Ben Grosser on Sat, 2 Oct 2021 22:09:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Software for Less — Exhibition at arebyte in London

Hello All,

I wanted to share my solo exhibition at arebyte Gallery in London titled Software for Less. It presents a series of experiments over the last ten years that examine how and why capitalist ideologies get embedded in big tech platforms, and proposes radical alternatives that reconfigure and reimagine what software platforms can be. 

Many of the works directly manipulate sites like Facebook/Twitter/TikTok/etc, while others analyze their design as well as their makers. Several new projects are on view, including: DEFICIT OF LESS (a massive Zuckerberg supercut that is a companion to my film ORDER OF MAGNITUDE); Platform Sweet Talk, an examination of the "engagement romance" behind social media notifications; and Minus, a finite social network where users get 100 posts—for life.

We have a series of events that includes periodic livestreamed recodings of my project Facebook Demetricator; an online panel discussion between myself, Wendy Chun, Matthew Fuller, and Joana Moll (on 14 Oct); and an artist talk about the exhibition (not yet scheduled).

Rachel O'Dwyer wrote an essay about the show, titled More or Less, and a catalog of works is available (25MB PDF).

The exhibition is up through 23 October, and I'll be in London during its last week. Below is my statement about it:

Software for Less
arebyte Gallery, London
20 August – 23 October

The last twenty years have been characterized by the rise of software. Software has enabled the web, animated the smartphone, and made possible, in the words of one big tech CEO, a world “more open and connected.” Yet software, which is now used by billions across the planet every day, has embedded within it the capitalist ideologies of those who make it. Coming out of growth-obsessed entrepreneurial culture from Silicon Valley in the United States, today’s software wants what its creators want: more. This want is fundamental, driving how software works, what it does, and what it makes (im)possible. The result is a global populace now dependent on software platforms that intentionally activate within users a “desire for more,” a need software meets with its “like” counts and algorithmic feeds and endless notifications, all in service of what big tech most seeks to realize their hopes and dreams: more users, more data, and more profit. And though wealth and fame has come to those who craft the platforms, their relentless focus on growth and scale has left a trail of destruction across society. Mental health, privacy, and democracy are all diminished, while authoritarianism, racism, and disinformationism are emboldened. Twenty years after the rise of software, big tech’s drive for more has transformed its most lauded asset into its biggest liability.

After years of artistic efforts to define, examine, reveal, and defuse how software activates the desire for more—to “demetricate” social media, to defuse emotional surveillance, to confuse big data algorithms, and to track and trace how the politics of interface become the politics of humanity—this exhibition presents the first outcomes from a new experiment, one that aims to generate a Software for Less. How would users feel if software platforms actively worked to reduce engagement rather than to produce it? What if software interfaces encouraged conceptions of time that are slow rather than fast? Why can’t software want less instead of more? Utilizing custom methods such as software recomposition, techniques like data obfuscation, and genres that include video supercuts and net art, Software for Less introduces functional applications and media-based artworks that tackle those questions, presenting works that produce less profit, less data, and less users. It includes a social network that aims to limit compulsions to use it, systems that make AI-driven feeds less attractive to those they profile, and the artifacts from investigations that reveal how a tiny few manipulates a broad public into a hyper state of more—and how disrupting that manipulation could point the way towards an alternative future. Not software for more, but Software For Less.

—Ben Grosser, 20 July 2021


Please stop by if you're in London, or otherwise you can see the works online.


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