The Digital Now – living the dream immersed in data

By Professor Frank Millward

  Caption:   Cruising into the future, pictured in an aesthetic from the past, still living in the now.  Photographer credit: Frank Millward

Caption: Cruising into the future, pictured in an aesthetic from the past, still living in the now.  Photographer credit: Frank Millward

Now

Is it now yet?
Have we arrived at this point?
Do we go on from here,
Back to where we began?
When was that?
Where were we?
Was it that long ago?
When I try to remember just
Where we have been
It’s all vague.
But I know we were there and
Perhaps we were a little early.
And the gaps on the way,
Make it harder to say
Where we were.
Where were we?
Did we know?

Or is it then now?
Are we ready for now?
When it was then
We must have been prepared,
But that was before.
Where did then go?
Did we lose it somewhere?
For if we’ve come this far
We must have made up time.
We must have been around
For all those things to have been
Then.

Time in the digital world does not flow as it does in the natural world, and so too for the perception and experience of space. The digital now is here, there and everywhere, anywhere, anytime. The virtual offers an illusion for the experience of yesterday, today and tomorrow compressed into that existential moment that flows in a continuum of timelessness. . .

That moment, that point in time, now, is being compressed, shrunk into the ongoing, transformed into a continuum. Technology has disrupted time as the rhythms of our lives are morphed and the distinctions between now and then, past, present and future becomes blurred. Abha Dawesar’s ideas about the ‘digital now’ are pertinent. The seasons, the flow, living through that flow and immersive experiences, all contribute to make sense of our lives. Perspectives, temporal, spatial and conceptual, are all fundamental components that inform our understanding of being in the now, then and ongoing.

Music unfolds in durational time, sounds organized, rhythms, tempi, phraseology, ontological time. Music also exists as psychological time, as perceived, through the listener experience. Jonathan L. Friedmann points out that music exists both within and outside of measurable temporal units, ‘Ontological time makes possible and gives way to psychological time’ - mathematical, analytical, measurable and experiential. Where then is Art if, as we know, it offers ‘important dimensions that cannot be accounted for from within science’, to acknowledge Poststructuralist thinking.

Time in the digital world does not flow as it does in the natural world, and so too for the perception and experience of space. The digital now is here, there and everywhere, anywhere, anytime. The virtual offers an illusion for the experience of yesterday, today and tomorrow compressed into that existential moment that flows in a continuum of timelessness where decisions about everywhere now, become continual. Some of those decisions are based on gathered data, some intuitive, some random reaction.

Science offers the possibility that anything can be studied, interrogated and experimented with. Through observation and experimentation, an explanation can be given to answer questions about why. Facts based on data gathered can give strong indication or even proof to the establishment of truth. Does art operate in the realm of truth or attempt to prove itself as art? How do we prove what art is or is not? Therein lies the dilemma for the art practitioner within the academy.

Now is a time of continuous distraction in virtual space, as information rolls through our online presence, and networks beckon us to offer an opinion of assurance or disapproval on something reported by someone, somewhere. Accumulated thoughts are gathered in comments, we ‘share’, and acknowledge what is presented with and without proof of authenticity. Technology plays us through random observations as the digital world transforms the possibility of living in the now by positioning it on a continuum in space and time.

What is the future to become if we do lose our physical touch with the analogue? Will technology bring us to that ‘now’ replete with comparative analysis and an immersive experience transformed so that we no longer know what is real from what is virtual? Where will history reside in that digital now? Who will consider such questions with a view to bringing understanding to ways of living in such a world?

Then

Enlightenment, knowledge based on experience and not on religious doctrine, Reason’s Age brought empiricism, knowledge developed as theories based on human observation and experience. Testing. We love testing! Repetition! Now, now, now – no not yet... keep working on it, not quite finished. Is it ever?

Religion, nudged by Science, splits into separate disciplines to become the dominating force influencing most aspects of human society, Knowledge accumulates, technology takes advantage of opportunities to apply it in industrial contexts, revolutions, wars, commerce, economies, science booms, art is made. When did then go? 

Science grabs rationalist thinking and the idea of investing in our collective imaginations. Yes we can become creators, travel to the stars and live forever. Ironies involving religion and its ongoing struggle in scientific environs do not go unnoticed. Investment is grown and favours science but art can hardly complain after all those centuries of support from religion.

How do we go to the future? What is next from now? How do we bring the instantaneous 'now' into a workable, practical realisation of informed opinion where creative intelligence is applied to humanity? Where does the balance between calculated risk and intuition bring understanding to the philosophical, scientific and spiritual aspects of being?

