Across the globe, as the sun rises, we begin each day with a routine that marks 21st century life as unique in all of history. Before they get dressed, before they are even fully awake, billions of people start their morning by gazing at rectangular oleophobic panes of illuminated glass. Every day, a new world is painted in millions of individual organic light-emitting diodes, embedded in a substrate under a layer of glass that is harder and thinner than any previously created. This screen is brighter than any reading surface we have ever known; transmitting a blaze of dazzling light and retina-quality notifications directly into our foggy brains. Before we are fully conscious, the digital has disclosed a world to us; a stream of information and data, rivers of news, reminders and lists.
These devices engineer a new kind of life which entangles the private and the public, the digital and the analogue. They are privy to our most intimate thoughts and memories and grant access to an unfathomable wealth of information and communication… in real-time. We increasingly act through a swipe on screen which, like magic, can purchase things for our homes, pick the next romantic partner, play a song or stop an alarm. The phone is now a ‘smart’phone, embellished with an intelligence that knows us better than we know ourselves. As it gradually learns our strengths and our weaknesses, our interests and our temptations, it overtakes us, telling us what we want to know before we even know it. The smartphone is a mirror that reflects back the you that you always wanted to be.
We are perceived and understood in terms of our things. Our lives are transformed into mansions of algorithms, subject to whims of edge, core and cloud. We are submerged in these mythologies. Machines that learn, humans that merely calculate, and culture that is produced in silico. The contemporary milieu orbits around data. Our phones (edge) talk to our email (core), or store photos (cloud). This is all invisible to us, and yet the cloud has become, in particular, a way of thinking about computers that is truly a mythology. We picture a white cloud that somehow holds our data, our lives, and our experiences. Everyone is aware of their connection to the cloud, but most have only vague notions of what it is and how it works. It is a magical idea, through which we lose the ability to understand, and therefore control, our own lives.
released October 4, 2019
Composed and produced by David Berry and Barnaby Thorn
Mastering by Dubplates and Mastering Berlin
Cover artwork by Slug Draws (instagram.com/slugdraws)
Many thanks to the British Academy for the research funding