A Review of the Postdigital
Negroponte (1998) gestures to an era “beyond the digital” as one in which digital computation and communication will play a background role to human creativity and imagination: art will be mediated by digital tools but not defined by them. Though he never actually uses the term “postdigital,” his perception influences future notions of the postdigital.
In its first explicit definition, Pepperell and Punt (2000) analyze the “postdigital” as a rejection of the binary logic of the computer and an embrace of the ambiguity and mystery of life that technology can possibly illuminate in the human condition. Deterministic approaches to digital design create a loss of this meaning: creativity, including the possibilities of the imagination, cannot be encoded by this strict logic.
In the first aesthetic reflection on the postdigital, Cascone (2000) locates the passage from the ‘digital’ to the 'postdigital’ in its 'failure’ to remain consistent and effective in its cybernetic calculations. When computers glitch and distortion happens, the illusion that we control our technology breaks. Glitches make us aware that a computer emerges from a composition of its parts, and is only made meaningful by a user.
Like Negroponte, Cascone says that as a result of the glitch, the aesthetic reflection of the digital itself is no longer fascinating: what’s interesting is how people make meaning from the tools and environments, even with and beyond these glitches. Instead of control, the postdigital is interested in the co-creation of meaning between people and technology.
However, twenty years later, Cascone and Jandric (2021) comment that postdigital critique is no longer possible because postdigitality relies on an interaction between a user and a dynamic and infinitely generative cybernetic tool. Rather, it goes beyond just the creation and communication of effects, which is what happens when glitches are subsumed by the computer as a part of how it can be controlled, like when corporate media takes glitches and makes them into presets.
The postdigital asks how these mediums can be freely used for the purposes of the artists. Art that carries the designation of “postdigital” today is limited to half the argument: at best it can only illuminate how technology is now taking on a background role, never truly capturing how its computational infinity might be a creative partner in producing experiences that advocate for the mystery of life and rise above the percussive noise of technological society.