmental forces of production. In this unashamedly dialectical model, growth is explained in parallel to the previous period’s stagnation. Three general revolutions in technology are described, in close relation to the capitalist mode of production since the ‘original’ industrial revolution of the later 18th century: Machine production of steam-driven motors since 1848; machine production of electric and combustion motors since the 90s of the 19th century; machine production of electronic and nuclear-powered apparatuses since the 40s of the 20th century (Mandel 119). Correspondingly Jameson characterises these as: market capitalism; monopoly capitalism, or the stage of imperialism; multinational capitalism (35), each expanding capital’s reach and effects. He then relates these economic stages directly to cultural production, as follows: realism – worldview of realist art; modernism – abstraction of high modernist art; and postmodernism – pastiche.

Although this model may seem rather teleological and over-determined on first encounter, he explains that these developments are uneven and layered, without clean breaks as such, as “all isolated or discrete cultural analysis always involves a buried or repressed theory of historical periodization” (Jameson 3). The acknowledgement of what lies historically repressed provides a further link to Hal Foster’s The Anti-Aesthetic, and his defence of Jameson’s adoption of the long wave theory as a “palimpsest of emergent and residual forms” (Foster 207). However he does consider it not sensitive enough to different speeds nor to the idea of ‘deferred action’ (that he takes from Freud’s the return of the repressed).  This aspect is important to any psychoanalytic conception of time and implies a complex and reciprocal relationship between an event and its later reinvestment with meaning.

This feedback loop (or dialectic) of anticipation and reconstruction is perhaps especially important to understand the complex symptoms of psycho-social crisis. For instance, and to understand the present financial crisis, Brian Holmes traces cycles of capitalist growth and the depressions that punctuate them by also referring to long wave theory. Rather than Mandel, he refers directly to the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who identified three long waves of growth underpinned by techno-economic paradigms: “rising from 1789 to a peak around 1814, then declining until 1848; rising again to a peak around 1873, then declining until 1896; and rising once more to a peak around 1920 (followed by a sharp fall, as we know, in 1929).” (Holmes 204) He explains that what Kondratiev discovers is that large numbers of technological inventions are made during the slumps, but only applied during the upsurges (205). This pattern in turn informs Joseph Schumpeter’s influential idea of how innovations revolutionize business practices – what he later calls “creative destruction” and later “disruptive innovation” by others (1995)  – to demonstrate how profit can be generated from stagnated markets. Holmes traces the contemporary importance of these concepts to establish how capitalism follows a long wave of industrial development that presents opportunities for social transformation from a complex interplay of forces, and innovation is applied: “Investment in technology is suspended during the crisis, while new inventions accumulate. Then, when conditions are right, available capital is sunk into the most promising innovations, and a new long wave can be launched.” (206)

Is something similar taking place with digital technology at this point in time following the dotcom hype and its collapse? Is the pastiche-driven retrograde style of much cultural production a symptom of these complex interplay of forces, and an indication of business logic that seeks to capitalize on the present crisis (given the paucity of other options) before launching new innovations on the market? Yet before making such a bold assertion we should also be wary of other determinisms as the relays of technological innovation alone do not reveal the inner mechanisms of the broken economy, but broader analyses that reach beyond technology: “Technology has as much to do with labour repression as it does with wealth and progress. This is our reality today: there is too much production, but it is unaffordable, inaccessible, and useless for those who need it most.” (Holmes 209)

This position seems to concur with the overall problem of endless growth and collapse – the reification of class divisions – where old technologies are repackaged but in ways that serve to repress historical conditions. In a similar vein Jameson would have us conceive of the contemporary phase of capitalism in terms of both catastrophe and progress (Jameson 47). This means to inscribe the possibility of change into the very model of change offered up as unchangeable – or something similarly paradoxical (and dialectical). Other kinds of innovations outside of the capitalist market might be imagined in this way but there also seems to be a problem here in that the very processes have been absorbed back into further stages of social repression.

Are these periodisations simply too mechanical, too economically determining? Probably. Indeed, are Marxist theories of capitalist crisis bound to outmoded notions of the development of the forces of production, in order to conceptualise decisive (class) action? That may not be such a bad thing if our memories are fading about what is being displaced and how. Having said this let us perhaps better conclude that economic crises are increasingly subject to the conditions of what Peter Osborne refers to as ‘global contemporaneity’. The suggestion is that neither modern nor postmodern discourses are sufficient to grasp the characteristic features of the historical present. In this view, the contemporary is not simply a historical period per se, but rather a moment in which shared issues that hold a certain currency are negotiated and expanded.

