The New Aesthetic

We’ve been fascinated by this thing called New Aesthetic. If you want to know what it’s about, check out this annotated collection of links.

Something is happening. We haven’t fully grasped it yet. But it already feels like one of the more exciting things happening these days. And it’s spearheaded by nice people from East London who keep inspiring and challenging us. It has been dubbed The New Aesthetic (NA).

The Beginning

It first appeared almost a year ago with this post by James Bridle of RIG: The New Aesthetic.

For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.

This turned into this tumblr blog: The New Aesthetic.

Bridle has been the main voice for the New Aesthetic. Watch his closing keynote from Web Directions Sydney 2011 for a great primer and check his blog. Also watch his talk from the Lift conference this year and read this interview Rob Walker did with him for more of his thinking.

As always, others from the network of people around the “Silicon Roundabout” have picked up this concept and are exploring it further. BERG has been reflecting about the ‘Robot-Readable World’ (RRW) with Matt Jones giving a talk and Timo Arnall producing a video visualization of the RRW. Also read Jones’ thoughts on Sensor-Vernacular.

This all happened last year and was mostly noticed by people following the thinking of RIG and BERG.


A whole new level of attention came in March with the #sxaesthetic panel at the SXSW festival/conference in Austin, Texas. Bridle brought along some of his friends and fellow thinkers to approach NA from different perspectives.

A lot of great thinking coming from this group of people. But the biggest thing for the NA was that Bruce Sterling was sitting in the audience. Not only did he gather a lot of the tweets about the panel and mentioned Bridle and the panel very favorably in his closing keynote for SXSW.
He also published a 5000-word essay about NA, analyzing and criticizing it in depth. Besides the amazing amount of new ideas, approaches and next steps he has given the movement with this, he also has put it on a much bigger stage, giving it a new level of attention.

Reactions to Sterling’s essay

The web has been buzzing with reactions to the essay. It’s beautiful to see so many bright minds picking up the concept and investigating it from all sides. Here are only some of the writings we came by:

Sterling keeps posting links and writing articles as a reaction to the reactions. Here’s another take from him: Still FREAKING OUT!!!

A year later

On Sunday, May 6 2012, exactly one year later, Bridle has closed the NA tumblr for good.

The project will continue in other forms and venues.

On May 8, HuffPo posted an interview with Bridle.

One of the things about New Aesthetic was that it was very much supposed to be not ‘post’ anything else and not ‘pre’ anything else, it was an observation about something hopefully grander, of which these are some current examples of. But as soon as you start trying to ground it in that way, in manifestos and in particular works then, then yeah that’s the natural reaction to it. One of the things the internet should be able to do is be less reactive than that.

All these things are imperfect means of communication, there will always be that but I’m happy to end by saying it’s been a deeply odd and occasionally distressing experience. Some responses to it have been fantastic and extraordinary and interesting and a lot of the other responses have been extraordinarily aggressive and misguided and simply wrong. It’s a very odd experience that a lot of people out there have basically gone ‘the New Aesthetic is wrong’ and it can be many things but it can’t be wrong because I just made it up.

More Material somehow connected to NA

If you’ve found something that we should add, let us know.

Closing remarks

We’ve deliberately avoided defining what the New Aesthetic is. We kinda enjoy that it’s pretty fuzzy right now and still open for future definitions that might emerge from the current discussion. This is why we, instead of defining it, provided a ton of links so anyone going through this can make up her or his own mind about NA.

Bruce Sterling:

The New Aesthetic practice would be to unwrap it, post it, and leave it there all ragged with retweets, favorite buttons, permalinks and an open-API, so that somebody on the network can do something with it.

Warren Ellis:

What I will say is that, although there is no one future to be predicted or inferred — that the idea of the consensus future is resolutely 20th century and should be put to rest — it’s really nice to see people looking for what’s next again.

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.

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