User illuminates the patterns and repetitions that link -- for example -- nanotechnology to electronic music, artist/archivist Harry Smith to architect/superstar Rem Koolhaas, Pontiacs to open source software. And User offers a reading experience that is more vivid than most: Mieke Gerritzen's bold visuals create a book that is also a designed object -- a compact matrix of words and image as potent as a smart bomb.
User is not a manifesto. Lunenfeld means these essays -- which were written originally for the international magazine artext -- to be translator utilities, bridging the gap between the art world and the design establishment, between journalism and the seminar room.
Pondering the "permanent present" of today's visual culture, Lunenfeld blames the twenty-first century's inability to imagine the future on a movie and an interface: the too-influential aesthetic of Blade Runner and the ubiquitous desktop of nested files, icons, trash cans, and cascading windows, he argues, have become impediments to our thinking beyond the present. Lunenfeld writes about Euro-Disney, Matthew Barney, the VHS pornucopia that killed off Betamax, the computer as a "solitude enhancement machine," our embarrassing Y2K hysteria (when TEOTWAWKI -- The End of the World As We Know It -- didn't happen), and other faces of what he calls "that overwhelming diversity which for lack of a better term we call the present."