San Francisco is the land of software engineers, which means it’s the land of frustrated and smart people. Smart people tend to be expressive and artistic, but often not in a way that makes them money (we can’t all be the creator of Yo), and even less often in a way that fits the traditional employment model in which a cooperation contractually sponsors your existence. But all of this pent up artistic energy has to go somewhere, and Burning Man can only absorb so much of it, so we see projects pop up every day on hnews which can really only be described as tech art.
Tech art is art about tech. It’s usually made with tech. It’s often satirical. It’s extremely powerful.
Tech art is Likebook, a social media app where all you can do is Share and Like – you don’t share specific things, you just nebulously Share, and other people Like. And SomeWhatsApp, a messaging app that randomly drops 10% of messages so that you have plausible deniability when you don’t respond to things.
Tech art is a search engine for colors, a daily palette, or a plaid generator. An AI that tries to draw an image from a caption, but is bad at it. A wisdom generating neural network trained only on the bible and some Computer Science books. A bot that writes click-bait, and an entire subreddit of bots trained on other subreddits, replying to other bots.
It is all of this, and their shared deeper message that outlasts and outworks nihilism – one that, in the face of everyday monotony, rather than going dark, chooses to shine light. In an age of phone addiction, social media depression, wage-slavery, income inequality, and disillusionment with the optimistic future of the 2000′s, tech art loudly trumpets the message that technology problems aren’t unbeatable.
Many readers will find that they actually are tech artists (this is why so many of us turn to side projects). That they are prouder of their oddly meaningful and personal widgets than they are of the million-user SaaS product they work on. That there’s a hole in their bookmarks where their favorite I’m-bored website used to sit; a hole they now fill with CNN and the NYT, but which is much more suited for artistic expression and enjoyment. Their spirits are restless.
They know that art is powerful when it is universal, they know that nothing is more universal than the pounding war drums and slow march of coming technology, and nobody knows the news from the front like them. And they know that to some extent it will be impossible not to succumb, that fighting it would be like wading handcuffed through molasses, and giving in would mean pain.
But above all else they know that humans always find a way to take pain and turn it into art.