“As a historical concept, the contemporary thus involves a projection of unity onto the differential totality of the times of lives that are in principle, or potentially, present to each other in some way, at some particular time – and in particular, ‘now’, since it is the living present that provides the model of contemporaneity. That is to say, the concept of the contemporary projects a single historical time of the present, as a living present – a common, albeit internally disjunctive, historical time of human lives. ‘The contemporary’, in other words, is shorthand for ‘the historical present’. Such a notion is inherently problematic but increasingly irresistible.” (Osborne)

The term contemporaneity has become useful to deal with the complexities of time and history, if not politics, in ways that neither modernism nor postmodernism seemed able to capture. Beyond simply suggesting something is new or sufficiently different, the idea of the contemporary poses the vital question of when the present of a particular work begins and ends. Osborne’s point is that the convergence and mutual conditioning of periodisations of art and the social relations of art have their roots in more general economic and socio-technological processes– that makes contemporary art possible, in the emphatic sense of an art of contemporaneity.

Thus contemporaneity begins to describe the more complex and layered problem of different kinds of time existing simultaneously across different geo-political contexts. Doesn’t this point to the poverty of simply declaring something as post something else? When it comes to the condition of the post-digital, the analogy to historical process and temporality seems underdeveloped to say the least. The post-digital can be considered to be “badly known,” as Osborne would put it.

Cascone, K. “The Aesthetics of Failure: Post-Digital Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music.” Computer Music Journal 24.4, Winter 2000. Print.
Cramer, F. “Post-digital Aesthetics,” 2013. Web.
Foster, H. “Whatever Happened to Postmodernism?” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, New York: The New Press, 2002. Print.
Jameson, F. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London: Verso, 1991. Print.
Kojève, A. Introduction à la lecture de Hegel: Leçons sur “La Phénoménologie de l’Esprit.” Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Print
Holmes, B. “Crisis Theory for Complex Societies.” in Bazzichelli, T. & Cox, G. eds., Disrupting Business, New York: Autonomedia, 2013: 199-225.
Mandel, E. Late Capitalism. London: Verso, 1972. Print.
Osborne, P. “Contemporary art is post-conceptual art/L’arte contemporanea è arte post-concettuale”, Public Lecture, Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Villa Sucota, Como, July 2010. Web.
Osborne, P. “Contemporaneity and Crisis: Reflections on the Temporalities of Social Change.” Lecture at CUNY Graduate Center, November 2012. Web.

(With thanks for helpful feedback from Florian Cramer, Robert Jackson and Georgios Papadopoulos.)


Digital Money, the end of privacy, and the preconditions of Post-digital resistance

Why not …

“I don’t want to live in a world that everything I do say is recorded” said whistleblower Edward Snowden in his recent interview with the Guardian, in order to justify his revelations over the extend of the surveillance and data-mining of communication around the world by the National Security Agency (NSA). The exposures about “Prism” a surveillance program that allegedly gives NSA direct access to email and telephone communication both in the United States and abroad, has raised concerns about privacy around the globe, including in some of US’ closest allies, including Germany and France. The fears about communication surveillance is fully justified, but there is seems to be little concern about the fate of the information about our economic data and how they circulate in electronic networks. Networked based economic transactions are founded on the principle of absolute verifiability and supervision, and in this domain the fear of Edward Snowden’ is becoming a reality. E-commerce and e-banking can exist only because everything is recorded, retrievable and verified. The same principles apply also to conventional banking before that, but there is one important difference. The information about electronic transactions is in a format that can be processed by the newly available software technologies in low cost and unprecedented speed giving insights about individual and collective behavior that can be both economically and politically useful.

