The meatspace has been blurring for a while. Since at least 1985, when feminist scholar Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” argued that the boundary between man and machine has never been all that clear, the muddling of our humanity with the technology we’ve created has only gotten more confusing. These days, AI bots pump out art and philosophy, while we optimizable humans spend a not insignificant part of our time serving the bidding of some algorithm somewhere. The hardware on our desks (and in our palms) pretty much function as natural extensions of the squishy wetware running our skulls; in case you haven’t heard, online life is real life.
But Haraway made this blurring feel radical, not depressing. Her manifesto has since become an essential text of cyberfeminism, a critical movement that largely arose in the ’90s in opposition to the “big man make big machine” narrative dominating the internet age. Today, that movement finds definition—and documentation—in the designer and digital archivist Mindy Seu’s Cyberfeminism Index, a hefty collection with more than 700 entries of art, activism, and experimentation from the last 30 years made in pursuit of interrogating our technological reality. Think of Seu’s index, published earlier this year and also available online as a live database, as a cold, hard, page-turnable anti-canon of internet history—albeit a pretty esoteric one. What’s in it for your average TikTok-glutted normie who’s still feeling uneasy about all this online-offline meld?
On a recent Thursday afternoon, I’m visiting Seu at her Brooklyn Heights apartment. To be honest, I’m not looking for a cyberfeminism crash course from Seu so much as I’m hoping to find inspiration—a defined credo, even—for how to live, work, and simply process our lives of extreme online-ism from this slightly different type of internet expert. There was the appeal of Seu’s credentials, of course. She has a master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (where she first began working on Cyberfeminism Index at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society), she now teaches at both Rutgers and Yale, and she collaborates with cultural institutions including the New Museum, the Ford Foundation Gallery, and Spike magazine. As a trained graphic designer, Seu has made a career out of being a professional online hoarder, creating and stockpiling compendiums, PDF libraries, and freshly digitized counterculture magazines with a global network of fellow artists and technologists. She identifies as a “gatherer” in perhaps the truest sense of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which proposed the basket—not the spear—as mankind’s earliest innovation. A recent Yale class Seu taught was simply titled On Gathering.
As a result, Seu has cut a rare figure in the tech scene not only as an aesthete and intellectual and an actually communally minded person, but also, as I’ve noticed in her interviews and across her writing, as somebody with the specific, serene knowingness of having it figured out—“it” being a contract with the technologized life based, almost unfathomably, upon intention. Plus, I’d be lying if I didn’t add that Seu seems to make it all look rather glamorous too—how many internet nerds do you know land soft-focus photoshoots in niche lifestyle publications? Maybe Mindy Seu is the lifestyle influencer we all actually need.
Seu greets me at the door. Barefaced, barefoot, and model-tall, the 32-year-old is wearing her go-to uniform of vintage Dries Van Noten men’s trousers and an oversized sweater tucked in. Her apartment, where she’s lived since 2021, is as spare as a gallery, anchored by a potted olive tree and a long wooden dining table upon which a single gleaming MacBook rests. We sit on her suede Togo sofa, snacking on grapes and hojicha tea. It’s funny how the absence of general stuff focuses the eye: I learn that her dining chairs are from a Dumbo-based studio that makes Judd-esque furniture from scrapyard wood and salvaged materials. A painting by Earl Swanigan, the Hudson folk artist who famously painted on similarly reclaimed materials, leans on the barest sliver of a metal shelf. “I’ve really tried to focus on acquiring things slowly,” Seu explains of her home. That is, if thine art is digital hoarding, thou must keep the meatspace as minimalist as possible—gathering requires curation, after all.
So, sure, Seu and I talk about AI and social media and Cyberfeminism Index’s greater point, which is that we should spend more time considering the power of the net part of the internet itself—the exchange of ideas, the hacking of existing structures to create something interesting and often radical—but I came here to be influenced! I came to Hoover up any tenets of Seu-ist living I can find, because surely someone who dredges themselves daily in the annals of the web and keeps her life this gallery-esque must have a fantastic system in place for everything.
And I’m not wrong. It’s readily apparent that Seu is a person who thinks and cares deeply about structure at every level. Talking about New York and her decision to move here, the Orange County native described the city as “a naturally filtering ecosystem”. When I ask about the slog of her international book tour, she gestures toward her bags by the door, which apparently remain always packed and at the ready with her probiotics, protein powder, and belly bands. She is a hardcore time-boxer, using Google calendar to carve out time for everything from commuting and steaming clothes to recurring monthly social calls; a standing New Year’s Day annual hangout with a friend is coming up soon.
Maybe this meticulousness started with her family history, Seu theorizes. Her parents immigrated to Southern California from South Korea at a time when they were only permitted to bring one or two bags per person and a set amount of money, opening up a flower shop in Orange County. It might have been set to motion even earlier, back when her grandfather changed the spelling of the family name from Suh to Seu. This means that Seu, who confesses she’s also never actually felt like a Mindy herself—“It seems too cute or something; when you say Mindy Seu together, it sounds like a country name!”—has always felt a little mislabeled.
Seu shows me her Notes app, which includes a daily to-do list, a monthly to-do list, a list of things to sell on Depop, a list for recipes, a list for TV and movie recommendations, a note titled “Flight Hacks,” and another one called “Gifts”—and that’s just to start. “If it’s a serious note, I move it to Google Docs, because those need to be way more longform,” Seu explains. Much of these notes are filled with snippets and references from even the most passing conversation with friends. “If they say something that feels resonate, I will make a note of it with some metadata, in case I need to cite it later on,” Seu says with total seriousness. (As a type A person, this experience was not unlike what I imagine watching an aspirational HGTV home makeover feels like. Life could be like this?)
Okay, but sometimes all this intention goes out the window, right? Like she still doomscrolls, right? “Of course,” she assures me, but of course, she’s even given this a lot of thought. “When we doomscroll, it’s not because we are undisciplined or whatever—we’re essentially using an app the way it was designed to be used…. It’s more impressive when you’re not doomscrolling, because that means you’ve been actively able to change your psychology to not be attuned to those things. And we can all do that, but it requires a lot of intention.”