New media “interpassivity” – Getting angry at birds
27.06.2012 - Tatu Marttila
As a designer that has worked a bit with new media technologies (with a minor in new media), it is good to have a look how these great new technologies are helping us to develop ourselves as human beings. Today we have web 2.0, social media platforms and computers in our pockets. But have we developed for the better? Lets take the Finnish “new Nokia” – Angry Birds™- as an example. It has been said that modern smart phones have more processing power than used altogether in the Apollo program to land the man on moon. And how is this power used? To land virtual birds on egg-stealing pigs. How might this type of activity increase our cultural capital?
Slavoj Zizek has coined up a term “interpassivity” (see this article), to replace the term “inter-activity” so commonly used to describe our modern media relation. This term nicely puts my understanding on the way we use this new computing capacity in our pockets. In a sense this type of media development aims into mere negation of thought. If TV was already opium for the masses, this web 2.0 must be opium 2.0.
Well, luckily these small games are at least immaterial products. But are they really? After reading the news lately, and seeing these (obviously pirated) products that popped into my eye at Victoria Market in Melbourne, I started to think that in the end nothing remains as immaterial or virtual after it has been developed into a consumer commodity.
When looking at this plastic crap my design eye aches. I wonder why was it necessary to create another brand that fills our world with such nonsense merchandise. Of course it is up to us as consumers, and it hasn’t been only in the hands of Rovio (the company behind Angry Birds) to allow such thing to happen. But then again, the company has clearly stated that they are looking into creating a world wide brand with loads of merchandise; this is where they see the actual profit. I see such development not improving our life, but instead producing only pain in our thumbs, numbness in our minds, and plastic crap on our backyards.
Is there another way for design to approach games or toys like this? I’d rather designed instructions online to build such stuff from ordinary, existing stuff, to create and play with friends in the real world. While the profit wouldn’t be that great, at least our world would’ve been free of the further plastic crap. But of course this remains a utopia. Long gone are the days when toys were self-made by parents and grandparents (or by children themselves) from wood, scrap metal and spare textiles. Now it’s iPhone for toddlers as well (it really is – see this review for a Fisher-Price iPhone case).
So what is wrong with such (new media) culture? I’m afraid it seems to be merely a new extension of the destructive and passivating consumer culture. For this reason our current media technologies and structures are merely empowering the existing power relations, to avoid critical reflection towards the true problems of our unsustainable lifestyles.
Tatu Marttila is a researcher and a doctoral candidate, who is interested in how to change unsustainable aspects of design practice. With a background in industrial design and in new media design, he is working as a teacher, design researcher and a post-graduate student in NODUS Sustainable Design Research Group at Department of Design, in Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.
Tatu is currently carrying out a research exchange in Brisbane, Australia. He is blogging about design education for sustainability, and aims to cover insights on the differences and similarities in design teaching, in Aalto University and Down Under. The overall focus is to reflect on how designers can pursue deeper understanding about their practice, and how the academia can support this challenge.