Ars Electronica 2006
Simplicity – the art of complexity
Increasingly complicated processes and interrelationships determine an individual’s life today. The upshot: a growing need to comprehend the big picture. Ars Electronica 2006 focuses on the challenges of an epoch in which complex systems seem to be omnipresent.
Linz, April 21, 2006 (Ars Electronica). Few of us are even capable of grasping any more all of the diverse computer-based processes that accompany us through every aspect of life. This is a phenomenon that inevitably marches in lockstep with a loss of control. After all, whether it’s our car’s electronic glitch or the crash of our PC, the problems are for the most part unfathomable and we can’t fix them ourselves. At the same time, there’s the ever-growing amount of time expended ever more frequently getting up to speed on new computer programs and devices.
Tools originally conceived as ways to simplify life seem to have had just the opposite effect. And while industrialized societies show signs of being increasingly incapable of dealing with all the information that incessantly inundates them, the majority of mankind living in non-industrialized countries is still totally denied access to information technology. Thus, the enormous positive potential of this tool remains unused in important ways.
In the words of Ars Electronica Artistic Director Gerfried Stocker: “The challenge of the future will be to make complexity comprehensible and manageable. Thus, simplicity in a positive sense means developing intelligent strategies to facilitate access to technologies, to make them more convenient, and to enable users to see what actually happens with the information moving through them.”
Christine Schopf, co-director of the Festival together with Gerfried Stocker, pointed out: “On one hand, this is a matter of technological competence; on the other, and above all, this has to do with social competence on the part of the individual, with decision-making capabilities about how to utilize technology.”
Ars Electronica is confronting the challenges of a complex world. How can we take optimal advantage of available opportunities? How can computer programs be made user-friendlier and how can they be designed to let the individual user assess the potential consequences of their use? What characteristics ought to be displayed by hardware that lets all people join Information Society. And which role do artists as trailblazers and art as an experimental domain play in light of this immense and rapidly moving deluge of information, options and permanent changes?
The 2006 Ars Electronica Festival’s theme symposium will be curated by John Maeda who, in his capacity as world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist and scholar at the MIT Media Lab, has been at the forefront of thinking about simplicity in the Digital Age.
Access, Overview, Responsibility
A central focus of Simplicity is on software that users can operate in intuitive way, something that gets us off to a great start in our effort to deal with an increasingly complex world. The design of search engines illustrates the potential of clear, simple solutions. Search engines consist of highly complex systems made up of a wide variety of algorithms that search through the contents of billions of websites. Be that as it may-doing research in the Internet comes across as the simplest thing in the world and is something we take completely for granted.
Another item at the top of this year’s agenda is access to adequate hardware. Let’s face it: while a part of the world is literally being flooded with information, the majority of mankind is falling further and further behind in the struggle to gain access to the democratic asset “information.” The reasons for this are often quite pragmatic. Benchmark standards for a computer processor do not mandate smooth operation at 105 in the shade, under constant bombardment by desert sand and amidst repeated interruption of the electrical supply. Affordable systems built to handle adverse conditions and designed to concentrate on a few key tasks could improve matters considerably. In this context, simplicity means results-oriented alternatives to the manufacturers’ permanent race to achieve supremacy expressed in megahertz and gigabytes.
Simplicity as a philosophy has to do more than automate processes. Simplicity of the future means democratic access, userfriendliness and full disclosure of how the features function and their potential risks. Moreover, simplicity opens up a whole array of prospects to make the world more ecological, easier to comprehend and more just.
Ars Electronica 2006
A series of speeches, discussions and artists’ talks in wide-ranging formats will be the highlights of an encounter with “Simplicity – the art of complexity” from August 31 to September 5. Artists, software designers and scientists will elaborate on theories, strategies and successful approaches to managing complexity. The featured events on this year’s festival program include exhibitions, concerts and performances.
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