That Little Printer Debacle


A little while ago there was a Twitter-based discussion that I inadvertedly kicked off by outlining my inane distaste for the Little Printer in response to this article. Some very valid points were made but I never really had time to address it in any fundamental way so here goes:

I believe there are two types of design - design that reinforces the existent status-quo and design that seeks to undermine it.

By 'undermine' I don't just mean Banksy-style knee-jerk radicalism, but design that probes, critiques and questions, that seeks to outline new models or propose alternatives. I even include functioning products that work outside of the system or create a new system. However, the former, most usually, seeks to make money and by doing so reinforces that market-based model.

The problem is that the Little Printer sits firmly embedded at the heart of the former and yet is constantly carted out as a version of the latter by mainstream press. (Bar a few exceptions.)

There's no problem with status quo reinforcement. For a start, it makes critique all the more pertinent. Secondly it is laced with it's own perverse incentives and secondly it's where the vast majority of true innovation and creativity come from. It's resources and capabilities can never be even approached by the pariah of rebellious design.

But the Little Printer is a wolf in media-sheep's clothing of the worst possible kind.

The obvious and facile criticism is the idea of paper. Yes, environmentally unfriendly but conceptually interesting, playing into ideas of slow information and careful editing to de-filter ourselves so I see no real problem there. However, the headline 'Wish List: Gimme Gadgets!' is perhaps the most obvious and unintentional self-deprecation that opens up my point. WIRED has a propensity for cramming pages full of inaccessible hi-fi's, climbing equipment, bicycles and boy toys of astronomically inflated value, affordable to a tiny percent of sane humans alliterated with whacking great price figures next to them just to outline the life you COULD be leading if only you were more ... 'more.' Into this fray they have pushed Little Printer. 

To say it's BERG's fault would be  entirely wrong. Yes, it's over $250, but that's not an intentional attempt to bestow it with desirability-value to people who order their shopping searches most-least expensive. It's over $250 because it's well made and bespoke and a lot of work went into it.  They love their technology and that's obvious and great. It's a clever little thing they've made and the point has been made to me many times that the interesting part is not the gadget but the cloud and the legacy they've built to support it.

It's the worshipful coverage that is what is wrong with this thing. Touting this thing to the type of people who avidly scan every page of WIRED and it's cohorts as the future of technology is a terrifying mistake. These cohorts turn that $250 price tag into a badge of honour to own, not a mark of achievement. They outline the same future that is sold by Apple, by Microsoft, Samsung and Monsanto instead of BERG's place as trying to question alternatives.

This is not the future it's only one of a myriad group of futures. And this particular future is exclusive to white, middle-class, urbanised, highly tech literate, disposable-income men and that is not a future that we should be reinforcing. 

A self-conflicting point of defence is that Little Printer is not meant for mass-consumption, in which case I struggle to see how it can be pointed at as the future unless that future is intentionally elitist and inaccessible to most. The mainstream media hasn't figured out how to properly handle status-quo undermining design and tech other than re-molding it to fit into the accepted narrative. Statements like 'the haircut that could change the world' are pronounced with the same market-bolstered cynicism that Apple pronounces with each iPhone that 'changes everything - again.'

The Little Printer probably will change the world, if only that these debates about how we read this type of technology and how we position it become more common. And hell, the infrastructure they've built for it and are now concentrating on might just become the backbone of the next few decades of the web. We don't need to justify interesting products as simultaneous 'gadgets' and 'world changing' in order to somehow justify they're existence. The media has to learn to accept that.

A Mars-Sized Planetary Collision

I'm still only 3/32nd's of the way through Jaron Lanier's new 'Who Owns The Future?' I remember the profound effect of You Are Not A Gadget with fondness. It was something of an eye opener and I'm hoping that this new one has that same initially radicalising and rant-inducing effect before it's content gradually settle s onto a reformed path.

It's also a shame that I only got round to reading it AFTER finishing Mercenary Cubiclists as there's a lot of crossover. There's an unsettling fracas between capitalism and the digital world and we're starting to realise with key signals like Facebook's disastrous public offerings and increasing floundering to try and monetise, the Bitcoin bubble and our data value that the model we want and the model we have don't sit together and sacrifices will have to be made.


