Sunday April 09, 2017

Are tech start-ups becoming conceptual art?

In 2013, Google revealed plans to send balloons like this one to the edge of space with the lofty aim of bringing the internet to the two-thirds of the global population currently without access.

In 2013, Google revealed plans to send balloons like this one to the edge of space with the lofty aim of bringing the internet to the two-thirds of the global population currently without access. (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 10:04

Tech companies are famous for thinking big.

Earlier this year, a British company made headlines when they created a new way to deliver food relief in crisis situations. Edible drones

A few years ago, Google revealed plans to send out a network of balloons to bring the internet to people that are without access.

It makes you wonder: have tech start-ups become conceptual art?


352 Ian Bogost

Ian Bogost

"Start-ups are more like art, and art is maybe more like start-ups than you thought," says Ian Bogost.

He's a professor at Georgia Tech and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.

"Think about Twitter," says Ian.

"If I came up with the idea of posting messages that can't be longer than 140 characters, you might think of experimental writing troops of the 20th century.

You probably wouldn't think that's a 10 billion dollar company."


Avant garde art vs. practical problem solving

But how do you know whether a startup is just a gimmicky concept, or a valuable game-changer?

"That's exactly the point," says Ian. "In some ways, it's as much an indictment of the art world as it is of the tech world to make this comparison."

Ian explains how start-ups have shifted since the dot com boom of the late '90s when internet companies focussed more on highly-functional online versions of brick and mortar stores.

In the course of the 2000s, things shifted toward new kinds of business practices.

"With that shift came this invitation that anything you can think of might be a viable startup so maybe just try it out. And that's actually a lot like the way artists work."

So what does Ian want to see going forward?

"I would like to see both artists and tech companies engage with the material world more deliberately and directly and show how the work that they are doing engages with the world we already live in, rather than just the one that we might invent as an alternative."