What I think is the most obvious conclusion about the NSA surveillance program “Prism” is the complete failure of the rule of law to protect the privacy of citizens, independently of their location or the particular legal safeguards in their jurisdiction. However, the legal status of data about the economic transactions processed by banks and credit card companies does not entail the same degree of protection as private communications, even though bank secrecy laws give a sense of relative safety. Such data are owned both by the organization that processes the transaction and transacting parties. The proprietary status of the records of virtual economic transactions makes the possibilities of compromising the privacy of banking and credit card information likely. The value of such information is already recognized and in many used for marketing, for the prediction of price movements, and for the screening of transaction for potential dangers of fraud or default. Economic profiling is at par with security profiling but not in relation to potential illegal and harmful for the society actions, but for the creation of profit and the exclusion of the economically disadvantaged. The new flows of economic information may raise new barriers to participation in the official banking and monetary system, excluding first the illegal, then the migrant and potentially the poor and the precarious from accessing the financial system.
Usually the argument that is used to address privacy concerns such as those raised against is that if somebody has nothing to hide, there is no reason to be afraid. Such an argument is premised on the assumption of a benevolent and more importantly of a infallible government.It is not only the case that mistakes can and do happen, even in the most advanced systems of surveillance and processing of economic (and not only) information. What is even more troubling is that when such mistakes happen, there is no forum, or authority that can be called to rectify such mistakes. Once our digital profile is rejected by the algorithms of economic profiling there is nobody, and probably nothing that we could do to rectify our un-attractiveness as clients, something that can limit our access to credit, insurance, and even to a bank account.

Digital money rising

The revolution in information and communication technologies facilitated the expansion of the electronic payment systems and the organization of new types of payment instruments. Communications have became faster, easier and safer but also considerably cheaper. More efficient fund transfers systems emerged and as a result direct debits and credit transfers have been expanding at an increasing pace. Cards payments have been developing by providing added value services to consumers that rely on application of novel transaction interfaces, limiting the use of cash and of other paper based payment technologies and laying the foundations for a cashless society.

With increasing competition from all these new payment media the use of cash is confined only to a fraction of the total value of monetary transactions as the recent editions of the Blue and the Red Book indicate (ECB, figures for 2005; CPSS, figures for 2003). Before the introduction of the Euro (in 2000) cash in circulation amounted only to 1.9% of the GDP in Luxembourg (the lowest in the union), 2.1% in Finland, 6% in Italy, 6.2% in Germany and 8.9% in Spain (ECB, Blue Book 2003 27; CPSS, 84). In the same year cash in circulation as a share of narrow money (M1) was 0.8% in Luxembourg, 6.5% in Finland, 14.3% in Italy, 21.9% in Germany and 17% in Spain(ECB, Blue Book 2001 figures, 9). These figures imply that most of the economic value is transferred through other payment media, but cash still remains dominant in retail. In the Netherlands 70% of all retail payments in 2001 were made in cash, despite the availability and sophistication of electronic payment instruments available (CPSS, 298), in the UK the same figure was 74% (CPSS, 403). The numbers for 2011 within the EU, less than ten years after the introduction of the Euro, suggest a radical change in the landscape of payment technologies if one compares it with the pre-Euro, pre-SEPA times and the there is a strong tendency towards immaterialization. Only in 2011 the total of non-cash payments increased by 4.4% to 24.9 billion. The importance of paper-based transactions continued to decrease, with the ratio of paper-based transactions to non-paper-based transactions standing at around one to five. The number of cards with a payment function in the EU remained stable at approximately 727 million. This figure amounts to 1.44 payment cards per EU inhabitant. The number of card transactions rose by 8.7% to 37.2 billion, with a total value of €1.9 trillion. Finally, only in 2011, the total number of automatic teller machines (ATMs) in the EU increased by 0.9% to 0.44 million, while the number of points of sale (POS) terminals increased by 3.2% to 8.8 million (ECB, press-release). The average value per card transaction is around €52. Chart 1 below shows the use of the main payment instruments from 2000 to 2011.

Chart 1: Use of the main payment instruments in the EU 2000 – 2011 (ECB various publications, estimates of number of transactions in billions)

The phasing out of cash and other paper based payment instruments raises important theoretical questions both about the nature of money and the economic relationships in the new network economy. Interfaces, protocols and networks influence the structure of the market, the degrees of participation of different social groups and also the distribution of the social wealth. In addition the immaterialization of money, brought about by the gradual disappearance of cash opens new possibilities of bio-political control as well as new forms of suppression and resistance.

Digital Economy and the Bureaucratic control of Participation

The digital revolution has not exhausted all its potential, and the application of information technologies seems to be still expanding, but for some time there is a discussion about a new phase. The description of the new condition of the technological and consequently of the social and economic development as post-digital refers to maturation of information and communication technologies and the normalization of their use. We could describe the new condition of sociality as post-digital referring to a series of new organizing principles. The use of digital technologies becomes pervasive at the same time as it gets normalized and integrated in economic activity. The normalization suggest a series of further consequences for the digital framework of socioeconomic interaction which include commercialization, enforcement of common standards that often constrain freedom of expression, surveillance, and concentration in the power and control of electronic network in the hands of a limited number of agents. This later development is especially troubling but also unsurprising since digital networks have an ingrained tendency towards concentration.

