Teachers College, Columbia University
Fall 2013

Aesthetics of Technology
A&H 4089
Mondays 7:20 - 9pm


Blake Seidenshaw,
Chris Moffett, 646.234.6223,
Office: 329D Horace Mann
Office hours: 1-4 Mondays, and by appointment


"We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."
—Carl Sagan

"You know — technology wasn’t invented by us humans. Rather the other way around."
—Jean-François Lyotard

These statements are obviously problematic: as Sagan observes bluntly, technology pervades our lives and yet we often have a hard time seeing it or understanding its effects on us. Strangely, the increased push for technological innovations in education seem, if anything, to increase this discrepancy: more technology with less understanding of its effects. As technology changes the very terrain of education, it might serve us to understand the larger "art" of it.

Lyotard points out something somewhat stranger; that our technologies in some sense produce us. Furthermore, if we posit that our technologies act as interfaces with our world, we risk ascribing to them not only objective, but subjective qualities, like feelings, intentions, etc. This would prevent us from reserving the dimension of the aesthetic for the user of a given device, forcing us to grapple with the aesthetic as a systematic function. But where might such functions reside?

Too often, the aesthetic is treated an afterthought: design/interface as window-dressing. This indicates a strange fact of which we may all be unconsciously aware: that the real aesthetic loci of our technologies are not superficial, but essential, and hidden. This course will explore ways of engaging productively with technological aesthetics, both practically and theoretically. We will draw on disciplines as diverse as Contemporary Philosophy, Social and Cultural Studies, Communications, Media Studies, Art & Aesthetics, Science, Mathematics, and Neurobiology, and practices as heterogeneous (and perhaps as seemingly-obvious) as drawing, handwriting, typing, sitting, speaking, walking, looking, listening, and touching.

What is technology? What does using it do to us, and us to it? What is its Art? What are its educational implications? As Education becomes more and more saturated with technologies, what can and should it look like? What happens when we go beyond superficial technophilic/technophobic controversies? Complementary emphases will be placed on a) technology's indirect effects, implications, and consequences, and b) the techniques and practices by which we navigate technological spaces. At their interface, we will practice collaborative ‘workings-through’ of real and virtual case studies, in light of responsive (and relational) aesthetico-technical theories.


One of the basic premises of this hybrid seminar/studio is that education itself represents a paradigmatic case of the reciprocal relationship between aesthetics and technology. As such we will be examining and reworking––as artistic practices––the techniques and methods by which we work (and examine). To this end, we will need to challenge generic mechanisms and roles: teacher/student, research/presentation, etc. In order to resist and destabilize these and other conventions, we will explore the relational possibilities immanent in our assemblage by cultivating a series of orientations around collective exploration and making.

Three Facets

  1. Search/Database: Each of us will take on a hybrid practice of researching, collecting, reflecting on and working at the intersection of aesthetics and technology across diverse themes and media. These will be cycled back into the collective, on a weekly basis, by way of existing technologies (Social Media, citation software, blog posts, etc.) and informally reviewed as material for collective and individual work, each class.
  2. Tag/Render: We will be playing with different modes and languages of recording concepts, relationships, inspirations, and questions, using writing/printing, sketching/drawing, and audiovisual recording/editing. Each class we will come with annotations, sketches, and records of our responses to that day’s readings and materials, to be considered and reworked collectively. This practice will form the basis for prototyping and presenting the projects in facet three.
  3. Make/Prototype: Each of us take on a project, conceiving, prototyping, making, and pushing to the breaking point, some-thing that speaks to an issue around the aesthetics of technology. The idea is not to create a product, but to engage with the tensions around modes of production (and dissolution) and explore the limits of practical feasibility. These “works” will be exhibited in whatever form and media they lend themselves to, and everyone will be given the opportunity to present their work at a 2-Day Education by Design conference at the end of the semester. A 3-5K-word essay, will accompany the presentation, with the possibility of publication in the online journal Ecogradients.

The Bureaucratic Apparatus

Grades will be distributed evenly across facets, wherein engagement, idiosyncrasy, proliferation, and failure are the determining criteria. Students will be asked to provide themselves with speculative ‘grades’ in relation to their own efforts as catalysts for discovery and insight, which will be taken into account by the instructors. Attendance and participation are, of course, fundamental and necessary.