What If? Another History of Digital Media for Designers and Artists


Session Title:

  • History and Theory of the Art and Technology Interface

Presentation Title:

  • What If? Another History of Digital Media for Designers and Artists



  • What if computer technology had not become the PC but remained a machine for corporate users? What if there had not been surplus capacity in the tube industry and computers did not have screens? What if we took the wrong turning when we thought that the PC meant associative databases and multimedia? What if the PC is just another accidental machine? What if the creative irrationality of the artist has succumbed to the apparent rationality of technology? Probableist histories of technology are yielding fascinating insights into older technologies. For example some people are suggesting that Thomas Edison was interested in the equivalent of the domestic VCR when he invented the Kinetoscope. Entrepreneurs picked up this invention and used it to give us the cinema. If this was the case then the movies are just a massive wrong turning in Edison’s project to help us all to be programme makers and film editors, and the cultural power and economic strength of the film industry has merely delayed technological advance. This paper argues that rather than try to overcome technological barriers which the economic dynamics of the PC industry constantly insist upon, the artist and designer could be thinking about probableist histories of the computer by reinterpreting the technology and exploring its creative potential with irrationality. It suggests that to do anything else is simply to reiterate or, at best, amplify the suppliers software manual. Artists should not be passively asking”How can I do this?” but setting the interpretive agenda by insisting “What if I did this?”