The moment we forget that we are using a tool when we are using it is the moment that we have tamed it. Like riding a bike.
But when exactly are we being tamed by it?
The title “A fish can’t judge the water” is a perfect analogy of the relationship between us and all the tools that we seem to have collectively mastered. In preparation of a manifesto written for Constant, the collective that supports and promotes collaborative art projects using Open Source Software, Femke Snelting gives us a poetic description of how our daily lives are submerged in the milieu of software and all that it dictates for us. We’ve become so used to this as part of our routine that we feel comfortable not to challenge them, and willfully accept their control over how we do things and what we do with them.
The book I brought to class was Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield, and by accident it shares similar ethos with Snelting’s essay. The technological breakthroughs in the last 10 years were perhaps more than twice as rapid as in the previous decade and over the last couple of years we have been bombarded by a few major technological catchphrases that promise to change our lives in the future – VR/AR, machine learning, extreme speed internet, crypto-currency, robotics and automation etc. Like Snelting, Greenfield pays close attention to how the mundane and the details of life were mediated by these technologies. Their all-encompassing presence in our daily life and the convenience provided by the well connected network seduce us to a lifestyle that can in fact be quite vulnerable in the power structure of the shifted paradigm.
This is particularly apparent in the chapter of “Internet of Things”, where Greenfield brings up a range of examples to portray a reality where these technologies that we benefit from will create a mesh that not only encloses us with its conveniences but also gains power through means such as building up our profiles through data. It becomes extremely difficult to live and not to be part of a network, constructed through all kinds of connections between devices, social media, phone bills or CCTVs. Reality is transpiring on an abstract level parallel to where we physically inhabit.
Both Greenfield and Snelting express their skepticism towards the omnipresence of technological influences, by which fundamental aspects of how we live have been shifted. These are perhaps about identity, power, freedom or security, or other things. However, though Greenfield has a fair amount of both concern and optimism, Snelting is much more playful, curious and unassuming. Snelting’s text as a manifesto is not just an applause to how Open Source Software (or Open Source Anything) challenges the status quo regarding our relationship with our digital environment, but also a celebration of the potential outcome of what we will find out and learn from, even if it will be messy and unpredictable.
1. Snelting, Femke. A fish can’t judge the water.
2. Greenfield, Adam. Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life. Verso. 2017.