The gradual replacement of the networked computer, which is the general purpose technology that carried more of the weight of the socio-economic transformation, by other information processing-devices which have a more restricted domain of application is a further important indication of the normalization of the ICT revolution. Smart-phones, e-readers, tablets, media players, and game consoles provide more restrictive access to content and to interaction, build around graphic interfaces, and allowing limited if any access to their supporting protocol. IT companies, which are simultaneously the producers of the devices, their software, and the retailers of the content, have a vested interest to prevent sharing and cooperation among users to a minimum. Controlled consumption, a term used by Henri Lefebvre, to describe the bureaucratic control of supply and demand in the affluent society, has assumed a new meaning where it becomes a model of restricted and temporary access to information, conditioned by the interfaces and protocols.

In the post-digital age, it is the interface, rather than the personal computer, that emerges as the medium of social participation and consequently as the object of analysis and critique, “for it is the place where flesh meets metal or, in the case of systems theory, the interface is the place where information moves from one entity to another, from one node to another within the system.” (Galloway, 936) If information becomes the main resource and the most valuable commodity, if the economy becomes post-digital, the interface is the most authentic concatenation of technological, social and economic principles. The transformation of individual property rights, and the consequent surveillance for their enforcement, have far reaching consequences over the individual and the economic freedom, reaching even to the fundamental right of economic as well as of political freedom. The intervention of money in digital exchanges commodifies cultural content by the ascription of prices. Here we allude to the economic function of money as an abstract standard of value (Papadopoulos, 957). In this capacity money supports interfaces of controlled consumption, transforming content into economic value and imposing the rules of market exchange on digital culture (Lefebvre, 9). Controlled consumption regulates the participation of the user by creating artificial constraints in the form of intellectual property rights that are inscribed on digital content.

The Payment Interface and the Constitution of the Subject

The investigation of the contribution of transaction interfaces in the support of the symbolic order should explain how the mystifications and the fetishistic attachments that money encourages are enacted in electronic networks. The informatization of money has increased the control of the master signifier of value over the subject by adding more layers of mediation between the subject and its desire, and new mechanism of control, intensifying surveillance and normalization. In the current juncture it is important to reflect on how desire and identity are represented or at least regulated by the new visual architecture of electronic interfaces. The new graphic interfaces impose a new aesthetic, normalizing further the visual representations of sociality and value. As Anne Friedberg argues “this remade visual vernacular requires new descriptors for its fractured, multiple, simultaneous, time-shiftable sense of space and time. Philosophies and critical theories that address the subject as a nodal point in the communicational matrix have failed to consider this important paradigm shift in visual address.” (Friedberg, 3) The forced participation in the market, the alienation of desire by the signifier, the inconsistency of the system of prices, the unjust distribution of wealth and resources, and the vacuity of the notion of economic value find their way in the simulated economic systems, in the interfaces social media and the aesthetics over-commercialized Web 2.0.

The ritualistic character of money is manifest in its repetitive and unreflective everyday use. Subjects relate to money on a practical level; theoretical understanding of the meaning and the functions of money comes only later, if at all. The process of acquiring this practical understanding is quite similar to that of language-learning. The subject is socialized in the use of money through guidance and imitation of the shared practices that involve the use of money. The unreflective relation to the monetary system is not limited to the quasi-automatic rule-following of the norms that regulate money, but extends to the acceptance of the dominant discourse about money and its relation to value. The subject may be agnostic about the role of money, the mysteries of economic value or the constitution of the system of prices, but the use of money is a continuous ritual of investiture in the ideological content. Money develops from a mere carrier of its social function, as standard of value and a means of payment, to the dominant organizing force of social interaction. Social relations are mediated and reconfigured through the intermediation of money. The signifying omnipotence of the master signifier is combined with the omnipresence of everyday use, effectively quilting the signifying chain of the system of prices both at the level of meaning and at the level of practice. The distance that the subject may assume from ideological content is neutralized by the reliance on money for social engagement. The intermediation of money in social relations affirms the symbolic order for the subject as well as its mandate inside this order, even despite the subject.

