The reaction of contemporary culture to digital technology has produced a social phenomena where the culture itself has begun changing to reflect the nature of the technology it uses. This is especially true of network based technologies such as broadcasting, mobile phones and the internet which have had clear effects on our society, not just in terms of what can be achieved but also how we interact with each other; how our sense of community has widened through improved communication and how a general sense of global awareness has emerged.
With this in mind, the Culture of Technology refers here to those who have an affinity with modern digital applications and choose to reflect this within their attitudes and values. Specifically, I will be investigating the influence that technology has in directing contemporary art methodology and blurring the boundaries of traditional art forms and art practice. I will also be looking at artists that use the computer as their medium and how this form of technology is inspiring art and being driven forward by artists. Digital technology has facilitated interdisciplinary activity across all aspects of our culture and this is exemplified in the art world.
Arguably, the greatest medium for cultural change of this nature is the Internet. Since its creation, the World Wide Web has increased the market for home computers and this greater level of access can be seen in the diverse creativity of its users. The home computer has become available to both technical and non-technical users over the last twenty years, moving its market from the mainstay of advanced programmers and scientists to the ubiquitous use in schools and homes. Artists that have grown up with this level of communication and technology have instinctively created art in terms of its dynamism and interaction. The Internet, as it has continued to evolve and expand, has defined a particular branch of art practice that has brought into focus the nature of art in the digital realm and for whom that art is intended. This ‘Net Art’ practice has spawned artists that bypass the formal gallery and publisher routes, art that is created in the digital arena that exists as art without object, collaborations of geographically disparate artists and art that adjusts itself through time dependent upon the audience’s interaction. This is not just using the network to distribute or display art on the internet but, rather, it is art created with and specific to the medium of distribution.
The use of software and technology in art as an integral part of the user experience has created a practice where the possibilities of art that can be produced are dictated by the technology employed. This practice also segregates the audience into those with the technical knowledge and means to interact successfully with the work and those without, forming an audience of separated individuals, each with their own portal to the work.
However, it has also enabled artists to tackle areas of art that have hitherto been impractical or simply irrelevant to the art world. Net Art has engendered a blurring of the line between artist and audience due to works’ interdependence with the internet community. The use of the computer screen as an artistic statement, the formation of images and sound via randomised variables or directly from user input, and the expansion of the literary form into the semi linear narratives of hyper text are also included within this debate.
Since 1988 the number of host computers connected to the internet has been doubling every year and the internet itself has been growing by twenty percent a month. Along with this widening community, fundamental ideas and ideals have evolved concerning how society should react to technology as it becomes more pervasive. In the 1984 publication ‘Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.’, technology journalist Steven Levy traces the history and ideals of the very first users and creators of the Internet and the computer, summarising their attitudes to technology in the following credos of ‘hacker ethics’.
Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
All information should be free.
Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.
Hackers should be judged by their hacking not criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position. You create art and beauty on a computer.
Computers can change your life for the better.  These thoughts were published in the same year as the Macintosh computer was released, yet serve as well today at highlighting the inherent mythology of computers. The growing number of artists that use computers and the development of this as a new form of media, out of its purely practical origins, have shown that Levy’s ethics are also an extension of ideas related to Pop Art, inspired by popular culture and influenced by mass media.
These concepts were being explored by artist Richard Hamilton during the 50′s when he co-founded the Independent Group, who met to discuss the effects of American mass media on culture. He is considered by many to be the father of UK Pop Art and produced in 1956 a poster for the ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition. He was amongst the first to reflect the modern consumerism back upon itself by appropriating images and aesthetics directly from advertising and the modern media. In a letter written to fellow members of the Independent Group in 1957 he defined Pop, or Mass Culture and identified eleven commandments that define it:
1. Popular (designed for mass audiences);
2. Transient (short-term solution);
3. Expendable (easily forgotten);
4. Low cost [accessible];
5. Mass produced [ubiquitous];
6. Young (aimed at youth [or its recovery or preservation]);
7. Witty [irreverent, clever];
8. Sexy [desirable];
9. Gimmicky [clever compartments and functions];
10. Glamorous [elite, exclusive, enviable];
11. Big business [high production values and promotion].
These commandments of Pop Art can also be applied to digital art and the internet; a technology that encourages the interconnection of diverse art practices. The older art forms of Opera and Cinema first facilitated this fusion of various disciplines, and though we are still developing a language for use with computer based art forms, the possibilities have been envisioned for many years.
