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.

Mariana Cordeiro

“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] In Do You Believe in Users?/Turing Complete User, Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied describe the evolution of the user paradigm, since its emergence to the present, highlighting users as a result of a fictional construction and their impact on the rise of digital age. Illustrating a series of user profiles described by the authors, 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 as a creator and producer of digital culture.

Through the exploration and comparison of computing history’s characteristic objects as human extensions, this project appears as a web narrative and chronological line documenting 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. Thus, it is evident the proposition of Lialina and Espenchield: “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.

Link to project.