The book brings together essays and artworks that respond to emerging concerns about internet addiction in both clinical discourse and internet culture. It is part of an artist led project by Katriona Beales which culminates in an exhibition of artworks at Furtherfield, London. The book offers a taster of the kinds of research that underpin the project, but also serves as a standalone provocation for anyone hoping to critically reflect on their own internet use. Our aim is not to document extreme clinical cases of internet addiction, rather to consider the way that online interfaces support habit forming behaviour in many users of digital devices. The book also reflects visually on the seductive and overwhelming experience of addictive online platforms, through artwork by Katriona Beales, Fiona MacDonald: Feral Practice and design by Stefan Schäfer.
Could you tell us a bit about how you conducted your research for this book with an artist led approach? How does the book compliment the exhibition?
Artistic research offers an incredible opportunity to work with experiences and ideas in a way that doesn’t need to adhere to the linear pathways of clinical investigation. Artists, curators and writers all have a degree of freedom to experiment with knowledge from other disciplines, so in the book we wanted to exploit this by bringing together experts from different fields. The result is a publication that has contributors from psychological science, philosophy, anthropology and digital cultures as well as visual arts. It was interesting to discover when compiling the essays that often different disciplines wanted to say similar things, just using very different languages.
At our book launch and symposium on 7th November we will bring many of the key contributors together to extend the discussion. The combination of the exhibition, book, symposium and other AWAAN? events results in a project that addresses ideas about online addiction using experiential, sensory and critical modes of exploration. This capacity for multifaceted investigation is for us one of the key strengths of what artists do.
Which devices and platforms do you think that we are most susceptible to, and how do you think addiction to these platforms can affect our day to day lives?
One of the aims of the book is to suggest that while there are severe clinical cases of internet addiction, many extreme behaviours are actually becoming normalised for large groups of people. For example online research platform ‘dscout’ has gathered data that suggests people touch their mobile on average 2617 times a day. While there is nothing inherently ‘unhealthy’ about this, many of the essays in the book reveal methods deployed by marketing companies and technology designers that encourage this obsessive behaviour in order to promote online consumerism and provide short term emotional gratification. The book features an interview with artist Katriona Beales in which she talks about her experiences of social media sites such as twitter and their ability to keep users online for as long as possible using techniques such as ‘infinite scroll’. We felt it was important that the book investigated the ethics of these subtle forms of control.
How do you think that Are We All Addicts Now? Will pave the way for further research into addiction and the digital world?
Clinical research has very specific aims related to reduction of symptoms. While most medical researchers absolutely recognise the importance of considering social and economic conditions related to mental health, their opportunities to do this can be limited. On the other hand, aesthetic experience has always been recognised as a valuable approach for prompting reflection on lived experience, politics and the social world. As arts led research takes on increasing cultural significance, we hope that AWAAN? can set a precedent for interdisciplinary research into addictive behaviours and to help build upon important work that has already been undertaken in anthropology, psychosocial studies and neuroscientific fields.
Vanessa Bartlett is a researcher and curator working between Australia and the UK. She is a PhD Candidate at UNSW Art & Design, where her research investigates connections between digital technologies and mental distress through a psychosocial approach to curatorial practice.
Henrietta Bowden-Jones is the Founder and Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic in the UK, the only NHS service (CNWL NHS Trust) designated for the treatment of pathological gamblers and their families. She is a medical doctor specialised in Addiction psychiatry.