The Tyranny of the Preset
Fragments from a Manifesto for the End User
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By any media necessary[1]
The Critical Arts Ensemble, Digital Resistance

The digital realm is an avant-garde to the extent that it is driven by perpetual innovation and perpetual destruction[2]
Sean Cubitt, interviewed by Simon Mills, Framed

Technologies have a certain telos to them; a defined mode of use. Bourgeois-functionalism. This mode of use is not necessarily inherent or even strictly technological as such, but emergent and relational; a techno-social normative construct that defines how said technology is used and towards what ends. This is the tyranny of the preset.
The preset in this sense is both semiotic and techno-ontological; it is the convergence of software and hardware, of code and material substrate. It emerges from the intersection of the material relations of production (and consumption), with the social and ideological superstructure, as mediation and materiality co-produce each other.

Creative Misuse & Technological Abuse

Our core dis/organizing tactic here, is creative misuse.[3] The re-appropriation of what is given. It is not just an aesthetic, technical, and artistic methodology but a politics of the everyday, a means of navigating and negotiating the increasingly dystopic terrain of silicone, steel, concrete and fiber-optics that we find ourselves entangled in.

In a society in which cycles of never ending production and consumption, bootstrapped by financial speculation, accelerate us towards catastrophe. And in which the subject or user, is increasingly alienated, fragmented, and disempowered, we must use all the tools that are at our disposal. As Deleuze said: “there is no need to fear or hope, the task is to look for new weapons.”[4]

In our age of capitalist realism we are interpolated as consumers, as end-users. Collectively we sift through the waste-dump of our consumer cult, where built-in obsolescence is the order of the day, and commodities become redundant upon point of purchase. On the crest of the wave of the futurity, as we speculate into the void, the promise of the “new” never arrives, it is always to late, obsolete as soon as it is made, straight from the production line to the dust-bin of history, only to be swept up again into other cycles or production and consumption: recycling and “retro” culture. Until every last bit of surplus value has been extracted. Our over-developed world is characterized not so much by knowledge, toward which the enlightenment once aspired, but rather by an excess of information; spam, waste, kibble. Your inbox overflows. Entropy abounds.

As subjects situated within this whirlwind of exchange, we have no choice but to negotiate the ever-shifting terrain. Whilst there is no pure exterior, there is also no determination in the last instance, and the ground is always shifting. Whilst commodities (informational or material) may have a pre-defined mode of use, and hegemonically ascribed sign-value, they can be reappropriated and reoriented; turned towards different ends as defined by the user.

This is not to rarify the ideology of peer-production that is central to the “flexible accumulation” so enshrined by our techno-overlords but rather a call to arms; towards experimentation with what is given. Whilst the apparatus of capture is wide under late era capitalism, it is not as flexible as its ideologues would proclaim. It still has its points of vulnerability and weakness, and may be subject to subversion and sabotage.

There is always an excess that alludes representation and thus appropriation via the circuits of value production of the techno-capitalist machine. There is always noise in the system

Fragments from a manifesto of the end-user;
in bullet point form for those with digitally degraded attention spans

  • Any technological form can re-appropriated, and employed creatively and experimentally; whether it is the home made, or the mass produced, the out-moded, or the “new”. It is a matter or relationship to and with a technology (or other commodity form), and its incorporation into creative praxis, rather than anything essential within the “object” per see.
     
  • Accordingly notions of essence and authenticity are hindrances to an open-ended experimental methodology. There is nothing more or less authentic to a given technological form; the analog, or the digital etc. Different technologies allow different sets of possibilities and constraints. They suggest different aesthetics and compositional strategies and allow for different modes of thinking, perceiving, playing and creating; different modes of becoming.
     
  • It is important to consider media technology on both a level of content and medium, as they are co-constitutive. In this sense technologies are as much social, semiotic and informational as they are strictly material and vice versa. Content is encoded or inscribed within a medium, which is in turn embedded within social, cultural, political and economic contexts. These various strata in turn dynamically feedback and co-constitute each other.
     
  •  In this sense technologies as such, are complex assemblages that are the emergent product a multiplicity of intersecting processes. The digital is as much composed of minerals, and electrical energy, as much as it is data, or affective subjective and social materials.  

  • The electro-magnetic strata is about process and relationship, assemblages, and networks; patches, programs, and generative processes. Connecting one machine to another, and re-routing signal paths. It is not so much about the creation of signals or codes, but rather circulation and modulation within a system or network.
     
  • The digital should be seen as an extension of the analog but at the same time a departure from it, in that whilst it is built on top of it, it is also formally representative of a fundamentally different order of abstraction. We have departed from the continuous to the discontinuous.
     
  • The network may be one of the defining ideological metaphors of our age. Its use politically and economically serves to obscure power-relations and modes of exploitation. “The sharing economy” is not utopian or communitarian, it is merely a further development in the abstraction of the processes of labour and the accumulation of capital. In the same sense the very technological apparatus to which the metaphor refers may well offer potential means by which to subvert and combat the power relations that it endeavors to reinforce.
     
  •  The relationship between signal and noise is not essential or ontological; rather it is a matter of perspective; of semiotics and hermeneutics. The line between the two relational categories is porous and liminal. This is an aesthetic and psychological site that should be explored.
     
  • When seeking to engage with technology on a level of critical praxis, one should be careful not to naively reproduce the hegemonic logic that governs its use. After all “aesthetics is politics as décor.”[5] And we must scratch below the surface of the veneer. It should also be noted that “simple reversal is always the most direct and least effective”[6] means of subversion. In such a way, whilst attempting to critique, the “simple reversal” arguably unconsciously reproduces and reinforces the hegemonic ideology that it wishes to subvert.


Endnotes

[1] Critical Arts Ensemble, Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media,  (New York: Autonomedia, 2001), 8

[2] Sean Cubitt, interviewed by Simon Mills, Framed, http://www.ada.net.nz/library/framed-sean-cubitt/

[3] This line of critical praxis has it’s roots in notions such as Henri Lefebvre’s The Critique of Everyday Life, the Détournment of the Situationist’s and Michel De Certau’s Politics of Everday Life. In the domain of the explicitly technological, practices such as circuit (and data)bending, and hacking should also be seen as of central relevance here, as should the method of tactical media of the Critical Arts Ensemble.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on Societies of Control, (October 59, 1992), 4

[5] Brian Holmes, Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure (paper presented at RIXC Media Architecture, Riga, Latvia, 2003)

[6] Guy Debord and Gil J Wolman,  “A Users Guide to Détournment,” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. Ken Knabb. (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets 2006), 17