Introduction

In the fields we are concerned with, knowledge comes only
in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that
follows.

Benjamin, The Arcades Project

This book is concerned with the question of the role of art in the age of real-time systems. (By 'art' in this instance I generally refer to visual art, rather than literature, music or film for example.) The term 'real-time systems' refers to the information, telecommunication and (multi)media technologies that have come to play an increasingly important part in our lives, at least in the so-called 'developed' countries. It is almost impossible to overstate the ubiquity and importance of the technologies in question. Real-time computing underpins the whole apparatus of communication and data processing by which our contemporary techno-culture operates. Without it we would have no email, word processing, Internet or World Wide Web, no computer-aided industrial production and none of the invisible 'smart' systems with which we are surrounded. 'Real time' can also stand for the more general trend toward instantaneity in contemporary culture, involving increasing demand for instant feedback and response, one result of which is that technologies themselves are beginning to evolve ever faster. The increasing complexity and speed of contemporary technology is the cause of both euphoria and anxiety. The book asks and tries to answer the question about what kind of role art might play in a world increasingly dominated by such technologies.

At first it might seem that the increasing importance of real-time systems is still of comparatively little relevance to the status and continuing

-1-

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