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User: InfoTechnoDemo

by Peter Lunenfeld; Mieke Gerritzen, Visuals
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005
172 pp., illus. Paper, $25.95
ISBN: 0-262-62198-3.

Reviewed by Martha Patricia Niño M.
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana



Peter Lunenfeld presents a collection of essays that were originally written for the User column at the international magazine Artext. Despite the nonacademic and playful style of writing that makes room for interesting iterative word games such as metroretropsychometroretrophyscho, androgynovideoandrogino, infotechnodemoinfotechnodemo or narcosacrotheonarcoscarotheo. User deals with fascinating topics around culture, design, technology, and interdisciplinary issues in a time when "actors can be singers, singers strive to be artists, painters become film directors, digital artists say that they are scientists, scientists become entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs wake up one morning thinking they are politicians, and politicians, they have always been so protean (folksy at home, regal in the state house) that they are the poster children for the millennially ambitious" (p. 073 ).

The essays cover a far-reaching amount of topics, and they are very shrewd even if it is not a lengthy book: The chapter User Permanent Present talks about the preeminence of the instantaneous in which one can not see anything beyond the current system, film or interface. Its relation with "amateur futurism" that is more concerned about creating more and more freakier aliens than for opening the doors to interesting futures. Interfaces stop contributing by creating phobic users that are able to sacrifice metaphorical brilliance and elegance of interaction for the sake of comfort.

The Solitude Enhancement Machines is a chapter that analyses how technological developments are fostered and financed for big industries——as sometimes happens with porn——and valued for their revenues rather than for quality. The chapter, "Teotwawki," has some rather comical first person commentaries that deal with techno-apocalyptic imagination around the year 2000 that includes hysteria and faith vampires——non-believers obsessed with belief——that were hoping to find nourishing psychosomatic stigmata but found themselves starved and disappointed while contemplating the savior on burrito wrappers instead. By that time, they were unable to foresee what was in store for them on 9/11.

The "Forever" chapter deals with the statements of the anti-death league including the proper maintenance rituals, the right combinations of vitamins and antioxidants in order to never get sick, eugenics, and descriptions of 135th birthday parties surrounded by the kids, grandkids, great -great grandkids and naturally your new lover. Chapters like "25/8" and "Master List" highlight the complete victory of dromocracy, the monarchy of speed. Guided by the principle of ultra efficiency in which the straightest path is the best and the human is constantly trying to push past the limits of flesh into the realm of pure performance.

Some chapters have plenty of local cultural references, "Urine Nation" is somewhat difficult to grasp for someone born out of Texas, I had problems seeing the utopist potential that could unify all languages and sign systems based on almost exclusively male transgressive practices. Other topics covered in the book are architecture, narratives, art, nanotechnology, videogames, globalization and the suspicion against the cosmopolitans, films, culture obsession with pop stars, biological and genetic metaphors in relation to the cybernetic and mechanical ones, and illusions of perceptions.

Having a good deal of self-critiscism throughout the book, Lunenfeld mainly recognizes the potential dangers of toxic activities, like doing theory in real time, that he compares with holding mercury in the fingers, not only for the mercurial liquid-solid properties of the media itself but also for the relevant concern of being re-absorbed by the bigger solid-liquid puddle of media’s banality. He also acknowledges the risk of interpretation, as when he recognizes the possibility of being considered an elitist, sexist,or even homophobe for emphatically disbelieving those who loudly profess their love for television, not as a guilty pleasure derived from a self referential sphere of personal consumption built around celebrities, but as something analogous to bibliomania or cinemania. It does not mean that bibliophilics are less driven by consumption when they collect books without reading them. User takes advantage of this fact, and it would find its way to their bookshelves because it is part of the Mediawork pamphlet series for The MIT Press where designers pair with well-known writers. Although he does not try to replace longer and deeper academic reflections, the resulting product is a "theoretical fetish object" designed to appeal. The idea is that form should not be separated from meaning, medium from message or seductive from rigorous, since design can use its visual intoxicating skills as an analytical translation tool. Mieke Gerritzen did a good job creating an impressive graphic design for every page of the book. The integration of graphic design with Lunenfeld’s concepts is particularly remarkable in the sections "user permanent present", "solitude enhancement machines", "teotwawki", "25/8", and "growing up pulp".

Peter Lunenfeld is professor in the graduate Media Design Program at Art Center

College of Design. He founded mediawork: The Southern California New Media Working Group and serves as director of the Institute for Technology & Aesthetics (ITA). His publications include Snap to Grid (MIT, 2000), and The Digital Dialectic (MIT, 1999). Recent publications include "The Myths of Interactive Cinema" for The New Media Book (BFI, 2002) and "The Design Cluster" for Design Research (MIT, 2004). Mieke Geritzen is founder and director of NL.Design, an Amsterdam based design company and head of the design department at The Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. http://www.nldesign.net.




Updated 1st February 2006

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