The world of technology is traditionally dominated by the voices of men – and over the past few decades, this fact has influenced its tone and aesthetic. Cold blues and chromes, stodgy beiges and fuss-free lines have long been part of the normal ...and more »
The world of technology is traditionally dominated by the voices of men â€“ and over the past few decades, this fact has influenced its tone and aesthetic. Cold blues and chromes, stodgy beiges and fuss-free lines have long been part of the normal palette, while any hue or shape that might be considered feminine or â€œgirlyâ€ has been rendered virtually invisible.
The cyberpunk fantasies laid out in Blade Runner or Neuromancer prize the stories of gritty guys, with femininity often relegated to the realm of the artificial, even the salacious.
Imagine, though, what the tech landscape might look like if soft hues and girly aesthetics were championed, rather than ridiculed? Thatâ€™s exactly what three young artists â€“ Gabriella Hilleman, 27, Violet Forest 26, and May Waver, 23 â€“ decided to do a few years ago, when, mostly on a lark, they convened the first International Cybertwee Conference and Roundtable. They had a sleepover where they ate sweets, burned lavender (thought to attract spirits or success) and drank wine, and at midnight they gathered around a little red typewriter and crafted a manifesto: The singularity is dear, they proposed.
Why, they wondered, is sweetness and tenderness seen as not powerful; why is the efficiency we associate with machinery considered more valuable than empathy, mutually exclusive with it? Thus the â€œCybertweeâ€ movement was born â€“ a deconstruction of cyberpunk, coupled with a nod to â€œtweeâ€ music, which in the 1980s and 1990s acted as a â€œsoftâ€ backlash against the sneering, aggressive tones of punk.
â€œWe wanted to make a similar statement toward the realms of art and tech and science fiction,â€ says co-founder Gabriella Hilleman, who holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. â€œWe wanted to write our own characters into the narratives of the future, that we could relate to as femme individuals, and to fully engage with the skills needed to make that kind of future a reality.â€
Cybertwee takes some of its cues from movements like seapunk and vaporwave, devoted to reviving the utopian technology visuals and sounds of the late 1990s for a generation that is barely old enough to recall them. Itâ€™s partially a nostalgic urge, but simultaneously a fantasy of a more optimistic time for tech. Cybertwee goes one step further, by imagining tech optimism dotted with flowers, lace, pink, purple and other conventionally â€œfemmeâ€ signifiers.
Today the Cybertwee art movement includes a (closed) facebook group with more than 3,000 members, a Tumblr, a web community that hosts a series of virtual artist talks, and a space on multimedia hub Newhive. Users share art, fashion, music and other types of content that imagines a gentle, girly technology vocabulary.
â€œItâ€™s meant to be an open-source genre,â€ Hilleman says. â€œI love flirty but techy fabric â€“ lace, ruffles, taffeta or flounces, but with a bit of a hard bite. Plastic and wearable tech also make an appearance in the mix, as do unusual or striking lines that recall traditional sci-fi cliches. Imagine metallic makeup, LED inlays for nails, anything that lights up, really.
â€œThe fashion, music and art really set the tone for more technical content, and give our whole platform a softer and more inviting feeling,â€ she adds. â€œWe can geek out about interactivity or biohacking, but also about cool style.â€
Recently, the collective took to the Deep Web â€“ better known as a hub for illicit off-the-grid exchanges of porn and drugs among other things â€“ to have an adorable bake sale (rosewater cookies), an experiment in injecting literal sweetness into spaces normally conceived as â€œdarkâ€ or unsafe for women.
Since then, the collective has done educational workshops on the cute bake-sale theme, with the ultimate goal of teaching skills like encryption or how to set up a dark web server to other femme-identified people. Ultimately, Hilleman, Waver and Forest hope that Cybertwee can be not only simply an aesthetic movement, but that it can restore skills and participation in tech to girly girls who might normally be alienated from the space.
â€œThe fact that most of the earliest computer programmers were women, and that racial and ethnic minorities around the world have contributed immeasurably to the birth of the internet, is something you would never know by reading Silicon Valleyâ€™s autobiography,â€ says May Waver, who works in St Paul, Minnesota at the intersection of art, tech and health.
â€œI think femme identities have been taught to be users instead of creators, and we need to start becoming creators,â€ says Violet Forest, who holds an MFA from SAIC and works as a front-end developer at a Chicago-based design studio. â€œInstead of [simply creating] with consumer technologies, [we] need to start creating technologies. We have a long way to go.â€
The absence of feminine signifiers in the tech space may subtly signal to some women that the space is not for them, Forest says. â€œHopefully weâ€™re making room for femme-identified creators to create for a purpose other than the militaristic or capitalistic goals which are traditional for the tech industry.â€
Hilleman emphasises that â€œpink and cutesyâ€ is far from the only way to express femininity, nor does anyone mean to suggest that all women in tech ought to be attracted to or motivated by girly aesthetics: â€œThese are just things that, for a long time, have been associated with frivolity, and we want to challenge those kinds of associations specifically,â€ she says. â€œWe want to be able to outwardly express [feminine] traits without it diminishing how seriously we are taken as innovators, scientists, artists or programmers.â€
Hilleman emphasizes â€˜pink and cutesyâ€™ is far from the only way to express femininity. Photograph: Cybertwee tubmlr
And far from being a girls-only space, Cybertwee aims to be for everyone â€“ even masculine people seem to be enjoying the opportunity to reject convention and participate in aesthetics from which they normally feel prohibited.
Hilleman, Waver and Forest recently attempted a Kickstarter to create an ongoing 3D virtual gallery space that could host â€œgirlyâ€ digital art and encourage creators â€“ and, the team emphasises, pay them, an important note as womenâ€™s labour can be frequently imposed upon or devalued in tech spaces. Though the campaign did not fund, the app exists, and the three say they plan to take a step back and allow the burgeoning community to collaborate on and help lead the future of the movement.
Iâ€™m from a slightly older generation than the Cybertwee founders; any kind of feminine space online was hard won in the mid to late-1990s, and I remember combing the web religiously to search for bulletin boards â€“ then called BBSes â€“ devoted to the girly space-themed superhero anime Sailor Moon.
Today â€œbbsâ€ means something entirely else: the plural of â€œbbâ€, a â€œcute diminutive pet name in my vernacular,â€ according to Hilleman. â€œBbâ€, a sort of corruption of â€œbabyâ€, is becoming an increasingly common form of address on social media and in text messages, a sign, perhaps, that there is hope and purpose for cuteness in tech.
â€¢ The Y2K aesthetic: who knew the look of the year 2000 would endure?
Internet,Culture,Technology,Fashion,Gender,Life and style