For example, Dadaism, Nouveau Realisme and Fluxus propounded concepts of art being one with the action, the process, the audience and the space within which art may exist. They did not seek to exemplify a single medium but by remaining involved with several art forms, helped to break down the barriers that existed between them. The Dada movement in particular used art as a reaction to the social and cultural conditions that they believed had lead the world into war. Their work subverted the audiences’ assumptions of art by incorporating the radical ideas of chance, collage, audience interaction, visual poetry and simultaneity. Through this interdisciplinary method they sought to restore a sense of artistic quality and breakdown the preconceptions of art that a commercial society had made commonplace.
Such concepts are now commonplace themselves and are embodied within the development of multimedia practice. Though it has been governed by corporate technology, such as the Windows OS, Flash or Director, the artistic impetus has moved out of the hands of the purely technical into the control of the artist-engineer.
The Internet, the computer and digital technology have created many diverse art practices and this research essay will attempt to explore the aspects that they hold in common; their origins, their place in our society and their ideology. The Culture of Technology will be exposed by delving into aspects of art that have been created using computers, that specifically address the role of the computer in art and self reflectively study our technological experience. This kind of art has come from our contemporary perspective and draws upon the myths and mythology of the computer itself.
Technology has often been viewed as a direct extension of the artist’s intent; a force that drives and inspires new practices and with its exciting new possibilities the medium has been embraced for its potential. The Czech play ‘R.U.R’ by Karel Capek, used the term ‘robot’ in 1921, from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning servitude, to describe mechanical workers and it is clear that the technological revolutions of the early 20th century were directly inspiring the artists of the time.
For example, when Richard Wagner attempted to bring a new impetus to the art of Opera, he saw it as part of the ethos of his conceptual ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’; a total artwork that encapsulated all forms of artistic medium and fused them into a single experiential whole. Along with this multi-media concept, Wagner also searched for ways to create a setting for Opera that would serve to draw the audience into a state of focused attention and though the innovations he used were for the benefit of the art, it shows how he was not beyond using the incorporation of new technology to achieve his vision.
However, this was not the only time that the idea of a fusion of art forms had come about, in the Futurist Cinema Manifesto of 1916, cinema was regarded as the ultimate fusion of all art forms and by extension the new technology of the cinema was a transformational force that could effect society and all traditional arts.
Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in 1924 examined the impact and use of technology in art and developed what he called the Theatre of Totality. Within this discipline all aspects of the theatrical experience were considered as equal; placing as much importance on the technologies of lighting, film, acoustics and stage design as he did on actors and the text they would perform. Technology was also a great source of artistic inspiration for him and formed the basis of a number of common thematic motifs in his work.
By 1948, Norbert Weiner was examining the relationship that man has with technology and introduced the notion of ‘cybernetics’ to suggest that human communication should be at the heart of all human to machine and machine to machine interfaces. He foresaw the rise of the technological society and in influencing the design of technological interaction, by introducing feedback, input, output and prediction into the framework of communication theory, created a number of precedents that would lead the way to a more intuitive collaboration between the artist and the growing technology of the computer.
Nam June Paik is an embodiment of this approach and of the artist of the Technological Culture. Not only is he an emphatic user of new technologies in art but is also reflecting back the culture of the consumerist, technologically led society; much like Richard Hamilton and Pop Artists before him. In his global transmission work ‘Wrap Around the Globe’, broadcast a week before the Seoul Olympics of 1988, he directed a world wide multi media symphony, transmitting and editing sounds via satellite to many cities across the globe. Within this work Nam June Paik has upheld a number of new media ideals of communication or collaboration and pointed the way forward for art that is no longer high art, as such, but an inclusive high art of entertainment that still manages to unite an audience of media users and bring the very technology used into critique.
He is still looking towards the future of technology and art, moving into the net as a medium and in an interview of the same year as ‘Wrap Around the Globe’ gave this warning. ‘Artists creating high tech art must be careful not to fall into the decorative trap. They must prevent the high tech from overpowering the art. If we can avoid this danger, then it will be all right.’ 
