Published by Strelka Press 


© 2017 Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design 


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and review and certain non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. 


First edition


ISBN 978-5-906264-79-4



Medium Design: It is not what you think. It is not new. It is not right. It is not magic. It is not free. It does not happen. It does not always work.

The oncologist follows not only the tumor but also the chemical fluctuations in surrounding tissues. The actor in the theatre transmits information not only through words but also through interdependent actions. The architect sees not only buildings with shapes and outlines but also the matrix of activities that inflects them. The geologist does not merely taxonomize specimens but rather reads them as traces of a process.

Still, while this medium thinking is practiced in many disciplines, it is perhaps under-rehearsed in the face of more dominant or ingrained cultural habits. Culture is good at pointing to things and calling their name but not so good at describing the relationships between things or the repertoires they enact. It privileges declarations, right answers, litigious proofs, universals, elementary particles and telos. It circles modernist scripts that celebrate freedom and transcendent newness — narrative arcs that bend toward a utopian or dystopian ultimate. This collective mind that looks for the one or the one and only is so often organized like a closed loop.

And since the loop that only circulates compatible information cannot abide contradiction, it also often lashes out with a binary fight against any challenger. Fighting is essential to being right. There is no growth or ideation without argumentation or debate. There is no literature without conflict. Favoring successive rather than coexistent thoughts or practices, the new right answer must kill the old right answer. The newest redemptive technology will make you free, but the freedom of one group must rob another of its freedom. And the fight should build to a revolution or an apocalyptic burnout. Cue the brooding music.

Oscillating between loops and binaries, an unnecessarily violent culture, having eliminated the very information it needs, is often banging away with the same blunt tools that are completely inadequate to address perennial problems and contemporary chemistries of power. A bully is elected, a migration of refugees swells in number, a financial crisis makes properties worth less than nothing, an industrial disaster kills thousands, shorelines flood due to global warming, or teenagers join ISIS. If economic and military templates of causation provide no explanation, if new technologies do not provide the solution, if the consensus surrounding laws, standards or master plans provide no relief, little sense can be made of the problem. Assuming that these problems are simply impossibly deadlocked or unresponsive to rational thought, even the smartest people in the world stand with hand to brow.

These are the hackneyed plot lines of our “humanities.” The binaries of wars and the chest-beating Westphalian sovereignty of nations remain in place as darlings of history. Homo economicus is allowed to upstage and hold forth. Rom-coms align with the ancient folktales of a patrilineal society. Sci-fis align with ancient tragedies, and dark conspiracies foil our hero. Smart is confused with new. Empowered is confused with free. Dissent, also adopting a binary, exists in a world of enemies and innocents. Since the world’s big bullies and bulletproof forms of  power thrive on this oscillation between loop and binary, it  is as if there is nothing to counter them — only more ways of fighting and being right and providing the rancor that nourishes their violence.

So how do you drop through a trapdoor and engage the flip side of these logics?

 medium thinkingmedium design