The Imaginary App

The Imaginary App cover HR

Eds. Paul D. Miller and Svitlana Matviyenko. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.

Read my Introduction to the book.

The Imaginary App is a collection of essays on mobile apps and cloud computing. Mobile apps promise to deliver (h)appiness to our devices at the touch of a finger or two. Apps offer gratifyingly immediate access to connection and entertainment. The array of apps downloadable from the app store may come from the cloud, but they attach themselves firmly to our individual movement from location to location on earth. In The Imaginary App, writers, theorists, and artists explore the cultural and technological shifts that have accompanied the emergence of the mobile app. These contributors and interviewees see apps variously as “a machine of transcendence,” “a hulking wound in our nervous system,” or “a promise of new possibilities.” They ask whether the app is an object or a relation, and if it could be a “metamedium” that supersedes all other artistic media. They consider the control and power exercised by software architecture; the app’s prosthetic ability to enhance certain human capacities, in reality or in imagination; the app economy, and the divergent possibilities it offers of making a living or making a fortune; and the app as medium and remediator of reality.

Also included (and documented in color) are selected projects by artists asked to design truly imaginary apps, “icons of the impossible.” These include a female sexual arousal graph using Doppler images; “The Ultimate App,” which accepts a payment and then closes, without providing information or functionality; and “iLuck,” which uses GPS technology and four-leaf-clover icons to mark places where luck might be found.

Christian Ulrik Andersen, Thierry Bardini, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Benjamin H. Bratton, Drew S. Burk, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Robbie Cormier, Dock Currie, Dal Yong Jin, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Ryan and Hays Holladay, Atle Mikkola Kjøsen, Eric Kluitenberg, Lev Manovich, Vincent Manzerolle, Svitlana Matviyenko, Dan Mellamphy, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, Steven Millward, Anna Munster, Søren Bro Pold, Chris Richards, Scott Snibbe, Nick Srnicek, Stephen Wolfram

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The Imaginary App among the recommended books at St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City, Fall 2014

From my introduction to the book: Advertising rhetoric does not exhaust itself entertaining associations between technology and happiness. “Think appy thoughts,” Nokia’s app store tells us. Apple’s slogan “There is an app for that” sends the same message: “if you have a problem, look for an app, the ultimate solution—always, anytime, anywhere.” Ironic, critical, alarmed, or excited one is by such marketing propaganda, “(h)appiness” has been delivered and installed on our mobile devices at the tips of our fingers. The goal of this book is to carve a discursive niche that accommodates a variety of multidisciplinary accounts of mobile applications, addressing expectations and skepticisms, risks and changes, fantasies and disappointments we face as users, consumers, and developers of mobile apps. By enabling encounters between artists, media analysts, and scholars with backgrounds in philosophy, media studies, information science, psychoanalysis, and sociology, this collection looks at apps through several metaphorical and metonymical descriptions in order to discuss the mechanisms and ideologies that shape our “complicated relationship” with apps by which we now connect with each other and orient within our habitat. […]

Governed by algorithms potentiality to connect without thinking, immediately and intuitively, is the very definition of “appiness” in today’s technological arrangement. But what about the stubborn letter “h” that “always arrives to its destination” despite that it’s bracketed from the notion? We keep hearing and seeing it—the fossil or the ghostly shadow of humanness—there, where it is not.


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