Do you still listen to podcasts? I do. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think my fascination stems from a combination of the packaged, finished product, but the relatively open means of distribution. Podcasts go out over RSS feed, but they are more orderly and substantial in content than most blog posts. It’s kind of like TV on demand, except for audio. There are some video podcasts, but most people who do cyclical video put it on Youtube, from which is very difficult to get a functional RSS feed and download the episodes for offline play. (I’ve only been able to do it manually, episode by episode, which is tedious.)
I’ve been thinking more about audio as a medium lately, because of the things I like about podcast’s distribution. It seems to have a lot of advantages over the most common means of print distribution. I also worked at my college radio station, and I’m kind of nostalgic for the idea of having a radio show.
Here are some podcasts I like, for various reasons. Sorry no links, but you can find them easily enough.
DJ Rupture’s Mudd Up, from WMFU
Nice mixture of interviews and music, always stuff I hear here first.
The Fader, and XLR8R
My version of pop music, without commercials (though the occasional sponsor nag). An hour mixtape is a perfect dose of pop music for me.
The Economist Week Ahead, and PBS News Hour Daily Updates
Short bites of news, read in nice voices. Again, no commercials, so just the part of the radio I want to hear when I want it.
Radiolab, Science Friday, SciAm’s Science Talk
Deeper discussion, interesting topics, and in the case of Radiolab especially, exquisite production. Ira Flatow’s constant station IDs are annoying (because it actually is a radio show) but I can deal. I like that SciFri breaks up their hour-long shows into segments, so I only listen to the ones I’m interested in.
New York Review of Books podcast
This was one of my favorites, but they seem to be putting them out far less often. They would mix it up–sometimes an interview, sometimes a recorded lecture, sometimes an “essay” of sorts. And the day I stumbled across Charles Simic reading his poetry on this podcast was probably the best podcast day ever. I still go back and listen to that one. His voice is fantastic, and gives a new life to his poetry.
What else? What podcasts do you listen to, and what about them is good? What do you think about podcasts as a medium?
Posted: December 9th, 2012
Comments: 8 Comments
Our sense of vision is acutely human, because it is by our perception of the visible that we orient our world, and understand ourselves within it. We are creatures of light, who move within light, who build their lives out of light and its plethora of shadows, glimmers, reflections, and obscurities. And in this cast flame we judge each other, we attack each other, we watch each other, condemn each other, rule each other, and rape each other.
We not only speak of our inner selves as illuminated, but we use spotlights to chase down other bodies. Whether it be the eyesight of a group of men facing down a single woman moving down the same sidewalk at night, a telephoto lens attempting to peer through the shroud of a person’s clothing, a police officer’s flashlight, a drone’s camera, or simply the contemporary presence of CCD sensors in our pockets and on our architecture, vision connotes a certain power, that is used negatively just as often as it can be positive.
When we are critical of it in regards to the sexual relations of humans, we might call it the male or masculine gaze, as if men were looking with their sex or gender. This is a particular sort of vision, bound up with ideology, with history, and sexual class. It not only observes, but it sorts, it privileges, it values and it targets. Perhaps we call it masculine to make it clear who it is that it that can become the target of the others’ eyes, and whose fault it is not. Rape culture, and the forms of vision that propagate it, is only one form of visually-oriented aggression, and heteronormativism, transphobia, and any other designation of violent vision need not be labeled as particularly masculine. When we join the ocular aspects of rape culture with our definition of what is masculine and what is feminine, it is important that we call out this gaze for what it is made to be–that which is by and large in the heads of men, wielded by men, and constituting of men in their persecution of women. But in the attempt to weed out rape culture in one of its haunts, we do disservice to the gaze itself, by failing to understand what it is.
The gaze is not the agency of gender roles. The gaze is not rape culture. The culture of rape is found in patterns of thought and behavior, not in visual perception. The gaze is electromagnetic radiation, perceived by a sensor. It is the perception of color, of light intensity and wavelength. It is no different in mechanics than tuning a radio through a frequency band. Gaze is shape, and architecture, and space. Gaze is both the sensible presence and absence of light, of bodies, of skin, of fashion, in all the meaningful abundance of existence and lack. The shape of a woman’s body in tight clothes is like a color of the spectrum, just as the shape of her body in baggy clothes also is, as is the shape of a man, as is the look of someone displaying no recognizable gender whatsoever. Color and shape are indications, understood frequencies onto which we map any number of meanings. In the colors of things, their hues, borders, shapes, shadings, shadows, and sightlines, is where the gaze resides. The gaze has no gender. Gaze has no wants, beliefs, desires, or needs.
But sexuality exists in this colored space, across the surface of what we visually perceive. There are thoughts that surround the act of putting on a piece of clothing, or walking down the street and watching other people. We define our sexuality in a visual space, not outside of it. We must use the visual topography to define our emotional and physiological structures. These two types of patterns must be constructed in concert with each other. While we look, we must be sexual beings, and while we are sexual beings, we must continue to look.
The ocular architecture, the visual topology, the environment of light and darkness–however we choose to describe it, it is a changed space. The fact of our many sexual beings cascading through this space, crowned with sensors noticing the changes in visual light, makes this a terrain with endless implications for our sexualities and other internal frameworks. There is no place that is removed from the gaze. Even if we blind ourselves and remove our own capacities for sight, the gaze still exists in the world. Opting out of our sense of sight is no incorporeality. The terrain of the gaze and our existence within it is too close-knit, too simultaneously embodied to ever exist without it.
Like stepping out of our homes into a sky filled with satellites, an atmosphere seething with flying drones, a city with buildings dripping with closed-circuit cameras. We could elude the lenses, shine an impeding glare into the sensors, dazzle the algorithms. But for how long could we escape the constantly inscribed regime of sight-recording that exists in our contemporary surveillance state? A map of CCTV cameras cannot be the full surveilled territory. The cones of observation we avoid are limited to those we know of, and even our tools of observation and avoidance now observe us back. We live in an age of Drone Ethnography, in which any attempt at recording what is happening to us is overshadowed by another lens, watching a lens, watching a lens, watch us. The opportunity for opting out of a visual culture elapsed long ago, when our eyes were evolving in the membranes of a long lost taxonomic ancestor. We cannot ban drones anymore than we can dispel the gaze. If the technological gaze is banned by legal means, it will only occur extra-legally. If human sight is judged as immoral, it will only become a fetish. We are always already being recorded, and there is nothing we can do about this. What matters is whether someone will persecute, rape, or kill us on the basis of that recording.
The connection between technological surveillance space and the terrain of the gaze is apt, because our relationship to their singular status helps us understand how they function. Rape culture isn’t solely about looking, and drone culture isn’t solely about flying cameras.
We have come to rely upon an abstract notion of “drones”, as a way of signifying the presence of flying cameras. UAVs carry cameras, because the only way to observe space in a more omnipotent way than humans already do, is through such technologies as high power digital sensors, infrared cameras, visually-intelligent algorithms, and as dramatic climax, the robotic flying platforms for carrying these things. All of these technologies are unique, but we make the flying platform into a singular category, Drones, which represents the entire novel system of “technocular” omnipresence, because the flying robot is so evocative as an image. But there is a difference between drones that just represent the novelty of drones, and drones that are built for observation. There is a huge difference between flying a quadrocopter with an iPhone, and the Gorgon Stare. The Occucopter, The Pirate Bay’s drones, anything performing aerobatics for the purposes of a Youtube video–these represent our fascination, but they are not the meat of the surveillance system. The true task of these novelty drones is to represent what Drones mean to us. Observing police brutality and file sharing are better accomplished through other technologies. The key to UAVs’ proliferation is that the government can afford to fly so many, keep them flying all the time, process the data, and act on it, just as they can mount CCTV cameras, create facial recognition databases, create mandatory IDs, hack into their citizens computers, fund the development of all of the necessary technology, and so forth. With a technology useful to the consolidation of power, governments have sought to buy the most, the best, and to be first to do so. This is what governments do.
Similarly, we have come to equate rape culture to the existence of the terrain of the gaze. The visual environment is chock full of unrestrained desire, because there is no better place for the surplus of human desire to go. If we cannot safely pay for sex, we pay for the simulation or the recording of it. If we cannot fulfill our fantasies in a corporeal way, we satisfy ourselves with the visual fulfillment of them. If we cannot always perform our sexuality in the way we choose, we signify the simultaneous absence and presence of the performance through alternate indicators. And perhaps most of all, when we do perform our sexuality, we vent the excesses of internal, libidinal desire that will never be fully fulfilled, through the visual aids we employ, the long looks we take, the replay of memories, the dreaming of dreams. The vast majority of our sexuality that cannot be expressed in the simple act of sex must inscribe itself through our sensory perception–and as visually dominant creatures, it is obvious the means we will most often choose. Pornography, sex toys, sex performance, fetishes, fashion, dance, body language–the examples of ways that sexuality expresses itself in visually perceptible cultural forms are far too numerous to list. Despite the fact that there are plenty of elements of human culture that are not sexual and are still visibly sensible, literally anything that we visually perceive can be interpreted as sexual or exploited as such. And we have taken a basic human function, vision, and made it categorically synonymous with another basic human physical and mental function: sex. This is what human bodies do.
But the analysis must become ethical, as the unrestrained activities of governments and human bodies are clearly not good for those they take as their objective, nor for the governments or bodies themselves. We must identify what forms of sex are good and bad, and what forms of politics are good and bad. But in doing so, we unpack the reduction of surveillance to Drones, and of rape to the gaze.
Drones, in that they are abstracted into such an essential category of political strategy that we can refer to Drones and simultaneously mean everything from stealth fighter to a children’s toy, are more like a trend in pornography than a trend in weapons. Porn similarly abstracts a range of behaviors and contexts, creating essentialized categories from what were simply sex acts, personifications, performances, objects, or scenarios.
In bed, one can do any number of things, and the overall meaning of this is construed by the parties involved, based upon the context. This is the fetish behavior–a particular symbol put into play in the act of engaging one’s sexuality, that is observed and read as both that symbol itself, and much more than that symbol. For example, having sex with a partner dressed in a “school-girl” fetish outfit, is not really read as equivalent to a desire to fuck a girl who attends school. The partners’ choice of fetish outfit is a visual willingness of those consenting partners to sexually engage with certain symbols, acts, and language in a particular time and place, together. The fetish outfit may exist hanging in the closet as much as it does when deployed in sexual activity, but its true meaning when used is entirely dependent on the details who, how, where, and why.
The same fetish symbol in the larger discourse of pornography, on the other hand, must be considered differently because it is abstracted in the published visual medium, and not presented as related to any particular individuals’ sexuality. The vast quantities and ranges of school-girl fetish porn does not say anything about particular partners or bedrooms. Pornography is a commodified discourse, the production of which is described in terms of cultural-level “market forces” that describe the needs of culture in general. An individual may enjoy certain portrayals of the commodity more than others, but this is never a fetish produced for that individual. It is for the abstraction of many individuals in pursuit of profit. It is indicative of a sexual regime in society–the sexual archetype of the School-Girl, which can be said to “always” look, act, and inscribe sexual meaning in an archetypical way. The School-Girl is not a “who”, it is a “what”: it is a characterization recognized by symbolic indicators. Individuals may use the School-Girl archetype to enhance, inspire, or inscribe their own school-girl fetish, but any instance of roleplay activity will be a separate act, not reducible to the abstract archetype.
[Note: even if individuals mimic the archetype completely, and mimic the archetypical performance so exactly to the point of filming the sexual performance, shot for shot, like a particular piece of pornography, this is still on the individual level a fetish behavior, and not an attempt to produce mass media. The purpose is for the participants, and not for audience. This changes, of course, if that fetish film is sold. Without getting into a discussion about causality, let’s just table this (albeit, interesting) issue by saying that the distribution of a personal fetish film as pornography is itself an act of production, that changes the film itself. I don’t feel this is an evasion of the relationship between personal fetishes and commodity production, I just don’t want to go off on a tangent in this essay to make that argument.]
Similarly, drones are not simply a means of doing politics, they are the leading indicators of a particular discipline of politics, in the Foucauldian sense. The Panopticon, as described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish, is not merely a prison, but it is the archetypal diagram of particular trend in not only prisons, but in societal power itself.
“But the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building; it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.” – Foucault, Discipline & Punish
The fetish of drones is performed anytime that one flies a camera through the air, but each individual flight of a drone remains separate from the discourse of Drones, which serves as an archetype of perpetual surveillance in an arena of technocular ubiquity. The Drones are separate from any individual flying machine, database of citizens, or ID-capturing device. But we must have a way of representing the singular mass of all of this signifying technology, and we do it through the evocative signifier of Drones. The military-industrial complex, the political regimes that make decisions about policy, the state bureaucrats that enact that policy, and the media which responds to all of these, use the archetype of Drones to abstract the individual realities of surveillance technology into a single signifer. When we talk about Drones as an archetype of the current times, we are talking about this cultural entity, not any model of drone or act of drone usage specifically.
[Note: similar to the previous note, the point at which a snapshot taken on an individual’s cell phone becomes a part of state surveillance apparatus is an interesting question, but to avoid that tangent, we will simply say that there is a defined line between the two and leave it at that, for now.]
We are in love with drones, just as we are captivated by each others’ bodies. From our species’ physiology is born a cultural reliance upon seeing, as a stand-in for doing. And from our technological abilities to collect information, grows the prime mover of our strategizing. Anything we look at, can be looked at in a sexual way. A pair of binoculars, a map, a photograph, a satellite, or a UAV can aid any sort of politics if deployed correctly, and there is nothing inimical to a particular regime in these technologies. Staring out of our windows at our neighbors, whether for titillation or for neighborhood watch, is merely an activity that is part of our current cultural humanity.
The ethical problem with voyeurism is not simply that rape may follow. And the ethical problem with drone warfare is not simply that it is asymmetric, inhumane, imperialist, or a war crime. Behaviors, technology, and strategies that exploit the distribution of power to cause pain and suffering has existed for a long time. But there is a difference with drones. Unlike earlier horrors–atom bombs, mustard gas, machine guns, etc–we conceive of this new sort of terror technology as somehow normal, even though it is distinctly new. It is not thought of as a killing machine. it is just computers, cameras, GPS, apps, and radio-controlled aircraft. This is what makes it New Aesthetic–it stands out as terrible and shocking, but while remaining incredibly familiar. We are supposedly “terrified” of the reality of drone warfare, and yet we like drones. We want to ban drones in the same way we want to ban guns–we propose a solution that we know very well is impossible. We hate drones and love them at the same time, like our booze, like our drugs, and like our violent, occular sex.
In the discourse of psychoanalysis, the gaze is a primarily a means for visually recording knowledge and interpolating it into our thought processes. Luce Irigaray criticized Freud and Lacan for rooting this gaze in the presence or absence of the phallus–automatically putting women at a disadvantage in this distribution of knowledge.
“Nothing to be seen is equivalent to having no thing. No being and no truth.” – Irigaray, The Sex Which Is Not One
The ethical flaw of both drones and the gaze is in its distribution and its control. Outside of the discourse of psychoanalysis, distribution is still controlled by privileged power regime. Drones are controlled by the State, and the supporters of rape culture control the gaze. These do not have to be tools of violence, but because of who holds the controls, they are made to be. It is a fact that technology allows us to observe, record, and track each other. But it is through the archetype of Drones that we have internalized the notion that the State can be the arbiter of this power. It is a fact that sex is visual, and visual performance is the means by which we will always read and express our desire. But it is through the archetypes of culturally abstracted sex that we have internalized the idea that if you see something you can touch it, if you observe a sexuality, it is yours to own. By dealing with these abstractions as ideas rather than accessible behaviors and technologies, we limit our ability to reorient their distribution to benefit our own bodies, and those of our consenting partners and communities. We only know drones the way the State knows drones. We only see sex the way rape culture sees sex.
