Chronicling the vernacular and the middlebrow in post-digital culture.


Finding a rhythm: exploring visualization techniques for performing skill

August 29, 2023
Frederik Lesage

Empirical research can be complicated! Covid 19 made this reality all-too clear by making fieldwork next to impossible. Fortunately for the team working on "Searching for Tasks", we were able to collect most of our data just prior to the lockdowns. The subsequent process of analysing and publishing the results took an inordinate amount of time but the outcome — a new set of methods for visualizing the performance of digital skills — has been amazing. Nicole Stewart provides a wonderful illustration of how the methods can be used for research in her PhD thesis: Platforms and Everyday Life: A Triply Articulated Approach to Domesticating Digital Media . More recently, a digital-first copy of a paper for New Media & Society has been published online which provides a step-by-step description of how the methods were initially developed and implemented. The paper, titled "Finding a rhythm: The mediality of researching digital skill as process", can be found here. Here is the abstract:

"Our objective for this article is to illustrate the importance of understanding digital skill as process by taking its mediality—interweaving tools, technologies, and media—into consideration. Drawing on 12 case studies with participants performing digital tasks, we use Ingold’s four phases of skill (getting ready, setting out, carrying on, and finishing off) to research and represent the rhythm of digital skill. By using medialities of inscription, scripting, and annotation, we demonstrate how researchers can use mediality to perceive rhythms of digital skill without being physically co-located in the performance. As different medialities enable and constrain the perception and descriptions of digital skill, we develop spotlines as a method that combines different medialities particularly well suited for describing and comparing the temporal order of phases for performing digital skill by rendering each performer’s pace and intensity."

One of the methods that has proven the most evocative have been "spotlines" as a means of visualising and comparing rhythms (pictured above in the image)

Creative Tools and the Softwarization of Cultural Production

September 29, 2022
Frederik Lesage

I am excited to announce that Michael Terren and I have signed a contract to edit a book titled "Creative Tools and the Softwarization of Cultural Production" as part of Palgrave Macmillan’s “Creative Working Lives” series edited by Susan Luckman and Stephanie Taylor.

This book will explore how creativity is increasingly designed, marketed, and produced through these digital products and services — a process we refer to as softwarization. We use this term as a kind of provocation that speaks to historically and materially specific sensibilities that shape contemporary cultural practices and creative industries. While softwarization draws particular attention to application software as the quintessential contemporary creative tool, we use the term to encompass amore complex digital assemblage that includes complementary processes in the composition of creative tools including their remediation, platformization, and datafication (to name only a few). If, as we argue, creative tools and softwarization are key to understanding contemporary cultural production, it is essential that we understand them as articulations of political forces, economic interests, and cultural forms in their own right.

We are currently sending out a call for chapter proposals. Please send a 500 word chapter proposal by Monday 31 October 2022 to both Frédérik Lesage <> and Michael Terren <>. In the subject line of your email, include “CTSCP Chapter Proposal”. For more details, please see the attached pdf below or click on:

Putting non-fungible tokens into historical perspective

November 5, 2021
Frederik Lesage

One of the questions that I am frequently asked when I mention to people that my research focusses on the intersection between digital culture and cultural production is what I think about the recent trend of NFTs — non-fungible tokens.

As with all "cyberbole", I find it dangerous to make long term judgements about these kinds of cultural technology when most of the discourse is polarized in either the "this will revolutionize everything" camp vs. the "this is the worst thing every invented" camp. One thing that I do find helps to gain perspective when trying to assess such new developments is to introduce a bit of historical perspective to the discussion.

For some reason, whenever the topic of NFTs come up, I am reminded of William Hogarth and his crusade to protect printmakers' "design". As an artist who produced both paintings and prints, Hogarth's livelihood depended on being able to sell original prints of his work without having them copied by other engravers who could sell the same prints for cheaper. The trick for Hogarth, then, was to find a way to continue to create and sell reproductions of his work, while ensuring that he would maintain control over the right to make and sell such reproductions. Drawing from Mark Rose's 2005 excellent paper on the subject, Hogarth argued for the protection of the artist's "designs":

"Has any Artist chosen a new Subject, and executed his Design to the Satisfaction of the Town? If any other thinks it worth his while, he has certainly a Right to take the very same Subject, and execute it in his own manner.
Every one has undoubtedly an equal Right to every Subject; and as every one, who attempts a Subject already executed, without directly copying the Design of the other, equally makes use of his own Skill, he has undoubtedly the same Right to the Fruits of his Skill, that the first had; and altho' he should so far excell him, as to affect the Sale of his Design, it is no Injury, but the due Reward of his superior Skill."

What I find particularly interesting about the current discussion of NFTs is that it is unclear what purpose is served by creating scarcity. It may be that argument for protecting artist's designs have so fallen out of favour, given its ties to the old "Artist-as-genius" trope, that the case isn't being explicitly expressed. Maybe there is some other underpinning argument... Or maybe this is just a technological solution looking for a problem.

Rose, M. (2005). Technology and Copyright in 1735: The Engraver’s Act. The Information Society, 21(1), 63–66.