A nice and dramatic analogy would be something like the Giant Impact Hypothesis. The Earth is our socioeconomic habitat starting to discover, apropos to climate change, that there are fundamental flaws in the system that perhaps can't be consciously corrected. The Mars-sized rock suddenly in collision and causing a lot of general unpleasantness is the digital social-politique, raised on the back of Randian dreams that never came to fruition and quietly filter bubbling away relatively unaware of its repercussions.

What then of the moon? That little body that revolves around us tugging at seas and turning people into wolves? The shadow market; Tor-enabled transnational illegalities fueled by the digital currencies and human love of vices?  Or perhaps the fabled 1%; enabled by technology, the elite circling over our heads blissfully careless of the tug they inflict on our lives, how much we need it and how much we fear it.

Either way it's going to be a period of flux and fiery gravitational instability before some sort of behavioral pattern is reached where it's possible for these three bodies to live together. Whatever form the moon takes, we will eventually find a way to reconcile the digital world with the system we live in. If we cannot then Lanier's nightmare of a 0.00001% of server-controllers resulting from the dialectic might come true and we'll have two killer moons to contend with.

Recent Photos

Two blogs in a week right? Wow.

New Mumbai @ SPACE

New Mumbai at The White Building for the open studio.


Brief History of Power @ SPACE

Brief History of Power at The White Building.


Students building stuff

Students building stuff.


Justin Note

Visiting Couch Surfer


Holding stuff up

Using my head


Hooverface

Hooverface.

As ever, more at flickr.

Weeknotes 9 (Long awaited?)

Weeknotes really isn't weeknotes but it is here in it's guise as weeknotes. Recent weeks have had me burying any hope of sleep like a forgotten lover. It's been as bleak as a midwinter morning on a murder scene out here guys and I've got to be honest, at times quite emotional. But it feels somewhat like a new chapter and I'm taking brief respite of a few hours to clean up my over-burdened hard-drive, backup and write some updates.

James Blake, Voyeur

New music video is out! Again it was done with Ferry Gouw my usual collaborative partner on these things and we went for a 'microscoping-your-way-through-a-vinyl-that's-underwater-plus-LSD' vibe. That's the post-rationalisation anyway. Check it out.




Mercenary Cubiclists..!

They're finally finished and as I type (not as you read, there's a timer here) the whole project is being transported by Belgian courier to Z33 ready to be loaded into a van for Milan. There's some info about the show here.


For your viewing pleasure as well, some photos of the build process and objects that are going in the show. I've also put up the first 'preview' image. Yay OMG.

Wlecome to Galtham

This is the first of five photographs that will be providing the background underpinning of the show and the objects.

Computer

The computer that the cubiclists use. It keeps them hypnotised with games while keeping them psychologically, ideologically and physically enslaved. To mention my wonderful friend again - Ferry Gouw is responsible for the graphics on the computer screen.

Models

There's also going to be a scale model of the cubiclists and their 'hubs' on a graphical layout of the system that enslaves them and demonstrates their links with their double city in China and their resource caps.

Sketch

A sketch of a hub 'in situe.'

So it's all being shipped out now and once it's there I'll take some good photos and get the whole thing uploaded onto a project page and we can all have a proper gawp. That'll be nice won't it? Aye yes it will.


While in Milan...

I'm going to be taking part in a couple of events. Confirmed so far are the Afrofuture event being run by Cher Potter and Alexandra Daisy-Ginsberg on Friday 12th and also a thing with Abitare magazine on design education and object-orientated futures (I think) on Wednesday 10th. Come and see me if you're there. Actually just come and find me, apart from these things, I imagine I'll just be milling about looking for things to get on with.


Back in Britain...

I'm exhibiting New Mumbai at Tin Shed in New Cross in late April / early May so that's going to be a good opportunity to see it on a big, dedicated screen, over and over and over and over and over again for free. Amazing.


Then after that...


I'm keynoting A New Dawn in English at ArtEz near Rotterdam at the end of May. It looks like a really amazing event, there's some awesome artists also on the bill including Charles Avery. It's looking at a metamodernist approach to futures stuff and how art and design can work with that language to be more positive about the future.
On May 24 we are seriously getting to work on the future, without being na├»ve about it. From sustainable design to constructive engagement, and with sensitivity for each other, our surroundings and our artistic practice. And we’re gonna be hard core! New ways of working, implementing the newest technologies and getting back to basics too. It’s sure to be a success!
 So there we are, some updates. I'll try and send some stuff from the ground in Milan and maybe we can have a chat. Reet nice.