I’ve been directed towards Jack Burnham’s writings as part of the background literature for my PhD. So it piqued my interest when a data artist I hold in high esteem, Jer Thorp, drew upon Burnham in a piece written in 2013.
Burnham was briefly prolific (during the late 60’s and early 70’s) and quite prescient when he wrote about Real Time Systems and their attendant “systems aisthetics“. The nascent systems he described are predecessors of the networks that are oft examined by contemporary ‘critical (infrastructure) theorists’. Burnham also conceived that ‘software’ transformed where the work of art, and by extension the artists work, resided. As Thorp quotes:
The specific function of modern didactic art has been to show that art does not reside in material entities, but in relations between people and between people and the components of their environment.
I believe it’s both of those aspects that Thorp picks up on in his short take on the API. The API’s basic purpose is illustrated, and its link to prior instantiations of netart (such as agit prop plugins) is affirmed. He concludes by asserting:
Promisingly, the API also offers a medium in which software artists can work entirely apart from visual esthetic.
Positing ‘middleware’ (specifically the middleware of distributed systems) as a site for new aesthetic possibilities is something work ruminating upon, if not subscribing to forthwith.
Amid the myriad TRENDS forecasts littering the web this week, one caught my eye: “The Emergence of the Casual Programmer” by Robert Tuttle.
Tuttle cites an impending business logic fomented by the Internet of Things (AKA Ubiquitous Computing, AKA the Future of the Smart Fridge): that the logistics of “anticipating use cases and integration points of thousands of new connected products coming to market” is too great for any one vendor. So the solution is to crowdsource the IoT.
Curiously the author seems to think that this will happen via some sort of IFTTT style arrangement:
“casual programming” experiences — giving every day, non-programming people the tools, services, and APIs usually reserved for the hackers and technology elite in friendly and accessible forms.”
And there’s nothing to say that it won’t – IFTTT is successful and the ‘piping’ model of interconnected services is viable (as evidenced by Yahoo Pipes before it and similar endeavours such as Huginn). BUT I’m not sure what that means for the systems aesthetics once heralded by Burnham. IFTTT operates at the logic of a GUI, adhering to a regime of occlusion as described by Munster . Remarking on the contrast between the GUI and the command line interface that preceded it she notes:
In a sense, then, the operation and performance of computational systems was more visible — although to a smaller and more elite group of people — if more cumbersome to operate.
Once the obstacle to use posed by the terminal was abstracted by the GUI a new paradigm of interactions, services and users resulted. Tuttle describes an experience of an API as ‘consumed’ rather than one where you apprehend the ‘exposed’ ‘end points’. ‘Casual programming’ has the air of ‘iteracy’ or ‘procedural literacy’ about it: parallel moves aimed at emphasizing the ubiquity of programming to our quotidian lives, while keeping the gritty details of implementation at arms length. A design pattern for digital citizens that forecloses potential aesthetic relations to ensconcing flows of information.
I hope to see more work in the vein of Thorp’s advocacy of the API. I also hope that we don’t see a dichotomy enforced between ‘consuming user’ and artists engaged in tactical API exposés.