Mass Effect: Art and The Internet in the Twenty-First Century ed. by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter (review)
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MASS EFFECT: ART AND THE INTERNET IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2015. 528 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-262-02926-1.

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Mass Effect is a state-of–the-art compilation on the ongoing debates on the relationships between art and the Internet. The publication commissioned new scholarship and also republished other previous relevant articles on these debates.

As the editors make clear on the first page of their Introduction, this intention emerged as the response to the evident fact that the Internet is no longer a new media for artists but has already become a mass media in its own right. In this sense, the work aims at providing a historical background for a moment like the present: one in which the use and abuse of expressions like "post-Internet art" proliferate. In this regard, most of the authors agree about the fact that talking about "post-Internet" is somehow imprecise. The book is addressed mainly to artists and scholars who are already familiar not only with the topics addressed but also with the terminology, because as a collection of short articles it may not provide enough context and technical or academic definitions for newcomers.

The book features 38 articles, five of which are transcriptions of round tables, interviews and discussions, an artist's work commissioned for the volume (Paul Chan, p. 223) and a selection of images from DIS Magazine (p. 393). Perspectives are varied: Some articles implement a more art-historical approach (Paul Slocum, p. 123; Ceci Moss, p. 147; Mark Leckey, p. 199; Alex Kitnick, p. 213); some analyze artists' works (Tina Kukielski on Cory Arcangel, p. 29; Alice Ming Wai Jim on Cao Fei, p. 90; Rebecca Solnit on Trevor Paglen, p. 243; David Joselit on Seth Price, p. 268; Michael Wang on Ryan Trecartin, p. 401; Morgan Quaintance on Lotte Rose Kjaer Skau, p. 419; Domenico Quaranta on Eva and Franco Mattes, p. 425); some are artists talking about their own work and interests (Guthrie Lonergan, p. 167); some present ongoing or updated theoretical discussions (Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, p. 1; Marisa Olson, p. 159; Ed Halter, p. 231; J. Maier-Rothe, D. Kafafi and A. Feizabadi, p. 289; Claire Bishop, pp. 337, 353; Borys Groys, p. 359; Martine Syms, p. 369; Hito Steyerl, p. 439; Karen Archey, p. 451); some are reprinted articles of earlier date (Seth Price, p. 51; Alexander R. Galloway, p. 69; Raqs Media Collective, p. 79; Gene McHugh, p. 185; Alix Rule and David Levine, p. 303); and in several, more than one of these approaches overlap. In this sense, the publication can be considered as a polyphonic book, which is undoubtedly part of its relevance and interest. However, as is easy to imagine, the level of the articles is sometimes uneven: Most of them pose many key questions, respond to others and are pertinent and compelling; just a few cases are not.

Lialina and Espenschied's article "Do you believe in users? / Turing complete user" begins by confuting the conception of the personal computer and the Internet "as mere extensions of pre-computer culture" (p. 1). According to the authors, the whole effort of the industry in making the medium invisible or transparent in fact aims at hiding "computer culture," that is to say, what actually happens inside the computer world. Computer culture then is hidden to foreground "computer technology," namely, computers understood as mere instruments for doing something else faster, more efficiently, better.

In response to this state of affairs, the authors elaborate the concept of "Digital Folklore," which they define as "the customs, traditions, and elements of visual, textual, and audio culture that emerged from users' engagement with personal computer applications during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century" (p. 2). The concept and time frame are grounded on the intention of opposing it to Home Computer Culture, which "ceased to exist by the end of the 1990s." Thus the article delineates the passage from a computer culture that considered users as those who were "self-taught experts...