Internalizing these distributions in the abstract, we do what these power regimes would already have us do. We ignore the sexuality of others if it is not a visible thing–we equate what one-can-see to all-that-is. Contemporary politics ignores democracy that does include surveillance–If you’re not doing anything wrong, you should not be hiding, and if you are not voting, you should not be speaking. It is not that drones and the gaze are part of politics and sexuality, it is that by reducing our awareness of these things to their archetypes, there cannot be any surplus politics or sexuality outside of these limited terrains which we are allowed to control. With seeing, comes a notion of being. We are beginning to call it telepresence–our ability to be in a space or travel through a space constituted by our technological visual engagement with that space. But what we require, just as we always have, is a deeper engagement with the environment. We require telepraxis. It is not enough to simply observe the archetype, we must engage and perform with it to the point of fetish–the point at which it is no longer simply a signifier for what culture decides that it means, but it is part of a living relationship and performance with individuals other than ourselves.
This is a difficult thing to do right, and rape culture and drone wars are the sign of our continuing failure. These archetypes, like Foucault’s Panopticon, do not just symbolize a particular way that things might happen, but signify a strong magnetic tendency of culture, pulling all signification in line with this particular regime. Like the phallus of psychoanalysis, the only meaning given credence is meaning translated through this regime. This is not an idle pattern, but feedback loop reinforcing itself.
“The discipline of the workshop, while remaining a way of enforcing respect for the regulations and authorities, of preventing thefts or losses, tends to increase aptitudes, speeds, output and therefore profits; it still exerts a moral influence over behavior, but more and more it treats actions in terms of their results, introduces bodies into a machinery, forces into an economy.” – Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Just because there is lots of money and privilege tied up into rape culture and the surveillance state, is not the reason we say this is a class issue. Like an economic class, these systems exist solely to perpetuate themselves, and those who benefit by them, at the expense of others. Nor is it enough to say that these systems disproportionately harm lower economic classes. Each is in fact, it’s own sort of class–a technological and epistemological class. Rape culture is a class. Surveillance culture is a class. It is not enough to find the way that drones and the gaze are being maligned, subverted, and distributed in order to harm others and criticize it. One cannot simply point out the existence of a class. Class is something that must be fought. We must create a contesting praxis, that will pull the sexual gaze and drones back from these power regimes, and use them to smash the negative archetypes. This is a terrain worth fighting over, because it is the only terrain on which human beings live and knows themselves.
Posted: November 23rd, 2012
Comments: No Comments
Cascadian Drone Ballads are a style of folk music originating in the disputed territory known as Cascadia. They represent a cultural internalization of the impact of the American and Canadian governments’ violent, technological incursion into this undeveloped natural terrain on the northern Pacific coast of North America, a identifying narrative device for those who live an off-the-grid lifestyle, and serve as a rallying point for activists fighting for Cascadian sovereignty both in the rural, mountainous areas and in the cities. This article will briefly theorize the music lineage of Drone Ballads and their context in the political and technological situation in Cascadia, and then illustrate this relationship as found in the lyrics of several songs in the Cascadian Drone Ballad style.
Cascadia currently has no sovereign rights as a state or territory, but its borders are generally viewed as encompassing the American states of Washington, Oregon, and northern areas of California, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. Different groups identify the borders according to their own primary locations and interests, but Cascadia is more a self-identification of independence and regional autonomy, than it is a desire for any particular historic regime, nation, or map. Originally known as an “bioregion”, for its mostly unified terrain and environmental concerns among the eco-activists who popularized the term, “Cascadian Pride” has also been utilized in the past by area sports teams, micro-breweries, and other businesses in order to promote themselves with a certain regional consciousness, and utilize images of volcanoes, snow-capped peaks, salmon, and tall evergreen trees in their marketing.
But when marijuana cultivation was legalized across these three states and the one province, and the joint interdiction/enforcement operation known as Operation Green Perimeter was launched by the American and Canadian governments, pro-Cascadian agitation grew exponentially more serious. The governments’ ability to monitor and tax marijuana cultivation in the mountainous and more remote regions was slight. Farms could be profitable with small crop areas scattered across the hills and valleys, where there were few roads open year round. Permits were purchased per quarter-acre, so it was quite common for a farm to purchase a minimal permit, and then exceed their legal footprint by sometimes as much as 50 times. Government estimates found that as much as one billion USD in licensing revenue might have been lost as grow operations exceeded their permits in those first years of legalization. To recoup this revenue, the Revenue Services of the US and Canada implemented the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Monitoring Network that formed the core of Operation Green Perimeter. Over one hundred war-class drones were sent to Cascadia for the task of monitoring marijuana farms throughout the region, to ensure their acreage remained with the license they had purchased.
This sort of federal government surveillance was not taken lightly in a region with already strong autonomous leanings. The notion of a separate Cascadian state quickly became popular in rural areas, as an antithesis to the federal government and the state governments that could not and would not stand up to the authority of the Revenue Services. The heavy tax imposed on cultivation operations was interpreted as unfairly targeting the rural farmers’ trade, while pharmaceutical corporations in cities paid a much lower tax rate. What began as autonomous hostility to the federal government eventually matured into open rebellion, with the amount of money at stake fueling armed insurgent groups that would attack ground patrols for the Revenue Services on back-country roads, building up weapons reserves, experience, and aggression in a very brief period of time.
After a brief period of open fighting with insurgents, the governments quickly won the upper-hand, and fighting subsided. The presence of drones in the air at all times made wide coordination between Cascadian-insurgent forces nearly impossible. The attacks on government resources continued, but were limited to sabotage, the occasional improvised explosive device, or ambush. The government eventually pulled out of the rural areas almost completely to limit their casualties in the publicly unpopular operation, instead limiting their policing to the shipments entering the cities, and to the UAV network overhead.
The actual number of drones on active-duty in the Cascadia region today are unknown, but analysts guess that the numbers are somewhere between seven hundred and one thousand, with nearly four hundred in the air at any given time. The drones fly at altitudes around 10,000 feet, and, according to the Revenue Services, their primary mission focus is mapping marijuana crops using a combination of visible-light spectrum and thermal imagery. Since the introduction of the geotag stamp system, which uses a combination of GPS tracking and RFID to track licensed shipments of marijuana from the registered production location to the processing facilities, the drones track the legal shipments, identify and backtrace any shipments that do not have paid and licensed geotag stamps, and then seize and fine the latter when they attempt to leave the rural areas. This minimizes the vulnerability of ground forces, as they don’t have to make incursions into areas where insurgents could strike.
The drones’ technological incursion is everpresent, as is their main striking armament: air-to-surface Hellfire missiles. Since the end of the major ground operations against insurgents, the official rules of engagement stipulate that drones may only strike targets that can be verified to be involved in violent, anti-government activities. Critics of Operation Green Perimeter and the domestic use of military drones say that this is a very loose definition, and that anything from mixing a large batch of concrete to fueling too many vehicles at once have been used as cause to fire at ground targets. According to standard procedure, ground forces are supposed to go and investigate any drone strike location, to clear up the wreckage and make post-mortem criminal charges. However, in practice this procedure can be delayed indefinitely by the ground forces, whether on account of perceived threats, weather, or simple bureaucratic delay. In reality, as long as the drones destroy their target, the mountain valleys often immediately return to stillness after a single missile has plummeted from the sky.
Cascadia has long had a history of musicians in the folk music style, perhaps symbolized best by Woodie Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs, written in 1941. Guthrie was commissioned by the US government to write a few songs about the Department of the Interior’s hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River, running through the heart of Cascadia. Upon visiting, he called the region “a paradise”, and inspired, wrote 26 songs. Other artists have been similarly drawn to the beauty of the region, and stayed when their counter-cultural, pro-environmental, and anti-government sentiments found a home.
Norteño music from Mexico arrived with the influx of immigrants at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st, and with it, the sub-genre of narcocorrido or “narco-ballads”. These songs tell historical tales of drug violence and anti-heroism from the drug smuggling cartels. While few singers of Drone Ballads trace their musical lineage to narcocorrido specifically, the influence of the guitar-led, fast-paced, danceable sounds of Norteño is discernible among Drone Ballad musicians. As well, Drone Ballads have in common with narcocorrido the shared tradition of folk music acting as a vehicle for a culture’s coping with everpresent violence. Another point of comparison is the car-crash ballad of the 1950s and 60s in the United States. Again, it is not a direct lineage, but the emphasis on the violent nature, and at the same time almost unpreventable and fated event of drone strikes, finds comparisons to those traditions of singing songs about violent episodes in wistful, almost romantic style.
Another subtle point of influence comes from anarcho-folk music, or folk-punk. Drone Ballads are popularly thought to come directly from this style of music, which carries the fast, aggressive versus-chorus motif of punk to acoustic instruments, along with political rage. However, this lineage is false. Folk-punk groups in the cities of Cascadia were some of the first popular artists to introduce rurally popular Drone Ballads to a wider audience, transferring elements of their own style to the recordings of Drone Ballads in the process. However, folk-punk is first and foremost popular with the politicized youth of the urban areas, whereas Drone Ballads originated in the rural areas, where drones strikes still occur, sometimes on a daily basis. This is the home of the style, and the lifestyle that is its inspiration.
Drone Ballads are certainly pivotal to the urban-based activists who organize against the governments’ use of drones to police the Cascadia region. Certain tunes, like “The Great Swarm on the Fourteenth” (see below), have become anthems for the Cascadian liberation movement that is gaining popularity in the cities. But this political popularity should be held in context with the original writing and performance of these songs. The songs were written by musicians who live in the strike areas of Cascadia. Despite the constant threat from the sky, they have chosen to stay where they are. Certainly, profits from cultivation are enough to draw many to take the risk. But the lyrics of these songs express more than simply dedication to a lucrative task. The violence, internalized, becomes a dedication to the land, and to the lifestyle of being a Cascadian. The lives of Cascadians, told through Drone Ballads, are the lives of strong, stubborn individuals who look at living off-the-grid the way most view taking an umbrella when one leaves the house. These are the stories that the songwriters wished to tell, and the fact that these songs have proved popular with a wider audience simply shows that these stories find resonance and appreciation throughout Cascadia, and indeed, the rest of the world.
One of the best known Drone Ballads is perhaps “Blue, White, Green”, which takes its name from the colors of the Cascadian flag. This song has been adopted by several Cascadian Secession groups as their unofficial anthem. The verses differ depending on the recorded version, covering various significant events of recent Cascadian history. But the chorus is the part that most Cascadians know by heart, and audiences always sing along when the song is performed.
Coast as wide, peaks as high, as
Prying eyes in the deep blue sky
Snows shine white, below thermal sights
We sleep as flames burn through the night
We will dream, of a Cascadia free
Without grey drones in the blue, white and green.
The words reference the colors of the Cascadian flag, along with their various inspirations in nature: the blue sky, the white snow on the peaks of the mountains, and the green of the forests. But the many references to drones, in and amongst the nature imagery shows the extent to which the current state of militarized surveillance has been internalized. There is a certain pathos in this acceptance, but additionally, a willingness to continue fighting.
Another song, “The Great Swarm on the Fourteenth” is a narrative account of the infamous June 14th drone strikes in North Central Washington. On that day, twenty total strikes were made in one valley, resulting in 273 deaths, and an iconic photo taken by a New York Times photographer of eight separate tendrils of smoke twisting up from the green forest, into the sky. This day of carnage directly resulted in the Bellingham Insurrection, later that summer.
Though the Insurrection was unsuccessful, this particular song chooses to memorialize the event that inspired that Insurrection, rather than the uprising itself. Ignoring the tactical and strategic mistakes of the response, the lyrics remember the pain and tragedy of the impetus, as a way of galvanizing resolve to keep going. Phrases such as “The day they turned our skies against us”, and “we rise in smoke/the woods grow dark” typify the undercurrent of rebellion in Cascadian consciousness.
But not all Drone Ballads are entirely tragic. There is a good humor throughout many of these tunes, that are honest about the futility of the situation when the drone network above is so thick and unmerciless. They deal with the state of affairs with irony, and with tongue-in-cheek criticism. While not as popular as political anthems, they form a substantial sub-section of the Drone Ballad style, and a healthy component of the Cascadian narrative.
For example, the song “Don’t Do Nothing” is told from the perspective of an overworked (in his perspective) marijuana cultivator, who sits on a hillside over a river, and enjoys a bit of his crop while watching a drone circulate above. He remarks upon the fact that he works so hard, while up in the sky the drones “don’t do nothing”. From the refrain:
Dams power irrigation pumps
pumps bring water up the hill
Water feeds the thirsty crops
And crops sometimes pay the bills
The drones don’t do nothing
But sit in the clouds and watch
Another amusing story with a darker side is the tale recounted in “The Mountain Swimmer’s Blues”. The song tells of a man who wanted nothing more than to build a swimming pool on his property for his lover, viewing it as the height of commitment. He went ahead with these plans, despite the fact that concrete was hard to come by, and he lived on a mountain side where the swimming season was short. He dug the hole by hand, carrying heavy rocks, while his neighbors looked on and laughed. And then he started laying the foundation, bending rebar, and tying it together in the evenings. People started to think that he’d actually finish when he began to mix the concrete. But then a drone saw his work, and figuring that what could obviously not be a swimming pool on a mountain side was the site of a bunker, it struck with a missile, blowing up him and his pool. The song ends with his lover recognizing that the futility of his effort and his death by it, was indeed the commitment the pool-maker wanted to intend. It is not believed that this song was inspired by real events, though there are certainly no shortage of stories of drones strikes precipitated by only marginally suspicion actions, such as home brick-making, and road repair.
The previously mentioned song included particular geographic elements that are unique to Cascadia, such as the obvious instance of the mountain, but also tidbits about “working in the morning mist”, and “cedar-bark loam”. One standout example of another Drone Ballad that specifically takes pride in Cascadian geography is “Modoc Forest Service Road”. The lyrics’ narrative are about a woman who knew the fastest route from Clear Lake in the Modocs, all the way through the Siskayous to the Pacific coast. She would fly back and forth in her trusty red jeep, delivering news and supplies, traveling by her secret knowledge of the old, poorly maintained Forest Service roads. The story intimated that perhaps she’s done some secessionary work, or at least the Revenue Services had suspected. One day, as she was clearing a ridge and entering the open area of a lava field, a missile from a drone found her jeep. This song does have some relation to a true story–Monica Jauntai was a reporter covering the insurgent conflict in Cascadia, who was known for driving a red jeep. There is controversy as to whether she was killed by a drone strike or an IED, but the story of her death was widely told in the mainstream as well as Cascadian media. However, she was killed outside of Detroit Lake in Oregon, not near Clear Lake in California, so the relationship would seem to be only inspirational.
Drone Ballads tell of heroes, of famous events, and of beautiful, evocative places–but a thread of sadness runs through them all. Even those songs that are inspirational find their power in the drive to face the futility of the political situation in Cascadia, and the drone network overhead that shows little sign of ever going away. This is an important sentiment to vocalize through culture, and it is the reason that Drone Ballads have grown so popular, as this conflict lingers on. There is little in the way of other expressive culture in the hills of Cascadia, as the drones make public gathering difficult. But music can be recorded, broadcast, or played for a small gathering, our of view of the unblinking eyes above. And the power of song is timeless, in this way. As the narrator says in “Victoria Island Song”, as he or she waits in vain for the return of a friend and lover from Victoria Island who will never arrive, because of the drones patrolling the open water:
Our islands cannot travel
over the sea
But songs are invisible to drones above
And can travel from you to me
Posted: September 23rd, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment
Further explorations into what a “political module” of the New Aesthetic might be.
There have been a couple of posts by Madeline Ashby and Rahel Aima that indict “the gaze” as being a primary political problem in the New Aesthetic. As Rahel said in her piece:
Ashby alludes to something seemingly basic but as-yet unacknowledged. The New Aesthetic is about looking, undeniably. Yet as a paginated yet endlessly scrollable tumblr, is in itself a thing to be looked at. It is about being looked at by humans and by machines, about being the object of the gaze. It’s about the dissolution of privacy and reproductive rights, and the monitoring, mapping, and surveillance of the (re)gendered (re)racialised body.
Is it crude (not to mention awkward) to suggest that the attraction of the New Aesthetic lies in the chance to briefly inhabit a feminised subjectivity? Possibly, probably. Still, it’s worth returning to Laura Mulvey, and her seminal—!—essay on the gaze, Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema. Here, she discusses the three gazes present in cinema: the directorial or camera’s gaze, the audience’s gaze and the gaze “of the characters at each other within the screen illusion.” Employing psychoanalytic theory, she goes on to illustrate how the conventions of the medium deny the first two categories and subordinate them into the third, diegetic gaze.
