The Art and the Artifice of a Borg Culture

Sleeping Coffee Shop
Big in this case is definitely beautiful. Best viewed on a screen larger than the size of a postage stamp.


What looks great on a big screen doesn’t necessarily translate so well to the tiny screens that we have become accustomed to in the ever evolving, technology dependent procession of our daily lives. My concern is that this increasing dependency on handheld devices will indefatigably change the nature of art completely.
Photography in particular has become a huge industry. Once the pursuit of specialists and ambitious amateurs, it is now accessible to almost everyone with a portable device. It has reached this zenith of cultural importance and success mainly because unlike it’s classical twin still knee deep in tangible pigment based mediums and physical tools of application, it jumped on the technological bandwagon and became digital, thus feeding the insatiable hunger that we have all been brainwashed into believing we must have, by telecommunications companies trying to compete with huge corporations who seemingly had a monopoly on the computerised technology market. I personally am aware of the way in which this mania and normalisation for technology has gone ‘viral’, to use a very modern technological term, in just over a decade.

Sleeping Coffee Shop
Teeny tiny resolution obscures the details and tonal variations.

I used to work for a well known telecommunications company who were trying to develop the first WAP phone (Wireless Application Protocol), essentially the first Internet or ’Smart’ phone, at a time when such a notion seemed pointless and ludicrous. Their first model, produced after they conceded to another huge corporation who bought them out, saving them from almost certain bankruptcy over their pie-in-the-sky dreams, was one of the first WAP phones with an inbuilt camera. The resolution wasn’t great, and the possibilities of transferring the images to any other device was taxing to say the least. In fact I remember colleagues around me remarking on why you would want a camera in your mobile phone anyway, what a ridiculous idea! Right…? Funny how things change and become utterly normal. But at the time, back in 2003, it was way beyond most people’s remit of what was considered at all necessary, especially here in the UK. I believe the US were already way ahead of us in terms of being technologically savvy. It was a time when people still physically got together over a pint or two down at the pub and had a good old fashioned face to face conversation. What the hell happened?

Not wishing to sound like too much of a hypocrite, I admit that I grew up with computers, from the first ZX81 home computer to the brand new iMac that I have now, I have always been surrounded by and had access to new technology. I currently own several devices, all of which I am just as guilty of relying on in order to keep me connected to a world that is greater than the one I immediately and quite physically inhabit. But, my heart breaks as the realisation sinks in that the technology we so crave and rely on so heavily is rapidly obliterating the avenues of art that no longer fit the digital interface of our seemingly overnight transformation into a Borg culture. When my art, albeit digital no longer captivates my audience because its details or rich dark tones just don’t translate well into ‘tiny’, then I have a decision to make, I either go the way of the magnificent company Kodak, now non-existent because of its insistence on sticking to its tried and tested ethics, or I change what I do in order to please the goldfish brains of the technological generations, my judge, jury and audience incidentally.
It isn’t a decision I necessarily want to have to make. Unfortunately, the rule is that, if you give people an inch they will run a mile with it. That is to say that most of us succumb eventually, or indeed quite readily to the pressures of industry and politics (mostly industry, politics always lag behind somewhat), These innovative advancements in society are necessary and valuable in so many ways, I acknowledge that and encourage it, but they also harbour a darker side, that of inevitable change and obliteration. The euthanising of perfectly healthy skills and pursuits in favour of the greedy little mouths influenced by even greedier parents who seek to shape the future. Future-proofed protagonists incidentally, who like all of us will also one day be surpassed and supplanted by newer, better things. It has been ever thus.

Borg Lady Green

Is art dying? Will the nature of my photography really have to change in order to serve the masses better?

No, it’s just changing, and that is something none of us can stop unfortunately. We either learn to keep up, or we stop trying. Adaptation is the key to survival. Although, history shows that revolutions are ignited when social creativity becomes stifled in this way, just saying…

But technology affords us great creative freedoms, you might counter. Due to its broad and ever growing global accessibility it means that what was once the pursuit of learned specialists and professionals, is no longer constrained by that hypocrisy. Everyone has the opportunity to express themselves through the visual medium in ways before unimaginable, and isn’t it marvellous! But only insofar as the current technology dictates. And there’s the rub. That inevitable fence that we all seem to straddle, no matter the era or the generation.

Printed books for example have nigh on died a death due to the popularity, or should I say, the promotion of ebooks apparently, even though I don’t actually believe that the industry is as successful as we have been led to believe it is, prolific yes, as so many authors have bounded on to that bandwagon in the hope of not being eternally shelved and overlooked. The recent passing of celebrated author Sir Terry Pratchett is oddly poignant, marking the end of an era where printed books such as his were what the populace occupied and entertained themselves with. Literary art has become an odd no-mans land where printed books are still popular amongst many, but due to lack of demand as people’s attention have steadily become consumed by flash-in-the pan internet articles and outright voyeurism, the industry of producing written works of art is being suffocated, in all its forms. Industry, not the people on the street, is changing the face of art completely. In its indiscriminate drive to line its own pockets, and the desire of politicians to keep their national and therefore the global economy solvent and salient, it is alienating its ‘democratised’ subjects and quashing their incredible creativity in ways that are going to be hard to justify or indeed fix.

“My, you’re in a sour mood today Miss. M!” I hear you mutter loudly under your breath.