Similarly, when Marc Canter formed the software company ‘Macromedia’ in 1984, he was looking to the future of art and seeing how the personal computer would instigate the rising importance of the digital artist. He created an interface design that would be intuitive for artists to use, and with the hugely popular Director program brought about wide scale desktop multi media production. Canter was a musician and a singer, as well as a programmer, and is a perfect example of the artist-engineer who is looking to create a total artwork, a synthesis of art and technology.
Thus, even before the computer, art has been influenced by a methodology similar to that of the computer. The unification of various mediums of artistic expression, multiple layers of context, an avoidance of linearity and an inclusion of the audience into the experience and the creative process are some of the ways in which post-computer concepts have long been a part of pre-computer thinking.
Code Poetry is not well known as an artistic expression, neither is it of any real interest to either programmers or poets, but it falls somewhere in between the two disciplines; pointing the way toward a union between programming and poetry. The rigid logical construction of a programming language has its own syntax and grammar, its own rhythmic form and can be used to convey something poetic; code poetry is art generated out of the very foundation of the operating system, rather than being generated by it.
Perl is one such computer language and there are only about four poets working in the area of human-readable programming systems. Larry Wall and Sharon Hopkins are the main contributors to the idea of Perl Poetry, and the following is an example of Sharon’s work.
As you can see, not only does this use the logical construction of the programming language, it also distorts the traditional use of punctuation; similar in many ways to the works of poet E. E. Cummings, who reused punctuation as a form of semiotic encryption. This can be seen in one of Larry Walls haiku’s that reportedly began the whole movement, where STDOUT is read as ‘Standard Out’ and the $ symbol must be pronounced ‘dollar’ in order to comply with the rules of the American haiku style.
Poems of this nature have a literal meaning where the poem is attempting to express a sentiment but they also incorporate the code structure by using punctuation that can be pronounced, or that alters the meaning. Furthermore, for someone who understands Perl there are other meanings related to the syntax of programming tied to certain key words, such as select, sort, bind, connect, read, etc. It contains meaning that exists both as a piece of poetry, an encrypted set of instructions and the inherent possibility of how a computer might interpret it.
Alan Kay, while founding the Learning Research Group at Palo Alto Research Centre in 1972, was responsible for the innovation of the Graphical User Interface; a means of interacting with the computer using symbolic concepts to represent the various computer functions. The innovation of the GUI pushed forward the level of user interaction and was far more successful, though no more or less practical, than its predecessor, the command line, which was entirely text based. However, it was the difference between needing to know a programming language or simply pointing and clicking on the screen. His visions for the computer were always moving toward what he saw as a ‘hypermedia’ that integrated all media into an intuitive format. This differed from the static traditions in that the art it helped create promoted and was formed from the growing digital communications network, and the interaction of its participants, both artist and audience.
Since the advent of the personal computer, the basic assumptions of how one could possibly interact with the representation of information on screen has become fixed. Most of the conventions used are impossible to move away from, as they are so intuitive and ingrained in the contemporary computer using culture. Attempts have been made to try new variations, especially in the area of the Internet browser but no design has ever formed a serious challenge to the present methods.
Artists have approached this topic in a number of ways; some with the hope of giving the harshly practical interface an artistic aesthetic that would increase its user friendliness, and some who use our assumptions about the computer interface to make an artistic statement.
With ‘Desktop Is’, created by Alexei Shulgin, the on-line gallery gathers screenshots of peoples’ working computer desktops along with desktops designed for the site. They draw attention to the computer environment, its aesthetic values and how we have begun to use the organisation of information as a representation of individuality and identity.
‘Shredder’, by Mark Napier, becomes a filter to the web and transforms the way the code for any page is displayed on screen. Any site URL entered into the Shredder suddenly becomes completely different, rendering the innards of the online experience and forming creative collages from the raw material of the web site viewed.
‘Subculture’ by Antonio Mendoza goes out if its way to subvert the concept of user friendliness, replacing the browsing attitude of web surfing with a randomised linear path, the screen flickers and jumps, repeats and distorts. The experience is one where the myths of the stability of technology is revealed as fraudulent and fragile.