But, while there are certain strong aspects of the gaze present in what is largely a visual aesthetic, it is important to remember that much of the watching here is not done by humans, but done by machines. As Jonathan Minard reminds us in his response to Bruce Sterling’s essay:
By attributing superhuman intelligence to machines, we forget that they are still dumb tools invented by people for people—this is Sterling’s most basic point.
As Nietzsche declared “God is Dead,” Sterling will be one the first voices of our era to refute the existence of A.I.: “Robots lack cognition. They lack perception. They lack intelligence… They lack aesthetic judgment.” He urges us to abandon our atavistic worship of false robot idols.
This is not to reject the idea that there is large quantities of inherent power in machine-based surveillance. But much of the discourse on the Male Gaze has been about the inherent power in an Other’s subjective ability to objectify the target of the Gaze. Perhaps an object can objectify as well… but this is not a sexual dynamic. At least not in the way that a person can objectify a person. There is certainly a lot to be said for the way that sexual dynamics apply their constructions of gender relations to technological scopophilia. But, camgirls’ cameras still seem different than CCTV.
This is not to bracket or minimize the way that sexual dynamics crop up again and again in surveillance culture. But there is something set apart in a surveilling machine that is different than the person watching the monitor. While standard scopophilic subjectivities sit in front of many surveillance terminals, there are also the machines themselves.
Me and my partner Rosalynn have been working on a concept called ‘Drone Ethnography’ for a few months now. We don’t have anything written yet (if you had a venue that would inspire us to sit down and get to work, let us know) but the basic idea is that drones symbolize an ethnography that has become an all-encompassing epistemology in a way it never has before.
Once, the ethnographer had to keep in mind the inherent power relations in the observing relationship. There is a lot of power in being an observer, and this can negatively affect the information that is being collected by observation, even if the purpose of collecting the information is intended to empower those who are being observed.
This is still the case, of course. But it is vastly more complicated. We first realized this when Rosalynn was doing a folklore study of comments and response-videos on Youtube. When we were talking about the like/dislike function of the site, we realized that it was impossible for Rosalynn to watch a video without clicking the “Views” counter up. This, in and of itself is not such a big deal. She was watching videos with thousands if not millions of views, and even the 20-30 times she would watch a particular video, plus showing the video when she presented her research, was really an analytic drop in the ocean. Her research would end up publicizing the video regardless simply by picking it out of the billions of minutes of video on all of Youtube, so the rating boost that a video might receive through her Heisenbergian observations wasn’t a threat to her ethnographic objectivity.
But we then extended the concept. What if her research was about Facebook? Come to think of it, neither of us could do research about Facebook, because neither of us has an account. We would have to become part of Facebook, in order to study Facebook. Joining the long tradition of emic field research would not necessarily be a problem for us (our abhorrence of Facebook aside). But in joining Facebook, we would not just join the social network that is Facebook. We would join the massive, historically unprecedented, ethically-questionable ethnographic project that is Facebook.
It is no surprise that large corporations like Google and Facebook hire anthropologists to help them study their customers/products (these two things being interchangeable). Advertising agencies have hired anthropologists for years. The military hires anthropologists. These organizations don’t hire anthropologists to further the study of anthropology, but to use anthropology to do what they do better, be it extracting profit, waging war, or both.
But because of the nature of the product in the case of social media (you), there is no differentiating the work of the anthropologists from the entire endeavor. By engaging in the activity, you are studied. You are basically being given a bit of cheese to run through a maze, day after day, from your desk at work, from your mobile phone, from your bedside tablet device.
This puts those of us that are not corporations or militaries at a distinct disadvantage. We don’t have access to the data, and yet we are still trying to figure out what we make of all this. We are attempt to do ethnography of our rapidly evolving culture, and suddenly this culture is not just owned by someone else, but it is invisible to us. And it is recording us, while we struggle with this new state of affairs.
Sure, with Facebook, who cares? If someone wants to Click a Cow, who cares? We folklorists and public intellectuals can go back to studying the less commercialized aspects of culture that we probably prefer, and if everyone in Farmville gets a barcode tattooed on their neck, we could just ignore it, or say “we told you so”.
This would be true. Except, as Rosalynn and I realized, for the case of drones. And this is why we are calling this concept “Drone Ethnography”.
When you are being observed by drones, it is not because you didn’t read the EULA carefully. It is not because you signed up for a “Taliban Login” that there is a drone aircraft orbiting 10,000 feet above your head twenty-four hours a day, with a few laser guided missiles under its wings. It’s watching you, and waiting. Waiting for what? How should you know? For whatever the particular mission parameters of whatever agency of whatever country has decided makes you an enemy combatant or not. And until then, it is going to observe.
Sure it’s creepy, but the missile that will come and kill you if you dig a hole near the wrong road or watch the wrong wall or make a cell phone call to the wrong person is not creepy. It’s simply death. A Hellfire missile is not the masculine gaze. (To be clear, I’m not making the assessment of “which is worse” as if there was a way to assess that. I am simply stating that they are not the same thing.)
This must change our most deeply held hermeneutical assumptions about the way we observe the world. Rosalynn and I aren’t attempting to say that there can be no ethnographies in the age of drones. We are saying that all ethnographies must acknowledge the facts of drones, and what that means for ethnography as a concept.
Every observation we make about ourselves or others, must be held in relation to the massive databases that exist, holding vast quantities of data about ourselves and others already. There is a new discursive regime being built in these Drone Ethnographies, and any attempt to speak for ourselves is being held in relationship to that regime, whether we know it or not. We don’t have the ability to dive into an alternate reality and escape this regime, like certain SF characters. We are forced to live underneath a sky swarming with drones, because there is no other landscape.
This landscape is not just a plane on which we stand, but more and more, everything we know. It is the phones in our pocket that can be rooted by the NSA, it is the roads we walk on, surveilled by the DOT. Everything we are doing is being recorded somewhere, even if we are doing nothing. What does it mean to describe your own behavior, if the act of you doing so is being recorded and logged into a database somewhere? This is not simply a confusing meta-issue, a “what are we talking about when we talk about talking?” sort of question. It renders observation marginal, but not necessarily to an objectifying power structure, but to structure itself.
So how does Drone Ethnography play into the New Aesthetic? I’m not sure yet. “Drone Ethnography” is just another name for a weird thing that we started seeing and thinking about. Just like the New Aesthetic, and the New Politic, if that is indeed a thing. Is any of this a thing? Not sure really, and I’m not sure what it “being a thing” would prove. But the drones are real. As I’m getting more and more fond of saying, you can’t debunk a drone.
Posted: April 9th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
This is something that I’ve been sitting on for a couple months, and so I thought I would post it. It seems related to the question of politics and the New Aesthetic, but at the moment I’m not quite sure how. Something to do with the relationship between what we are actually doing, and how we talk about what we are doing. At any rate, I think there is some good language in here that I wanted to put out there.
This was begun as notes written in reaction to a keynote speech by Douglas Rushkoff about social media, civic movements, and Occupy Wall Street. I’ve since polished it a bit, but even so it remains a directionless, demandless thought-reaction, which is what it ought to be in these circumstances. In addition to that, it also serves as a follow up to the Occupation Notes series, which I’ve let lapse not because I am out of notable notes (far from it, I’m afraid) but because those are now all going elsewhere. The following, however, has nowhere else to go but here.
Douglas Rushkoff doesn’t really understand Occupy. At least in this talk, his words don’t understand Occupy. He might understand it, but he just doesn’t talk about in during this video. That might not be his fault, of course. There are many things that are more complex than words easily impart, especially in the limited time frame and audience of a keynote talk. I’m going to try here, but I won’t necessarily do any better.
But nevertheless, this talk doesn’t get Occupy. Occupy isn’t a fully distributed movement. It is not the commons. It isn’t hyperlinks. It isn’t Twitter, where everyone gets 140 characters, and then what they do with that becomes integrated into some Klout curve of follow counts and RT quotients. As a friend told me, “Occupy is not a platform.” I know this, but it took the friend to remind me. I wish it was these things, because I get social media. I really like using Twitter, and my use of that platform is fulfilling to me. I wish Occupy could be the same.
Everyone says “Occupy is this, Occupy is that, Occupy is everything” and you start to believe it, because if social media was some sort of metaphor for Occupy, then by occupying I wouldn’t be doing anything different than my normal life (if you’re me, and like to chat on Twitter all day). I live half my life on half a dozen networks, I work and Occupy on networks, my friends are networked. So yeah, it’s fractals, it’s rhizomes, it’s the music of the spheres. Why not? I’ve used drugs. I read Deleuze. It all sounds good.
But that’s just the spectacle of Occupy, according to the people that need to keep reminding themselves and re-viewing the spectacle to remind themselves that it exists (i.e. they’re not living it every day so they have to talk about it). The spectacle of Occupy is a “Non-Demand-Based” political occupation of public space. Their emphasis. The weird thing to most people is the lack of demands, and they need to name this as a platform. “Well, if you’re doing something I don’t get, and it’s got a lot of people and it’s distributed, there’s a mess of computers and maybe drones, then it must be the internet.”
No. Occupy is the public street. The Street is just like it always has been. The street is dirty, messy, stretches your understanding of what is and isn’t violent, and is nuts. There are many different streets, and they each have their own character. But there are certain streets that we are starting to pay attention to again. It’s not just a square in the Middle East somewhere, and its not just the National Mall. It isn’t even Main Street, USA. The Street that all of a sudden we are forced to pay attention to is a weird strip of land that we saw everyday for years, that we ignored as innocuous green space. It is a college campus, that is supposed to just be a frisbee park, or a background in Admissions brochures. The Street is in a different place, but it’s still The Street.
There’s a temporal difference as well. The Street is still The Street, but now the smart people are back out in the street, and so The Street is actually doing something “interesting”, and not just being blocked by peasantry standing in the way of JP Morgan’s car. The bourgeoisie are in the street, either because they’ve been forced there, or because the interesting things are going on out there. The Street is relatively safe, despite what the media will tell you. The media refuses to use history as a comparison. But they’re just another vendor with a product to sell, and history is not it.
If you don’t think that people build homes in The Street all the time; if you don’t think that riots happen all the time; if you think that people aren’t protesting capitalism outside of the mall every day of the week; if you don’t think that people are always capable of defending themselves against the police if they choose to do so; then you are merely more interested in a different narrative that is not the narrative of The Street, and so you’ve been choosing to ignore it. What Occupy is, is that The Street had a good old fashioned flash mob, and decided to all show up in the same place at the same time, and then people actually showed up, and we’re repulsed by The Street, but actually kind of got into it. And then the Media noticed. It was a word, it was capitalized, and because of a number of pictures that happened at the right time, the word got capitalized, and then the Media could use it to sell advertisements.
This happened in Portland on October 6th, when I met people that I’ve been working with for the last six months. Best flash mob ever. Since then, it’s been business as usual, and that means The Street, as usual. Fighting the narrative that refuses to recognize The Street. Every few weeks we take over The Street, and remind the consolidated forces of power and capital that it isn’t just a roadway. We keep thinking about it, planning it, coming up with better ideas, breaking down bad ideas, and solidify the organization of The Street in the process.
This isn’t a popular movement, it never was, and it never will be. The world is just too multiplicitous of a place for everyone to ever be captivated by anything in particular. We struggle to understand voter disengagement. But can you ever get everyone to do anything? Can’t even get half the population of a supposed “American Culture” to all watch the Super Bowl. Can’t you imagine if you were a popular speaker, but couldn’t even get half of a room to all listen to you at the same time? There will never be a majority of people. A majority of a sample set, maybe. If you force everyone you ask to answer a question as either yes or no.
But The Street keeps doing it’s thing, which is lots of things, each and everyone doing their own thing. The interesting thing about The Street, at least the Occupied street, is that there is still, after six months, a critical mass of really smart people willing to join in this particular sample set. And not just to answer yes or no, but to start working on some really difficult projects.
My personal project is that I’m trying to destroy mainstream media as a capitalist business model, and make it a form of political history. Yeah, we could use some help. It’s not easy to deconstruct a hierarchical system of publishing that relies upon selling marketing material, and remake it into an anarchist media organization. But we’re working on it, and getting a lot better. We don’t have a platform. We couldn’t use one. Facebook is not going to solve this problem, because that is not what the platform will let you do. Twitter won’t solve the problem. No one tool is going to make The Street function better. It’s going to take a whole lot of tools, that will have to be begged, borrowed, and stolen. How is Facebook going to help me when a cop tries to smash my camera with a baton? How is Facebook going to help me when a rogue hacker feels personally insulted by something on our website and threatens to attack us? Who is going to help us? What former institution, what State platform, is going to guarantee a nice, fair, distributed lifestyle for the street? The Police as Platform? Our education system as Platform? Representative Democracy as Platform? Occupy as Platform? Fuck that. It’s not just leaders that have failed us. It’s the systems that anyone with a famous name has tried to sell us. Jordan, Clinton, Jobs, Lin, Obama, Zuckerberg. Fuck ‘em all. We’re going to need a solid crew of real experts who want to keep working in the street, not just some flashy apps, and “platforms”, and the assholes who are going to collect money from us for the privilege of attempting to get on board.
The General Assembly is not platform. It’s not the point, anymore than your homepage is the Internet. It’s just how you start. It’s how you learn about consensus, which is the point. Everyone works on a modified consensus, anyway. The real work goes on in Committees and working groups, in the affinity groups that we use to take The Street for public use and shut down corporations. It’s about how you stay in The Street, not about how you got there, or when and why you decide to leave. Many people think that if we can just get the people to the streets, then everything will take care of itself. But it’s getting the people into the streets, and giving them the tools to figure out what they are doing there, and what they are going to do next. There’s no platform for that. Seen any good Occupy apps? Of course you haven’t.
And here’s what is going on in The Streets.
Learning programming; figuring out how to print things without wasting quite so much material; figuring out what sort of music helps you stay awake on a 40 hour drive because there was no other way; the fine art of quitting smoking, starting again, and quitting again; pre-protest yoga; studying drone silhouettes; sleeping in office buildings; sleeping in cars; sleeping on concrete; sleeping while standing; SEO and social media (yeah it’s in there); dodging bill collectors; ducking the cops, cooking for people with gluten intolerances plus lactose allergies; making a business model to keep a storefront to use it as a place to have meetings; helping a store owner with his/her business model to keep the storefront to use it as a place to have meetings; man/zone defense theories of police brutality media coverage; conveying opinion in meetings by hand signals alone to save time; trying to stay married; trying not to wonder about whether or not to have kids; arguing about whether or not broken windows are violence; healing from wounds; learning how to type on a laptop while running from armed men; picking a collaborative editing platform and sticking with it for the benefit of the people who can’t adopt to new software so quickly; arguing with drunks; de-escalation training; union negotiation; the fine art of threatening people in a non-criminal way over the internet; consensus process; conspiracy theory literacy; and, if there’s any money, getting drunk every now and again to forget all the things you can’t plan or skill out of the equation and remain huge, angst-ridden empty variables, like the inside of a prison, or death.
And it’s a little bit romantic, at least when you sum it up in one long run-on sentence. That’s a privilege of being on The Streets in this country, as opposed to somewhere else where they would be no time or place to glorify it in such ways. And when you’ve been doing it for six months and you’ve already realized that this is what the rest of your life is going to look like, it doesn’t really seem that romantic anyway. It certainly doesn’t seem like you’ve happened upon a new renaissance paradigm. It seems more like you’re fighting a war, but it’s a war that everyone else refuses to believe exists. You start to wonder if maybe if you died from it, that would prove that you’re not crazy. Or maybe it would only prove that you are.
And that’s not the Internet. It has the internet in it, but only as part. It’s life.
Posted: April 4th, 2012
, Occupation Notes
Comments: No Comments
Read this: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2012/04/an-essay-on-the-new-aesthetic/
Now, where do you start?
