You know how sometimes you learn about something you had never heard of before and then you start seeing it everywhere? The New Aesthetic has been one of those things for me since Derek Gregory turned me on to it (sue me if I’m behind the curve). I watched James Bridle’s provocative talk, which is as conceptually sticky as a pop song. Basically, according to Bridle, The New Aesthetic refers to the way in which the irruption of digital technology into “real life” is literally changing the way we see things, how we make them, and understand them.
In a sense, we are increasingly seeing like a machine and making a robot-readable world. The most immediate way in which Bridle and others demonstrate the New Aesthetic is through the “visual shorthand … of glitchy and pixelated imagery, a way of seeing that seems to reveal a blurring between ‘the real’ and ‘the digital’, the physical and the virtual, the human and the machine.” Once you think about it, you can see it everywhere. The pixelated texture of the screen is increasingly becoming the a fabric of real, everyday life. Bridle show how the pixel has become a ubiquitous feature of our way of seeing.
Obviously, the Internet—or, “the network,” as Bridle prefers to call it—is a huge part of the New Aesthetic. And here’s one of the many ways this gets really interesting for geographers. As Bridle puts it, “The network is not a space (notional, cyber or otherwise) and it’s not time (while it is embedded in it at an odd angle) it is some other kind of dimension entirely.” A follow-up post will explore this idea.
So this can go for everything from drone warfare to the on/off-line organizing of the Arab revolts. Another clear demonstration of this is a thing that Bridle came up with called Robot Flâneur, which randomly generates Google street views for particular cities. Though not without its problems—grandiose claims and problematic metaphors (cf. the title of this post)—the idea of a New Aesthetic has struck a collective nerve, it seems to have giving name to a certain structure of feeling.
(This is the first of three posts about the New Aesthetic.)