Money is the master signifier and provides the foundational organizing principle in the contemporary configuration of global capitalism. The salience of money is manifest in the dominance of financial speculation over ‘real’ production1. Money emerges as the vehicle that realizes the global economy of unequal exchange, and as the instrument that commodifies social relations and regulates bio-politics; it is the signifier par excellence. Money signifies the particular content that hegemonizes the universal ideological construction of capitalism providing a particular and accessible meaning to economic value, which colors the very universality of the system of prices and accounts for its efficiency. In addition, the use of money involves a ceremony of initiation in the ideological form, an everyday practice that reifies the dominant ideological form in everyday transactions. Money is the signifier/cause of desire, which symbolizes and signifies all commodities, as well as the articulation of desire and lack in the symbolic order of capitalism. Money is “the unconscious sinthome, the cipher of enjoyment, to which the subject is unknowingly subjected” (Žižek, 106) in and by the market.

The interfaces that support the circulation of economic value in the internet are imbued with a complex machinery for hiding things, be it the emptiness of the value form, the self-referentiality of money and its ability to mask its own history of production and the social division of labor that it generates. The success of of the interface is the ability to regulate information through inscription and execution, which is no doubt both an abstraction or a re-territorialization of the actual circulation of value globally. The structure of electronic payment facilitates the global system of unequal exchange. The relationships between center and periphery, between producers and consumers, between labor and capital, between finance and society are all neutralized by the algorithms of money and networks. The ability of money to reduce all qualities in an absolute quantity is being intensified by the functionality of protocols to domesticate social relations. Protocols reproduce the same fetishistic logic of money. “Users know very well that their folders and desktops are not really folders and desktops, but they treat them as if they were – by referring to them as folders and desktops” (Galloway 2006, 329); in the same fashion the semiotic flow of monetary value, be it through PayPal, through MasterCard or through Bitcoin, even though just a simulation it acquires a modicum of reliability through enforcement and representation as money via the providers of monetary interfaces.

Payment Interfaces and Post-digital challenges; a set of questions

Despite the disillusionment and the concerns about the emergence of a new totalitarian economy of controlled consumption, the new economic condition of digital culture is described by the proponents of the model of controlled consumption as a revolution, with its simulated existence presenting itself as the ultimate reality of value, which tries to make earlier forms of social participation subordinate and even unreal. Starting from this mystification of the effect of digital interfaces on social interaction, the paper aims to raise a series of questions for the analysis of the cultural effects of the mediating function of post-digital interfaces by focusing on their economic, technological and aesthetic conditions of existence. A critique to the new digital architecture of the monetary system and the market should start by investigating the different protocols of digital transactions, focusing on the dynamics of commodification by locating how money intervenes and signals the creation and transfer of economic value. The aim should be a theoretical framework for the analysis of the model of controlled consumption and its dependence on money and its function as a standard value. The ability of interfaces to impose, both overtly and covertly, new relations of ownership as well as well as new forms of surveillance, suggests their capacities as technologies of biopolitical control of the individual.

The model of controlled consumption is challenged by alternative economies, of sharing, gifting, and exchanging based on different standards of value. The critique of money interfaces and controlled consumption should start by studying the collective representations of value in money, the technologies of their dissemination, and investigate their contribution in the constitution of subjectivity in the digital realm. The shared representations of economic value support consumption and commodification by illustrating the cultural significance of the system of prices. A post-digital critique of money can be developed following a series of questions, the most important of which is how the new visual vernacular of digital monetary interfaces informs and shapes the representations of economic value and how are such representations are challenged and informed by post digital practices? The answer to this question comes from critical theory and philosophy rather than from economics, building on the literature on the reliance of the economy on representation and signification, and on an extensive literature on the social function of representation that spans from social ontology, and psychoanalysis, to media theory. The new socio-technological paradigm challenges the cultural foundations of the economy encouraging new representations of value that fit the format of the new media of circulation and the symbolic universe they inhabit. A post-digital critique of electronic money should try to assemble, organize and interpret the emergent iconographies in an attempt to construct a theoretical framework for the analysis of the new ‘digital’ identity of economic value investigating both its authoritative expression in the official monetary system and its alternative post-digital configurations.

