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Peter Lunenfeld

Peter Lunenfeld is Professor of Design Media Arts at UCLA and the author of User: InfoTechnoDemo, Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures, and The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine, all published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

Digital_Humanities is a compact, game-changing report on the state of contemporary knowledge production. Answering the question, “What is digital humanities?,” it provides an in-depth examination of an emerging field. This collaboratively authored and visually compelling volume explores methodologies and techniques unfamiliar to traditional modes of humanistic inquiry--including geospatial analysis, data mining, corpus linguistics, visualization, and simulation--to show their relevance for contemporary culture.

Included are chapters on the basics, on emerging methods and genres, and on the social life of the digital humanities, along with “case studies,” “provocations,” and “advisories.” These persuasively crafted interventions offer a descriptive toolkit for anyone involved in the design, production, oversight, and review of digital projects. The authors argue that the digital humanities offers a revitalization of the liberal arts tradition in the electronically inflected, design-driven, multimedia language of the twenty-first century.
Written by five leading practitioner-theorists whose varied backgrounds embody the intellectual and creative diversity of the field, Digital_Humanities is a vision statement for the future, an invitation to engage, and a critical tool for understanding the shape of new scholarship.

Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine

The computer, writes Peter Lunenfeld, is the twenty-first century’s culture machine. It is a dream device, serving as the mode of production, the means of distribution, and the site of reception. We haven’t quite achieved the flying cars and robot butlers of futurist fantasies, but we do have a machine that can function as a typewriter and a printing press, a paintbrush and a gallery, a piano and a radio, the mail as well as the mail carier. But, warns Lunenfeld, we should temper our celebration with caution; we are engaged in a secret war between downloading and uploading--between passive consumption and active creation--and the outcome will shape our collective futures.In The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading, Lunenfeld makes his case for using digital technologies to shift us from a consumption to a production model. He describes television as the “the high fructose corn syrup of the imagination” and worries that it can cause “cultural diabetes”; prescribes mindful downloading, meaningful uploading, and “info-triage” as cures; and offers tips for crafting “bespoke futures” in what he terms the era of “Web n.0” (interconnectivity to the nth power). He also offers a stand-alone genealogy of digital visionaries, distilling a history of the culture machine that runs from the Patriarchs (Vannevar Bush‘s WWII generation) to the Hustlers (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) to the Searchers (Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google fame). After half a century of television-conditioned consumption/downloading, Lunenfeld tells us, we now find ourselves with a vast new infrastructure for uploading. We simply need to find the will to make the best of it.

InfoTechnoDemo

In these essays, Peter Lunenfeld does theory and criticism "in real time," looking at (among other subjects) art, video games, book design, "techno-masturbation," The Matrix, and life extension diets. "Readers will have to determine for themselves," he writes, "if this range is symptomatic of pluralism or promiscuity." User illuminates the patterns and repetitions that link—for example—nanotechnology to electronic music, artist/archivist Harry Smith to architect/superstar Rem Koolhaas, Pontiacs to open source software. And User offers a reading experience that is more vivid than most: Mieke Gerritzen's bold visuals create a book that is also a designed object—a compact matrix of words and image as potent as a smart bomb.

User is not a manifesto. Lunenfeld means these essays—which were written originally for the international magazine artext—to be translator utilities, bridging the gap between the art world and the design establishment, between journalism and the seminar room. Pondering the "permanent present" of today's visual culture, Lunenfeld blames the twenty-first century's inability to imagine the future on a movie and an interface: the too-influential aesthetic of Blade Runner and the ubiquitous desktop of nested files, icons, trash cans, and cascading windows, he argues, have become impediments to our thinking beyond the present. Lunenfeld writes about Euro-Disney, Matthew Barney, the VHS pornucopia that killed off Betamax, the computer as a "solitude enhancement machine," our embarrassing Y2K hysteria (when TEOTWAWKI—The End of the World As We Know It—didn't happen), and other faces of what he calls "that overwhelming diversity which for lack of a better term we call the present."

A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures

In Snap to Grid, an idiosyncratic guide to the interactive, telematic era, Peter Lunenfeld maps out the trajectories that digital technologies have traced upon our cultural imaginary. His clear-eyed evaluation of new media includes an impassioned discussion—informed by the discourses of technology, aesthetics, and cultural theory—of the digital artists, designers, and makers who matter most. "Snap to grid" is a command that instructs the computer to take hand-drawn lines and plot them precisely in Cartesian space. Users regularly disable this function the moment they open an application because the gains in predictability and accuracy are balanced against the losses of ambiguity and expressiveness. Lunenfeld uses "snap to grid" as a metaphor for how we manipulate and think about the electronic culture that enfolds us. In this book he snaps his seduction by the machine to the grid of critical thinking.

How can we compare new media to established media? Must we revert to a default dichotomy between utopia and desolation, the notion that media, even digital media, by themselves can redeem or damn us? As he answers these and other questions, Lunenfeld takes into account the post-1989 politico-economic context in which new media have developed and grounds the insights of theory in the constraints of production. Artists discussed include Mark Amerika, Char Davies, Hollis Frampton, William Gibson, Gary Hill, Perry Hobermann, JODI, Christian Möller, Adam Ross, Jennifer Steinkamp, Stelarc, and Diana Thater.

Titles by This Editor

New Essays on New Media
Edited by Peter Lunenfeld

The Digital Dialectic is an interdisciplinary jam session about our visual and intellectual cultures as the computer recodes technologies, media, and art forms. Unlike purely academic texts on new media, the book includes contributions by scholars, artists, and entrepreneurs, who combine theoretical investigations with hands-on analysis of the possibilities (and limitations) of new technology. The key concept is the digital dialectic: a method to ground the insights of theory in the constraints of practice. The essays move beyond journalistic reportage and hype into serious but accessible discussion of new technologies, new media, and new cultural forms.