Here’s where I start: politics is the elephant in the room. In the portrait of New Aesthetics painted by Bruce Sterling, the glitch-captivation is a worldview. As a way of seeing the world, it has its own political aspects. But there is more than needs to be said.
The New Aesthetic reeks of power relations. Drones, surveillance, media, networks, digital photography, algorithms. This is largely about the technology of “seeing”, and how we see this new technology of seeing. But the technology is also for watching. The ability to watch someone is a form of power. It controls the flow of information. “I know everything about you, but you know nothing about me.” Or, “I know everything about you, and all you can do is make art about the means by which I know things.”
photo via Demilit Tumblr
In some ways, Bruce’s article makes mention of this problem, by noting the difference between the aesthetic appeal of certain technologies, and their actual function.
“Modern creatives who want to work in good faith will have to fully disengage from the older generation’s mythos of phantoms, and masterfully grasp the genuine nature of their own creative tools and platforms. Otherwise, they will lack comprehension and command of what they are doing and creating, and they will remain reduced to the freak-show position of most twentieth century tech art. That’s what is at stake.”
But this is more than hand-wringing over giving up our freedom, life, and death, to machines. The real danger that technology poses is precisely why we can’t “debunk” the aesthetic appeal and pretend that it doesn’t exist. You can ignore a work of art, but a drone or a surveillance array won’t be ignored. Not for long. Our consciousness is invaded and controlled via real space.
Our semiotic interest in these technologies is real. As real as the technologies themselves. So what do we do with it? What sort of actions ought we to take in response to seeing glitch-art from satellite cameras that uses not an anonymous landscape for background, but live images of our own homes? I’m not sure yet. Meanwhile, we continue to be watched.
Drones fire missiles, watching inquisitively for the flash of light. They have no sense of aesthetics. And they continue to fire, until their racks are empty. Then they reload.
This isn’t a criticism of New Aesthetics. It is wondering what the political module is that we will plug into New Aesthetics. These “Theory Objects” are made to network. They are consumer tech, and Theory Objects are as real as your smart phone and its own terrible eco-history. We are obsolete without networking in a politics, as yet uninvented.
We’re going to have to design-fiction a political module quickly. And then, worse: we must fab it, and get it into the field.
If you have ideas, do share. We need to work on this together.
Posted: April 3rd, 2012
Comments: 9 Comments
photo via Chris Arkenberg
Okay, let’s figure this out.
We need a plural noun for drones. Cows are a herd, sheep are a flock, fish are a school: what are drones?
The need for a term is dire, because it is becoming quite obvious that while one drone is interesting, several drones are uncanny. Especially if there is the potential that they are networked together.
I’ve called this uncanny the “drone swarm“. But this term is more of the conceptual idea of a swarm, drone edition. One bee isn’t something to worrying about, but a swarm is. One bird isn’t something to make a horror film about, but… you get the idea.
So what is it? Perhaps something from the animal kingdom? Justin Pickard suggests “murder”, which is used for crows, and has a quite delectable sound to it. But drones are different than other flocking beasts.
Tim Maly has used “panoptiswarm“, but while this could be applicable to drones with cameras, it doesn’t really apply to drones without cameras. Also, equally applies to large groups of cameras, without drones.
Tim also suggested “argus”, which was the name of a mythological giant with a hundred eyes, as well as numerous instances of military and security hardware and corporations throughout the more recent years. I am a bit partial to this one because it is short, and original.
Something I think is crucial to the decision, however, is the behavior of the group of drones. If it is just a group of drones sitting on an airstrip, this is not very interesting. However, the idea that a number of drones, aloft, are possible networked together, communicating, and enabled with some sort of swarm intelligence responsible for group decision making… now that is something. Chris Arkenberg’s recent design-fiction piece revolves around the idea of a “murmuration” of drones. A murmuration is the word used for that aesthetically pleasing flocking motion of birds (see above photo, taken from Chris’ article). It seems that drones that are engaged in some sort of communicative behavior are much more along the lines of “murder” and other animal-esque plural nouns–because a flock of sheep is not just sheep in proximity, but sheep that act in a particular way, because of other sheep in the same space.
One more data point: Ryan Oakley suggests that “arcade” might be used to describe, if not the drones themselves, a group of people who are controlling or piloting drones. This throws in a wrinkle. We are near the technological point at which multiple drones might be controlled by a single person. Does this mean that each drone is an individual thing? Or ought we to refer to the entire group of in-flight robots as a single entity, and what really matters is how many people are controlling them? Which nodes are more important for our standard of naming?
I have no clear answers, only more questions. Please–let’s take the conversation to the comments. And if you have more instances of proposed naming conventions or alternate concepts that might complicate this development of a standard, do suggest them and I’ll add them to this list.
Edit: Chris also notes that “Locals in North and South Waziristan refer to the drones as ‘Bangana’ – a Pashto word for wasp.” Perhaps the drone theorists are not the best to name these things, and we need to hear more about people on the receiving end of drones in the field.
Posted: February 4th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
Your orders have come in. You are tasked with building five thousand libraries. This is an idea that sounds reasonable to you. You get to work. You’re going to need some coffee, and about three days of ground-network time. In your head, you begin to analyze the potential mirror list. You need trusted hosting, not just volunteers. Bit Torrent and a few targeted tweets would get the job done, but not well enough. These libraries have to stay up. It may just be a single compressed file. But as they found out in Portland last week, even digital libraries can be burned to the ground.
* * * * *
You receive your orders backward, coming up to your position of responsibility from the units you command. You open the video feed, and you can see them running through traffic, the wrong way up a one way street, dark jackets dodging amid stalled cars and trucks, stopped in gridlock from the units’ action in the traffic lanes. You don’t need to read the text, because you know what’s next. There’s a term for this: Simultaneous, Epi-Navigation Street Occupation Response. You could call it SENSOR, but you don’t. Only New York Times reporters call it that. Ahead, in the limits of the jerking video feed, you see the orange glow of vapor-lamps glistening on a rising cloud of tear gas.
* * * * *
You have broken it down and set it up countless times, and this will not be the last. You plug in the extruder. You make sure the broken cable plug is fully set into its socket. You attach the heating element to the battery to let it start warming. As the bioplastic cable feeds forward, you can see the camera housing already, as you have seen over four hundred fully finished pieces emerge in the last three days, since the beginning of the Battle of the West Side. It unfolds up from the base of the printer, as the plastic builds up, cooling, slowing inhabiting the outline of the idea. In the brief pause when the extruder head comes back to rest position before starting its next run, you pluck the webcam out of the 3D printer, insert the sensor chip, attach the battery, and put in the waiting hands of one of your newer recruits. “You have a SIM card?” “Yeah.” “Well, that’s it then. Good luck.”
* * * * *
“Shoot him. SHOOT HIM.” The order urges in your ear. You push the inevitable emotional response backward, and you raise your weapon to your shoulder. Through the eye-piece you gaze, infrared light illuminating the target. As the police officer’s baton falls once more, you squeeze the trigger. A blaze of strobe-lighting staccatos thirty times a second from the pair of drones hovering above you, setting the officer and the protester he is beating on visual fire in the night street. Shadow is vaporized. Somewhere within your video gun, an HD light sensor writes to disk. When the shot is uploaded, the editing van will be able to see not only the QR code of the officer’s badge underneath the black marker he has used to obscure it, but a single drop of blood, frozen in the air, Matrix-style, as they used to say, ejected from the wound on the forehead of the protester.
* * * * *
The kid kicks the battery again, sending the van into darkness. Everyone groans, as the screens auto-adjust their brightness to their battery settings. “Sorry!” The lights come back on, and knowing his duty by this time, the kid slides open the door and reaches up to the roof to power-cycle the modem. While you and your fellows wait for the signal to be re-established, you stretch, and make small talk. The sound of helicopters returns, though you cannot see them from inside the parking garage. “Did you hear that DC is distributing a new distributed communication app? All the GA nets can now connect, and it runs off of satellite servers, so it can’t be DNS blocked.” “DC is distributing it? They don’t have any good developers there. None that work with consensus development, anyway. Did you check who’s on the project? It’s probably a Google co-opt play, if not a straight-up honeypot.” There’s debate, but soon the network is back up, and the voices fade, and the streams of information begin to flow again. Like water through a weir.
* * * * *
I would call these scenarios fiction, but fiction is such a dirty word. Fiction is a thing that has no possibility of actually existing, because it is created with that specific fantastical aim in mind. Fiction is a beautiful thing of freedom–the freedom to imagine what will never be. It is the domain of American dreams, in which wanting badly is somehow enough. It is the core instinct of democratic idealism, in which we are actors born on our feet in the public square, rather than as workers in rented quarters walled by constant surveillance. It is the notion that national narratives of fear and war always end eventually, so that we can close the book and go back to whatever it was we were doing before. Fiction is modernism–it is the only place where things make sense, because “reasonable” is its only construction spec. Reality, on the other hand, is no such simple circus.
These scenarios are built from facts. They are not things that have happened–not yet, anyway. But they are things that are possible. For these things to occur only requires that the elements of things that have happened come together in particular ways. These are distributed nodes of fact: libraries of digital information as mirrored political capital, distributed leadership with oscillating order giving/receiving, flash mob-like protest tactics, 3D printers, open-sourced communications equipment manufacturing, video evidence as a weapon, QR codes, crowd-piloted drones, mobile internet hubs, open-source secure communications software, DNS blocking, and so forth. They already exist, but are distributed–and have not been unevenly consolidated yet. Google search any of these, if you want to adapt these patterns into your daily life. It won’t be too long before most of your friends are using at least some of these on a daily basis.
As the arc of innovation becomes a branching, radical network rather than a cutting edge, we don’t need to look to the future anymore, but to our unfolding interfaces for things that already exist. We need not wonder if someone will invent drone flash photography–we instead speculate on when someone will get flash photography and drone technology talking to each other in a usable way. And then, possibly donate to their Kickstarter.
The downside in the ongoing human-Powerpoint slide deck that is the always-insufficient attempt to speculate on the future is that we also lose the comfort of that fiction, and gain the cold uncertainty that comes with facts. When flying cars were to be invented, it was clear that those would make our lives better–or at least, faster. What will SENSOR protests (color me a patronizing NYT reporter, needing a coined word to understand the kids these days) do for our lives? Will this be a more effective form of protest? Will this aid the fight for public free speech? Or will this evolution in protest tactics, as a response to police attacking the media and blocking whole swaths of city, merely engender a new, more brutal response from the police? Where does all of this end? Will it be better or worse? Will it prevent a worse catastrophe, or stall a better outcome? No one knows. No one even knows when it would be possible to say whether or not this technology or that tactic worked out as well as we hoped, or worse. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There are too many facts.
We might call this “the uncertain ethical implications of atemporality.” In only a few years, the span of history and the calm, orderly narratives it wove were effectively collapsed into a multi-dimensional space most closely modeled by Google Instant results after typing a single character in to the search bar. The moral futures market will never recover. In that vacuum, atemporal ethical behavior becomes consensus-based media protest tactics. The livestream of Occupy Wall Street videographer Tim Poole arguing with anarchists about whether or not to film them while filming them is not just our allegory or fable; it is the practice of ethics while attempting to determine what those ethics are, as you talk about it out loud, as the whole world watches. There is no time for symposiums. If you blink, that might have been the opportunity for ethical action that you missed.
Media seems to be the new ethical public arena. Even though it is less a public square than a multi-dimensional space, blocked in some areas and hollowed out in others. It is riven by an virtual and actual architecture of fences, smart phones, paywalls, trending topics, human mics, press passes, and politicians. In the absence of a static history, we simply press the record button. If we get it wrong, at least we got it transparent. Share the notes online, take the minutes. If you can’t be there, watch the livestream. We don’t know what democracy is anymore, since the rule of law comes to us only in subpoenas, in SOPA, in the end of a baton. But we do know, that whatever it is that this is, it’s going to be digital. Even if it takes some doing to search out where it’s still available online. In a year or two, it might take a shadow network, or a SSL tunnel. More nodes, coming together.
That our consistent drive, despite it all, to be ethical people now appears fully entrenched in media doesn’t come as a surprise. Why, for instance, are we so concerned about whether or not the revolution might be inscribed to some sort of cinematic process, and by which technology said media will be distributed? Perhaps it is because in a world where we decreasingly have any idea about what to do about the future, the best we can manage is to at least tell other people about our quandary. Expression is one of the most important of human actions. If the public square cannot be occupied for the purpose of democracy, at least the conversations of such a space have media-space in which to proliferate.
And even though it may be fully entrenched in the world of facts, it is uncanny that expression is not simply a secondary fruit of democracy, but precisely one of the most political acts we are still comfortable making. Democracy does not produce speech, but vice versa. Art, especially art that traffics in the interface of technology and media, finds it more difficult to divorce itself from politics than ever before, creating political space in the act of being art. How can a drone be a toy, if it is equipped with a camera? How can a QR code be only an advertisement, if it can conceal information? How can performance art be apolitical, if it must occupy public space in order to be performed?
And what of the parallel by opposite questions: can a videographer only be protesting, when he or she allows the camera to pause in its pan to capture an aesthetically-appealing unfurling cloud of tear gas? Where is beauty, when protesters in Tahrir are suffering from PTSD? Does it exist? And what if we are forced to go beyond expression, for the sake of politics? What lies beyond the camera? The gun? What does that mean for art? For history? For our daily lives?
Too many questions to pose, as the facts of media complicate the former, fictional “freedoms” of art and politics, that might have thought they could act alone sometime in the recent past. The innovation arc has too many potential interfaces and its surface is too fractally diluted to say that it is capable of pointing in any one direction. Mere hypotheticals no longer have a square to stand in. There is no place in the hyper-urbanization of our technocratic environment left for us to pitch such a solitary tent. There are only more scenarios, stretching on as far as the mental search engine can spin. And with them, the possible ethical imperatives spread outward. The age of atemporal, open-sourced ethics is now.
Posted: January 25th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
It began, as it often does, with a series of tweets:
@serial_consign: While I detest biomimicry, I have to say I am floored by representation of/thought behind “Growth Assembly” bit.ly/zmjLNU
@debcha: @serial_consign I don’t detest biomimcry. But I do hate any design fiction that is more or less completely uninformed by the science.
@serial_consign: @debcha I think taking cues from natural processes is interesting, but making objects/arch look like organic forms for sake of it is trite!
@debcha: @serial_consign Exactly. I despise ‘biomimicry as superficial aesthetic’ rather than ‘biomimicry as deep influence’.
At which point, I butted in with some questions, but I won’t repeat it all because I think we mostly got confused about terminology. However, @debcha did mention an important difference that I will repeat. She distinguishes “between ‘biomimicry’ and ‘bioinspired’ or ‘organic’ as an aesthetic description. [...] ‘biomimicry’ doesn’t mean it looks like something biological.”
And this is true. As Wikipedia will tell you (as it told me, because I know very little about the subject):
Biomimicry or biomimetics is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems.
In other words, biomimicry is all about the functional aspects replicating natural patterns, not about the aesthetics: the “looks like”.
Now, I may not know much about this, but I have been thinking about it. For whatever reason, the cross-overs between nature and technology have been running think and fast of late. I was just reading this article this morning, which I actually believe I stumbled across within the same Bruce Sterling blogpost in which @serial_consign discovered the image he originally tweeted. Bruce calls it a meme, and if I was going to trust anyone on this, it would be him.
My question, that I posed a number of ill-designed ways, is this: what are we doing, in the differentiation between “works like” nature, and “looks like” nature? This is a judgement call, but an important one, because it is so specifically apparent. It isn’t just @debcha and @serial_consign’s personal tastes that makes buildings that look like seeds (for example) seem to be overblown sci-fi. Buildings that grew from seeds: I think we’d all agree that is pretty excellent. But buildings that just look like seeds: meh. Contrived? Weak? A little too Futurama? There is a defined difference there, and it is something that is easy to see.
Of course, there is a long history of futuristic architecture out there, and futurist design of all kinds. Whether it’s Googie, Modernism, or Brutalism, all of these aesthetics are meant to invoke a particular generic idea of a positive, future program. Even if the form is derived from a functional theory of that object’s mechanics (like the aerodynamics of Googie, the ergonomics of Modernism, or the efficiency of Brutalism), that aesthetic ends up taking on its own life apart from the function. We know this, because something can “affect” like one of these aesthetics, without actually being one of these aesthetics.
