“Almost nothing. I struggle to think of something that I like.”
We caught up with hacker/artist Sam Lavigne after he presented some of his new and old work at Babycastles, a small, second-floor art and video game collective space on West 14th Street.
“I feel like when I was growing up and the internet was still relatively new, there was a kind of idea that it was going to be this liberating space where things that weren’t possible through normal communications, like mass media, would exist,” he said. “And I feel like it hasn’t become true and it’s, like, the exact opposite. The internet becomes more and more like a massive surveillance network and locked down into different corporate infrastructures.”
Lavigne presented a few of the projects he’s worked on. One was called The Intergovernmental Panel on Capitalism, in which Lavigne and a friend replaced every instance of the words “climate change” in the reports and presentations of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the word “capitalism.” It looked like a lot of work. They replicated the group’s website with a functional copy with the capitalism change made. They even dubbed over the group’s video presentations with Lavigne’s voice saying “capitalism” each time someone in the video said “climate change.”
As he set it up, the project seemed a bit heavy-handed. But the truth is that as he went through the presentation, the joke stopped being funny and actually, somehow, became thought-provoking. It was just so easy to replace “climate change” with “capitalism” that it was impossible not to view the former as an inalterable outcome of the latter. Point Lavigne.
Before he became perhaps Brooklyn’s leading technopostmodernist, Lavigne went to school at the University of Chicago, where he studied literature, and has lived in San Francisco and Italy. After school he worked in game design and as a self-taught web developer. Eventually he got sick of these things and is now in a graduate program at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU Tisch.
Another of his projects is Slow Hot Computer. It’s a website that runs overlapping, “processor-intensive tasks,” like downloading hidden image files over and over until your computer runs very slow and becomes overheated so that you can do less work at work.
The goal of Slow Hot Computer is to make the user’s computer run “slowly to the point of being almost unusable, but falls short of actually crashing the computer. This allows the user to continue working but severely hampers their productivity, providing a venue for resistance that is less confrontational, and therefore safer, than full out strike or refusal to work. Bosses and managers call acts like these “time theft.”
For kicks, and also as a comment on the outsourcing of labor, Lavigne asked for product reviews on the free user-testing site Peek. These unsuspecting reviews were video’d and the results were sort of sweet.
“A lot of it is me trolling around on the internet looking for things that amuse me and sharing it with other people,” Lavigne said, when asked about his process. “It’s really fun. I like to make things that are funny.”
This weekend, another of his projects will come into being. The Stupid Shit No One Needs and Horrible Ideas Hackathon will take place this Saturday at ITP.
We detailed some of the amazing works from last year’s Stupid Hackathon, including Tinder for Babies, How To Say Mitt Romney In Different Languages and Holdr, an app which tells you when you’re holding your phone, in a December post.
Tempted as I was to outsource the writing of this article on Fiverr overseas using the power of economic arbitrage with the developing world (do NOT tip my editor off to this move) (Editor’s note: ?), I do still find satisfaction, or even some joy, in creating unironic content online that can be shared over the various corporate, marketer and bot-filled social media and monetized somehow by Technical.ly. I asked Lavigne if he thought the internet was destined to continue sucking or if there was hope yet.
“I feel like I don’t know when or how but I don’t think that the way things are now is necessarily the way things are forever,” he said. “I don’t think any change will come from the tech sector, I think it’ll have to come from a significant change to the social or economic model.”
You can find more of Lavigne’s work on his website: greetingsfellowalienatedsubjectoflatecapitalism.com.-30-