A Different Repetition

Repetition isn’t what it used to be. Repetition was mechanisation, production lines and printing presses; the stuff of modernity. It was meant to simplify our lives, make life easier and more enjoyable, it was meant to give us comfort and make us happy. At least, that was the message we were given. The truth of what mechanised repetition was for is a far more complex truth and I think we’ve begun to understand more fully by living in the Western reality of Late Capitalism. Of course, that reality most definitely is not limited to the west, but as a westerner, I write from that point of view. The utopian fantasy of a better life through mechanisation has given us our dystopian reality of global warming, environmental destruction, over population and globalisation.

Now repetition is multiplicity; a profusion of selves projected into the vast network of digital connections. “Many of us don’t like this, however…We think the technology is replacing us at work, diluting our communities, stealing away our children, upending morality, taking control of our lives. We read about online cults and internet extremism, about cyber-infidelity and computer addiction, about fraud, identity theft and antisocial behaviour. We are afraid this new worldwide order is taking something essentially human away from us. At the same time, we are bombarded with headlines that claim this communication technology is a panacea. We see stories of how the web has been harnessed to topple corrupt governments, to transform media empires, to empower people just like us to do exceptional things.”[1]

This quote from the introduction of Aleks Krotosky’s book, Untangling the Web, leads to this question: “what is the web doing to us, to our kids, to society?”[2]

And my question to you is…

What is this change in repetition doing to us?


[1] Krotosky, Aleks, Untangling the Web: What the Internet Is Doing to You, London, Faber and Faber, 2013, pp 1-2.

[2] Ibid.


24 thoughts on “A Different Repetition

    1. Uh, now that you mention it, yes, it’s a lot like people repeating themselves in different contexts in an online world of repetition. Are you standing between two mirrors, by chance? (And if you’re wondering about the nonchalance in my reply, David is a good pal from Kentucky, who’s teasing me 🙂

  1. I’ve been thinking of how I feel about the change in repetition, and really, how would I put it into words? As an adult with memory of a time before the digital explosion, I can actually compare the two. I think it must be very hard for a younger generation who has grown up in a digitized world. They’re experience of a non-digital world would only be second-hand from parents or grandparents, for example.

    I can remember feeling ‘solid’, meaning I knew who I was in relation to where I was and who I was with. Mechanization made communities prosperous, providing most of the work for a local population. I knew what products I could depend on, where to buy them and how much they would cost. I knew I would need to save money to afford more expensive things I wanted. There was stability in knowing products were readily available and in constant supply. I came home with products I liked in shopping bags. I could smell the production process of tires and toothpaste on the air, knowing they smelled polluting.

    Now, as someone involved in a digital world, I work where I do not live, I purchase products from all over the world which are shipped to me. I feel guilty at the thought that less wealthy people than I (and I am not wealthy!) make the clothes I wear and have produced them in a very foreign place in unknown circumstances and at unknown costs to the environment. I feel ‘transparent’ as I share quirky little thoughts on twitter and downright exposed when I post anything on Facebook. I feel impinged by knowing that I can never decide to remove my profile on Facebook. I feel hectic and rushed even though I sit at a table most of my day typing on a keyboard. I see almost no one, except my husband, throughout my work day. In short, I feel boxed, constrained, observed and strangely non-material in a world that I struggle to comprehend, as my thoughts flit from task to task, page to page, and site to site.

  2. I am not sure that repetition is mechanisation. Farming is repetitive as is much basic craft work.
    I am also tempted to suggest that change has always produced a response that things have got worse.
    Feeling transparent. That is an insight and I understand the idea of being simultateously connected but isolated.