Net Art works that approach the subject of the GUI are dealing directly with our assumptions of both technology and art, of the online process and the online experience. They have subverted the display of internet browsers by changing the way information is displayed and thus, force us to change how we interact with that information.
The random variable is a building block for many software programs, appearing within every computer language and present in most modern forms of computer based art, but hidden deep within the code like a subliminal process. The concept of true randomness is almost impossible to implement when dealing with human action as there are so many subconscious impulses informing our responses. Then, when we bring this into the digital realm, we find that the randomness generated is based upon algorithmic codes that are written by humans; the randomness is an illusion generated by complexity, a pseudo randomness.
The most famous proponent of Indeterminacy in art has been John Cage, who worked toward the removal of the ego of the composer or creator by allowing randomness to take over the decision making process in various ways. With ‘Music for Changes’ he did not compose in the common sense but employed the I Ching as a randomisation tool and collected the results in the formation of the notation. On this subject Cage states ‘It is thus possible to make a musical composition the continuity of which is free from individual taste and memory (psychology) and also of the literature and traditions of art.’  By giving the composition over to chance operations, Cage has also handed over control or choices to the performer as part of the process. The score must first be interpreted and studied, human choice then filters out that which isn’t technically playable and performs an interpretation of randomness.
In the 1960′s Roy Ascot was influenced by the avant-garde practises of Dada, Fluxus and Pop Art and through the ideas of Norbert Weiner’s ‘cybernetics’ saw how the computer could bring the ideas of John Cage into the digital realm, as the best means for extending the level of connectivity between the artwork and the audience.
In 1970 Myron Krueger, also influenced by Cage’s experiments in chance and audience inclusion, developed a responsive environment called ‘Videoplace’, where the actions and interactions of the audience were translated and fed back via computer and projection.
Audiences have supported these trends and even outside of the art or entertainment industries, people have been drawn towards the benefits of near instantaneous communication and collaboration regardless of geographical location. When Pavel Curtis created ‘LambdaMOO’, an online text based environment written and evolved by its virtual inhabitants, the collective audience helped the multi user forum bloom via improvised dialog and storytelling; a shared area of creativity.
In 1982, Lynn Hershman used the videodisc as her interactive medium with ‘Lorna’, where the inner world of an alienated and fearful woman could be rearranged and reinterpreted, allowing new themes and conclusions to emerge. This kind of interaction is evident throughout the development of art and technology and their evolution has occurred side by side.
While William Burroughs was developing his ‘cut-up’ technique of destroying all rational thought in 1959, he was moving literature closer towards a non linear realisation of narrative. In Burroughs’ view the mind is essentially non linear and by fragmenting and juxtaposing text he reveals a closer connection between the thought process of the author and the finished work.
Around the same time, Ted Nelson, being inspired by the works of Vannevar Bush and the use of technology in expanding the human memory, foresaw how technology could realise its potential as a creative tool and alter the way society would communicate. He thought of information space as an area outside of time or reality where all aspects of information can be endlessly realigned to create new meaning; much like the notion of ‘dataspace’ as described by Bill Viola who used these concepts to break down the barriers of time and place within narrative in his own works. Nelson also coined the terms ‘hypertext’ and ‘hypermedia’ to describe the way in which a computer would allow an artist or writer to interconnect literature, music and science; allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions from the work without being led down a single pathway or narrative structure.
Distributable media is one of the areas where interactive design borders on the art world and a perfect example of this is in Laurie Anderson’s CD-ROM ‘Puppet Motel’. Though Anderson has always evolved her performances to incorporate new media possibilities, here she had taken another step, presenting the method of delivery as integral to the art itself. ‘Puppet Motel’ is not merely a method for delivering video clips and music, but instead creates an interactive space that contains music, video and animation within a greater context.
Collaborating with designer Hsin-Chien Huang, she has produced a work of interactive art that stands apart from similar formats by creating a unified medium that displays music, storytelling and visual art from a single artistic viewpoint. Anderson states ‘It was in many ways very similar to working on a performance (text, image, music…). In fact, what I really liked about working on a CD-ROM is that it involved a totally new way of thinking. It was very much the way my mind works anyway.’ 
