I just read Bruce Sterling’s essay on the New Aesthetic over at Wired.com. Needless to say, it is brilliant, full of concepts that immediately spark a thousand different thoughts in a thousand different directions. This is just one thought that occurred to me. I’m not sure it’s fully formed yet, but it would interesting to see what people think.
Constructing Is Better Than Critiquing
Sterling discussed the notion of the New Aesthetic being constructive. As he says, “Most New Aesthetic icons carry a subtext about getting excited and making something similar”. I love the fact that Sterling goes on to point out that the New Aesthetic is beyond postmodernism. Again, like Docx, the notion that a new movement is coming into being.
This got me thinking again about Docx’s notion of an age of authenticity, and how perhaps the key element of this new age, more than the authentic, is in fact the desire to create and to construct. It’s not about critiquing the old. It’s about creating the new. Perhaps being constructive is entirely the point of a post-postmodern society. I think this would be a great thing.
And this thought reminded me of a couple of incidents from, I think, early last year. Primarily the PHD Worldwide “We Are The Future” video (if you don’t know, or can’t remember what I’m talking about, then google will have the answers). I remember feeling quite depressed about this at the time, not because of the PHD film itself, but because of the ridiculous levels of criticism that was levelled at it. All this talk of failing fast, of learning by doing, and yet any agency that tries doing is immediately targeted by all and sundry. It was depressing because it created an atmosphere that was genuinely opposed to learning by doing, to trying new things. Why try new things when, should you get it even the least bit wrong, you’re at the mercy of the interweb experts?
I remember the atmosphere felt bitter because it seemed to be rewarding those that simply critiqued. Which seems the opposite of what Sterling is talking about with the New Aesthetic. Good.
Creating Truth Through Being a Fake
And then I remembered a short interview that I read with the guy behind Fake Grimlock. I find this sort of thing interesting because the adoption of fake personas online is a good example of a lens through which we’re forced to experience a post-internet world. Just as machine autocorrect distorts the truth, as does a fake persona. At the beginning of the interview, he makes an interesting point:
“It’s a proof of concept, it’s to prove a theory. And it’s to prove that who you are doesn’t matter. In fact, truth requires that you aren’t anyone, because if you’re someone, whatever you say is always biased. It’s influenced by what you know about that person.
If you’re Eric Ries, I’m going to assume what you say is true. Because, oh my God! You’re Eric Ries. But if some nobody said what Eric Ries said, most people would say “Oh well it must be false because he’s nobody.” They’re the same words. Words should be true no matter who says them.”
Which is sort of an interesting concept. Fake personas - anyone can be anything on the internet - is nothing new. But the idea of pretending to be someone else is not usually related to ideas of truthfulness. What he’s saying is that by being a fake, what he’s saying becomes more truthful.
And I like the idea that internet anonymity is providing a greater truth, that words stripped of the symbolism and semiotics of who spoke them can provide you with a more truthful starting point. In this case, expert opinion is no longer needed and it could be argued that with it, the expert ceases to exist.
If Experts Don’t Exist, Then We Foster A More Creative Environment
In a way, the problem is that on the internet we’ve been taught that everyone’s an expert. Traditionally, an expert earned their status through practice and education, and were anointed thusly by their peers. Certain benefits came with being an expert, including that of publication. And then along came the web, democratising publication and along with it, to an extent, the status of an expert.
The long tail nature of the web meant that suddenly everyone could be an expert; everyone could find a niche, no matter how small, which they could claim expertise over. Everyone could comment on everybody else’s work; we were all allowed to peer review. Suddenly we had a world where everyone had the right to an expert’s opinion.
There’s a difference between critiquing and creating, and I feel that the notion of learning by doing, of constructing, renders the expert obsolete. Creating something new is more important than commenting on something else. This is refreshing, because what I found depressing about “We Are The Future” was the litany of internet experts queuing up to criticise and offer suggestions of how it should be done differently, without ever having had to do it themselves. This doesn’t create an environment where new things can be created.
Perhaps what we can take from both the New Aesthetic and Fake Grimlock is the notion that that constructing the new is more important than having an opinion on the old. And that, in this new environment, expert opinion is less important than trying things, doing things and making things. Which I think would be a quite interesting place.