Post Whatever: on Ethics, Historicity, & the #usermilitia


Originally published in a different form in You Are Here: Art After the Internet (Cornerhouse Books, £15.95. Edited by Omar Kholeif). 



I'll start by making two claims, which I won't return to since they speak for themselves, and because they are—as far as I'm concerned—incontrovertible. With the first, I'm paraphrasing Nicholas Mirzoeff in saying that post- should not be understood as "the successor to," but as "the crisis of." Having established this, the second claim aims to get one thing straight: every artist working today is a postinternet artist. Let's move on.

The modern-millennial hubris around newness (and, by extension, youth; and, by extension, technological progress, accelerationism, and neoliberal futurity) is epitomized by breathless discourses around the seismic, revolutionary, never-before-seen newness of the internet and surrounding technologies—and echoed in initiatives like 89plus. This feels especially damaging when many of us have been living in an essentially striated (e.g. sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic) world for as long as anyone can remember. One of the few strategies for imagining a better, fairer world is the idea that things have not always been this way. Another strategy is the practice of intergenerational discourse, or learning from—and railing against—one's elders and forebears. Until recently, this was a required part of any art education—or indeed, any coming of age rite, even if the balance between "learning from" and "railing against" might vary across cultures.

Now, however, the notion of the "digital native" seems to draw a division—and implicit hierarchy—between those who have enjoyed access to networked technology since childhood and those who have not. This division may or may not be correlated with age, race, class, gender, and geographical location.

Another school of thought holds that the novel psychosocial situation in which we find ourselves postinternet has given rise to unprecedented fragmentation, narcissism and alienation in the social status quo, although it seems unlikely that the contemporary condition should be qualitatively different from any other technological or teleological shift in human history. Current anxieties that the internet may be making us stupid (or lonely, or sexually aberrant, or socially dysfunctional) echo Plato's worry that the widespread practice of writing would destroy oral literacy and the ability to create new memories.