Olia Lialina: “An Infinite Seance, Part Four”

Wednesday 25th August, 2021 - Bruce Sterling

*If this is the sort of net-dot-art discussion that you like, you’re really going to like this.


An Infinite Séance 4

This essay concludes the series and will become part of the book An Infinite Séance, to be published by
Light Industry in early 2022.

“A medium survives as long as the form of experience that characterizes it survives.”

— Francesco Casetti, The Lumière Galaxy, 2015

“… we can’t go back … to this ethereal beautiful web experience not only because we don’t have time-machines but because it never really existed …”
— Ashley Blewer, Throttled, 2020

Has Stuttgart 21 already been completed?



— Dragan Espenschied, Ist Stuttgart 21 schon fertig?, 2012

Can we talk about the web experience as a phenomenon, as a graspable, tangible fact, the same way film folks talk about the cinema or film experience? Asking for a friend.

It is complicated, since the web is buried under the general discussion of digital and post-digital. Media theoreticians have already found all the right words for The Digital, pointing to its “promises” – perfect mirror and touch of infinity (Turkle)2; and “principles” – numerical representation, automation, modularity, variability, transcoding (Manovich)3; or “powers” – procedural, participatory, encyclopedic (Murray)4; and “cultural forms” – referentiality, communality, and algorithmicity (Stalder)5.

On another side, the habit of calling everything humans can do with a computer an “experience,” which is widespread in Human-Computer Interaction and especially Experience Design circles, polluted the language6 and devalued attempts to look closer at particular phenomena.

And, first and foremost, it is not easy due to the tendency to see the web as an environment that only delivers cinema, theater, video games, and other experiences. Indeed, the web is a generous and modest medium – millions are using it without even knowing that it exists. It doesn’t impose, it adapts. And that’s how it survived.

This is the answer I would give to the question “What is the web experience?” in all other contexts, but not for the “Infinite Seance” series, which started as an attempt to communicate to the spirits of both – cinema and the WWW…