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. Mechanisation is one from of repetition, and one which has had a huge influence on human civilization. Farming is indeed repetitive, and the name ‘mechanized farming’ is used to describe the replacement of farm workers by machines, and by extension, corporate farming and industrial farming. If you mean small scale farming and gardening, yes, there is repetition involved in those, as in craft. Those are repetitive tasks, routines, patterns and thought processes – all which are other forms of repetition, linked more with behaviour perhaps. Indeed, a common response to change is that it’s bad, but that doesn’t mean the response should be dismissed without discussing it. Just because it’s negative doesn’t mean it’s wrong. As with all change, come wrongs get righted and some beauty gets destroyed. It all merits discussion. Yes, I think one of the biggest changes people are feeling as society changes to different forms of repetition are feelings of being connected but lonely at the same time. It’s a strange feeling, and a very real issue. It’s possibly the one thing we’ve never experienced before. We (and I’m speaking in general human historical terms) have had experience with isolation, and we’ve had experience with being connected to a community. I don’t think we’ve ever had the experience of having both at the same time before. It’s unnerving and it’s no wonder we feel stranger and more ‘transparent’ than we used to.

  3. I recognise your descriptions. I do feel though that I work where I live, but the product of that work is then spread instantly to all parts of the globe and to anyone who cares to take an interest. Working alone is lonely. I envy those who have a physically located group to associate with and are able to share ideas face-to-face. I don’t know if any of this has repetition at its core though. I do know I would not want to turn the clock back entirely. I feel privileged to be able to discuss ideas with people all over the world. Being able to find like-minds wherever they might be is a huge plus for the web. On the other hand I need to find a better balance, where at least some portion of time is spent physically co-located with other artists. I will be working on that aspect in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

    1. Thanks for your comment David. As I suggested in my response to Ian, behaviour patterns and routines, both personal and work, I think, are very involved in how we work and why we take the approaches we do to tasks and problem solving. All a very big area of repetition, and perhaps where the questions of repression start to come in, suggested in the project premise. Absolutely, mechanisation is not the only repetition, but it’s a biggy and a convenient demarcation of cultural experiences. I agree with you, I would not be able to do the work I do without the internet. Nor would I have any of the valuable connections I currently have with other colleagues, friends and family. Without the internet, I would have probably lost touch with friends I left behind and I would never have been able to be part of the arts community in the UK. I wouldn’t say I’d want to turn the clock back entirely either, but I do admit to feeling like a paradigm change has happened which has left us all sort of wondering what’s just happened.

      1. I don’t feel quite the same way. I think, this is because I have been involved with the ‘paradigm shift’ right from the start. I worked with people across multiple geographic locations as far back as the mid 1980s (using dial up directly connected computers to transfer data). Then in the mid ’90s I was already part of team using a WiKi type information base to manage complex software projects, where the development team and customers were spread across the UK. I was part of the team behind the design and build of the WiKi tool. So, working isolated from co-workers has been the norm for me for a long time. Despite all of that experience, I do find it all too easy to become absorbed in the virtual space while neglecting to balance this with real-world experiences and contacts. It is a balance that has to be attended to on a regular basis. The need to look after relationships is nothing new and the technology just gives us a more complex set to manage. Maybe this is exasperated by the misuse of familiar terms. ‘Friends’ is a much over used word. I challenge anyone to prove to me they have 1000+ real friends. If we begin to describe these new relationships in more appropriate terms, them maybe they will become easier to manage. Another thing we can do is manage the use of each available system. Clearly defined use and don’t use cases can help us make better connections. All of these tasks are repetitive and the outcomes suffer if the repetitions are broken for some reason.

      2. I think I have a strange relationship with isolation, I both embrace it and struggle against it. As an only child, I grew up playing alone not infrequently. Of course, I had friends but I also had significant time occupying myself. As an adult, my work situations stopped being ‘collective’ in my early twenties when my husband and I became self-employed. While we were working with each other in close proximity, the radio was our daily source of connection to the outside world. Once that became too distressful – there came a point when I realised I was numb to the repetition of hearing another death-row prisoner had been put to death, usually in Texas (when George Bush was governor) and roughly once a week, or so it seemed. I found the reality of that numbness to be very disturbing – we worked in silence. As oppressive as it sounds, we actually found space in our heads, and enjoyed the quietude. I still work in silence, though David and I no longer work together. I think the oppression of isolation I feel is not missing the company of others, though I do, but being separated from activity and culture. I value the space in my head, but I also like to people watch and enjoy the visual stimulation of cultural activity. Kay’s point that isolation is a killer, is a very real reality for the elderly and so many others in society. Often it is repetition as persistence, persistent poverty, persistent illness which causes chronic isolation. A very different reality from someone who chooses silence to noise.

