This is meant as a brief pause, amidst the gathering weight of pressing institutional deadlines and professional decisions, to reflect on the historical and theoretical conditions around our deepened dependence on real-time electronic images, and to connect those reflections to practical realities in the present.
A passing glance at the technical history of computational images reveals that we have not suddenly found ourselves living on our screens. Long before Covid-19, it was possible to declare: we already see with electronic images; we already think and act and live by way of them. The ongoing pandemic exaggerates and magnifies this fact, but also reveals it as a preexisting condition—in the design fields, and in culture more broadly—with extensive psychosocial, political and environmental consequences.
We know now that life will not suddenly “return to normal.” But life must be lived, and decisions made, individually and collectively. If our ideas are inseparable from the media through which we express ourselves, the task of articulating our near-future must be undertaken as more than a set of managerial protocols, so that we might press into deeper intellectual regions, into questions of knowledge, life and mediation.
John May is founding partner in MILLIØNS, a Los Angeles-based design practice, and author of Signal. Image. Architecture. (Columbia, 2019). He is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Co-Director of the Master in Design Studies program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.