The analysis of ‘digital value’ should be supported by the study of three interconnected themes of research combining the methodological framework of interface criticism and aesthetic analysis of monetary interfaces with a critical perspective on economic discourse. The analysis may start by looking back to the growth of the informational sector of the economy, revisiting the most important episodes, integrating them to the overall trajectory of social development tracing the relation of value and money with equivalent transformations in language and image. Such a historiography is important to contextualize the role of information about the economy as separate socio-economic system and to describe its input in social production. In this context the notion of economic value would be central as well as its transfigurations in the new economic system. Equally important would be the relation between money, language and code, which will support the analysis of the immaterialization of economy and value. The second theme would be the issue of uncertainty and its relation to economic growth. In the recent decades the financial markets have thrived on computational models that partly reduce uncertainty to risk, making it manageable. Uncertainty could be considered in two different capacities. It denotes both the unpredictability of future outcomes given the availability of information and the resources of processing it in the present, but also points to a gap between reality and representation, where uncertainty is the part of the undomesticated real that disrupts the relations of our theories to the world. The third part the analysis will address the dialectic relation between interface criticism and the further development of interfaces with a specific attention to artistic practice and political projects that aim at actual alternatives to the monetary system of valuation and exchange, both within and outside digital networks of participation. Ideally the outcome would be an archeology of digital payment media that is informed by the process of social antagonism. To that effect the project should try to compile a typology of the aesthetic and the operational principles of monetary interfaces including both their mainstream version and the critical attempts from the edges of the economic system. The conclusion of the analysis would be a critical history of money and its current reconfigurations in the digital condition.

Interface criticism emerges as a necessary methodology in order to understand the conditions of participation in the new social paradigm. Interface criticism addresses the conditioning of human behavior by new technological media with a specific emphasis on the sensible and persuasive qualities of the interface. Obviously aesthetics and its relation to economics and technology represents an important part in the methodological framework that is used in interface criticism and is a necessary supplement to socio-economic analysis. Here aesthetics is used in three interconnected meanings. Aesthetics denote sensory perception; an interface has a sensible component in order to create meaning and allow for the interaction between the user and the system that are connected through the interface. A second dimension of the aesthetics of the interface has to do with beauty; interfaces are often designed to be appealing, pleasing, and even seductive in an attempt to address the subject and its desire and to invite interaction. The key here is that the interface is within the aesthetic, not a window or doorway separating the space that spans from here to there. It is a type of aesthetic that implicitly brings together the edge and the center, or the protocol and the node, but one that is now entirely subsumed and contained within the visual architecture of the interface. This tension brings us to the last, and most subversive possibility in the aesthetic quality of the interface, the notion of aesthetics as artistic production. Art can operate as a force of consolidation of the power of the interface as it can function disruptively, unmasking the limitation and the normativities of the system, and acting as the real form of transparency.

Works cited:
Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems. Payment and Settlement Systems in Selected Countries. Basel: Bank of International Settlements, 2003.
Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems, Survey of Electronic Money Developments, Basel: Bank of International Settlements, 2001.
Drucker, Joanna. “The Humanities Approach to Interface Theory.” Culture Machine vol. 12 (2011): 1-20.
European Central Bank. Press-release of the payments statistics. 2011. (Web)

European Central Bank. The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA): An Integrated Retail Payments Market. Frankfurt: ECB Publications, 2006.
European Central Bank. Payment and Securities Settlement Systems in the European Union. Frankfurt: ECB Publications, 2006.
European Central Bank. Payment and Securities Settlement Systems in the European Union. Frankfurt: ECB Publications, 2004.
European Central Bank. Payment and Securities Settlement Systems in the European Union. Frankfurt: ECB Publications, 2001.
European Central Bank. Report on Electronic Money. Frankfurt: ECB Publications, 1998. (Web)
Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money. New York: Penguin, 2008.
Flusser, Vilém. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books, 2000 [1983].
Friedberg, Anne. The Virtual Window; from Aliberti to Microsoft. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006.
Galloway, Alexander. “The Unworkable Interface”. New Literary History, vol. 39 (2009): 931-955.
Galloway, Alexander. “Language Wants To Be Overlooked: On Software and Ideology.” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 5 (2006): 315-331.
Galloway, Alexander. Protocol; How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.
Galloway Alexander and Eugene Thacker. “Protocol, Control and Networks.” Grey Room, vol. 17 (2003): 6-19.
Genette, Gérard. Paratexts; Thresholds of Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
MacAskill, Ewen. “Edward Snowden, NSA files source: ‘If they want to get you, in time they will’.” The Guardian, Monday, 10 June 2013. (Web)
Papadopoulos, Georgios. Notes towards a Critique of Money. Maastricht: Jan Van Eyck Academy, 2011.
Papadopoulos, Georgios. “Between Rules and Power: Money as an Institution Sanctioned by Political Authority.” Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 43, 4 (2009): 951-969.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Object a in Social Links”. In (eds) Clemens, Justin and Grigg Russell. Jacques Lacan and the Other Side of Psychoanalysis: Reflections on Seminar XVII. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006: 107-128.