The term “The 4th Industrial revolution” became popular in the last few years. In fact, there’s nothing new about it. Many of the ideas are recycled over decades. The Technocrats, people who govern with technology and people who use governance to create technology, didn’t miss a beat. They jumped to sell their Bullshit tech. At the core of bullshit tech, there is Crisis Marketing.
“You must invest in this technology now.”
“You must learn to code now or you will be jobless in the future.”
“This new product will solve your problems.”
There are some things that come true in those worrying voices, but much of them are inflated. The technocrats sell tech products when they don’t really understand the technology behind them. That’s possible because there’s a difference between ‘tech products’ and ‘science and technology.’ The tech product’s narrative and marketing are more important than its engineering and execution. Say there is a tech product idea A. In capitalist tech spaces, it’s acceptable that product A does not actually use technology A, and instead uses existing tech B and C. What the technocrats are interested in is creating a new period by inserting tech product A into the supply chain. Periodization is creating disruption in the past and present, and thus an opportunity to grow the market.
When there’s a chance for periodization, media artists who are not so critical, get busy working as cheerleaders for the technocrats. There’s nothing more suitable to hype up what’s possible with new tech products than immersive media art. The medium is ideal for tech gimmicks. Immersive media art exhibitions are on the borderline of entertainment, amusement park, and museum. Popularization of art in theory can be positive, but does it needs to happen at the expense of flattening and devaluing aesthetics? Immersive media art often employs computer vision to monitor the visitors’ body and their movements, process the collected data, and render a variation in the visual output. Allison Burtch called such Cop Art because of the ways the system relies on surveillance and technologies of control originally created for police and military operation. Embedded in the technologies is the desire to have an all-seeing eye, a totalitarian drive.
On the bandwagon of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the NFT boom was outstandingly cringe-worthy. Art has historically been a financial instrument for riches and the transaction is perhaps one of art’s social roles. What brings cringe about the NFT boom is the ways that artists rushed in to create an exhausting quantity of mediocre multiples, willingly partaking in the inflated crypto market, easily dismissing the ethical and environmental consequences of their production. At the height of the boom, a crypto platform and a renowned U.S. museum reached out to me about making an NFT for their collaboration. I refused and feel good about my decision. Now that the crypto boom has deflated a bit, I can think more logically about the NFT boom. I am not categorically opposed to making or collecting NFT. I think trading, selling, and collecting digital art is a positive trend. Very rarely, I find NFT collections that I find interesting. My respect for the artists predated their NFT debut, so my admiration is biased and may not have to do with the NFT work itself. In the future, if there’s the right reason and context, I might make an NFT. There’s an important distinction on what I don’t want to participate in. I do not want to participate in the speculative, inflated crypto market that borderline Ponzi schemes. My decision has a direct relationship with my role and responsibility as an educator. I taught a teenager through a youth coding program a few months ago in South Korea. One of the students said she learned to code in her NFT class. I asked what is the class. She said, “Coding something to make a ton of money.” I felt hopeless. Is it necessary to insert such extreme capitalist, technocratic values in the learning spaces? I doubt so.