BEAR WITH ME: A Play For Two Webmasters – Interview with Olia Lialina and Kev Bewersdorf

On the occasion of their live-action-meets-live coding performance “Bear With Me: A Play For Two Webmasters”, which premiered at this year’s transmediale, I had one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a long time with Olia Lialina and Kevin Bewersdorf. Ground covered includes: browser wars, webmasters, page counters, and how revisiting a previous era of the net can inform our understanding of “elusiveness” online today –

Olia, you open your essay “Turing Completer User” with a description of how computers are becoming invisible. You wrote that text in 2012. If internet years are decades, then “fifty years” on, do you think we are still able to acknowledge significant developments, or has it become harder and harder to actually perceive these shifts?

OL: I think it has become harder and harder. This alienation—effecting users and whatever medium they use—is unfortunately only growing. It’s more and more difficult to even explain to people why to make a webpage at all. I teach at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart and can remember a time when students always had their own webpages. Now they don’t make them at all. They become developers and designers, but they don’t feel any need to have their own corners of cyberspace. You can survive without one easily enough, but in my view you’re not identifying yourself with the medium at all. You’re alienated from it, making none of the aesthetic and structural decisions.

KB: It’s very hard to notice the milestones in the moment. You can only ever see them in hindsight. I was at the SXSW in 2006 when twitter was launched. I didn’t know anything about it, and I remember feeling dismissive of it, thinking of it as some new gimmick that would never catch on. Some people did see the mile-marker, or maybe those were just people who just adopt everything they can. You don’t see any mile markers that way either, because in trying to stay so current you lose sight of the current time. I think the only solution is just to be present, open, and willing to be flexible. At a certain point, if what’s happening with technology becomes dangerous or toxic or really unsettling, then just leave.

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