And if the word Skeuomorph just came to the tip of your tongue, you are quite the atemporal aesthete, aren’t you? Because, therein, is exactly the phenomenon we are talking about. “Works like” can produce a certain “looks like”, but then, even after the “works like” evolves in another direction, we keep the “looks like” our of habit or custom.
Bio-inspired, therefore, is perhaps the atemporal reverse of a skeuomorph. Because the “works like” is not technologically feasible as yet, it settles for the “looks like”. This is Bruce Sterling’s famous “astronaut luggage” example. (Can’t remember the keynote exactly, but I believe it was the well-known “Atemporality for Creatives” talk.) It works like this: you want to be a recreational astronaut, but aren’t the head of a global corporation? Well, just design yourself some astronaut luggage, and start using it. Sure, you might look a little weird carrying astronaut luggage on a boring old jumbo jet. But really, how exactly to our design signifiers work? What other way is there to show people that you’ve been to space? Are you going to whip out a moon rock to show off to everyone you pass in the street? And really, how weird is it to carry astronaut luggage? Is it weirder than the fact that the CEO of Cirque de Soliel has been into space because he came up with way to take a date to a pole dancing event for $100 a ticket?
So we have “anachronic” skeuomorphs, and we have “neochronic” skeuomorphs. The former lingers, and the latter presages. Even though, neither really “does” anything: it just “looks like” it does something.
Or do they?
The reason a doubt first entered my mind, and the reason I began asking such ill-designed questions of @debcha and @serial_consign, is that I’m not quite sure that “looks like” can ever really be apart from “works like”. And it’s not just an inspirational effect of the aesthetic. Sure, building a structure that looks like a seed might serve to somehow inspire a genetic engineer to figure out how to make a structure that grows from a seed, but the causality is specious at best. You would be much better off making sure children get a good math education if you would like to go to the moon, than simply building apartments that look like rocket ships.
And yet, everything must “look like” something, right? Just as much as it must “works like”. Think of an object: say, a lamp. Even if the lamp doesn’t look like a jellyfish, it has to look like something. Ought it to look like a platonic solid? A hat? A space ship? There is an aspect of aesthetic preference involved. If you really like icosahedrons, then you might make yourself a lamp that looks precisely like that. Or, if you really don’t care, you can just get the easiest lamp to find that seems to produce as much light as you want. Or if you don’t have much money, you might make do with a lamp you picked up on the street corner, which looks the best, because “free” is a pretty acceptable aesthetic decision maker.
And yet, the lamp will continue to look like something, even if you pick it out in the dark. You will be sitting in the room with that lamp, day in and day out, using it as a light source, and will be forced to look at it every time you turn it on our off. There is no such thing as “doesn’t look like”.
In which case, what is opposite of a bio-inspired lamp? A non-bio-inspired lamp? Okay. But it is still a lamp.
A lamp, as a light source, is always “inspired” by illumination. This is its “works like”. It’s function mimics incandescence, or florescence, by actually doing just that. It mimics the sun, and fire, and also the hearth. A lamp ought not to produce too much heat, or produce smoke (the benefit of electric over oil or gas), or be so bright that we can’t look anywhere near it, like the sun. In its functional design, it mimics certain functional characteristics which avoiding as many downsides as possible. And hence, every lamp will have a certain aesthetic. It will “look like” a lamp.
It may seem that I’m going around in circles, but I think that is the point. Even a modernist lamp, completely not bio-inspired, by being a physical object following physical laws in order to maintain its functional definition, will in a sense, be using biomimicry. “Works like” always informs a “looks like”. Aesthetics, then, are merely an effort to add additional “mimicry” inflections onto a functional element. A lamp will always function, to a certain extent, like a bioflorescent jellyfish. Whether, beyond this function, is further designed to look like a jellyfish even more than it already does, is beside the point.
Yes, I’m quibbling. Saying any lamp that illuminates automatically “looks like” a creature that fluoresces isn’t really accurate. Because a lamp could quite easily “look like” a rocket ship much more than a jellyfish, even if it “works like” a jelly fish much more. Unless we start using Titan rockets as mood lighting. (Aren’t philosophers a pain in the ass?) But figuring out what we actually mean by our genres identifications and functional chains of causality is all about quibbling. If we just go with our gut, we haven’t defined anything.
And yet, lamps still look like lamps, and lamps that look like sea creatures are still potentially cheesy. We define things as different, regardless of obscure similarities, because these noted aesthetic differences (also subjective differences, or semantic differences) in themselves become functional. Differentiating between a lamp that simply looks like a jelly fish, and a light source that actively bio-floresces is important, because one is a matter of style, and the other would be a scientific breakthrough. They are clearly not the same thing.
But here is the question I will end with: the distinction between biomimicry and bio-inspired aesthetics are easy to differentiate. But does the ease of distinction between form and function follow for other genres of design? For example: at what point is a Brutalist building not merely efficient, but simply Brutalist? At what point are aerodynamic fins not actually aerodynamic, but just look as if they were? Must we measure a building and complete engineering equations to decide if it is a skeuomorph or not? Must we use a wind tunnel to aesthetically judge cars?
Perhaps, it is not that bio-inspired design is cheesy. Perhaps we haven’t discovered what real bio-inspired design looks like yet. Because, once we do, perhaps only an expert could tell the difference.
Posted: January 4th, 2012
Comments: No Comments
I’ve been re-adjusting my life to unplugging from the network. This is not one of those techno-isolation trips, done in some latter-day Christian mystic Transcendentalist notion of re-establishing balance to one’s informational life by means of putting one’s devices in a plastic bag for a week and walking in the park. This is, instead, an unwanted divorce from the network for economic reasons. Having an iPhone has become too expensive for me, and so I have downgraded to a pay-per-month regular cell phone (it’s a RAZR, which is amusing for its last-generation cutting edgeness). With no internet at home (thanks, Century Link for having an unacceptable service level causing me to embargo your requests to pay the double-charged bill you will not adjust correctly), and temporarily being forestalled from getting a planned mobile broadband hotspot by T-Mobile’s insipid economic red-lining (i.e. a $400 deposit due to my credit), this means I only have a few hours a day online, when I’m at the coffee shop or other work space.
Which is a harsh adjustment, for a person who has already migrated to the cloud, and quite liked it. I’ve been using an iPhone for the past three and a half years. I use a Chromebook. The cloud made me portable, light-weight, and completely flexible. I was online near-constantly, writing, reporting, and managing various other Occupy Portland tasks, communicating with friends and colleagues all across the world in many time zones. This is the extent of the plug that has been pulled.
But I’m finding ways of adjusting. One does adapt to economic straits. The interesting thing is that it is doable. There are ways. Here’s how I’ve been doing it so far.
Apps that sync is the key. After ignoring ScratchPad, a little Chrome OS app that came with my ChromeBook, I’ve discovered that it now allows you to write a Google Doc fully offline, including a certain amount of formatting, and then sync this Doc when your computer re-connects to the internet.
Instapaper is, as always, truly one of the best iOS apps around. (I still have the iPhone, but no SIM card, so it is basically a fat iPod Touch.) When I am near a Wifi zone, I open up the app to let it sync its read/unread tallies and download fresh articles. Off network, it functions as normal.
Net News Wire does the same thing for my Google Reader feed. The trouble is being able to share articles back and forth between my RSS feed and Instapaper, and then from either of these to Twitter, all of which requires a live network connection. For these tasks, email is the key. Email–that most defunct of network activities! Emailing a link to my private Instapaper email address will sync that article as soon as I re-connect to the network, and my email Outbox sends all those messages that were composed while offline. I haven’t found a way to send an email that converts into a Tweet yet.
As far as email goes, handling it once a day is something that many efficiency tips recommend, and so far it is working for me. Email Time is the first 30 minutes after I re-connect with the network. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised I ever gave it much more time than that.
I do miss being able to be on Twitter at odd times of the night, when sitting at home with nothing to do. However, I’ve enabled the ability to send a message to Twitter via SMS, and so now I tweet blindly into the night, carefully tapping out 140 character messages on my RAZR. I don’t receive any tweets that way, as that would be disastrous for my SMS plan. It’s kind of fun this way, more like graffiti. I leave messages, and don’t get feedback until I re-connect to the network, sometimes twenty-four hours later. And if you want to talk about “Old Twitter”, well, this is how the service was originally designed to be used.
I’ve also hooked up Google Voice, though I’m not sure exactly how that benefits me off-network. There isn’t any way to receive chats or emails via SMS or phone yet. However, from a schematic point of view, it does serve to remind me that my regular old cell phone is a tiny funnel for communication when I am offline. When I’m back on the network, suddenly my phone becomes superfluous, as the computer is my phone; I call and text straight from the browser. The phone is merely a handset, and the network is the main channel of communication. I don’t know if, like the email efficiencies I’m forced to apply, this will end up being a benefit or not. But, at least it seems to be all part of the process, which I’m forced to accept whether I like it or not.
All of this seems to break down the networked communication I’ve come to expect into its basic components. I’ve been so used to App-For-That thinking, and user-friendly API integration, that I forgot what the basic components of networked communication is all about. It’s about the information: either short bits of communicative text, or a link that will take you to more information later. Emails and hyperlinks. I’m restoring the mental schematic of packets to my networked communication. Each email, link, and SMS is a packet. If I can work out how to make sure the packets arrive where they are supposed to, even if it is delayed, then the network continues to flow.
Posted: December 28th, 2011
Comments: No Comments
Having uploaded this stencil design to the internet, and having told you you can do whatever you want with it (you can), I couldn’t be responsible for your own autonomous deployment of this image, wherever you wish.
Here is a PDF of the stencil
Here is an EPS of the stencil
And here is an EPS of the logo, without stencil lines
Love and Drones,
Posted: December 24th, 2011
Comments: No Comments
What this does, as you will (hopefully) see if you try it, is open a prompt, allow you to enter text, and then convert that text to a QR code using the Google Chart API.
This one simply converts the current URL to a QR code:
And this one prints the current screen. Which would be helpful if your current screen shows a newly-minted QR code.
The goal of all of this (for me) is to try and develop a way to reduce the printing of a QR code to a “one-click” sort of procedure. I’ve been working with a heat-activation Polaroid Zink printer, but not having a lot of success. For one thing, the Zink printer is kind of a pain. It only accepts jpgs in a particular portrait size (you might note the constraining 350 x 500 pixel variables in my code above), and the Google API only generates gif and png (adjust the “chof=” variable in the code to get a png, if you like). And while the Bluetooth on the printer works pretty well, iPhones still can’t send pictures over Bluetooth, so that means I have to drag a computer around with the Zink printer. At least until I can get a non-iPhone, but with my current budget, that will probably not be for a while.
But, one step at a time. If you find a better mobile printer, or use any other fun QR tools or tricks, let me know.
Posted: September 28th, 2011
Comments: No Comments
unknown flame-effect vehicle or building or bicycle or something
A dis-jointed meditation on things learned at Burning Man
The night after we got back from Burning Man, I had a waking playa-dream.
I woke, dazed and disoriented, in the orange street light that filtered in around the curtains. The sound of the light rail going past was a non-potable water truck to my ears, spraying down the dust street outside of the enclosure of our apartment. I reached my heavy arm up from the bed, tossing covers off of me in the heat, and touched the drywall. “Odd,” I thought. “Drywall would be such a mess on the playa. But it does have a nice finish.” Who built this structure? It has a very regular cubic shape. Have they pre-made dry wall panels, and then hung them from the inside of a geodesic dome? How have they sealed the edges? There is very little dust in here. I want to meet the person who designed this structure and chat with him or her. I got off the mattress, sitting on the playa floor, and only when starting down the hallway towards the bathroom to look for a water tank did I realize I was back in our apartment in Portland, and was not in a city of 50,000 built for a week on an alkaline lake bed.
2011 was my first Burning Man, an event I’ve wanted to attend since I was about 15 and read about it in BoingBoing. 13 years later, it’s a completely different event, of course. And apparently, it is also many different events at the same time. The week of Burning Man is a tripartite collusion of drunk revelers, hardcore makers, and hippie consciousness-expansion. But outside of that week, it is something else again.
I was lucky enough, through a convoluted series of events that was never fully explained to me, to get an early access pass. These are handed out to volunteers, artists, and theme camp builders so they can get a jump start on construction before the event officially opens. The unofficial theme camp I was camping with managed to get a few of these, and having nothing else to do except drive rebar into the earth, I went along with our small build team to erect shade structures for 30 people from PVC, aluminum conduit, tarps, and silk parachute. Easy enough.
Black Rock City, pre-city
The best part of this, which I never imagined in all my visions of the event, was being there for the week immediately prior to the actual week of Burning Man. Before all the “tourists” and party-goers get there, there is a hardcore contingent of people there with one goal. Build shit. Also, I suppose, drink beer and make sexual innuendo, but that kind of goes hammer-in-hand with build shit.
So you’ve been to a Maker Faire. You’ve read about the DIY revolution in countless publications. You have a network of enthusiastic artists you know who are all involved in crazy projects to put Arduinos on Roombas or something, and have a couple Kickstarter campaigns under their belt a piece. All of this is awesome, and I don’t mean to imply it is anything less than so. But none of this really compares to the building environment pre-Burning Man.
It’s possible that I was extraordinarily lucky to be with such a particularly awesome group of people on our own build team, and I have no doubt that I was. But the feeling extended beyond our group, to the entire community. It was an notion of collectivism and altruism that I’ve only dreamed about in my most blue-sky moments. There was an overall sense that everyone was there for a single purpose, and every project and camp was an extension of that process. Resources, tools, and hands were all part of the overall effort, and were lent and asked for freely. Every task was praised and supported with helpful suggestion with a single voice. Rivalries existed, but only insofar as it improved the overall experience. There was a sense of cooperative challenge that paled team-building activities in comparison, and completely flattened the lip-service of collectivity espoused by sports.
I have no doubt that the harsh conditions of the playa contributed to this. If we were in a meadow somewhere, near air-conditioned homes and bars, disputes would result in people “stepping out for a moment”, and divisions would result. However, in the desert there is no place to go. Furthermore, the daily effect of the desert on the body means that collectivity is a survival strategy. It is a saw on the playa, that if someone is getting pissy and annoyed, the proper thing to do is to tell them to “drink some water”. It’s irritating, because people say it all the time, but after you drink water you immediately feel better because you were actually dehydrated. A “fuck you, buddy” turns into a “drink some water”, and everyone is reminded that we are in the desert together, and we are nothing but evaporative meat sacks a few liters of water from death at all times.
Camp Spinaesthesia - PVC, aluminum, canvas, silk.
This sort of hydration ethic is found in other forms. During the pre-week, there was a ubiquitous imperative to thank people for just about everything, and to be obsessively polite. Someone gives you a hand, you thank them by name. Someone gives you a piece of cheese, you look them in the eye and say thanks. If a tarp is about to be ripped away by a 50 mph gust of wind, you still take the time so say, “hey, would it be possible for you to give me a hand with this?” or “do you have a minute to help?” At first, I thought this was simply hippie sentiment, and I found it a bit obnoxious. But then I realized that the overall imperative to speak this way had the same effect as the emphasis on hydration. By reminding yourself to speak like this, it is a sub-conscious reminder that we’re all in this together, and the help you ask for is the help you will give five minutes from now. Yelling, “somebody help me now!” might be literally true, but it won’t get you the help any faster, and promotes division and aggression as opposed to collectivity. The tarp blowing away is not actually the most important thing. The fact that the tarp will continue to be an inch from blowing away for an entire week is the important thing, and that everyone works together to make it secure is the real goal.
As the event began, this sort of ethic was still present, but as the “tourists” showed up, it faded. Perhaps it was simply the number of people, or the heightened vocality of people just there to consume and not to build. But by the end of Burning Man, people in general had stopped saying thank you, and were much more interested in what they could get from people.
