Truisms and Technology: Speaking our Minds with Jenny Holzer and Soma

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

– Arthur C. Clarke

 

We are supremely affected by technology, whether we want to be or not. It continues to revolutionize the way the media massages its message; this shift in how we convey information creates subtle changes in the information itself. Technology gives us an array of new options for speaking our minds, and living more simply and efficiently. It can absolutely help us to move forward as a society. But in order for this to happen, we need to grab hold of it — seize it for a higher purpose. Sitting back with our mouths wide open, willingly taking in whatever’s being served on the daily, status quo menu is no longer serving us as a whole. Further, it directly affects future generations. and our own children, as time goes by.

 

In one way or another, we find ourselves speaking through technology every day. Relishing the ease with which these advancements have brought efficiency to our lives goes hand-in-hand with accepting any inevitable frustrations. After reaching out on Facebook for computer help yesterday, a kind, techie friend of mine brought me a laptop computer to use. For the past 2 years, I’ve been using an old netbook — which is officially no longer cutting the mustard. While I’ve somehow managed to run my fairly complex software programs on it up until now, the device is simply not intended for anything more than simple word processing and email. My ongoing, daily practice of waiting 5 minutes for a document to open, or for an image to upload has been an exercise in patience and meditation—and even one that I was happy to engage in, during my travels. While on the road, having an armadillo for a computer simply felt like another opportunity to make an effort to connect with the present moment, and feel gratitude for having a computer at all.

 

But, there comes a point when old technology becomes unnecessarily cumbersome, and we need to take action. Much like how I reached out to my friend for a computer rental, Soma took charge of an even more obsolete area of technology: the kitchen water filter. As Adam Swann over at Dexterous notes:

“Fridge water filters are actually old technology. They are dated. They are not that efficient. But we all use them. And struggle along especially with forgetting to buy replacement filters (which as it happens are not that good for us anyway).”

Before Soma, a sustainable water filter was simply not in existance. Soma’s all-natural, recyclable water filter is not only the eco-friendly first of its kind, but the company also understands that we need a bit of support with changing our water filters. To meet this need, they created a subscription service, where a new water filter is delivered to your home as soon as it needs changing. They keep track of it for us, so we can focus on more important issues — like making time for play, living our dreams, or even just reaching out for computer help, like me. Adam agrees on this one. “Not only do I like the design and story behind SOMA, I also like the fact it’s a subscription based model. (…) I don’t want to have to remember to buy them,  better they just arrive when I need them.”

The all-natural Soma water filter is another example of using technology to change the way we live for the better. Photo courtesy of www.designboom.com

This revolution of redesign, of course, stretches beyond everyday products to the dominant paradigms that exist within our media-based culture’s social constructs. While innovative, eco-friendly product design is essential to moving us forward, also important is expressing our feelings about issues inherent in our society’s detrimentally inclusive status quo. Much like how Soma used technology to create an eco-friendly product with widespread impact, technology also gives us a platform to move forward with creative expression.

When it comes to using the combination of text and technology to do so, Amercian artist Jenny Holzer is, in my humble opinion, unparalleled. Using technology to subvert these dominant constructs, her work encourages us to stop and think about how we live on a daily basis – and whether our current set of values is in need of re-evaluation. Holzer also uses other means of technology to show her text pieces, like electronic billboards and light displays.

The effects of merging text with technology can be limitless in the hands of an artist. Photo courtesy of www.whitney.org.

Holzer’s truisms are all about questioning the status quo. A truism is an idea that we generally treat as fact. When social truisms are projected on well-trafficked, public spaces, they provoke us to reflect on the amount of truth they actually hold. Do we believe this idea? Are we a part of it? How does this affect us? By shining pieces of text — taken from writers she admires – onto large buildings, Holzer creates a public art spectacle made from very basic elements. She chooses statements that resonate with us through their combination of irony and truth. For example, seeing the words, “protect me from what I want” projected onto a concrete building makes me pause and ask myself: what is it that I want? The implication that our desires are dangerous to us creates incentive to question our society’s core values, and –most importantly—whether or not we want to share in them.

 

 

This is a fabulous time to be alive. There are so many everyday things, systems, processes and products being redesigned and revolutionalized right now. (…) I’ve said this before, but let’s not put-up with badly designed things in our lives. Life is just too short.

– Adam Swann

 

Wise words, regarding both product design and art. Though, I will add in that life is also too short to live according to our consumerist culture’s misguided values. The more we can choose mindful products that move us forward in a more harmonious relationship with our environment, and with our own self-determined values, the better. Using technology to speak our minds, to shift the status quo, and to call for others to do the same is a goal worth pursuing — and the time is now. A globally-minded, more holistic approach to life is absolutely achievable — and that’s a message in no need of massage.