The State: Literacy and Sensory Discourse in the Digital Age
"We find ourselves living in the shadow of technocapitalism: increasingly precarious, alienated and modulated as hyper-atomised individuals," explains the introductory paragraphs at thestate.ae, the website of a forthcoming journal of the same name, which will publish its first issue in March. At present, The State is a privately funded venture and the brainchild of Rami Farook, Ahmad Makia and Rahel Aima, three Middle-East-based individuals invested in contemporary cultural discourse and literature. The home-page for their new journal has yet to be fully updated, and its inaugural issue's title, "voicings/articulations/utterances" is intentionally vague. However, The State promises to unravel themes of contemporary communication and expression by exploring a variety of traditional and modern forms.
I first contacted Rahel about the journal when she tweeted about it. My own interest in new publications like this tends to be defined by my preoccupation with media theory and my curiosity over new media ventures in the digital age. However, it turns out that The State will not seek to overtly examine or analyse the condition of contemporary media resources, how they are used, or what psychological analysis might have to say about their effects on people. Rather, the journal will attempt to understand present-day human representation of objects, spaces and experiences with our familiar multitude of interweaving media forms taken as a given; the vehicle rather than the driver.
This is an ambitious aim, as it tasks the editors of The State with appropriately incorporating and experimenting with any number of available media, from print to audio-visual and everything below, before, behind, above, between. Indeed, in a discussion via Skype with Rahel and Ahmad, I was offered an array of different thoughts and ideas which seem to have sparked inspiration for The State:
We're thinking a lot about senses and how they can be represented [...] Including 'lesser' senses like smell and taste...
How do you 'speak' a place?
We're really interested in atomisation as a contemporary condition.
Foraging, anarcho-primitivist lifestyles.
We've been talking about the skeuomorph... In terms of the 'printernet', how might you represent text on the screen without simply replicating traditional methods of delivering text.
The whole backbone of The State as a cultural project is balanced on the virtues and vices of various media - and humanity's investment in making those media responsive or performative. Rahel and Ahmad seemed eager to play down the notion that their journal would be full of direct media analysis, yet they were fascinated by projects which engaged with media at a visceral level. "We have a guy from Nepal," Rahel explained, "talking about how programming and code could inspire the same aesthetic appreciation as poetry."
To me The State seems like a timely addition to a new wave of academically minded, broad- and niche-interest publications which are taking advantage of the powerful tools available to individuals in the 21st Century who have a desire to publish and be heard. First and foremost, The State is about writing: styles, forms, dialects, identities - figured in pieces of considered text, distributed to readers who are, by their own definition, informed and ready to engage with new kinds of content in intelligent ways.
I've been thinking a lot about the status of writing in the digital age myself, primarily from the point of view of someone who designs websites. Web design for sites which foreground the quality of their written content has changed in subtle yet crucial ways over the last few years and programs such as Shroud (which place a colour backdrop behind the current window on your Mac OS) appeal to a generation which has lovingly adopted screens (on laptops, notebooks, tablets and phones) as places to read in-depth articles, but which might be modified in order for the user to better complete their task without distraction.
Reams (to use an appropriately skeuomorphic pun) of articles for web designers on how to make websites more 'readable' exist, and many of these focus on principles of typography. But I think we have moved far beyond mulling over serif or sans-serif designs to web apps and products which, from top to bottom, announce their project as the projection of 'quality writing' online. Some aggregators do this simply by linking to writing of a high standard, such as The Browser or Longform, while others such as Byliner or Berfrois reproduce articles in their own, minimalist house style.
In my opinion, the appearance of a journal like The State helps to signify the moment at which our cultural interest in the world's media becomes more than a primitive gawking at new modes of communication, but rather a quiet celebration of those modes, and a willingness to play with their boundaries and attributes. And while these modes may provide the platform for new discourse, The State's position on the function of writing is clear: writing exists in the 21st Century not as ‘old media', a tired format playing second fiddle to multimedia, but a fabric through which audio-visual (and various other) experiences may yet be profitably discussed. The artworks and 'installations' which will feature in the journal and on its website ought to further the notion that non-verbal media have an ever-evolving, but not superior, role to play in representing human thought and experience.
The editors define these points of reference between media as the source of a palpable 'tension' in our age, and I couldn't agree more. It's unclear how successful The State will be in achieving its aims, or how wide an audience it will attract, but the principles behind the publication are fascinating, postmodern and brimming with potential.
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- @guyyeomans @timmermansr @worldspaceweek Thanks for the tip ;) Feel free to drop a line, Remco: chrisbaraniuk [at] gmail [dotcom]
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