Artistic research into distraction, agency, and the internet

DAY, Michael (2018). Artistic research into distraction, agency, and the internet. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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This practical study is concerned with flows of attention and distraction that are associated with experiences of the internet. Taking the term ‘internet’ to stand for a range of networked social, media-consumption, and data practices carried out on devices such as smartphones, this study sets out to explore how distraction might arise, how it might be conceptualised, and the potential consequences for agency of the conditions of its emergence. The study is led by the production and analysis of artworks, using practical approaches that engage critically with aspects of the experience of the internet. This thesis begins by exploring conceptions of the ‘attention economy’ articulated by Goldhaber (1997), Beller (2006), and Citton (2017), developing an understanding that counters mainstream deterministic positions regarding the impact of digital technologies on the capacity for focused attention. Distraction is considered as an experience that may be sought out by individuals but can be captured and extended by third parties such as social media platforms. The importance of the data generated by habitual or compulsive engagement with internet-enabled devices and services (Zuboff, 2015) is considered against a backdrop of quantification and managerialism that extends beyond experiences of the internet. The study reviews existing artworks made in response to these concerns, focusing on expressions of the ‘attention economy’ prevalent in ‘postinternet’ art. Works by Vierkant (2010), Roth (2015) and others that interrogate infrastructure, data-gathering, or networked methods of distribution are identified as relevant, and a position is developed from which the consequences of metricised display platforms for an artistic ‘attention economy’ can be explored. Prototype artworks made during the study are appraised using an artistic research methodology that foregrounds the role of the researcher as both producer and reader of the artwork. Works that actively create distraction, that gather and visualise data, and that emphasise calm self-interrogation, are discussed and evaluated. The practical aspects of the research contribute to knowledge by extending understanding of the spatial, infrastructural, and algorithmic dimensions of the relationship between distraction and agency.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Doherty, Kathy
Additional Information: Director of studies: Kathy Doherty
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
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Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2020 16:24
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2021 13:56

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