Digital Decay

by Dr Jaime Hsu Fang Tze


Photo by Photography Maghradze PH from Pexels


The word “digital” may not often be associated with the transience of decay – a sense of time that materialises through its fading. Yet, in the first decade of the millennium, museum curators, art conservators, archivists, and media art theorists were collectively challenged by the rapid development of digital technology. Since the inauguration of WorldWideWeb in October 1990, WorldWideWeb has literally turned our world into an extendedly intricated web together with its constantly upgrading interface. It might be unimaginable to envision the pandemic defunct of the net art movement when the effervescent market performance of NFT art occupies defines the general public’s understanding between n art and value. The term digital decay was first brought up by Bruce Sterling, an American science-fiction author and cyberspace theorist, in the “Preserving the Immaterial” Conference organised by Guggenheim Museum, New York City, in 2001. As Sterling indicated, “When a piece of software decays, it doesn’t degrade like a painting, slowly and nostalgically. When software fails it crashes; it means the Blue Screen of Death”. The situation was and still is intriguing. It throws into relief issues concerning the relationship between art and the progressivism ideology. To what extent should a TV sculpture from the 1970s be authentically conserved even if part of its vacuum tubes have gone entirely obsolete? Or, what does that mean when the web host of a participatory project of net art has expired? Here, Sterling’s uses of “Death” may sound overtly dramatic in the first place, but the discomfort brought us through death reveals to us what we thought of the meaning of art—a moment of intensity that defeats the erosion of time. 


NAF programme title:
In Living Company 



Sterling, B. (2001, March 3). Digital decay. Medium. Retrieved January 2, 2022, from