With Jeff Noon’s book ‘Cobralingus’, he took the concept in the other direction and included a human replication of computerised process, reflecting the various filters, gates, mixers, samples and effects of modern technological music. The source text, whether it is comes from Shakespeare, De Quincy or his own prose is taken through a series of remixes and alterations, producing whole new sections of poetry, songs, fiction and visual displays of text.
Narrative Art, art that provides a visual representation of a plot line or sequence of events, also examines the concept of Literary Art; a literary experience that is also an artistic one, where the depth of the story uncovered is dependant on the depth of user involvement. The artists seek to challenge assumptions about the development of a narrative by providing a complete story embedded and obfuscated in the distracting entertainments of the technological medium. The soundtrack, literary and visual environments are effected and formed by user interaction; the user and the art collaborating to produce a unique representation of the complete work.
he Sample and Free Information
The Culture of Technology is one of communication, instantaneous interaction and the development of community without boundaries. Part of the mindset behind the Culture of Technology is thoroughly post-modernist. Inspiration and resource may be taken from any form of media, whether in context or not and this is also at the heart of sampling and open-source.
One of the biggest issues for corporations wishing to enhance, support or profit from Computer or Net Art is in its security. On one hand the most suitable and well crafted software to aid creative interaction is very often the most expensive and naturally holds the larger companies as their market; it is big business. On the other hand the net is suffused with many cabals and networks dedicated to disseminating the software for free.
The rise of sampling, both musical and artistic, seems to go hand in hand with this trend. Part of the mythology of the net is that everything is free, reflecting a view that the artist of the technological culture has the right to use anything seen, heard or experienced and bring them together in their own work. Users of the Linux operating system have almost taken this to a philosophical level, where it is held as a moral choice to support something that attempts to reconcile the corporate advancements with the freedom of personal control.
There is an inherent conflict between the Technological Culture and the corporation and governments’ use of technology. The net and the computer are idealised spaces where it is possible to be free of political, religious or racial bias, where all information is accessible and censorship is avoided. However, the corporate / government use of technology has focused on imposing security and control, sorting its users into datasets of personal information, tracking financial transactions and the advancement of the war machine; after all, the net has evolved from a military project and the technology leaders are still being led from the military and secret service.
Despite the obvious idealism of the technological culture and the seeming threat of the totalitarian government, there are still positive and negative aspects to both sides of the argument. It is in viewing the line that divides these two doctrines that hacktivism has arisen and there is no better forum for the political artist, as the technology allows for the dissemination of information to a global arena. The computer and the net are powerful tools in raising awareness of social issues and the net artist can circumvent the hierarchical conventions of both the artistic and political world.
With the traditional arts it seemed quite clear cut; a sculpture or painting exists in a very physical way and can be placed in a gallery, poetry or literature can be published, theatre or music can be performed, and what they all share is a protocol or expectation of how they can be viewed. During the 1960′s these expectations were being challenged, especially through the art ‘Happenings’ of Allan Kaprow. His method was to provoke interaction between the artist’s concepts and the audience’s response. Kaprow’s art was more of an event or series of non linear events that by their juxtaposition and use of indeterminacy would create new meanings within the participation of the audience. In his 1959 work ’18 Happenings in Six Parts’ he organised a set of simultaneous events to take place in the New Yorker Reuben Gallery, dividing the space up into performance areas and forming a distinction between the audience and the participant, inviting their interaction with the work. This was art that one experienced rather than viewed and brought the artist away from the rigid disciplines of art and into the more free realm of reality and audience experience.
All aspects of art are in a constant state of flux, being redefined as the culture continues to change; the relationship between artist and the institution, between artist and audience, etc, are all having to be re-examined in light of the influence that technology can have on society as a whole.
The exhibition of art has always been the primary mode of interaction with an audience, even though art can reach an audience without enlisting the aid of great institutions. There was a time when the galleries were responsible for hosting experimental forms of art and performance and bringing them to a greater awareness. The art gallery or museum is, of necessity, becoming a fundamentally commercial enterprise and by transforming art into a commodity they have begun its corporatisation. The response to this can be seen in the rise of internet and computer art, where all traditional routes to the audience can be circumnavigated, yet these forms of art are now emerging within the traditional art spaces just as the traditional art institutions are reaching out into the digital world.
