Is Facebook inside your head? Snapchat? Instagram? Twitter?
In Facebook for Sceptics, written following a talk I gave with Marcus Gilroy-Ware, I recounted the ways in which we have inadvertently plugged ourselves into the cybernetic machine of 21st century capitalism. We physically and mentally connect ourselves and become part of the machine: a vital appendage that clicks and scrolls, feeding it with data and undergoing its influence.
This machine – consisting of server farms and us, in one indivisible system – runs algorithms that operate on data and humans. The algorithms are designed to maximise profits for a tiny minority of humans based on data extracted from billions of us – often unwittingly or without reasonable consent.
This machine has its uses. But they are becoming lost among the abuses. The capitalists that operate the machine are not fit guardians of our individual or collective – political – wellbeing.
How should we respond? With changes in our own behaviour: by unplugging ourselves, or changing our relationship to the machine. With political push-back: regulation, taxation, legislation. And with Art.
Twenty-first century surrealism
In the last century, the Art movement Dada arose, “reject[ing] the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society” (wikipedia). Surrealism followed, with a greater emphasis on harnessing the unconscious, as a space closed off from the capitalistic machine.
What now, given that we are faced with a new form of capitalism in the shape of social media platforms, which are extremely demanding of our conscious – and unconscious – attention?
What kind of Art movement is needed to restore us, to take over from surrealism in the 21st century? Surrealism means ‘beyond realism’ – beyond the capitalist machinery of the 20th century. What stance is needed in relation to the new cybernetic machine, which entangles humans with their mobiles, with servers and algorithms?
Is what we need, for example, rerealism – a renewal of realism in the sense of our relationship with Nature, and in interpersonal relations in the physical presence of others, away from the virtual?
Or interrealism: ‘between’ rather than ‘beyond’ reality. To focus, not on the unconscious, as the surrealists did, but on the hyperconsciousness that is possible between unmediated humans when they interact directly. Interrealism would be to reject internet-age capitalism’s illusion that it connects us all, when in many ways it divides us, in favour of imaginatively occupying the space between us.
Whatever the new movement is to be, for now I’m calling it ‘Surrealism 2.i’. That’s i the imaginary number.