March 24, 2010  |  Events & Programs, Intern Chronicles
Intern Chronicles: Boldly Looking Forward in Berlin

Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. Home of Transmediale Festival. Photo by Julia Kaganskiy.

Berlin has been calling to me for quite a while—for years I’ve been hearing breathless accounts of the thriving arts scene there—and I’ve been searching for an opportunity to go. So when a friend of mine from San Francisco told me about Transmediale, a festival and conference dedicated to new media, digital art, and futurity, taking place in Berlin the first week of February, my mind was made up. I had to go. Even if it did mean Berlin in February.

As the twelve-month intern in Digital Learning, it pretty much goes without saying that I’m as much of a tech geek as I am an art nerd. I may not write code, build robots, or have every shiny new gadget on the market, but I am deeply invested in exploring technical developments and how they’re changing modern-day communication systems and behaviors, as well as culture at large. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the direct overlap between art and technology: new media art. In terms of investigating the cultural implications of technology, nobody does it more thoughtfully and imaginatively than artists.

Zilvinas Kempinas's White Noise (2007), an installation using the artist's signature medium of unspooled video tape. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gröger

Transmediale promised to be a comprehensive catch-all for my areas of interest. Not only were there several media art installations and performances located all over Berlin, but the festival also featured a conference portion where some of the brightest minds from all over the world, representing areas as diverse as science, research, design, engineering, neuroscience, and the arts, convened to discuss the future and consider what it may possibly have in store for us. There were conversations about what the digital world is doing to our society—to existing business models and information systems, to interpersonal relationships—and discussions about how this all might affect economics, the value of creative work, and cultural content.

Graffiti in Berlin. Photo by Julia Kaganskiy

As one may expect, we didn’t come up with any definitive answers, so I have no predictions to share. But the ideas that came out of these conversations definitely present interesting avenues to explore. There was an overall sense of optimism and enthusiasm, as well as uncertainty, as we considered that yes, everything may be in flux right now, but we have an opportunity to shape and define the direction our future takes. Discussions of utopias emerged for the first time in about thirty years—not as a model, but as a basis for thinking about where we’re headed and where we want to go. And given the scope of the international and interdisciplinary attendees at the conference, projections for the future were quite varied.

Bruce Sterling, a science fiction author, technology writer, and one of my favorite futurist thinkers, gave a keynote about us entering an age of atemporality and described the next ten years as a time of uncertainty and floundering during which society will struggle to adapt to the digital age. For some, this forecast may seem unsettling, but for me, it’s exciting. Things are changing right now, and we have an opportunity to establish new standards and ways of doing things—hopefully, what we change will be for the better.

You can watch all of the lectures and talks in the Transmediale video archive.