The digital artist is beginning to be taken seriously as the work becomes of more and more interest to corporations or galleries. It can be seen that there is a growing market for digital work but also it is becoming increasingly obvious that the work itself is gaining credibility and that digital art has an important place in the history of art.
There have always been those who have helped direct the advance of art with commercial backing such as King Ludwig of Bavaria, who helped Wagner create his vision of an Opera House specifically for the production of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ , and the modern corporation has now risen up as the new ‘patron to the arts’. Digital art is probably more under the sway of sponsorship than any other art form, simply because of the costs involved with the wide scale, high visibility exhibition of technology based art.
Traditional forms of art must stand for a long period of time before they reach a defined place in the annals of art history. Their static nature allows them to be viewed in the same manner throughout their life and those who attempt to follow their examples do so with the same skills and techniques. Digital based artwork, by comparison, is relatively instantaneous and reaches a cultural saturation in the same way as the cult figures and celebrity of mass media. Because of their dynamism and interactive elements, they will almost never be viewed in the same way by succeeding generations and being tied so closely with technology means that a large number of them will eventually drift into obscurity as new formats render them obsolete. Therefore, traditional art forms will remain as an ideal of high art, whereas net art and digital art will appeal to society as entertainment.
Not that I am ascribing any negative connotations to art as entertainment. Technologists have been beckoning culture to cross over the threshold and become included for a long time, seeing the technological developments as a way of connecting the world and most importantly, by way of Levy’s second doctrine that all information should be free, as a way of empowering people with knowledge.
Net Condition was launched in the Autumn of 1999, an exhibition of over a hundred net art projects organised by chairman and curator Peter Weibel of ZKM (Centre for Art and Media), and represents a serious attempt to define or introduce the net artist and the artistic manifestations of the online community. Weibel has stated that ‘Net Art has become the forum in which many of the liberating hopes of the historic avant-garde are expressed in new terms.’  He sees Net Condition as a continuation of the ideologies and practices of such theorists as Pierre Levy, where the emerging technologies represent an agent for aesthetic and cultural transformation.
In his book ‘L’ideographie dynamique’, Levy was thinking about the construction of a new language based on dynamic media which would dramatically alter the relationship between the creator and the spectator and this is where Weibel is heading.
He states that ‘The curator’s job is not only to make an exhibition of existing work or traditional work, as in a museum. A curator also has to remember that a virtual museum can consist of additional work, being rendered two-dimensionally or digitally; it can be media work… …A curator can ask ‘how can I combine photography, video, computer, and the Internet? What could be a new format, a new way of story telling, or a new lifestyle, new activities?’ And then you have to find the people – poets, singers, songwriters – not to make a song for a record, not to make a poem for a book, but to think about what can be done for the net, and then develop something specifically for it.’ 
In a speech concerning the computer revolution, Alan Kay states.’No media revolution can be said to have happened without a general establishment of ‘literacy:’ fluent ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ at the highest level of ideas that the medium can represent. With computers, we are so far from that fluent literacy, or even understanding what that literacy should resemble, that we could claim that the computer revolution hasn’t even started.’ 
Technology is, by its nature, elitist and a drawback with digital technology is that it requires a great deal of specialised knowledge or a sizeable amount of money before benefits can be derived from it. As far as the computer is concerned, a number of advances were required before it could even function as a viable commercial market.
Yet despite this new expansive inclusion and corporate support, an elitist element will always exist; formed, not just from the division between those who are technical and those who aren’t, but from those who are technically proficient enough to be an audience and those who are technically proficient enough to be the creators. Computer Art and Net Art both deal primarily with this division and the artists who take these as their fields often hold a mirror up to the very medium itself and by extension themselves and their audience.
Artists that have used, been inspired by or reacted against technology rarely do so as a singular event. It is often because they have found that a relationship with technology is inescapable, it is part of their world and as artists they must reflect this. With this relationship, new concepts are emerging that are specific to the technological experience that in turn offer new forms of art.
These concepts are drawn from the mythology of the computer and the myths of the new technological world, which have yet to become a factual definition because they are occurring at this moment within the modern Culture of Technology.
Curtis L McFee, 2004