        Your point David, that “the outcomes of connection can suffer if the repetitions are broken for some reason”, is very true and not just of for social media connections. Of course, it’s always those who are creating the paradigm shift that find the most stimulation from the process – repetitions and all! The rest of us have to catch up 🙂

      3. Again, we have a very similar experience. I can recognise everything you describe as-if you were describing my own history. I used to be a news addict, but it is just too depressing to contemplate. Maybe we were never meant to see so much and yet know so little about the wider world. We can be swamped by the headlines and yet know nothing of the detailed reality. Having the news in my ear every 15 minutes became a repetition too far. Although, in a strict sense, I don’t believe repetition exists. We attempt repetition, but always something has changed or will change during the process. At the very least, time has changed. And when some variable changes, an attempt at repetition will not yield the exact same outcome. The difference may be subtle or significant, but something will have changed. If the new outcome is satisfying we might choose to continue, if not, then we will find another path. If we choose to continue then there is the distinct possibility the new outcome will destroy the original intention. Knowing when to stop, when to take a different path is an important skill, in life and in art.

      4. You are very right, there is no such thing as repetition in reality, because each moment of time brings a new set of circumstances. That, perhaps is the beauty of repetition, and of time, they naturally bring change through their continuation. I mean, what we perceive as a repetition would not be, if we could quantify and qualify every element in the set; we just can’t always see the difference, so it looks like repetition. Deleuze discusses this very thing in Difference and Repetition. It’s that instance of change (Deleuze calls it difference) carried within a set of circumstances, which Deleuze defines as simulacrum – a difference which carries its difference within it (p.82-83). We just have to be alert enough to notice the change/difference!

  4. A few thoughts on a great topic

    I knit and crochet so there is much repetition involved in those actions. By chance I found and continue to find those repetitions creative. The stitching can also have a meditative quality to it, awakening me to the moment. I don’t expect every repetitive action to have a meditative quality to it however I do recognise actions which are engaging and enlivening and those which have a dulling effect.

    I have had interesting on-line conversations and got connected to collaborative on-line projects -which I would never have come across without the digital world – I do value them. What I find with digital media is that it is all too easy to get stuck in repetitive actions which don’t lead to anything in particular. The impact of some digital repetition is to dull / numb the brain. Perhaps that is why we crave the connection with humans who aren’t glued to the screen. The connections can perhaps be more random, intuitive and exploratory.

    I also think that repetitive digital actions in office spaces are questionable. The assumption seems to be that if people are at the screen they are working and even engaged in their work. I don’t agree. Humans create and work in a range of ways. As a fellow human I need variety and stimulation through words, textiles and other random moments to develop. This becomes more important as I get older. I work with older people and am obsessed with memory, aging, loneliness and isolation! A few of the comments here refer to people experiencing a sense of isolation even in a world of virtual connections. I think it is essential to create spaces which integrate the virtual and physical nature of life (I love the makers library network). Isolation is a killer. As a human I want to be awake to this and create repetitions which sustain me and who know others around me.

    1. Hello Kay, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you, I’m very soothed by the meditative quality of repetition and I love it when new meaning comes out of repetitive actions. Sometimes meaning can only be found by going through the repetitive, which has always struck me as kind of ironic. The thought that new or even significant meaning can be found through repetitive patterns is like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – ironic, magical and not to be believed.

      It’s a curious question then, is our own boredom from mind-numbingly dull repetitive tasks a result of our own failure to pay enough attention to the situation in order to find significance?