The Large Hadron Collider that ‘continues to operate at the very boundaries of scientific knowledge’ - cost $4.75 billion to set up with an annual budget of $1 billion. The European art market in 2014 traded $56.8 billion. The world has convinced us that one needs little money to survive as an artist, the art may even be better if the artist has to live through hard times. There is a chief scientist, surely we should have a chief artist to negotiate a better deal for all that inequity?

Enter the scholar as artist in search of financial security and status, the artist as researcher. The Academy has given credibility to the arts by positioning it as worthy of scholarship. Surviving in the Academy has been costly for art practice. Additional material must now be included in defence of the work, its purpose, function and impact. The practice of making and producing art is informed and positioned by compliance to scientific frameworks.      

Science offers the possibility that anything can be studied, interrogated and experimented with. Through observation and experimentation, an explanation can be given to answer questions about why. Facts based on data gathered can give strong indication or even proof to the establishment of truth. Does art operate in the realm of truth or attempt to prove itself as art? How do we prove what art is or is not? Therein lies the dilemma for the art practitioner within the academy. Many questions, few answers – is it the role of Science to solve problems posed through unanswered questions? And where is Art with questioning and providing answers and solutions to problems?

Ever

During these ‘now’ times, only a few hundred years, Art and Science are often presented as separated and align with particular generalisations such as: art is creative, science is analytical - art is connected to the senses, science to the intellect - art to the visual, science to the logical - art to the imagination, science to factual. The experience of a single person expressed through an artistic output doth not make an accepted metric of significance – or does it?

Mae Jemison describes Art and Science as two sides of the same coin, ‘art provides a universal understanding of a personal experience and science provides an understanding of a universal experience’, even as I write that, I feel dissatisfied by its cleverness and imbalance. Is there still something to come, tomorrow? Should we let feelings get in the way of Science as it continues with life changing discoveries and posing questions as to how we will guide ourselves into the future? Does Science, rather than art provide the knowledge for us to understand the world? Should art become another discipline of science?

And where is creativity when we live in a world driven by data and metrics? The recorded purchase, where does creativity make its way in the field of 'buy me', 'like / not like me' and 'follow', made by random groups of ‘look at me’ surfers spreading their 'likease' as badges of personal preference. Does this practice become art?

Are we human, or are we Renaissance persons? Religions challenge the idea of empiricism, fighting for their beliefs and the unflinching faith in their tenets. The Museum of Hope exhibits some fine specimens of dis-approvals, of experiments failed and evidence of dis-belief. Simultaneously, self-realisation is available at the click of a button and the making of an identity defined as a series of multiple-choice options or a comment in 140 characters or less as the Tweeters’ fictive reductions endeavour to silence counteraction.

Celebrity writ large!

The button touched, provides the connection to an evidence-based world, as statistical judgements secure the best business investment option, living on a continuum in the digital now. Data manipulated, scientific process mauled and made to lie. Art observes and comments where the wavering hand of 'unsure / don't know' joins with the 'why do I need this or why should I would have this if it’s useless?’

Is there not beauty in uselessness? And where is the acknowledgement of the importance of having an aesthetic? Where do we go to find opinions based not only in the now, but also mindful of the 'then', the 'what if' and the 'seemingly irrelevant'. Algorithms now scan big data for information processing, operations that are beyond our human computational capacity. Data is gathered even when we know not when, how or where. What questions will be answered by its analysis?

How do we go to the future? What is next from now? How do we bring the instantaneous 'now' into a workable, practical realisation of informed opinion where creative intelligence is applied to humanity? Where does the balance between calculated risk and intuition bring understanding to the philosophical, scientific and spiritual aspects of being? And why are aesthetics to be overshadowed by functionality?  Do the questions posed by artists differ from those put by scientists?

Is it now yet?
And you’re ready to leave,
And we’ll all be gone
And now will be then – again.
But we’ll still have now
But we’ll call it then.
When we recall
Where we were when it was then.
And that will always be when it is now.
And we’ll not forget what was now.
Because we have all of what’s left.
When we remember where and when it was
Because we’ll always have now and then


Professor Frank Millward is a multimedia artist who explores cross-disciplinary relationships between art, science and technology where focus is given to the use of sound, space and image in the production of recorded and live performances. His works for film, TV, studio recordings, theatre, site-specific and the concert stage are often realised in collaboration with artists, producers and scientists. His musical styles combine audio art, sound design, jazz, orchestral and electro-acoustic genres. He is currently writing and producing an animated film with an electronic soundtrack that includes a live score played by saxophone quartet.
http://www.frankmillward.com
http://www.uneasydreams.com