As the Man burned on Saturday night of the event, I remember in particular a couple of girls yelling at everyone in front of them to “sit down” so they could see. A number of people had heeded their call, and so they had the feeling that their request was valid, rather than questioning it. We did not want to sit; this was the Man burning, and a culmination of everything that we had built and lived for two weeks. But even though we were on the edge of the standing mass, and it was clear we were not going to sit, they continued to yell at us to sit down throughout the entirety of the burn. Not a single please was uttered, just a constant braying of the will they wanted to impart upon others. If there was ever an example of the “selling out” of Burning Man, this was it. It isn’t a selling out at all, actually–it is a socio-emotional mind state. It is the transferring from a state of mind of collectivity, in which each person is a functional component of the whole, to a state of mind of ego-actualization, in which each person must fight to harness others to their own particular vector. Would I ever have sat? Perhaps. But suddenly, facing this person who was negating the positive culture I had experienced up to this point, my own will turned to stone.
Trojan horse, under construction. It was burned 5 days later.
I tell this anecdote to impart the seriousness of the community, and the strength of collectivity when done right, and how quickly all of that can be negated by thoughtless violation of that network.
The point of Burning Man to me is the way in which the stark reality of the intersection between art and infrastructure is made apparent, and becomes lived experience for those who choose to take part in it. Okay, sure: dancing all night in the middle of the desert is fun too. But that was what I expected, whereas the lessons about building collectivity were a complete surprise. The purpose of Burning Man is to entertain. The art is low on poignant meaning, high on effort converted into wow-factor. But through that expression of entertainment is channeled an incredible amount of material, human resource, and hard work. The end effect is in itself a cause, because it stimulates the drive to make such an incredible human infrastructure come together. It isn’t profit, or a pay check, or even something as pedestrian and necessary as security, safety, sustainability or stability. In fact, it is mostly antithetical to all of that, and perhaps that is why what happens at Burning Man is able to ignore those everyday drives, and really step outside the standard channels work normally forms itself to, and all the petty problems therein. But as much as an outlier this experience might be, it is a hell of a model to aspire towards. Perhaps there is some sort of synthesis to be made.
Why is it that hexayurts and geodesic domes, two structures billed as fabulous advances to architecture in the real world, have taken off much more strongly at Burning Man than in the real world? Why is it that in a place practically devoid of Internet and networked devices, and stronger and more resilient social network has developed? Why is it that people spend a year’s worth of time developing projects that will last a single week? I don’t really know the answer to these questions in words, but I could kind of feel the answer happening at Burning Man. The answer itself wasn’t important. If someone had tried to answer this question, the answer might be, “I don’t know. Let’s drink some water, and then put together this hexayurt before lunch.” A pretty good answer, I guess.
Grey-B-Gone greywater evaporation rig.
“Radical self-reliance” is a term that is thrown around a lot in regard to Burning Man. I don’t know that it’s necessarily accurate, because Burning Man seems to be much more about relying on other people: the people in your build team, the people in your camp, the neighbors on your street, the Department of Public Works folks and the rest of the volunteer infrastructure, and everyone who attends the Burning Man even. I suppose though, the term kind of works if you factor in the fact that Burning Man is a radical deformation of your sense of “self”. Call it collectivity, call it an ecosystem, call it a team, or call it intentional anarchism. It is about a state of constant reminder that your self is actually pretty frail and insignificant, and if you try to do anything on your own or only for yourself, you will end up with a sloppy pile of bricks, working for forty years all alone, or simply be dead. The human is a resolutely social animal. And while we build things for all sorts of reasons, the thing we are really building at all times is our culture, with those other humans around us, whether we are close to them or not.
Posted: September 9th, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment
The social network users seek control. What kind of control do they want? Identity control.
Google+ and Facebook have replied to them: we all will have the same identity control, and that is our one, true, real life identity. How could we have any better identity than that? How else could control be maintained? You users are egoists if you demand for yourselves, as users, any additional control than that. As users, that is the only control you should hope for: for your single, true identity, to control it as you see fit.
Chaos has ensued. Threats have been made, manifestos have been written. “Authoritarianism” has been charged, even though we’re only talking about social networks. The same networks that were the budding platforms of democracy earlier this year are now the means of our enslavement. It makes some sense, doesn’t it? Something as powerful as these new communications tools. Something so paranoia-inducing as large media corporations. Something so vital to us as our identity, our privacy, our ability to speak as we will, and to be online citizens.
And yet, this is all brand new. Services that didn’t exist ten years ago. Corporations that didn’t exist that long ago. Identity and privacy are older concepts–but I’m sure we can all agree that the very definitions of these have changed. We now have words like “online citizen”. “Digital sociality”. “Cyborg humanism”? Whatever you want to call it, it’s never existed before. Something has been born. And now, these soft bones, this fuzzy eyesight, and a tongue of that struggles over its own name are hindrances to this infant’s chance at growing into a real life. It’s a cold world out there. There are many threats, and there is certainly something to lose.
The problem is, I don’t believe we quite know what we’re talking about. Not yet. We have the sense that something is wrong, and it is. But we’re stumbling for the tools and the technique to describe what is at stake, and we’re blundering all over the place. We’re fighting about names. And while there is no good reason pseudonyms should not be allowed on social networks (we’ll just put that one to bed right now), there is also no good reason that pseudonyms are the front for this conflict. The problem is bigger than merely a name. It is a question of identity: of, very literally, personhood. This is about what makes a person, and this will only become a problem with a more vital terrain in the future. Sooner or later, the problem is going to be a lot more confusing that what we so adorably decide to name ourselves.
Identity has actually been more complicated for awhile now, but we’ve been able to ignore it. Most of us easily accept the personhood that is assigned to us by society, and have no problem accepting that we are what our legal name describes us as. A particular sex, a particular age, legal resident of a particular country, allowed certain rights of unifying with another individual of certain other classifications that we suppose are amenable with the categories we seek, and so many of us live with it. We accept the label, and each of us is a happy, healthy, voting, civil-right-enjoying, whatever-you-are. We look on those unlucky to fall outside or in between these categories as anomalies, and either make them their own category with special–maybe limited, maybe increased privileges–or we ignore them and pretend they don’t really exist.
This has been happening since, well, at least since the mid 19th Century. Perhaps earlier, but the 19th Century was the first time society felt the need to logically justify its decisions about personhood, and didn’t just get busy carving out true humans from peasant-meat with swords and scythes. At that watershed moment in history, nations were beginning to define themselves as sovereign states, and with them, citizens were beginning to be defined. Laws began to define both of those concepts. And as with any process of trying to reach a perfect definition, exceptions began to appear, making uncomfortable questions for those doing the dirty pen work.
One Karl Marx wrote a little essay on one of these questions, called, to the point, “On The Jewish Question”. To set the stage: the nature of the Jewish Question at hand was how to answer the demands of population who sought to live exempt from the Christian state, on the basis of their religious difference. A tough question to be sure, as the matter was not just about freedom of religion, but about the question of what a person is primarily: a citizen, or his/her religion? Which trumps the other in terms of identity, and which shall we recognize as being more important? If we acknowledge a religious identity is more important than being a citizen, than a religion that seeks to live outside of the bounds of the state has free reign to leave the power of the state at will. But if being a citizen is more important, then religious identities that disagree with the terms of the state must be suborned beneath that sovereign power.
The solution was that the state must cease to be a religious entity. By emancipating itself from religion, the state can consider every person an equal citizen under the law, while the citizens can continue to believe as their conscience dictates. This concept is what we currently find in the US Bill of Rights, and the basis of many other countries founding principles.
However, what this does is create two different identities for a person. There is the political identity, in which everyone is treated fairly and freely, given the respect and the protection of the law; and there is the personal life, in which one is allowed to harbor intolerance and prejudices. Or considered with the pejorative voice reversed, there is The Citizen, which is an ideal, universal, illusory person that is an utopian figment; and there is the everyday person, with the freedom to think and believe whatever one desires. Either way, there is a schism. Whereas previously religious believers sought to divide sovereign power between their different belief groups, now each person is divided down the middle between the religious/private, and the sovereign/public.
The inherent contradiction between these two split identities is that no person is so separate. One desires citizenship in order to protect the freedoms of one’s private life, and one’s private life ought to be so free that one could live as one wishes without adhering to another’s rule. As if it could be so simple as such a Catch-22: when the truth is that public and private are no more than the two colors which we use to color a range of twisted, half-enclosed spaces, stairwells, and rooftops in a twisted, MC Escher-designed house of relations between ourselves and others around us. What is public/private, when we can only talk about politics in the company of loved ones? What is public/private, when we talk about sex in public, and think about fucking celebrities in the privacy of our own homes? What is public/private, when we are willing to confess our dreams on TV, but avoid telling our friends what we really think of them? We imagine that there are two people at war within us, one with either priority. But simply isn’t true, any more that the human sexes stem from a original hermaphroditic species, combined of man and woman. The human being is a chaotic whole, even if our sexualities, citizenships, free wills, and other identities are a stratified, twisted, mess of rhizomatic knot.
But belief in this division remains to the current day. The liberal strategy is that compromise between the two is possible. Call it a social contract, the difference between the home and the agora, or simply one of many great democratic compromises: all are fiction. The conservative strategy is to exploit one identity for the other, and taking turns, promoting one at the other’s expense as is expedient to the time. The fact that we still have holdouts from both political strategies defending ground on either sides of the public and the private, privileging either the superiority of the public, politically equal citizen, or the private, personally liberated individual, proves that it is not compromise that we’ve found, but a permanent state of conflict between the two.
Right in the middle of this state of conflict is where we’ve landed, so many years on from The Declaration of the Rights of Man. Both sides of the debate about the Identity Question are attempting to argue for one of these identities. The True Name faction believes that social networks ought to be part of the public sphere, in which one represents oneself as Citizen, with the rights and responsibilities therein, and as their reward for joining this republic, gain some control over their privacy. The Pseudonym faction, on the other hand, believes that social networks ought to be completely at the mercy of the individual, so they might live out their personal fantasies with no one to stand in the way–and if this means trolls have to be hunted and slayed by the local militia, than so be it.
We might abandon the problem here, just as we’ve abandoned the United States to the endless conflict between liberal and conservative, and just cross our fingers that while no end is in sight, perhaps it might not get any worse. I’m here to tell you that it will get worse. But, I’m also going to tell you why. And in that, perhaps is some hope.
Because we’ve been so busy balancing this distinction in our minds, accusing the other party of atrocities and inhumanities, and generally forgetting which side we are on in any particular instance so that we have to start over and load up the crooked balance beam once again, we haven’t noticed what is changing despite all of this staying-the-same. Why was it, after all, that the Jewish Question arose in the 19th Century for the first time? It was because of the sovereign political states that suddenly made citizenship a thing, so that might become an ”issue”. And why were there all these new states with citizens, rather than thrones, nobles, and a small landowning class as there had been previously? That is a lot of history, but generally the reason is that suddenly the citizens had a little bit of power that they had not had before, and it had to be safeguarded and controlled properly. With all of these property owners running around, courts were necessary to control and organize them. So they needed laws, and rights to go to court with. To administer all this, and to collect taxes of course, is the responsibility of The State. Basically, our notion of the private individual is all that is left over from the chaos of the anarchic lower-classes during feudalism. When we had nothing, we were free to do whatever we wanted with that nothing, not having anything but a little alcohol and maybe a farm tool or two with which to cause trouble. But when there was something, things got real very quickly. All of those possessions, and the willfulness with which one would use and fight for his/her possessions, had to be controlled. So it has been legislated, incorporated, mandated, and interpolated into a giant mechanism of public power to keep everything running as smooth as possible, or at least not spinning apart. After all of that, only a bit of freedom remains, that hopefully won’t let us get into too much trouble.
If we simplify a bit by calling all of these new means and mechanisms that must be organized and controlled “society”, we can see that society has grown even more complex since that time, and at a quickening pace as well. In addition to The State, other forms of order step in to help organize society. You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that consumerism helps out. What would we do with all of our money if we couldn’t spend it on stuff? Why would we work if not to earn that money? A steady cycle of consumption smooths everything out. Culture, which we might define as the general artistic product of society, is a feature of consumerism. We produce odds and ends of Culture to keep ourselves mentally invested. And this cultural product reinforces our ideas about the many systems, and our roles within it.
But suddenly, we are at a new watershed moment. An invention that was first a bit of the sovereign state, then a small, odd facet of culture, and then a sub-domain of consumerism, is mutating yet again. The Internet. This odd thing-defying in small, strange ways the old logic of how things are made, socialized, consumed, and therein, controlled–is becoming a system by which we express a new, odd sort of anarchic freedom: and for many of us, it is the primary means by which we do so. All signs point to this pattern continuing, if not accelerating.
So much so that the Internet now serves to destabilize sovereign states. The State had universalized the Citizen, and frozen part of our identities off into the public self. Now the Internet is making the remainder, that anarchic private self, run absolutely wild. So wild, that it doesn’t even care about the olf public self anymore. What good is our citizenship when our governments don’t protect us anymore, stand in the way of the innovation that does help us, and turn its back on that “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” promise? Many of us are more citizens of the Internet than any particular country or town. We might have once been called the domain of the private self, is now taking over for the public self, and becoming much larger, more rowdy, and with more resources within its reach.
The private self now has able opportunity to express itself, and the amazing part is, that the anarchy of it is actually self-regulating. One can be openly gay online, while being so at work would cause trouble, as there are communities online that support and protect such private lives. One might brush shoulders with people whose skin color you never know–and so racial identity is complicated at the same time as it is made less important. There is solidarity between people without any sort of “real” neighborly trust being established, simply because one pledges oneself to the same general good. All the boundaries, those secular divisions of our private life that we used to protect and pile high like the walls of a levy, are now washing down, flowing outward into massive, divergent deltas. We now have identities that we never knew of before, because we have the freedom to discover that they exist. New sexual fetishes, hobbies, business opportunities, and political ideas are spun off, spread, diluted, and then recombined daily. Over the vast span of human culture, we are not just able to keep it all in control. It may be that we are more in control of ourselves than we’ve ever been before–even as anarchy reigns.
But what is it that we are controlling? Here we arrive back at the original problem. We’re not in an electronic world of free love just yet. We need to control our own identities, just as we need to police ourselves and others. Responsibility is primary to this sort of techno-anarchy, and we’re finding this out through this new pattern’s failures just as much as we are encouraged by its successes. But, when we seek to maintain some purchase on the controls of our identity, we fall back into the same old cycles as before such a system existed. Half of us are trying to maintain a public self as citizen, and the other half of us are trying to maintain a private self as individual. And then we switch back and forth, depending on what service we are using, what username we’re logged in with, and what fetish discussion group we are currently administering.
The truth, as the Internet is showing us, is that neither “public” nor “private” will serve as the model for our new, distributed, networked selves. Things are far too complicated now. We can’t pretend to compromise any longer. The services through which we constitute our society and produce our culture are too complex. The range of our personalities is too wide. We know too many people on the borderlines, for whom a lack of the means to compromise is not just a theoretical difficulty, but a threat to their existence. And with little else in the way of “society” left, defending the old roles for any one person to fall back to, there is simply too much at stake.
We need to begin accepting Distributed Personhood now. And what’s more, we need to begin defending Distributed Personhood, and providing solidarity with and amongst other Distributed Personhoods. Unfortunately, this only barely begins with one’s choice of name. DP is less the title at the top of one’s shares, than the frequency and length of one’s shares. DP is the social graph, but also the means by which one builds one’s social graph. It is less the username, and more the UX. It is not the rules that a particular social network decides its users must follow, but the rules by which you decide which social networks you will use, when, and why. We are changing the rules of how we interact with each other as a species, and as such, we must change the rules of how we identify ourselves, as members of the species. Distributed Personhood is this new pattern of identity.
DP is the network itself, insofar as we are using it and continue to use it. It is the ability to outsource one’s identity, to send one’s attention around the world and back, and to work together with someone you will never meet to produce something that will change both your lives. It is the ongoing construction and demolition of the physical technology necessary to make all of this happen. This is a sort of identity for which “form and content” barely even scratches the surface. There is no mind-body dualism here. The elements of society and culture that light up as you network with them are the only constituent pieces of the whole that is you.
