Uselessness: Is this humankind’s most valuable tool? | Owen Hatherley

07.01.2019, 19:00

Institut für Kunst und Architektur
Augasse 2-6
1090 Wien

Owen Hatherley, Author, Journalist | Superfluous Space

Uselessness: Is this humankind’s most valuable tool?

Our use of tools has often been portrayed as the definitive attribute that led to our current position at the top of the animal hierarchy by provoking us to stand upright and walk. As a direct result, our brains developed at an exponential rate, allowing us to express ideas, tell stories and make objects whose uselessness still confounds us today. Uselessness rarely matches our expectations and disappoints a priori, but it can also fascinate and liberate because it contradicts the logic of use equals value. A depository of neglected ideas can also be a treasure trove, an alternative Pandora’s box that can trigger creativity and free the imagination. Since the advent of modernism, we have been preoccupied with usefulness and employability, be it in terms of space, energy, production or, indeed, education. Historians predict that the rise of artificial intelligence will produce a “useless” class that will not only be unemployed, but unemployable. Karl Marx, in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts written in 1844, said that the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people. Uselessness is an uncharted phenomenon that may lead us to a better understanding of what our common values are and prepare us for a new future. If our future will be defined by our uselessness, then it is time for this state and our judgements of it to be reappraised. This lecture series brings together people with very differing approaches to uselessness and attempts to shed light on what our new future could hold.