In 1939, in a garage in Palo Alto, California, David Packard and Bill Hewlett started the company that would eventually bear their name. While their first product, an audio oscillator that was the precursor to so much of today’s technology, was nothing more than a hint of what would follow, it started a paradigm shift that would profoundly influence the 20th century. And like other intellectual breakthroughs of past historical eras, the proliferation of technology would shape the way that we understand and engage with the world.
At the heart of these new technologies was binary code. This two-symbol system, most often made of ones and zeroes, provided a way that different items could be represented and encoded into strings. These strings then became the instructions and data that now form the foundations for every aspect of our digital lives. There is no question that our lives have become overwhelmingly digital. With over 80% smartphone penetration within the United States alone, our reliance on technology and its influence is actively shaping us.
We are constantly faced with binary decisions that put us squarely into one category. The problem is, more often than not, we are somewhere in between.
But the question is, what effect is this having? If all of our information can be encoded into strings of instructions and data, what impact does that have on us? How does the fundamental architecture of these technologies impact the ways that we think and act?
By living our lives online we are creating digital versions of ourselves. We are encoding our lives. And once our information is encoded, it becomes easier to identify us, to sell to us, and to provide us with information that matches our digital profile.
One metaphor with particular resonance lately is the concept of the “echo chamber.” Our ideas and beliefs can be reinforced when communicated and repeated within a defined group. There may be no more poignant example than the 2016 presidential election in the United States. With platforms like Facebook identifying its users based on their online behaviours, all of the information they consumed was targeted toward their digital profiles. Instead of being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, information that aligned to their personal ideals was reinforced and repeated. It’s an infernal circle of self-affrming hell with nothing to shake us out of it.
This binary categorization has become a problem with tangible implications. Is there a way out? Why does everything have to be so black and white? You’re for gun control or against it. You like something or you do not. You’re an urban elite or find yourself in a basket of deplorables. We are constantly faced with binary decisions that put us squarely into one category. The problem is, more often than not, we are somewhere in between. Ones and zeroes are not particularly good at capturing fluidity and change. Our lives are most often spent in this grey area; in this unknown. In this darkness, continually searching for the light.
2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada. It was a year marked by nationwide celebrations. In many ways, Canada leads the world. In recent decades, this country has been consistently ranked among global leaders across a wide variety of measures. But to focus only on these positives is to ignore the heart-wrenching darkness that is an intrinsic part of our past. In recent years, we have begun to understand the historical and ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. A failure to accept and attempt to understand this reality and this darkness will result in an inevitable failure to achieve the idea of Canada that we are trying to celebrate. Despite our inherent desire for the light of celebration, we will never truly achieve it without understanding the darkness at its heart.
This issue is dedicated to darkness. It’s dedicated to people who spend their lives inside of uncertainty. It’s full of stories of people who are using their creativity to make sense of things that are hidden from view. It considers the idea of darkness from diverse perspectives and is at turns playful and serious.
We get a glimpse into the lives of an intrepid few who travel the world chasing solar eclipses, in search of an otherworldly transformative kind of darkness. We go inside a phenomenon called Dark Patterns, where design is used to prey on our vulnerabilities in a way that we don’t even notice. We talk to the creator of a podcast about Indigenous women and girls in Canada who is bringing light to one of the darkest aspects of our history.
Darkness is elementally polarizing. For many, it represents the possibility of a visceral thrill and for others it represents cause for concern. But in this age of reductive ones and zeroes, it’s a place we must seek out. We must try to understand it in ourselves and in others and come to terms with its inherent mystery. Darkness is important; without it there is no light.
Over the coming weeks, we will continue to publish featured content from Issue 03 online. With that said, we also believe original content is worth paying for. If you’re enjoying the content on this platform, consider heading to our online shop today to order the print edition of Frontier Magazine. From all of us at Frontier, thanks for reading.