Friday, 26 February 2010

Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time

And, really, aren't we all? Take music. Not only does everything sound like everything else, the way we consume it in a random swirl juxtaposes Talking Heads with a cover of Talking Heads by Local Natives, and, really, is there a difference? Really, does it matter if there is?

I just read a piece by Bruce Sterling about atemporality in art. He talks about a shift in the perception of narrative and history from something that, when it was performed with pencil and paper, was a strictly linear journey, to something else, something that in a very real sense is, to use Vonnegut's immortal line, 'unstuck in time'.

Is it crazy to honour the people who got to an idea first? Or is it healthier to dwell on the finest examples of that idea? Does preferring a cover version to the original make me a bad person, and does it diminish the achievement of the original artist? Is it crazy to concoct, as so many people do with their fantastic imaginings of steam or 50's atom technology gone wild, futures which might have been? In a world where google makes the past, the present and the possible future equally accessable, I would say that these things are a normal reaction to our situation. Up until 10 years ago I was forced to consume culture in discrete, time-specific, chunks, as albums or books. Now I am not only able to consume media (read: knowledge) in chunks that have been placed next to each other with no respect for creator control, and still less for the context they were created in, I most often choose to do so.

Gone are the days where the artist or the scholar could dictate context for their work. There was a small furore over google banning a particular video which depicted artistic nudity from its Youtube service. It later overturned the decision, but can we fault them? The context is not there to split art from pornography, and increasingly that context does not even exist. Observe:

Now imagine it without the context. Are we reaching for a place where everything is offensive because context cannot be imagined at the time of creation? Or will people realise that they create their own context, and rule that nothing is offensive in and of itself, only when regarded that way?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

More Writing Tips

This is like some kind of uber-list from the Guardian. Good stuff, especially Will Self.
Page 1, Page 2
Also, you have to love this explanation of genetics:

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Denmark Again

Further to my previous post, here's a report about an new series of Danish tourism videos:

Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

InfoVis: Redux

This is the Twitter (which I still kind of fail to see the point of) coding effort rendered intelligable, and, it must be said, beautiful and dramatic (although a lot of that is to do with the music). What an age we live in.

Twitter Code Swarm from Ben Sandofsky on Vimeo.

Right, off to Thailand.


Is the dirty secret of capitalism that once you put a price on something, you are forced to put a price on everything?

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur. It's a bit different from his earlier work, the topics that he focuses on are more serious, and though they are dealt with in the same kind of style, the general feeling is of an author who has consciously tried to raise himself above the level that he feels other people have placed him on. Having said that, I enjoyed it, and I especially enjoyed the final essay about the manifesto of the Unabomber, Industrial Society and its Future.

In this work Theodore Kaczynski outlines his philosophy, which is extremely pro-individual and anti- both society and technology. One of the claims he makes is that "technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom". What does this mean? Klosterman frames the argument in terms of his desire to live in an air-conditioned apartment:
Yet what am I giving up in order to have a 70 degree living room in July?

Nothing that's particularly important to me.

For the air conditioner to work, I need to live in a building that has electricity, so I have to be connected to the rest of society. That's fine. That's no problem. Of course, to be accepted by society, I have to accept the rules and laws of community living. That's fine, too. Now, to thrive and flourish and afford my electric bill, I will also have to earn money. But that's okay--most jobs are social and many are enriching and unnecessary. However, the only way to earn money is to do something (or provide something) that is valued by other people. And since I don't get to decide what other people value, what I do to make a living is not really my decision. So--in order to have air-conditioning--I will agree to live in a specific place with other people, following whatever rules happen to exist there, all while working at a job that was constructed by someone else for their benefit.

In order to have a 70-degree living room, I give up almost everything.

Yet nothing that's particularly important to me.

Now, that is interesting. Our desire for comfort far outweighs our desire for the freedom to live our lives in the manner that we would in the absence of these temptations. I think the technology in this example is a red-herring, or at the very least it is only a symptom and not the root of the problem. I want to ask 2 questions: To what extent can any of us actually have desires which are separate from our social environment? And to what extent can any of us, even cabin-living recluses, be said to be "outside" of society?

I have spent a significant portion of my adult life trying to both avoid responsibility and generally act in a way which defies the expectations placed on me by society. I'm not entirely sure which one of those is the cause of the other. I do know that I have failed in both. By trying to confound expectations, I have framed my life in opposition to those expectations. Is that really any different from taking the expected path? In both scenarios, my conception of what society wants from me is influencing my actions. When I think about how I could live outside of society, my ideas are the ideas my society has of people who live outside of it. Let me make that clearer. I can imagine living on an island, and fishing for my food. But I only think of that as a possibility because I have seen it 100 times in movies and films as representing what a person who has forsaken society acts like. Quite apart from the practical impossibility, my escape from society is in a very real sense an act of a member of that society. Even in dropping out, I would be dropping out in one of the ways that society has mandated. I don't think that anyone, with the possible exception of the truly insane, can escape the pull of our socialisation.Can we, as functioning, or even semi-functioning, members of our societies, even comprehend what freedom is? Would we want it if we could?


A bit of shameless self-promotion. I've been taking lots of pictures in the last couple of months with my awesome new camera, like these.

If anyone cares in the least, here is my photostream!

Matt's Photostream!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Futurism, restated

If you follow futurism like I do, you will be familiar with the work of Bruce Sterling. If you are, or, I'll wager, if you are not, you will find this interview amusing. But maybe only if you are of a certain frame of mind. An extract:

Joris Peels: How long will it take for someone to develop the first prank disease?

Bruce Sterling: You mean besides "smallpox blankets?" Maybe massive lethality on entire populations doesn't count as "pranks."

Maybe it's me, but I have been chuckling over that for a good 10 minutes, and that's not even all of it. Do yourself a favour and look here.