  5. All that has been written here resonates with my experience. I moved to the UK about a year ago and have relied almost solely on the Internet and non-co-located experiences/communication for connection, work, everything. Until recently, I experienced isolation, vulnerability (to the point that I found it almost impossible to share any more on FB), a strange almost addiction (repetition) to checking FB (making sure I liked and got liked) enough. I found that relying on FB interactions fed into my need to control and by giving me predictable feedback, kept me coming back over and over again for validation and to ease my sense of loneliness but it also left me feeling creepy (sharing without social cues and meaningful interaction). However, this need to control (a response to the chaos of changing everything) has manifested in all sorts of repetitive behaviors (cleaning routines for example). So, I think it is a very human action/reaction to repeat behaviors that give us a sense of control. I think we start to repress (or stop the repetition) when they no longer give us what we want or when we see the meaninglessness in them or when we have weakened the meaning through repetition. This asks the questions does repetition destroy something that once had meaning? Does this always happen? (I don’t think so)? Can repetition create new meaning (I think so)?

    As an aside…yesterday, I participated in a workshop where 5 people, including myself walked around Newcastle chatting, gathering GPS and sensory data, taking pictures and recording sounds. We had tea, told stories, found connections. We remarked later how nice it was to spend an entire afternoon with relative strangers in person, outside.

    1. Yes, Constance, I think you’re right, repetition is a destructive force and it is also a creative force. Does that make it a paradox or just prove that it is constant, sort of like entropy? We need a scientific point of view. You make a very insightful point, that when we stop repeating we start to repress. We’ll be discussion this more in the coming weeks. It seems to me that the biggest struggle is with our own sense of futility, a struggle we’ve had from the moment we became sentient! Look at all the cleaver ways we’ve devised to divert our attention from this question over the millennia! Even for all the human development and history, we still can’t fully answer the nagging sense of futility to our actions. Love, friendship and meaning in the moment are the best response we know of to assuage the nag. I think that is why the social media connections so often feel hollow and false, because the connection isn’t fulsome and filled with meaningful moments.

  6. Repetition is so absolutely pervasive to life itself it seems impossible to stand back and view it objectively or to distance ourselves from it in anything we do. Nature is riddled with repetitive patterns (great Fibonacci video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahXIMUkSXX0) suggesting perhaps why we are drawn to the safety of repetition and yet this is constantly frustrated with the fact that the smallest of aspects must inevitably change if only the time involved itself. Repetition is incredibly important to lots of stages of life I have had experience of. Babies adore repetition, (I had one that insisted on throwing the spoon away after every single mouthful of a meal and watch me pick it up again, eventually I tied it to the high chair with string) but it is an essential part of development. Working with people with dementia or younger adults with significant learning disabilities and repetition was often essential to communication. In mental health wards repetition is often displayed especially in times of stress and anxiety. Can it simultaneously be both positive and negative?. I guess perhaps it depends on whether the repetition is an end in itself or a vehicle for change. We all know meditative repetative acts are often used to move towards a certain experience of enlightenment.

    Some years ago my work was much more practically process based and involved a lot of repetitive making skills. A lot of the work involved wire and the repetitive techniques I had developed were constantly hoaned through the process until I was able to make increasingly complex structures. Looking back I feel this was counter-productive as the work lost the immediacy of earlier pieces. Like many artists I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Operations on my wrists were unsuccessful and resulted in further damage to other parts of my hands. As a result I had to set aside many of the materials my practice rested on and explore new media. Whenever I do use repetitive processes now, they must be spread over significant amounts of time and carefully planned and interspersed with other activities. Initially I found the change incredibly hard and quite daunting. Ultimately though, it has been hugely positive and I’m glad in many ways that it was forced upon me. Repetition still permeates much of my work but in a less restrictive sense, conceptually more than practically.

    Some of you will know that I’m a major user of social media so your question of a ‘changed’ relationship with repetition is interesting but I think our drive for repetition is so strong that patterns will emerge in everything we do and will inevitably be used both as an endpoint in themselves and as a springboard to new ground.

