Scifi writer and former tax lawyer Ken Liu says in a Quill or Be Quilled episode that, »just because stories distort doesn’t mean they distort to the same degree, or are equally unreliable. Earth is flat, or earth is round. You can tell convincing stories about both, and one will take you further away from the truth.« The fake stories and unreliable narrators are useful too. They give you a frame from which to investigate the other side: the story they’re not telling you. All this being said, we need more than stories to understand the world.
JE: What is the meaning of digital empathy, has it something to do with you mentioning that we are way too rational when it comes to technology?
FL: Since the time of writing, the word »empathy« has really come to reach critical mass and peak saturation – another thing to join the ranks of media and marketing co-option. I think what I meant by »digital empathy« is that digital artwork can be relational. It has great potential to connect people and open up avenues for discussion. It’s a little bit different to being irrational, which I think is important as a counterweight to today’s highly managed and self-cybernetic systems. Rationalism, like science and technology has colonizing, hegemonic, and disruptive affects that are maybe not immediately visible or as deadly as gunpowder and cannons but can still alter history.
JE: In which way is your artistic practice different from your design practice? What are advantages and disadvantages of these disciplines?
FL: For me, what I make is art because it doesn’t serve an immediate practical purpose, even though it is functional. It is design because I create an experience trying to anticipate and accommodate for how people will react to it. I don’t think of my audience as an audience – they’re users of my wares: soft, hard, performative, social, networked. They’re actively constructing the experience with, and sometimes for, me.
»I think what I meant by ›digital empathy‹ is that digital artwork can be relational.«
In the context of post-election America, it’s important to ask what sort of contribution to society we can make with our creative practices. I think a relational approach to technology can become a vehicle for dialogue and critique that can span across disciplines, generations, race and class lines. Many of us in the creative fields might have this feeling. What can we do with it?