The power of a fake name is really no more than the power of a real name. Both of these are erroding fast. A pseudonym does not benevolently grant us individual freedom, any more than any governments’ declaration of rights guarantees justice under the law. Clinging to “public” and “private” to identify, protect, and advance ourselves is like sending thousands of telegrams, desperately hoping that the more we use them, the more someone will be still listening on the other end. If we look at the tools we are already using in front of us, we know that things have changed too far to go back. There are other powers at play here, that will not defend the public, the private, or anything else that benefits us, and it is time we stood up to deal with them. It is time that we, human beings with personalities so distributed, stood up and recognized the amazing power that we have.
Luckily, none of us will have to stand alone.
Posted: August 7th, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments
Had a dream, or maybe it was one of those odd thoughts that float in during insomnia, the other night about a spectrum system for so-called “blue sky” thinking.
“Blue sky” thinking is basically optimism. Thinking about technology or strategic solutions for their most positive benefits, rather than their negative effects. Those who speculate about the future often are “guilty” of blue skying at one point or another, and in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with this, as long as it can be countered with healthy skepticism at times. If we’re going to try new things, I imagine that we would end up talking about them positively at some point, if we’d like to convince others to join us in the trial.
My insomniac thought was that while we often caveat our ideas or words with the fact that they are at times unabashedly “blue sky”, perhaps we can work some more definition into that admission, to better set up a context of exactly why we’re speaking about something positively, what we might be glossing over by removing ourselves from skepticism for a moment, and what the next critical step is after we get excited.
The idea borrows from the “Green” spectrum popular in discussing environmental thought: light green, dark green, etc. Spectrum-ization is itself perhaps a little bit of a simplicity; obviously much more nuance goes into our thinking about our thinking, than a little bit of left/right compare/contrast. But this is a start.
So here we go:
Talking about devices or strategies that have very useful functions, but their engineering and development is not quite all the way there yet.
Example: electric cars have a near-zero carbon footprint, but their price and lack of a charging infrastructure means they don’t suit the US market quite yet.
Talking about devices or strategies that are fully developed, but their functional value is contextually limited.
Example: ebooks readers are pretty slick. But in the end, it’s just a book that uses up batteries.
Design-fiction in the classic sense. (Are we at a point where there is classic design-fiction?) Devices or strategies that haven’t been developed, so much as theorized. Therefore, their functional pros and cons in actual use are hard to determine, because the theory only defines such pros and cons as it can conceptually invent on the level of that theory. An important distinction is to separate the theory from any actual development, at least on the level of discussing it.
Example: a world full of flying cars has a number of foreseeable pros and cons. Pro: we get everywhere fast, and flying is awesome. Con: collisions would be brutal. (And note that these are separate from the obvious negative that building a flying car is currently technologically difficult.) But once such a world came into existence, there would no doubt be hundreds of other issues that we can’t currently foresee. When American Car Culture was in its height, carbon emissions weren’t on anyone’s radar. No one knew that was even a “thing”. What will Flying Car Culture bring to the fore? What will be the effect on weather? On bird migration? Even if we think open-mindedly, we can’t foresee every potential eventuality. Hence, Translucent Blue Sky thinking.
Talking about existing devices or strategies that have been in the world for so long, their complete functional potential has been channeled into a rut. The systemic pathway is so embedded in our culture, that we’ve erected blinders to the full extent of their potential worth. One might argue that if we only looked at an old idea in a new way, it could be better than a new idea.
Example: Hard to pick an example, because it’s tough to determine what we are under-utilizing. Perhaps the electric car works here as well. We have certain ideas about why electric cars “don’t work”, or what their cons are. Perhaps, however, it is just that we are so set in our notions of how electric cars should work and how they fail, that we’re not able to see the situations in which they would be perfect.
* * * * *
What all of these designations get at is the various ways our positive thinking conceive of the relative use-value of a particular thing, and how this translates into an exchange-value for the idea. When we’re thinking about our ideas themselves, these ideas (separate from the actual things the ideas describe) seem more or less valuable because of how they are depicted. It’s worthwhile to remember that when we judge an idea, we are not just judging what the idea describes, but how the idea itself is presented. Why I think these different spectra for thinking about how we think about our ideas could be important, is that they keep that separation between the idea and the thing it describes in focus. In the same way we give a caveat about thinking positively (e.g. “just a little blue sky spitballing here, but…”) so that we can judge the pros and cons of the idea in context, we can also set up a context of the relationship between use-value and exchange-value of our ideas. (e.g. “I know X has some hurdles to cross, but…” “I know that in the big picture X is relatively not very important, but…” “I know we all know X is a complete fiction at this point, but…” “I know we have some established flaws to idea X, but…)
Of course, muddling around in trying to say exactly what we’re saying while we’re saying it can be confusing or distracting. Sometimes it’s better to just spit it out, or better yet, stop talking about it and just start trying things.
But you have to think about something when you’re trying to sleep, right? :)
Posted: August 3rd, 2011
Comments: No Comments
In a post on G+, Tim Carmody proposed the notion of a full disclosure for tech journalists including what particular devices/systems they owned and used. For example, if one was writing about Windows, and didn’t actually have a Windows machine, should that be acknowledged?
The brief consensus in the comments was that this information is certainly helpful. I noted that when on a tech forum discussing problems with one’s tech, the first thing you’re asked to do is state the system you’re using to set the context. So shouldn’t this be standard for tech praise or tech criticism as well as tech support?
Justin Pickard brought up the site UsesThis at which influential tech folks are interviewed about their setups for particular tasks. Certainly this counts as an endorsement of some sort. And yet, obviously the reader interested in a particular graphics engine box will be taking these personal choices with a grain of salt. People still have preferences, and no one person’s choice can be said to be the canonical best of all. Every choice has pros and cons, and that what a reviewer hopefully seeks to identify in reviewing a product–saying “this is not simply the best for me, but here are the sorts of tasks it does well or poorly, by which you might make your own decision.” The declaration of one’s own setup is quite subjective, while reviewing intends a sort of objectivity.
And yet, there is more to these alternate points of view. When hearing about someone else’s gear, one doesn’t just take it as a personal endorsement. There is something more dynamic than that. You aren’t just reading someone else’s shopping list, or their wish list in a catalog. You are hearing a narrative about how they’ve solved a particular problem. The choices they’ve made speak to their workflow, and their way of confronting a regular, complex task. It doesn’t represent the best way, or the cheapest way, or the newest way: it speaks to the actual way that something is done.
This is not a narrative of qualitative or quantitative indicators, it is a narrative of praxis. It’s like looking into your grandfather’s tool box, or watching a friend drive. By listing one’s central tools or gear, you are learning about the person as much as their objects, because you are learning about the network of the person, extending outward to their objects.
I’m not a tech reviewer, but I take my gear seriously, and while I don’t fetishize it I select it carefully. So I came up with my own toolbox list, which is now a standard page here on the website, which I’ll update as it changes.
I didn’t list everything I use or own for everything, but I listed the things for which I had a choice, and after some thinking, made that choice carefully. I’m a writer, and a part of my daily work is reading, so I’ve also listed some standard reading sources. This is a potential place for the list to turn into the fetish catalog–it would not be completely inaccurate to list every book I’ve read, or basically add a blog roll or even my Twitter follow list, as these all affect my daily work considerably. But this would be veering towards the Minimalist Lifestyle Design Fetish, which is to make everything one associates with a personal accessory and endorsement. Brand is not an element of praxis. Brand is the total picture–the holistic aesthetic that commodity merchants attempt to sell, because once the brand is sold, accessory products can be shilled with the ease of action-figure play sets. Brand washes over the actual praxis, erasing use-value and replacing it with aesthetic. Aesthetic can be part of praxis, but it is the use of each particular object that defines its part in the network, not the overall image, or the construction of a total lifestyle list. Think of it this way: it would make sense for tool box to contain screwdrivers. And, a person might choose a particular sort of screwdriver, with ratchet grip and selectable tips, if that provides them more utility from time to time. However, it does not make sense for every toolbox to have this particular screwdriver, simply because it is more functional. And furthermore, although one might be able to order this particular screwdriver in custom colors, that is not relevant at all. Praxis extends and networks a certain amount of usage and features in particular devices, in a contingent framework that is developed individually, and uniquely at each occurrence of use. On the other hand, attempting to bind every feature or object together as a single continuum is where the brand develops. The difference between a real life toolbox and the Sharper Image catalog is the difference of steel, grease, plastic, and scuff marks, versus glossy paper, photos, and artful descriptions. It’s the difference between the things you use, and the things someone thinks you should use.
And in the end, this comes back to Tim’s originally raised question. In listing the items in our toolbox, we aren’t only rattling off a list in the effort of full disclosure, description, or identification. We are picking up each of our items individually, and thinking about why and how we use them. Is this a “toolbox” item? How carefully did we consider this object when we brought it into our possession? Would we accept a different tool in its place, or is there something about it that is unique to our relationship with the objects around us? These are questions of praxis, whereas an itemized list is a catalog, or a collector’s checklist. Perhaps reviewing technology as products should be more personal, more practical. But certainly our relationship with our own tools should be.
Posted: August 2nd, 2011
Comments: No Comments
LulzSec rogue suspected of Bitcoin hack | Technology | The Guardian.
Look at this f’ing article!
Some of the most experienced members of the Anonymous and LulzSec hacker collectives are believed to have had “botnets” – hijacked networks of PCs – of more than 100,000 compromised computers.
If that many machines were set to work generating Bitcoins, they could create up to $7,500 worth a day at current trading levels – meaning members of the hacker collectives could be among the biggest losers if the value does not recover as and when MtGox reopens. In the hours before the hack the total value of Bitcoins in circulation was more than $150m.
IF some hackers have botnets, and IF those botnets are mining Bitcoin, and IF those Bitcoin were stolen, then OMG that sucks for them!!!
What is the deal? If your topic is slightly shady, any sort of journalistic research goes right out the window? I’ve seen articles about Lulzsec quoting anonymous Twitter accounts, and articles about Bitcoin citing claims made on anonymous forum threads as fact. I know that we’re all excited by this real-life-cyberpunk virtuality, but come on.
Posted: June 22nd, 2011
Categories: Feedback Loops
Comments: No Comments
I just went and beat back the lawn, which was a demeaning and long-overdue task. And one that is fundamentally fruitless at best, because it will only grow back. If I were in charge (I rent, and so am not) I would tear the entire lawn up, and put in a garden, or gravel, or used auto parts, or anything not grass, which I consider a weed for its rate of growth and relative uselessness. But I’m not, and so I slog outside, to cut back the biomass that seeks to encircle the back porch.
Having raked the zen rock garden of that vine-choked lot with a power trimmer, I was able to let loose some of the anger welling up in my spleen from a similarly endless task at which I throw myself time and time again, though not to avoid fines from any rental agreement. I type essay after long essay in Sisyphean exercise, ranting against that which I disagree with, desperately trying, through the pains of logic and theory to beat back that which I find misconstrued, illogical, syllogistic, and wrongheaded. My motivation for this self-inflicted punishment is an imp that gnaws upon the base of my brain. It’s name is truth. Little “t”, of course; it is more yeasty infection than incubus. And yet, it grows. And as it grows, I type.
And I know I ought to quit. I should produce something that gives a bit more joy, that might be received a bit more easily than “reading,” which seems so much like hard work. Why paint a picture too large for most to view it? What good is a six-hour film epic no one will view past the first half an hour? Why pen a book when the readers will wait for the movie, or wait for the two-minute internet video summary, or simply read the title and consider the point absorbed?
Why should I write an article, finely mincing dense philosophical ideas into something the average palette might enjoy with a little open-mindedness, when I still end up with an essay 3500 words long, that being 2000 words longer than the standard piece of intellectual writing on the internet? Not to say that the few hundred page views that it might receive, whether from the number of regular readers or from Google Image Search tourists are not worth nothing. I just know my own choir. And though there is perhaps no greater pleasure than having a conversation between friends, maybe it isn’t necessary to yell so loud, and for so long. But this very dynamic is what brings on the yelling; I’m trying to draw in from the street the people who need to hear this. And so I call to them as they wonder what all the screaming is about, and move a little quicker down the road.
It is that there is not only an infection in my logic brain centers driving me to attempt to express myself in abstract language, it is that there is a desperate need for it in the world. Or so I would tell you. It is that there is such a need to explain the function of the world, and such a small number of good explanations currently accessible. It’s the need for a technical manual, but only having a typewriter cast in unknown script with which to write it. It’s that I could pour all of my skill, my craft, my education, and my talent into an attempt to guide us towards a better interaction with the world around us, and it would still be insufficient. No matter how measured my tone, and how melodious my words, how sharp my rhetoric and how aimed my logic, hitting the brief ring between abstract and obtuse is near impossible. My words either wash away, or are treated as stain. They either become dust, or they gather it.
It would be easy to blame those whom I try to reach. Goodness knows that others have. Nicholas Carr, Martha Nussbaum, and others have railed against the lack of audience for the finer, more delicate arguments and subjects in the world. They preach for what is important, and seems, in light of its recent popular reception, less so. In doing so they are easily mocked for sounding desperate, and for sounding mournful. They sound annoyed that no one is listening to them, and it is easy to reduce their points to that. And in so doing, make the inevitable mocking response flow so much more easily and overwhelmingly of a deluge.
Larry Sanger is the most recent to accuse the modern-day audience of not paying close enough attention. (And secondary reiteration, here.) And you know, he’s right. He is so right. But what does it matter, when it is phrased like this? Is it better to write the theoretical essay and be ignored, or to write the easily understood essay about why the theoretical essay is ignored, and to be mocked and derided? Which is more depressing? Which is more hurtful to the intellectual soul?
There is nothing that hurts me more than that. It hurts because there is no intellectual response to it. There is no argument that can overcome that, no rebuttal that stands up to it. “I know you are, but what am I.” It makes the intellectual anger rise. It makes the brain wish to ball into a fist.
You’re An Idiot; Release The Kraken.
But I don’t have a Kraken. All I have are more words. All I have is a lawn that keeps growing. And I have this yeasty imp, fueled by the anger-agar that seeps from my optic nerve to the embryonic root of my brain. There it grows, and begins to stink.
Let me share some of this stink with you.
Sanger is correct, but he writes in a way that will obviously offend, and thereby make his point mute (yes, mute, not moot). Not that he oughtn’t to tell it how it is, but using very generic terms like “geek” and “intellectual”, in my opinion, allows more excuses than accusations, because responders quibble and evade on these points, rather than dealing with the root of his argument. The same thing with tossing Higher Education on the table: an entirely different Gordian Knot, that has connecting lines to be sure, and yet isn’t the same problem.
So let me rephrase, or remix if you like, what is basically his argument, but from my own perspective, using words I hope are more helpful.
Here is how I would phrase the problem:
The respect and credence given to technical knowledge and expertise is limited to those technological fields that are capable of producing marketable product.
In a sense, I’ve made the issue much more complicated, because I’ve linked anti-intellectualism to my own brand of technological Marxist critique, which is to splice two very different and equally controversial arguments together. But I believe that it simplifies the issue as well, by pointing at the real determining factor behind what has been largely acknowledged as a changing paradigm of public opinion, but misidentified as everything from “getting stupider” to “intolerance” to “peak attention span”.
It is not that geeks are anti-intelligence. “Geek” now describes wonky, technically-minded folk from every discipline and genre of knowledge you can imagine, from programming language to dead language, to library science, economics, literary theory, medicine, cultural studies, astronomy, and higher level math. Because of the proliferation of these serious lines of inquiry, there has been a Balkanization of knowledge. Geeks are allowed to immerse themselves in the most concentrated areas of their particular field, and can communicate with others as deeply steeped as themselves. Geekdom has allowed knowledge to intensify to previously never before experienced degrees. Everyone has a conference these days.
But what has changed is the intercommunication between the fiefdoms of Geek. Why would you want to share your deep knowledge by making it accessible to those outside the fold, when you can concentrate your efforts among those who know what you’re talking about? And moreover, why would you want to learn about anything you were not already deeply familiar with, and have to once again become a noob, with a user profile page showing to anyone that you have only been a member for a few paltry weeks?