    1. Hi Susan, thanks for that great comment. I’m glad you mentioned children and repetition. The repetitive process in learning is so important. I remember as a kid having only a handful of stories that I liked to read with my grandma. I’m sure she was bored stiff reading them over and over to me, but I remember the story I chose related to the mood I was in, and often the mood I was in related to the situation I was in. I can remember choosing a story because I wanted to feel the feelings the story gave me, which helped me to understand the situation I was in. And of course, only with time could I put an explanation on it like that or even begin to understand what my little child brain was doing! Curiously, I find I still do that. I watch videos from my library because of the mood I’m in and a need to feel certain feelings which are in relation to how my day has been. I think those induced feelings, which are repetitive, just help manage the feeling which are more chaotic, or haphazard. The induced feelings kind of chelate with bits of the haphazard feelings and helps move them away. Great Fibonacci video! I’ll post it.

  7. Hello, I finished my show and now I am back…

    Sorry I can not follow well what’s happening. But I was thinking that it was fanny Susan and Simon who both mentioned about a spiral as I had also made a work about it. I was interested in the moment that breaks the eternal recurrence. And all my works are an attempt to make a spiral together.

    Let’s see, like our body has a metabolism, our life definitively repeats itself on some levels. But too much repetition scares me. I remember the story when one wakes up and has to repeat the same day over and over. And tomorrow never comes. Isn’t this horrible? Our life is to progress. But sometimes, for different reasons, this is not easy.

    You wrote about digital. I guess you meant that we are just being a part of binary data and our individuality is erased. At the place of being remembered as “the neighbor who lives near the rose garden”, I am being memorized as a “custom number 0019342″…

    Here I repeat the images of people whose individuality has been erased: 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    Oh yeah!

    Or I personally think individual characters are often rather re-made in the internet world.

    …I am not sure if this is answering anything about your question.

    1. Hi Hitomi, thanks for your comment. I think you are following perfectly well! Yes, the spiral form is a fascinating repetition because it doesn’t overlap on itself, but it is a continuous repetitive directional movement, which implies a connection to time in the repetition. How did you find the spiral breaks the eternal recurrence? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

      I agree with you, too much repetition is scary. That relates to the latest discussion topic: When do you take warning from a habit? I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to relive the same day over and over again, never seeing tomorrow. I think that is a common notion of hell. It certainly relates to feelings of deja vu and lucid dreams. Both phenomena can be very unnerving, to say the least, and downright nightmarish at worst. I’ve had strong feelings of deja vu, especially when I find myself in a place I’ve never been before but realize I’ve dreamt of myself in that place and can remember the dream. That is a completely unnerving experience. I’ve also had lucid dreams where I keep waking up into the same dream, those dreams are frightening and nightmarish, even if the recurring dream is not a nightmare. I remember when I have finally woken from those dreams, having to really orient myself and convince myself I’m awake. Thankfully, I don’t have those too often, just the more common lucid experience of knowing I’m dreaming. I can remember once realising that I was at the very beginning of a dream, before the imagery started. Everything was grey and then I watched as the dream started to play out. That was a curious experience too.

      I like your interpretation of images of people whose individually has been erased. I think this is what images of people whose individuality has been erased looks like:

      That’s an interesting idea, what do you mean exactly by individual characters being re-made in the internet world? Tell me more about that…

      Your responses are delightful and answer things beautifully 🙂 Thank You!

  8. Hi, sorry for late reply. I think Nietzsche used the word “Eternal recurrence” because of his disease (maybe not, this is just my understanding!).
    I have never had big health problems but I kind of understand this.
    I believe each of us has been given the same amount of luck. This means someone who has money also has health issues. Someone who has a warm family does not have money, etc. So each of us has to overcome one’s disadvantages to recover what was not given, and sometimes, this seems to me to require endless efforts.
    But there is a moment when your efforts suddenly flourish and you can easily make progress. So this is the moment to break the eternal recurrence.

    Your dreams are interesting. I have also had deja vu and strange dreams.
    I have experienced the same dreams many times. The funny thing is each time, the story progresses little by little.

    In the term of relationship between customers and merchants, individuals might be erased. But I wonder if individual characters are remade in Internet world. For example, there was a murder notice recently by several men in Japan. But their computers were hacked. So the real criminal wrote the notice by pretending to be several other men. But I actually think this might be a particular case. People can make fake characters, and also internet can be used as a tool to show another side of the person.
    I know someone who is a serious IT guy usually. But when I saw his Facebook page, he posted many nude photos of his gay friends!

