Digital Citizen: a Speculative Atlas of Imagined Users

Keywords: user paradigm; digital culture; digital folklore; imagined users; hacking vs default; my to me; web 1.0 vs web 2.0;


“So, users are a figment of the imagination. As a result of their fictive construction, they continued to be reimagined and reinvented through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium.”[1]  Do You Believe in Users?/Turing Complete User, text written by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, describes the evolution of the user paradigm throughout the 20th century until the present, highlighting its impact on the rise of digital age. Digital Citizen: a Speculative Atlas about Imagined Users aims to demystify the idealization of the user as an individual intrinsically engaged to the computational machine, accentuating its crucial role in the advancement of new media, as a creator and producer of digital culture, contextualizing the different profiles compiled by Lialina and Espenschied. 

Through the exploration and comparison of computing history’s characteristic objects as human extensions, this project appears as a long web narrative, chronological line and documentary metaphor of imagined user’s various archetypes, as well as web’s representative dualities, from Vannevar Bush’s conception of scientist to Bruce Tognazzini’s current ideia of consumer, putting emphasis on the proposition that: “Technical innovations shape only a small part of computer and network culture. It doesn’t matter much who invented the microprocessor, the mouse, TCP/IP or the World Wide Web; nor does it matter what ideas were behind these inventions. What matters is who uses them. Only when users start to express themselves with these technical innovations do they truly become relevant to culture at large.”[2]





[1] Cornell, L., & Halter, E. (2015) Do You Believe in Users? / Turing Complete User in O. Lialina & D. Espenchied (Eds), “Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-first Century.” (pg 56-64) USA, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology;

[2] Lialina, O., & Buerger, M. (2009). Digital Folklore: To Computer Users, with Love and Respect. Merz & Solitude.