Infinite Scroller proposes you, the reader/scroller, a general theory of scrolling —as much aesthetic, epistemological, and political—, while also encouraging you to experience theory as an overwhelming, multi-layered, and immanent event composed of networked text, images, and sounds to be seen, listened, touched, danced; that is, scrolled.
The algorithmically mediated, generally vertical, endless scrolling user interface has become omnipresent as the online aesthetic infrastructure for distributing the audible, the visual, and the haptic. Recently adopted metaphors for describing online experiences —such as virality, informational overflow, contextual collapse, and temporal contraction— might as well be the aesthetic categories of scrolling-based media consumption and production.  Infinite Scroller approaches TikTok as a single (yet fragmented) piece, a meta-music video that configures a shared space where the symbolic is redistributed, in an attempt to understand the ongoing entanglements between current music-based aesthetics, data-driven social practices, and contemporary youth subjectivities. This research aspires to overcome the veil of familiarity and immediacy that surrounds the experience of scrolling by working within and against TikTok’s ever-present scrolling UI.

The reader of this introductory essay to Infinite Scroller will find themselves scrolling through this webpage in a way not too different to that in which Tik Tok users scroll through their For You Page. A particular form of human-computer interaction, scrolling has become second nature and, infiltrating everyday language, is now a commonplace verb. Like the reader, I casually perform the gesture of scrolling to access digital content and, unsurprisingly, it is perhaps the most frequent action carried out with my hands. Having overshadowed typing, such a simple gesture is now the accessing ritual for almost every digitally mediated interaction. Infinite Scroller (AKA Infinite Scroll as a Symbolic Form), a fragmented video essay hosted on Tik Tok, was born by conceiving online interfaces and, more precisely digital images, as scrolls to be scrolled.

Infinite Scroller is a Tik Tok profile. A collection of videos organized by a graphical user interface. Those videos are themselves a collection of frames organized by a timeline. Frames that are digital images; lines of code to be read by machines. This profile, as well as the videos and sounds it contains, live within an ecosystem connected by millions of scrolling gestures performed by every single Tik Tok user. Infinite Scroller aspires to condense this sprawling network within one of its nodes. A synecdoche trying to represent the totality by referencing its own partiality — its dynamic place within continuously generating scrolls. In this sense, this project could be summed up as another attempt to tackle the question of the representation of complexity. Or of how to depict a system moving through time in which the image-maker is themself embedded.

The question of the representation of complexity can be linked to the historical question of truthful representations as wielders of an objective (i.e., mathematical) correspondence to the world. Representations can be both a copy of an already evident truth or a model that aids to perceive the truth when not visible. These two distinct goals nonetheless overlap: linear perspective translated depth to flat surfaces while simultaneously re-revealing it to the viewer under a new light. The same could be argued about movement and cinema. When trying to depict things as they are, these are rediscovered as image production algorithms — step by step processes cable of generating specific kinds of images corresponding to a particular model of world interpretation.

Perhaps too hazardously, I propose the scroll, exemplified by TikTok’s UI, as a candidate for representing dynamic, complex (cultural) systems. Furthermore, Infinite Scroller is also an effort to articulate what the scroll / scrolling is. Both, a noun and a verb, this project conceives the scroll as a visual (infra)structure and as an action. But, above all, it is concerned with the interdependencies between both. For a visual form as the scroll to exist, the online subjective experiences of millions of people need to be developed and extracted by a globe-spanning technological system.

Nevertheless, the lived experiences of online scrolling exceed the systems of data extraction that created them (social media). On the one hand, social media platforms use individual identity as the conceptual framework to conduct exploitative practices. While, on the other, the scroll creates the context for every swipe, selfie, meme, viral dance, hate comment, rage typing, para-social relationship, late night sexting, alternative political groups, internet-based music genres, and millions of other embodied cultural phenomena, not necessarily captured neither by quantitative extractive logics nor individual identities.  Interpretations of social media as extractive machines —which they are— only, fail to see that these are also systems of production of vectors of meaning dialectally interlacing the discrete with the systemic, the intimate with the collective.

Even if it presents itself as such, Tik Tok’s scrolling user interface does not follow a linear behavior. It is best understood not by a detailed analysis of its parts, but by mapping the relations between all its elements. Yet, these relations can only be considered as something more than quantitative data if the analysis is done from the standpoint of another actor. Systems become complex when the analytic standpoint is situated within the system itself, suddenly granting the impotent act of viewing with tactile consequences. Complexity transforms the act of understanding into an act of exhibitionism; getting exposed to the scroll itself.

If linear perspective was the spatial translation of rational modern values and notions that confected a disembodied perception, as Erwin Panofsky argued, the scroll (a descendant of this rationalized vision) might nonetheless catalyze a cultural logic with the potential of fostering embodied systemic self-awareness. A logic that instead of making an eye out of the fingers, would let the eye finally touch, act, and dance.

Tik Tok revealed the scroll not only as visual metaphor for organizing media, but as a bodily disposition to navigate the internet inasmuch a space of pleasure, leisure, experimentation, proliferation, and excess. Tik Tok showed the inherent musicality of rhythmically swiping a finger, it also taught the eye to dance, and reconceived the internet as an inherently musical experience. Canceling out any utilitarian informational promise, the experience of scrolling reconfigures networks into an immanent aesthetic expression. Tik Tok is undeniably a music distribution app that puts the listener in the center, as well as a meta-music video made up millions of minute-long, user-created ones. Yet, it is also a dynamic image for thinking and sensing complex, multi-layered phenomena, such as internet(youth)culture, as interconnected embodied experiences of shared meaning. In brief, it reshapes information into gestures of negated utility; into dance.

Infinite Scroller proposes you, the reader/scroller, a general theory of scrolling —as much aesthetic, epistemological, and political—, while also encouraging you to experience theory as an overwhelming, multi-layered, and immanent event composed of networked text, images, and sounds to be seen, listened, touched, danced; that is, scrolled.

Created by
Jordi Viader Guerrero