This Steven Hyden piece on the new Daft Punk product led me to this Wikipedia article on ‘Rockism’ (I am an unapologetic rockist) which led me to this ‘Gallery of Rockism‘ which led me to this 1990 Robert Christgau post-mortem on the 1980s which contained the phrase ‘drastic shifts of fashion are to be expected when you valorize disposability’ which is something I quite like. ∞
It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.
Hunter S Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
So I was hanging around at the Metafilter, as I do, and I was posting the occasional comment, as I do, and drinking beer, as I do, because it was a Friday night, and that’s what I tend to do on a Friday night.
Another guy, this Canadian guy, this guy who’d lived in Japan for a few years and eventually gone back to Canada, someone I’d identified with even though I don’t rightly know if I ever will actually go back to Canada, had said
At least it’s not hockey. What a stupid sport.
(Although these are my true feelings, to say this publicly in Canada is close to something like sacrilege, and I’m not exaggerating.)
So I got my shit all up in a righteous internet uproar and said (and reproduce here because I’d like to remember I said it, self-indulgent and shouty as it is):
I spent a decade or two of my post-pubescent life, times when I was actually in Canada at least part-time and it seemed to matter, telling people how much I fucking didn’t care about hockey, because, you know, that’s what a certain kind of guy does. But I’d sit and watch the goddamn game and drink a hell of a lot of booze and take whatever drugs were to hand and make inappropriate and often successful sexual advances at the desperately bored women who were hanging around unwilling having their own fun while the idiot rinktard puckheads got their stick on.
But I’ll tell you this: I fucking love hockey now, in retrospect, but only in the abstract because I love the idea of stupid toothless meatpuppets beating the living shit out of each other on the ice for the amusement of the Home Audience. I used to poo-poo all the Sport, oh dear, Maynard my Special Friend it’s so commmmon and tedious, I in latter days used to and still do wave a dismissive hand-back at the reality TV and the unreality TV and the fake pretending to be real pretending to be fake winking at the real, I did, I do, but you know what? these days I love it all. I love it all in equal measure to how much I despise it because I am absolutely sure that things, where ‘things’ is meant to be Our Collective Cultural Heritage A-squander, where ‘things’ is meant to be the inexorable ramscoop of the idiocracy screaming V2ey nose-down into the fake peatbog made of plastic turf and celebrity poop, it’s OK that it’s all turning to Entertainment and Distraction at a rate of (k)nots, and I get a Roma-rsonist frisson from tossing my cigarette butts and lighting support blazes out on the periphery hoping ring-a-rosy all burn down without me having to make a stand.
So, yeah. Hockey is stupid, duh, but you know what: the problem with hockey is that it’s not nearly as goddamn stupid as it used to be or should be, when the gladiators dropped glove and knocked pearly white teeths out onto the ice in a spray of blood. It’s gotten smarter since then, instrumentally more reasonable, disappointingly less savage, and that’s a cheat and a con and it’s more modern and marketed and less satisfying.
Fucking weedy reedy thinskinned worthless goddamn civilization we’ve built.
[Update: I'd just like to say that after watching the first season that that Californication I mention below show is pandery crap, with only sporadic flashes of not-suck. I won't be going back. I've got to guess it's either written by committee or by dartboard, because it veers from pretty good to laughably bad, seemingly at random. Too bad.]
I’ve been downloading and cycloptically watching the new series Californication because a) David Duchovny amuses me b) he plays a hard-drinking writer c) the pilot episode was so blatantly and manipulatively packed with prettily wobbling female flesh that, well, yeah and d) the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Shut up, I like the old stuff, OK.
Since then, sadly, the per-episode count of nipples’n'bottoms has dropped precipitously, perhaps because Australian grannies spit the proverbial dummy (but then Austrlian grannies aren’t really the target audience, here). Or, more likely, the sexy sexoring was just a cynical out-of-the-gate attention-grab ploy. So it goes. The series hasn’t lived up to the promise of the pilot, but it’s something to play up in the corner of my monitor while I’m metafiltering or fiddling with design stuff. