Bill Kerr seems to be willfully applying a modernist frame of reference over his developing critique of social media. To my mind looking at the world today through the lens of modernism is a bit like turning up to a party wearing your work clothes… I’m not sure if that analogy works for others out there, but it works for me at the moment. This is not to say I don’t appreciate Bills choice of reference, it is quite thought provoking and its certainly giving me stuff to blog about 🙂

I get this idea about Bill from a recent film Sunshine and I have just seen called Helvetica.

Its a documentary on the story of the type set helvetica. Well, its more than that really, its the story of modernist visual communication and media and its relationship to the world today. And that’s the link to Bill.
The film started with the old modernists, nostalgically reminiscing about the crisp, clear, rational idealism of helvetica. Through interview after interview it sampled the perspectives of designers on the significance of the type set. The post modernist designers came on later and almost embarrassed themselves with their naive politiks, but they cleared the thick, pipe smoke air left by the modernist old boys, and made way for the deconstructing grunge. The sort of punk deconstructionists destructionists who dismissed it all and wiped the slate clean of these historical burdons and over all disappointments.

Gradually the film moved through these observable historic periods and attempted to clear some of the fog around today. The current generation of professional designers and their freedom to sample everything from that historic pallet. They are able to balance the rational clarity of modernist style, with the political messaging of the post modernists, and the subjective expressionism of the grunge to create a range of unique messages and visual environments based largely on sampling and remixing. Often deep and considered (as it has to be with these historical references), but largely surface and superficial, intentionally too.

Of course the old boy modernists are still hung up about the post modern “disease” that snuffed their flame, and think and behave like they are the guardians of everything “true”. The post modernists are still hung up about their modernist parents not accepting anything they do, and while they relax into a conservative retirement they on the whole refuse to acknowledge the sophistication of their successors. The punks still don’t give a shit and just get on with it.

But its the emerging generation that is interesting to us now.. this is perhaps the age that will be called the neo constructivists, the time when media and communications was somewhat democratised, when the set up cost to be a film maker was within reach of many, to be a communication designer was within reach of many more still, music, journalism etc..

But that right there is still considering the world with a modernist reference! To use the professions of film making, record producing, journalism as some sort of reference or comparison to the socially networked media is a mistake. To be hung up on the quality of output from socially networked media, based on the outputs of professionals is largely out of place. Of course there are emerging professionals that are using the social platforms – the A listers and the like, but on the whole, considering neo constructivism in terms of historical professionalism is a bit like turning up to a juiced up punk/grunge rock party dress and drinking your 60’s helvetica.. you’re gunna get bashed or worse.

Its not quite right, but I wanna say that there’s no such thing as a film maker, a designer, a journalist or record producer anymore. These historic reference points for media and communication have been diluted and washed away. If these things are everywhere now, then these things are nothing (to appropriate Robert Hughes‘ famous line). Of course we still go to see films, and buy recorded music, and take notice of journalistic expertise, its just that these are no longer the only, or most significant platform for cultural expression. Visual communication and design is now merging with personal expression and identity and professionalism has nothing to do with it.

The Helvetica film ended with an excellent observation of this new social mediascape by a fella named – I’ll have to watch the film again 😦 I’ve asked the Youtube pirate if he/she has the clip I’m thinking of… but the fella was observing the scene through the lens of society and communication. The point of this post is that appreciating the historical significance of the socially networked media scape, or the neo constructivists (if i’m ok to call it that (?) is better done through the lens of contemporary social science, through communications studies, through culture and visual communication. Not through modernist perspectives in computing, rationalism or objectivity.

Dangerous words I know – to a precious modernist despairing at the destruction of his world as the boys and girls strip him of his work suit.