    Haha, it’s like a parallel world? I hope this helps~.

    1. That’s a very interesting philosophy! Yes, kind of like being in the right place at the right time, but often being in the right place is not luck but rather a lot of effort to get to that place so the right time can find you. I’ve not studied Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Eternal Return’, but Deleuze discusses it in his book Difference and Repetition. He says that the ‘Eternal Return’ for Nietzsche, is “Being” – as he sums it up in simple terms, and a liberation of the will: “liberate the will from everything which binds it by making repetition the very object of willing.”(Deleuze, 2004; pg6&7). Deleuze makes a very interesting comparison of Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s views of repetition in the introduction to Difference and Repetition.

      Yes, the internet and digital communications has allowed us to peel the layers of our onion, so to speak. That is, if we want to. There are so many ways to present an identity of oneself online, or impersonate another identity, and with so many risks and advantages in doing so. I think this is what Nietzsche is getting at with the ‘Eternal Return’, finding the new through repetition, making repetition a liberation of will – at least as Deleuze discusses it. It’s what we’re doing in a small sort of way with this blog – peeling the onion of repetition.

  9. ‘Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self similar way. For instance, when the surfaces of two mirrors are exactly parallel with each other the nested images that occur are a form of infinite recursion.’

    It’s strange how when you begin to engage with a context, instances within everyday life begin to resonate, intertwine and reflect that back to you. Recently I travelled to Belfast to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday with my father and my sister, all that’s left of our family there. My sister Heather is 10 years older than me and has recently taken up writing as a pastime. When I was in her house she pulled out piece of writing that she had written recently entitled ‘The Dark Room’.
    Heather was married and had left home by the time I was nine years old and before that our paths rarely crossed as she inhabited the adult life of the workplace while I was still locked in the private world of childhood. ‘The Dark Room’ described a period long before I was born when Heather was very young and lived with my parents in a rather bleak flat on a troubled estate on the edge of Belfast. Our mother suffered throughout her life with bipolar, including suicide attempts and numerous stays in hospital undergoing electric shock treatment and psychiatric therapy. In the depths of her depression she always slept in the afternoon and both Heather and I, in our own individual childhoods, played happily around our mother waiting for her to wake up. Although it was a dark time for my mother, the flat, which they seldom left, was a place of safety for my sister and her only of the view through the tall high windows was of the clouds floating by outside. During this time she would take the books down from the bookcase and build paths around the room, playing at stepping over treacherous waters my mother lay sleeping by the fire, and this memory is at the centre of her writing.

    I read this piece of writing with real emotion as a couple of years ago I was artist in residence on the Reside website, an online residency passed from one artist another. During that residency I hired the village halls nearby for an hour each time, with very few materials and no preconceived plan as to what I would do there. In one of these halls I took some books and this is the work I did on that day
    You may want to watch the video, read the account accompanying it, and bear in mind that Heather and I had never shared this together until now.

    1. Susan, thank you for that very personal account from your life. It is indeed very amazing to realize that you and your sister have the same point of reference and have had similar responses. In some ways, quite incredible that two people separated by such a gap in age, would have such a similar experience and response. And in other ways, it doesn’t seem surprising as you’re from the same family. What I mean is it’s incredible to think that two people have a similar experience and outcome when it is not to be expected because of a distance of age, and not surprising at all to consider the contextual influences on two people producing similar responses – even with such a gap in age. The context of your home and mother’s illness clearly influenced both of your childhoods and produced similar responses, though you didn’t experience the same time in the context together. It’s amazing nonetheless to discover this as an adult and perhaps to see the time lag for you mother through her illness – time standing still for her almost as she dealt with the conditions of her illness, and the circumstances which produced two sets of similar responses. Amazing. And you expressed it so beautifully through your Reside residency, even when you thought it was a singular experience. It truly is an instance of recursion, as you say.

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