What Was the User?
This panel takes its cue in part from Roland Barthes’ essay Death of the Author (1967), in which he argues that one should not focus on the writer’s intentions but should pay new attention to readers’ impressions in order to understand a text’s multiple layers of meaning. The discussion will also draw from Michel Foucault’s lecture What Is an Author? (1969), an indirect response to Barthes’ text in which Foucault renounces the notion of the original, creative author and calls for analytical and critical reconsideration of the author as a function in discourse. The discursive shift and its implied critique of power that the two texts express have been integral in understanding new media, especially the personal computer and the Internet, as user-oriented, inclusive and democratic. By openly asking what the user was, rather than attempting to define what s/he is, this panel looks beyond current trends in user culture in an attempt to reimagine the user as continuous potential both vulnerable to exploitation and a visionary force of invention.
Pär Thörn is reading from his book Your Friend the Data Machine (2008), Olia Lialina talks about the significance of “General Purpose Users,” and Cornelia Sollfrank is doing a performance relating to the users in and of her work.