Associate 2022-23

Ben Grosser

Art + Design

Beyond Measure: Challenging the Unified Logics of Capitalism and Computing

Grosser image
Characters watching, tracking, and celebrating numbers in contemporary film and TV. Screenshots clockwise from top left: The Social Network  (2010), Silicon Valley  (2018), Severance  (2022), Startup  (2018). 

Despite the threats posed by big tech platforms for everything from individual agency and liberty to national and global democracy, why are so many resigned to accept a 21st-century digital infrastructure created by an industry that puts growth and profit ahead of users and society? How did we come to rely on metrics as the primary tool for evaluating everything about our social world, from how many "likes" we get on social media to how and why racism spreads online? Who most benefits from the idea that more data always leads to more knowledge, and who is made most vulnerable by it?

This project will investigate such questions through an aesthetic lens aimed at movies and television from 1980-2020. The outcome will be two companion films that play side-by side, each a long-duration "supercut"—a form of video art that uses carefully-composed extraction rules to mine short clips from a vast archive and assembles the result into a new composite narrative work. One of these films will present a chronologically-ordered look at the glorification of capitalism in our popular media landscape, extracting small moments when well-known characters talk about numbers and dollars and growth and markets. The companion film will trace how computing and its interfaces have increasingly driven on-screen narratives ever since the introduction of the personal computer, extracting moments when characters pause to watch and wait for the thinking computer to deliver the answer they're waiting for or to tell them what to do next. When viewed together, these two films will reveal when capitalism and computing began to converge in our collective unconscious. Such overlaps and intersections will provoke questions about how and why capitalism's need for endless growth and big tech's need for endless data combined into a singular logic that now pervades all aspects of society.