ABOUT THE LIVING GARDEN...
This website (new in 2021) reproduces a short monograph - The Living Garden - which I wrote in 1995 - in which I set out to explore the (then) emerging networked digital world and questions about value, meaning, navigation and place and ownership in this emerging world. Questions which seem even more relevant today, some 26 years later...
Moments from the 1995 Living Garden Exhibition at the Royal College of Art.
(Thanks to Neil Cowley Trio for permission to use their track 'Sparkling' on above).
“The Living Garden is a kind of banking system, but one which instead of trading in Pounds, Dollars or Yen deals in the currency of human memories. The Living Garden is, literally, a memory bank...”
It is more than 25 years since I first wrote the lines, above, from ‘The Living Garden’; an attempt as I described it whilst studying at the Royal College of Art in 1995 to cultivate new ways of looking at – and questioning – the growing role and meaning of digital technology in our lives:
what, I asked, if we attempt to identify a social role for technology in society?
what if we explore how evolving computer technology and wireless 'active' environments can be made to trigger 'events' – not just in the sense of physical but also psychological changes of state?
what if we critique new technologies as they are deployed and promoted today?
what if such questions opened a debate – where would it lead?
What new ideas and approaches might come from this?
Questions which led to the emergence in my mind of a scheme I called ‘The Living Garden’; an idea intended to provide a means of bringing together these questions outside of the normal ’e-speak’ and assumptions surrounding ‘new media’ and the emerging digital world at that time. That is, the view that technology is intrinsically 'kewl', important only when funded by an e-commerce venture capitalist - or indeed validated by aesthetics (thinks iPhone?).
Since 1995, ‘digital’ has accelerated beyond most people’s wildest expectations. In the West, and many developing countries, our work, rest and play are likely to be digitally mediated. Smart phones – Sci Fi technology from Star Trek only a few decades ago – now provide hand-held networked communicators, virtual TVs, maps, apps, a computer-in-your-pocket, you name it – all now commonplace.
Although there remains significant disparity between the digital haves and have nots, it is worth noting that – at the time of writing (February 2021) – that the United Nations International Telecommunication Union estimates that at the end of 2019, a little more that 51 per cent of the global population, or 4 billion people, are using the Internet[i]. Clearly, not everyone on earth is 'wired'. And yet many of us know people with multiple computers and Smart Phones. Which would suggest that some – as ever are – may be having more than their fair share of the (digital) pie?
Even so, it is true to say that more of us, more than ever are increasingly wired, connected, ‘on’ 24/7. Companies that did not exist 20 years ago, such as Google (1998), Facebook (2004) and Amazon (1994) now dominate large swathes of our virtual – and increasingly – tangible existence.
For some, ‘digital’ has created wealth and employment. Access, too, to creative tools and process – to markets and audiences – almost impossible to imagine even in the recent past. In the original Living Garden ‘authoring tools’ (from direct computer coding to Macromedia Director) were the main mains through which individuals could create digital content. ‘Authoring tools’ are simpler today for many – the blogging tool that is Facebook, springs to mind, as do most Android and Apple iOS operating systems. But questions remain around the meaning and purpose of 'content'. And there remain many – including the old, the less abled, and the poor – who remain disenfranchised from the increasingly de rigueur need to transact more and more of our lives online, leaving aside those who simply might not want to.
For many, we can now do things, ‘connect’, interact, and ‘talk’ to each other on a scale and in ways we could barely have imagined 20 years ago. For others, this ‘connectedness’ has left them feeling excluded, isolated and ‘disconnected.’ Is ‘real’ human life, for example, what we see in someone else’s carefully curated Facebook posts? Whilst many others feel swamped by media and ‘messages’. The recent growth of interest in ‘mindful’ meditation is, surely, in part a coping mechanism for individuals who feel overwhelmed by digital data and information from both our private and professional lives?
So, despite the huge impact that ‘digital’ has brought, it seems to me that many of the thoughts and issues described in the original Living Garden, all those years ago, remain just as important to consider: Who is this technology for, how can it be usefully used and accessed, and perhaps most fundamentally are we really asking what is digital ‘for’?
With all this in mind, and as the Garden nags me that it 'celebrated' its 25th anniversary in 2021, it seems timely and fitting to reframe the original questions behind The Living Garden; namely – what alternative visions digital might offer us?
Which is why I have knocked together this web site, albeit in rather 'beta' form. But what is a garden but a work in process?
And through this web site I hope – not completely without irony – that this digital medium will provide a new audience with a chance to visit, contemplate and reflect on the questions and ideas posed by The Living Garden. I hope that you enjoy the journey...