The normative logic of digital technologies and consumer electronics is that they "just work." The fields of human computer interaction and usability studies are intended to make technology functional for even the most lay of users. This can be seen clearly in the way in which new technologies are advertised and in the shift away from machines intended to be "tinkered" with toward black box technologies that maximize interface. The most recent campaign for Apple's new iPad states that "it's magical," and that "you already know how to use it," and Microsoft goes so far as to imply that Windows 7 was designed by everyday users to be "easier." Nonetheless, for most users dysfunction and breakdown are a large part of their everyday experience of technology.
In Broken Sets (eBay), Penelope Umbrico has collected a virtual archive of technological failure in images of broken LCD TV sets being sold on eBay for spare parts. Each image bears a unique pattern formed by cracks and other anomalies that fracture the images they display into a pixelization that resembles landscapes or test patterns. Many of the pieces, displayed as photo prints, vaguely resemble "digital interference" works by Sean Dack or Borna Sammak's HD video collage, but taken as a whole they suggest a larger aesthetics of breakdown that is as much a critique of our idealized vision of these technologies as functionally useful objects as it is beautiful.
I am very concerned with problematizing the class and gender dynamics of this history in particular, especially since I am using the term "queer" here in a slippery way, applying it to a group of men who may better fit its historically pejorative definition more than its contemporary transgressive one. I'd love to chat more online and in person. I'll contact you through twitter and perhaps we can get a coffee.
Honestly I just found it more interesting to talk about what the show might mean instead of whether or not it was good. People are going to see the show regardless, and I'd rather they read a piece that puts the show in a context they hadn't thought of then go in with the idea that the show is good or bad because they read it on a website. Is it the responsibility of a site like Rhizome to publish reviews that take a clear stance on the quality or validity of shows such as this? Maybe. But honestly I find that kind of work dull, particularly when it devolves into snark and shade that does more to boost the ego of the reviewer than it does to inform its readers. In fact I would argue that it is precisely those kinds of reviews that are uncritical, or at least, critically shallow.
Part of the reason I reviewed the show as I did is that I was not particularly interested in the pieces as artworks - and how they might fit into a longer art historical tradition - but more what they might be saying about art, technology, and culture. Whether or not the pieces are good is entirely beside the point for me. And, not to contradict Brian, but what the artist's intentions were when creating that piece, or whether or not he did it for the reasons I gave in my review, is also not personally of interest. And while I said in the first paragraph of my review that even though the show was "about" failure the show itself was not a failure, that does not mean that many of the pieces were not critical or intellectual failures, particularly in their failure to provoke any consideration from the viewer beyond "I see what you did there."
But when I went to the show having to actually consider the pieces beyond their immediate punchline and forced myself away from the kind of knee-jerk eat-our-own criticism that is so easy with so much of this kind of work - and so prevalent in this community - I found something that I thought was worth writing about, and that (hopefully) wasn't the same kind of critique that everyone has given Cory for years. For me the review wasn't about if the show was good or bad, it was about what it meant both for the new media art community and within the broader context of art, technology, and culture.
So while this may be a question of defaults it doesn't seem to be reflecting on technologically specific defaults, just culturally specific defaults and readily available forms.