I HAD A CONVERSATION with Krystal South about her TBA:13 project Identify Yourself—a pair of essays that explore the author's relationship with technology, specifically the internet, and how these technologies are shaping identity construction and cognitive processes on a cultural level. If I had to summarize our talk, I'd boil things down to a twist on an old media aphorism: "The metaphor is the moment."
According to South, digital metaphors for analog activities are how we experience the world these days: meals translated to Instagram, marriages and newborns framed as Facebook "Life Events," smartphones like little ships docking in the night to capture a show from the lip of a concert venue's stage. It's almost as if the representation of our experiences has become more important than the experiences themselves. What does it mean to go to a show or eat a fancy meal without engaging in the digital metaphor of a particular experience? Is the moment complete, fully integrated into a person's identity, without the representation?
The behaviors South discusses seem innocuous enough (at first, at least): people sharing their lives the way they've learned to. But South says that computers and the internet and the structure by which we use these technologies to communicate is shaping the way we think about the world and ourselves—and in the age of PSYOPs, epistemological warfare, and reality hacking, the prospect of allowing our minds to be molded on a mass cultural scale is a wee bit scary.
But South isn't taking an alarmist's stance, here. She's pointing at the situation and wondering aloud what will happen next. Moreover, as a person who's been on the internet every day for 16 years, she actively celebrates the ways that computers and web services have made possible the impossible, not just for personal communication, but for art itself.
This celebration of new possibilities is mirrored in the presentation of her dueling essays. The native format for Identify Yourself is web-centric—the essays will be displayed side-by-side and enriched with various digital functionalities like floating footnotes, overlays, video, and animation—but South will also create a book version of the project in order to illustrate the shortcomings of the printed object. (Side note: There will also be a poster version of Identify Yourself.)
If all goes as forecasted, Identify Yourself will shape up to be a cautious party for an uncertain digital future. A future where the way we see ourselves, the way we think, could very well be wired to the web.