There are exports by the Geek Guilds, to be sure. But these exports are only products. If you can sum your architectural knowledge into a fifteen minute keynote, we can sell that as product. If your astronomical research spanning years can be compiled into an animated video of five minutes or less, that can be uploaded to Youtube. If your philosophical theory can be applied to social media so that pre-conceived understandings of that media are reinforced, then by all means, name-drop and share. But if your work is somehow more nuanced, more difficult to grasp, or more requiring of deep study and understanding to be conceived… well, then forget it. A picture of a kitten is the common denominator of the internet. If it requires more background knowledge to grasp than that, it better pay off in equal magnitude. Otherwise: TL; DR.
The epitome of this tendency is, of course, the Gadget. The Gadget is technology that is in an easily conceivable, direct to market, product package. No one cares how an iPhone works. All that matters is what it does. The Gadget need not even exist in a physical sense. Gadget blogs have made it abundantly clear both in their content and in their form, that all you need is a clean-looking mock-up of the product and a blurb about what it does to garner clicks and re-posts.
But good for the Gadgets! I wouldn’t begrudge them their own domain. That this consumer-tech domain is particular ripe for commodification ought to surprise no one. But, it does attract the ire of Larry Sanger and other confederates towards the technosphere, or whatever the so-called media theorists and technorati would name the disparate amounts of networks and techological infrastructure making up a certain evolving aspect of our culture. As the elements of our society that most easily conform to exportable knowledge-products and aid their outsourcing, marketing, and distribution celebrate their own intellect-economy Golden Age, it only makes sense that those knowledge-guilds that are losing influence as a result would be bitter, and point their privateers towards the flags that spite them.
If the problem was limited to sour grapes, we would be lucky, and we could shrug off this issue as the technosphere does, by hoping that the ease of export of knowledge-products translates into the ease of its manufacture. The world is changing! And with this change, with improved information gadgets including all kinds of features for sharing knowledge-products, everything should be better for intellectuals! Right? Of course, I’m here to tell you no.
What’s more, the manufacture of knowledge-products is the least of our worries. As if the budgetary downfall of NASA only threatened our supply of totally sweet YouTube videos. And it is not the Balkanized guilds I’m worried about either. Luckily, (for the guilds themselves, at any rate) there are more qualified Ph.D graduates out there than there will ever be jobs. There are plenty of knowledgeable, well-trained, motivated people out there willing and ready to further the most diverse aspects of technical knowledge that we can imagine. The Geeks will remain strong, if isolated except by the camel trains of their products, flowing out into the vast market of culture as the commodified demand of curiosity dictates.
The real problem is for people like me.
And here you would be more than welcome to disagree, by arguing that my issues are not a real problem. Perhaps the age of the Renaissance Wo/Man is over, and there is no need to mix and sample different realms of knowledge. Specialization could be the way of the future, and people like me, who made their domain out of the hybridization of different networks of knowledge, are in fact obsolete, no longer bringing any value to the market.
Indeed, we always were a little hard to reach for the average person: specialist or merely part of the common cultural audience. Our references are hard to place, and we leap from metaphor to metaphor as if swinging from the branches of a tree. We make odd, artistic comparisons between the world of art, and microbiology, or computer science, and particle physics. We know enough of the local dialect to get us in the door of the clubhouse, but as soon as we got a few drinks in us, our accents become almost impossible for the locals to decipher. We are untrustworthy, jumping disciplines like ships or trains, never in one place for more than a season, before dropping the work with which we were entrusted for something that, to our former employers, seems no more than a game. Some even suspect us of witchcraft, blending unholy syncretisms of canonical theory with local folk beliefs, chanting in tongues and miming archaic symbols, summoning dead spirits to affect the living, for a cost.
So maybe our time is past. Or, maybe, as Larry Sanger says so ineloquently, if you are opposed to those of us that marry the middle-levels of disciplines together in an obscure blend of unprofitable knowledge muck, then “you are opposed to knowledge as such.” (Emphasis his.) It is not just our jobs that we are worried about, our audiences, and our students (I have none of these things, and so I extrapolate to others’ concerns.) The real danger in our neglect is that we understand, or at least think we understand, how it is that knowledge works.
It isn’t mysticism, and it isn’t ideology. It is the mechanics of knowledge. It is the praxis of knowledge, the infrastructure on the ground. The craftspersonship. You might be a genius of economics, working the markets both micro and macro. But it is on the backs of those experimenting with knowledge, from the sweat of our labors, that the products consumed by culture are derived. I hate to make it into something as abstract as “political”, because it is fiercely more than that. This is how people learn. You don’t learn electronics by using a cell phone. You learn electronics by breaking a cell phone. You learn by mucking about with spare parts and with tools, by fucking up and by taking your time and by pursuing things that don’t make sense to anyone but you. You learn by making “art”, not products. The only thing you can do with products is make money.
Supposedly, this culture privileges creativity. It supports breaking down boundaries, it applauds those who think like children, who set aside “time to play”, who start out with tiny blocks, and build up from there. Our culture privileges this, but only once the IPO hits. Once you’ve demonstrated profitability. They don’t respect the act of play, they respect the product of play. And hence, no one actually understands how to do it. If you think that dropping out of college will make you a genius because a genius dropped out of college, you obviously skipped introductory logic, and never learned what a false syllogism is. People are not smart because of the products that they create. They are smart because they messed around in the creative process long enough that from all that mucking about, a product actually crystallized.
Because very few people will talk about the actual act of being interested in breeding and branching and building with broken knowledge products, it is no longer accorded much value. That value is channeled towards marketable products, and the technological specialty that is believed to have delivered those things immaculately. The person who makes a classic work available as an eBook is considered more of a genius than whomever wrote the words. That person has what we want–the product, not the knowledge. It becomes superfluous to even sit and read the book, because it can be referenced and searched at whim. The book is owned, and in this way it is consumed. And so it never has to be studied.
Here, at somewhere North of 2500 words, I could tell you whom you ought to read. That rather than watching some asshole shill his product in an hour-long self congratulatory “speech”, you ought to read Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Kierkegaard, Arendt, Kristeva, Marx, and Freud. But what would be the point? These are just products, now. You could download the ebooks. You could even read them. But what would you gain, other than checking off the names that I listed? Would you take from each of these writers, as I did (because I named these authors specifically and not on a whim) that it is not the knowledge you accumulate, but what you do with it? Probably not. That is only my opinion, and probably a cognitive bias echo chamber, as the technorati has so kindly “discovered” for us (though we’ve known that for thousands of years). You would probably take whatever it is you would take from it, and then cross it off your list. And who would I be to blame you?
Because it seems that people of my opinion are few and far between. Perhaps we’re a dying breed, or maybe we were always rare. Maybe we are useless, never being Great Persons of note, or at least never birthing a Great Invention into the world. Who can really say. All I do know, for all of this knowledge I have acquired, is that I can still see the snarls in it; that there are great whorls and vacancies between the so-called markets of the value of knowledge, and we could build something truly wonderful and great in that space, if only we took the time and the effort to see it.
But soon again, it will just be time to cut the grass.
Posted: June 12th, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment
A long article has been making the rounds, which at first catches the eye because of the copious (if mis-directed) use of a great many technospheric buzz words, popular smart phone app titles, and a splattering of post-modern philosophy, but then when unpacked devolves into all-too-typical post-Baudrillard simulacrap. BUT, just because it is misdirected, doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from it, and take this opportunity to redirect.
The author of the above has a problem with a particular sort of digital photo. It is a sort of digital photo that somehow violates the glorious rules of reality, by mimicking something from a time that it is not. Time has come unstuck, and not in a good way. A bad, fake, inauthentic, faux-vintage way.
It might sound similar to another buzz word: “atemporality”. The author of the above link didn’t use the word atemporality. But, the words he used are responsible for directly the sort of miscommunication that obscures what atemporality is, and how it works. His notion of the faux-vintage, meager on depth as it is, is the scum that floats on top of atemporality, and keeps us from seeing the clear waters underneath. I hope to skim the scum off in this essay.
Part of the trouble with a concept like atemporality, is that it sounds right. Much like post-modernism, this makes it easy to put out on the table like a bowl of butter pats, without taking the time to think about what it is we’re having for dinner.
It’s not such a big word: “atemporality”. We know what that means, right? Something about time getting all weird on us, and the past, and the future, and maybe the sort of technology through which we imagine both the past and the future. Sounds good… type it up.
by Flickr user hannahblu59
But atemporality is something with more nuance than time-getting-all-old-timey by way of a digital picture. To define it myself in short terms: atemporality is the act of refuting the order of temporality, through the means which temporality is usually applied. We all use an interior sense of time, or temporality. It’s, you know, Time! We keep track of the order in which things happen, and form a baseline t axis by which we keep track of the world. (For a greater exposition of this concept, see Kant, Bergson, Heidegger, Deleuze, and many others.) Temporality: we know the past, and we can only guess at the future; we know something just happened, while other things are mere traces in our memories; we “remember the 80s”, even though what I remember as The 80s no doubt differs from your memories of it, and we can debate when the 80s supposedly began and ended; we may remember last Tuesday, but the details could easily be suggested to us, and our “memories” might be proved false once we see the pictures. All of these things are involved in our sense of temporality: a big, flowing river of time in which we float.
Atemporality is the point at which this temporality begins to break down, though still in a temporal way. We still have a sense of time, but the wide span we call “history” begins to get weird loops, whorls, and whirlpools in it. The usual cycle of fads booming and busting grow eccentric, and spin oddly off-center. The idea of what is “current” begins to break down. We have trouble remembering if something used to be common a long time ago, or if that was today but maybe in Japan, or if maybe someone simply suggested that it would happen soon in the future. The river of time spreads out into a brackish salt marsh delta, and we know time is still flowing, but we don’t remember where it was we were trying to go. Were we trying to go? What does that even mean?
Maybe it’s because of the internet, maybe its because we all carry computers in our pockets, or maybe it’s just because there are so damn many of us we can’t see over the heads of our immediate friends to get any good “big picture”, and mainstream media is only as existent as the last meme that we saw. But there are people who aren’t old enough to know that record players went obsolete, out there buying records, as if there was nothing odd about it in the world. Wearing Victorian fashion is a now subculture, not an attempt to mimic something so uncool as “real life history”. And, pursuant to the article I had linked to at the beginning of this essay, cell phones can take pretty pictures with weird, livid color achieved through simple algorithms. No big deal, except that someone thinks those digital pictures are “old”. And what’s more, “fake old”.
by Flickr user stevendepolo
Using a word like “nostalgia” is such a desperate sign of being out of touch, out of date, and so awfully-temporal in an atemporal time. “Nostalgia” assumes that there still was a temporal order in which someone could purposefully choose to “rewind”. It implies someone wants to “turn back a clock”, as if all our “wrist watches” weren’t synced to regulated network time via cell phone towers. Hilarious! You are the Encino Man of epistemology. Accusing an iPhone app of being inauthentically faux-vintage is about as cool as reminding your kids that some dead guy originally recorded the song being sung on American Idol way back in the 20th century. Pipe down, old man! The only people worried about what is correctly nostalgic or otherwise faking it are people who, for some reason, need to cling to a sense of permanent history that is not fluid, crowd-sourced, and always on instant remix mode. They probably still buy paper encyclopedias.
But the kids aren’t idiots, just because they won’t buy into your historical temporal-subscription business model. With a single Google search, anyone could tell you more about Kodachrome than you could, even if you used it yourself for over twenty years. As if they didn’t know that an antique is found on eBay, while up-cycled vintage is found on Etsy. They haven’t forgotten history. They’ve Gutenberg’ed history, if you pardon the zeitgeisty historical reference. Rather than re-write out the Old Story again and again in expensive, illuminated manuscripts, they’ve made their own printing presses, and they are distributing their pamphlets in the street. Or, if you prefer, they’ve pulled letterpresses out of the scrapheap, and they are printing comic books/novellas/vintage stationary that re-writes the story of Gutenberg as if he were an out of work Ph.D grad with a blog, or they’ve 3D-fabbed lost typefaces reassembled from scanned Library of Congress volumes, or they’ve… dammit, I’ve lost the metaphor, but that is the point. Atemporality is not your 20th Century post-modern critique. It is no longer enough to wrily point out a bit of irony that no one else caught, and think yourself Zarathustra for doing so. We leverage the networks, man. We access all recorded time periods with equal veracity and reach, until time periods cease being temporal. Anything that we can do with anything is only Now. Any of us, all of us, one of us. The temporality that anchors us to reality is atemporality.
When I say kids, I mean me, you, any of our contemporaries. The cutting edge is level, because the most amount of experience any of us can have with brand-new technology is none. Not all of technology is brand new, but that’s why we network. If someone finds a swell photography blog, or a scanned guide to restoring old typewriters, we pass it along. The best way to learn is to find someone who knows what they are doing, and help them. We’re all kids about some things, and many of us are experts in at least one thing. We come to the networks with certain abilities, certain likes and dislikes, and all the many facets of our personality. When we connect, reality happens. We’re all faking it to a certain degree, and all of our fabrications are realer than we know. There’s not a single person who isn’t surprised when their ____ goes viral, because the only thing one can attempt to understand about viral media, is the ridiculousness of the claim that one has identified and understood an epistemological hierarchy of network culture. “Pop culture” didn’t go obsolete, it splintered into more pieces than anyone can count, keep track of, or catalog and interpret. There is no such thing as un-cool. You just haven’t found the other people who think it is awesome yet. The topology of culture is similar to the technology that propagates it, in that culture only works. Technology and culture do not not-work. There is no plateau other than the niche, and if something is surviving, it is because it is crossing somebody’s spark gap. If something is replaced by a better tool, that former tool is either sold online or goes into the free box, where it is quickly grabbed by someone who could totally use it, or take it apart and make it into something else.
by Flickr user Valerie Everett
And this is how you know that the sort of person who uses the word “simulacra” with disdain doesn’t use tools, and only inhabits the realm of ideas as one inhabits a titanic, steam-driven airship; a fictional craft that never lands, never makes contact with the industrial revolution changing the world down here on the surface. There is no “inauthentic” in the machine shop. There are only tools, better tools, and tools that need to be fixed. What is it that Instagram does as a tool? It makes cool pictures. What do the titles of the filters mean? I don’t have the first idea. I swipe at them with my thumb until it looks sweet, and then I send it to my friends. Then I put down my iPhone, and go back to trying to un-stick the shutter on an old medium format camera. If I can make it work again, it might take cool pictures. And if I left it in that flea market where I found it, some asshole who uses words like “authentic” probably would have pulled it up into his airship and stuck it on the wall of his wine bar. I use all kinds of things. The reel to reel is next to the turntable on which my laptop sits, which is processing scanned 35 mm slides for filtering and reprinting, so I can reproject them with an overhead projector, and trace over it on a piece of tossed-out plywood. Where is the authentic in my living room? I couldn’t give a shit. Where is the “era”, the “epoch”? I couldn’t tell you. All of these technologies function today, and work Now. I can tell you that my 6 year-old laptop is probably more obsolete than the reel to reel player, because the reel to reel works like new, whereas the laptop often struggles with simple tasks.
Anyone offering authenticity has something to sell you, and likely, a something you do not need. They try to convince you that the way you are doing it is not as “real” as something else. Funny–because reality was just fine before they came along. Before they tried to monetize a particular world-view, to increase the value of a certain temporal commodity by claiming to be the exclusive arbiter of what is authentic and what is forged and fake. And we wouldn’t want to fool ourselves either; this is a capitalistic world, and everything ends up bought and sold. Any particular atemporal trend will end up named, stamped into a commodity, and sold, until stretched into a thin veneer of shiny, zombified goo. But that’s okay, because we already have a friend that we met in a comment thread, that can get us that real shit. The Real Shit, because it is the stuff we want and nothing else, and because we’re getting it from the source that we know and trust. That is the network, and that is atemporality. All real shit. No authenticity.
Posted: May 16th, 2011
Comments: 4 Comments
The club is the mediator or frame through which the music is communicated. The band literally plugs into the technology of the club in order to magnify the sound, turning a possibility into actually, making what is heard by the musicians themselves accessible to an audience. People pay to see others believe in themselves.
- Kim Gordon, 1983
Posted: May 7th, 2011
Comments: No Comments