Farman, Obsolescence and…Mobility

Taking a break from the behemoth that is Simondon, I turn back to trusty Jason Farman and have a look at the concluding chapter from Mobile Interface Theory.

Immediately, I’m struck by his opening quote from Edward Casey, which speaks of humans as “beings of the between, always on the move between places.”

[Aside: while Casey speaks of place, Farman relegates this discussion to space, which is of great importance to my own argument]

Farman likens this to digital media, especially the technological objects being updated and their predecessors becoming essentially obsolete. This obsolescence is at once seen in terms of nostalgia (via Douglass Rushkoff and Sherry Turkle), where the progress required when outmoding older objects simultaneously creates a desire for things to be as they once were – or at least to slow down to a more manageable, human level.

Farman continues to expand on speed/progress and nostalgia/stillness by likening our present state to prior historical incarnations. For Farman, our current experience is one if increments when compared to the explosive changes when writing (Plato), printing (Burke), telephony/telegraphy (Fischer) and even automobiles (also Fischer) first entered into common usage. As such, progress creates obsolescence – but humans have always been obsessed with progress and mobility so this is actually nothing new at all.

However, it is the speed with which devices today become outdated (18 months for the average mobile phone), as well as the fast moving pace of the social environments they proffer/prefer that is truly new. As Paul Virilio notes, ours is an “attentive impatience for a world that does not stop coming, that we can’t stop waiting for” (Virilio qtd. in Farman 134), which can easily be likened to an overall (capitalist/consumerist) materialistic vantage, which also evidences in the materiality of the objects becomes something more than their bare materials and perhaps evoking new materialism.

Farman largely sidesteps the new materialist debate in favour of stillness and dwelling in performance, which has given rise to a “slower ontology” (Lepecki’s dance, similar to the New Media Dramaturgy of Peter Eckersall) seeking to unhinge the notion of motion as the only movement – that stillness is itself a type of mobility. “Stillness is not a lack of action; it is instead a particular kind of action” (Farman 139) because all things material are always, at some level, in motion (even in decay).

Perhaps this can be seen as the physical equivalent of John Cage’s 4:33, a noteless composition that instead drew listener attention to the non-specifically-musical sounds in each performance and as such, the total absence of even the possibility of silence in daily existence (for the non-hearing impaired). At the very least, the performative “slow ontology” has foundation in the experiments of Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch and similar dance-artists, where movements could be large or small – or in the case of Cunningham’s Stillness, apparently non-existent. “Stillness it seems, is never without movement.” (Farman 140)

It is this practiced stillness however that Farman urges the reader to consider as dwelling (conveniently synonymous with a dwelling, or wherever we might call home – though Farman himself does not specifically draw this connection), and it is through this “slow ontology”, this dwelling, that our bodies, devices and spaces marry together in a (holistic) experience of place.

[Aside: While I’m super keen on Farman, I can’t help but feel that dwelling is a poor choice of words, especially when: dwelling on a thought is normally negative in connotation; to dwell simply means to live and; a dwelling is a home – where he really would have made a leap. Were I to dwell on my dwelling while dwelling – which is actually what I am doing right now – I wouldn’t (don’t) feel too good about it. Actually, loitering would almost be of more use here]

Anyhow, I lost my train of thought so I’ll return to all this tomorrow. I know there is a link here between Farman, Theatre and Simondon, so that will hopefully unfold soon.


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