Last updated on 13 April 2021

Dr Kirsty Fairclough is Associate Dean: Research and Innovation at the School of Arts and Media, University of Salford and she attended iPres2019 with support from the DPC's Leadership Programme which is generously funded by DPC supporters.

Geert Lovink- Institute of Network Cultures

Sad by Design: Politics and Psychology of the Social Media Age

After a very warm welcome to Amsterdam by the iPres 2019 organising team, the conference officially opens with the keynote lecture by Geert Lovink, Dutch media theorist and the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures, whose goals are to explore, document and feed the potential for socio-economic change of the new media field through events, publications and open dialogue. Lovink is a Research Professor of Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and a Professor of Media Theory at the European Graduate School. As theorist, activist and net critic, Lovink has shaped the development of the web in a critical sense since the 1990s.

After an overview of how the Institute of Network Cultures works-which was founded in 2004- Lovink provides us with a reflection on his career and published works from his activity in the idea of digital cities, to his publications in the 1990s which explored the notion of criticism of the internet and reflects on the utopian ideals of online culture, mania of the boom and its subsequent collapse. His work on the creation of sustainable networks including those which bring us together in physical space, an element vital for the richness of network cultures is one that resonates with many of us the room. Lovink is also a key figure in the examination of the politics of online video and his Video Vortex work provides a key space for this analysis, one that is lagging behind other areas  in terms of scholarship.

From here, he begins his keynote, Sad by Design: Politics and Psychology of the Social Media Age, a searing attack on social media platforms and their actual potential to create infinite sadness. Lovink discusses the highs and lows of melancholy which are coded into social media platforms. He suggests that after all the clicking, browsing, swiping and liking, all users are left with is the flat and empty aftermath of time lost to the app.

Lovink offers a critical analysis of the failed search for a grand platform design which has resulted in depoliticised internet studies unable to generate either radical critique or a search for alternatives. Lovink calls for us to embrace the engineered intimacy of social media, messenger apps and selfies, because boredom is the first stage of overcoming 'platform nihilism'. He suggests that after this, we can then organise to disrupt the data extraction industries at their core. 

His view is that networks in digital preservation and indeed what it means to be a network in contemporary culture are under threat. Regression and stagnation that certain sections of internet culture finds itself in is worrying and the overwhelming amount of attention that social media is demanding is the number one enemy for us in the digital preservation field. How do we provide a diverse experience for young people on the internet which does not involve social media platforms?

From here, he skillfully takes us through how we can organise networks in a field dominated by social media and moves onto reading extracts from his latest book Sad by Design where he  outlines what he sees as happening when we use social media as much as we do to the point where social media and the psyche have fused into technological sadness. In his thesis, omnipresent social media places a claim on us that we are essentially weak without our phone.

It is both a fascinating  and gloomy thesis but a vital one. And one that iPres and scholars in our field will continue to debate, work with, around and through as we navigate why we stay online and what the future of major platforms might look like.

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