Flashion – Algorithmic Fashion

This is an interesting piece about algorithmically chosen style: Style Is an Algorithm: No one is original anymore, not even you.

Amazon’s Echo Look, currently available by invitation only but also on eBay, allows you to take hands-free selfies and evaluate your fashion choices. “Now Alexa helps you look your best,” the product description promises. Stand in front of the camera, take photos of two different outfits with the Echo Look, and then select the best ones on your phone’s Echo Look app. Within about a minute, Alexa will tell you which set of clothes looks better, processed by style-analyzing algorithms and some assistance from humans. So I try to find my most stylish outfit, swapping out shirts and pants and then posing stiffly for the camera. I shout, “Alexa, judge me!” but apparently that’s unnecessary.

It goes on . . .

Every platform, canvassed by an algorithm that prioritizes some content over other content based on predicted engagement, develops a Generic Style that is optimized for the platform’s specific structure. This Generic Style evolves over time based on updates in the platform and in the incentives of the algorithm for users.

And on . . .

The promise of algorithms is that they will show you yourself, refining an image of your tastes that should be identical to what you would have chosen on your own. The current reality is that these feeds silo you in homogenizing platforms, calculating the best-fitting average identity. That these average identities come in increasingly minute shades does not mean that they are unique.

A better mode of resistance might be to use the algorithms’ homogenizing averageness against them, adapting their data for productive disruption. We can take advantage of the clash between multiple algorithmic ideals, or between an algorithm’s vision of the world and reality, creating a glitch-based aesthetic. What would be error could be art.

And so forth.

It’s really very good and you should read it.

The bit about glitches reminds me of that old Brian Eno chestnut:

“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”

Which is, to say, that a glitch based fashion aesthetic will probably emerge as soon as the  glitches can be avoided. As for now? This algorithmic stuff is fashion but it also isn’t. If I had to call it something, and I suppose I will, considering that it’s going to be around for a while, I suppose that I’ll call it flashion – the sudden technological illumination of clothing, a light that makes the operations of fashion visible in minute detail but blinds in regards to meaning, content or purpose. It’s all very bright but we can’t see.

A situation such as this, calls for some sort of moral view. I have one on the methods of production, the labor practices involved, how the supply chains will be used to squeeze workers out of anything they’re owed and how all that relates to the general thrust towards total efficiency and security (and I’ll probably totally ignore that moral view if I like the object) but, when it comes to people using computers to dress themselves? In and of itself? Not so much. I have no great fetish for originality or authenticity, particularly when it comes to clothes. I do like correct descriptions of things but, then again, the counterfeit is a part of dressing. It might even be a foundation of dressing. Taste itself, like a handbag, is now going to be counterfeited. That doesn’t concern me. I suspect it will be visible. Just as you can tell the difference between a Tumblr post and and FB post and a Twitter post, we’ll probably see similar differences written into the clothing recipes. This math dressed that person and that math dressed this one. And we’ll judge the quality of the dressing according to the price of access to the particular algorithm rather than according to any principles of composition. Like brand-names, it will probably all turn out to be a bit fucking boring. Humans themselves will likely be the glitch. So it goes.

If you need me, I’ll be in the hot-tub. Thinking about robots or something.


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