Actually no. Not really, I have already succumbed to the notion that my self expression through my art may never even make a dent on anything. And for the most part I am highly appreciative of the support I do get from the small community of friends and fellow bloggers that I encounter in my virtual world. Nothing pleases me more than interacting with like-minded photographers, artists, and writers who willingly spend a few moments of their valuable time appreciating my work. I find it hugely humbling, especially as such interactions seem to have become a cultural rarity these days. But I am a realist, as much as I am also a visionary and dreamer, and even I have to accept that a healthy balance between the two has to be reached in order to satisfy my own artistic needs and urges in a world that struggles to keep up with it self, and as a result could seemingly care less whether I breathe or not.

I am in danger of being drowned by the rich dark tones and details of my own work because it simply doesn’t fit the buoyant model of current practise and acceptability. Maybe it’s a struggle all artists, and indeed people face.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve reached an age where these things begin to matter and become transparent due to the blindfold of youth and subsequent social indoctrination being removed. Worse still, maybe my art just isn’t very good. Like someone posited yesterday, the measure of good art is dictated by popularity alone, and although I can see the logic in that and agree to a certain extent, I can’t help feeling that all artistic expression should be acceptable and openly appreciated. All of us, artists or no, need to be valued and appreciated in order to remain healthy and sane. We’re not Borg, despite the efforts of major industries and governments to assimilate us, and insofar as we allow it. We only have ourselves to blame I suppose.

I still like to believe that my art has a place in the world, despite the pressures.

Foolish, I know…


7 comments on “The Art and the Artifice of a Borg Culture

  1. I understand your feelings, and they (as you know) perfectly echo mine when it comes to books. However, I’m beginning to have a feeling that although we’ve not reached the ebb in terms of how important books and other art is in people’s lives, it will begin to follow the same hyperbolic path upward.

    People in my age group and older, those previously unwilling to embrace the technology wave, have now succumbed. However, while people like my dad can now see the need for the omnipresent smartphone and can’t imagine being without one, he, and others of his ilk, also see the limitations. For one, as the population ages, people will continue to rebel against the fragile, too-small size and composition of these devices. While smartphones have made photography accessible, I can forsee a time when their primary use is to capture spontaneous videos. Increasingly, where I used to see everyone on the street snapping away with shiity phones, I’m starting to see them using actual cameras again. That’s in no small part to the fact that a better camera will also fit in your pocket or purse.

    Even on Instacrap, most of the “good” photos were taken on real cameras, by shooters who are only using IG to reach a broader audience. In effect, it’s not a gallery, it’s just advert space.

    I think the real inhibitor to art’s place in society is that there’s no “digital” equivalent of art spaces that everyone sees. Museums still horde their stashes, displaying a rotating 10% of their wares to the gawking public, while putting around 10% of that 10% online for viewers. That’s the real problem with art: those who have don’t want to share it with the peons who don’t. When art becomes a part of life, when you can push a button and print a Canaletto on your favorite t-shirt, when you can 3D print a copy of your favorite sculpture, when your living room wall becomes your computer screen (I predict less than 5 years) that’s when the tide will flow and everyone will want art again.

    In the interim, what we who know can do is push the young people towards art. It’s not their fault that the U.S., for instance, has been devaluing art/music education for decades. We can’t blame them that Hip Hop has a flow that is derived from other musical forms these kids never heard of. It’s all of our fault, and when I’m filled with the winds of hopefulness, blowing mostly from you, my love, I believe what we are doing is forming the bridge that keeps art alive, until the tide flows in and the unwashed can once again reach the arty shores. That sun isn’t setting, it’s just rising, painfully slowly.


  2. Most eloquently put. The phenomenon of printed popular fiction had its heyday during the 80s up through until the mid 00s, particularly here in the UK, and in the US too I would imagine. A span of around 25 years, what used to be considered the span of a generation. Books and other printed media like newspapers and magazines could be found everywhere with somebody’s nose buried deep in it. Perhaps these fads are indeed generational cycles, and smartphone fad will have its time too. I can imagine in 25 year’s time technology won’t seem so familiar to us now. I hope you are right about the resurgence of art, it seems to hit a point of stagnation, and as you say, this may be in part to do with accessibility, not having virtual spaces that we can visit in order to enjoy the proliferation of work produced. I suppose that’s what blogs have become, and spaces like that which various other forms of social media provide. In part, it could be that the concept of virtual art is still in its infancy and may yet need to be developed further so that it has a firmer foundation for artists serious in their work to participate in. What needs to happen is a blanket ban on spammers and advertisers on such sites where art is trying to get a foothold. Increase the integrity of the work being exhibited and of the artist themselves. We have temporarily become a spamming culture, advertising nothing for the sake of it, because actually I think we all crave attention and the need to be valued by such a cold Borg-like system of social interaction. People need to stop hiding and being afraid of being real. We all just need to learn to be real again.

  3. Every generation has its detractions’ and detractors. Been this way since we first climbed down from the trees and stopped eating raw meat.
    There are far more pluses than minuses to technological advancement, and while you are always going to get Bronze Age throwbacks like ISIS and conspiracy theorists yammering the NSA are peeking at us taking a pee, all things told, I’m glad it is the way it is.

    One just has to run a bit faster to stay ahead of the herd, that’s all.
    I think it is an absolute blast!

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