Quickly, before the idea disappears: it is the case, surely, that science is an analytic practice foremost. Analysis being the business of breaking down complex phenomena into simpler phenomena which are easier to understand. The opposite is synthesis, the building up of complex phenomena from simpler ones. And because we live in a culture so dominated by and reverential towards science, and because science—although it obviously also contains, as does any complex practice, elements of both—leans more heavily towards analysis, synthesis has, possibly, acquired a certain subconscious stigma.
Here are some synthetic practices and objects: collages, palimpsests, encyclopedias, layered paintings, double exposures, modern studio recordings, remixing, grafitti.
I believe the internet, that memetic, self-transforming, endless chimera, is a synthetic medium. What this means is that the primary mode of action on the internet is layering, recombination, existential combinatorics. What is a meme if not a continually rewritten palimpsest, a collage, a wall that is being painted on and painted over and painted again? Isn’t that what the typical blog or social network anno 2013 looks like?
On the internet, the tendency is not to erase, but to pile on top. Our identities are like wavefronts: who I am, or who I am to everyone else, at any given moment, is simply a solution of the most recent drops from my stream, the synthesis of the most recent bits and pieces I’ve tacked onto my wall.
This is both good and bad. It is a holistic rather than a diagnostic approach. Cultural critics lament the lack of rest stops, the infrequency with which we slow down and break down and erase and divide and conquer. We go too fast, and we never consider the individual pieces, we simply pile them up and hope they make some sort of sense in aggregate. But possibly they miss the advantages: the things which make collages, or encyclopedias, or double exposures or walls of sound created synthetically in the studio great. Possibly the good part—for surely there must be a good part—of the Way We Live Now is somewhere in there.
But so: the internet, today, operates largely in the opposite fashion to the way science largely operates; we as a culture revere, stand in awe before, worship science; therefore we are subconsciously inclined to think of the internet as fundamentally kind of silly. Because science is serious and the opposite of science must be silly. And obviously we can’t take silly stuff too seriously, except to worry that we spend too much time on silliness to the detriment of serious stuff. Because circular logic.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know.Feb 15, 2013