T6 Interviews multimedia artist Chris Neels on his new project The Machine and Me
Your practice incorporates a range of different media, how do you decide on the materials that you choose for individual works?
The intent of The Machine and Me was for me – a full-time innovation consultant – to carve out dedicated time to understand the smartphone, then experiment with ways of sharing that understanding symbolically. There was a strong emphasis on identifying themes about the effects of the smartphone that would encourage the viewer to stop, think, and reflect. For each theme, a medium was chosen to best express its intricacies.
Why did you choose to do a project about the smartphone?
It is bold (and cliché) to say that the smartphone is one of humanity’s most important inventions, but it is absolutely true. As we have lived through the birth and rise of the smartphone – itself an evolving collection of technologies – our lives have been fundamentally reshaped around new software, hardware, and services that most of us have a limited understanding of. And it is true, to a large extent, that we have built these technologies faster than we have been able to think throughout their effects. This is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed, and I hope the project triggers an “a ha” moment for viewers.
In a world where we are inundated with a constant stream of visual material and data how do you (or how does anyone) choose what to focus on?
It is hard. In addition to information overload, we also have to contend with habit-forming services like social media and apps that pervasively capture our attention. For this project, I followed a rough pattern of: unplug, read, write notes, replug, observe, write notes, repeat. Broadly speaking, I think focus comes down to living a life with intention. Maintaining intention requires discipline, but it is worth it.
Technology has historically been discussed as both full of promise and danger, and while linked to progress has also been linked to an increase in alienation – are current views an updated version of this debate or do you think that these perceptions have shifted?
That is a great articulation of the current state. There are wide differences in perception ranging from techno-utopianism and techno-skepticism depending on who you talk to. I think we are headed to a future where the majority of people take a level-headed view and increasingly question the benefit of each incremental technology. The debate will continue to evolve; next on the list is likely questions around data, algorithms, industry structure, and the winners and losers of change.
How do you envision technology augmenting our lived experience in future?
I envision technology becoming embedded in every second of the lived experience. The implications and effects of this are yet to be seen.
T6 thanks Chris for taking the time to answer our questions!
Chris Neels makes mixed media art to provoke questions and critical thought on how technology and modern economy affect the lives of humans. By [work]day, Chris is an innovation strategist for companies and governments. Chris spends much of his non-work time thinking about technology and working on new ways of bringing ideas to life.
Chris Neels, Imperfect, 2017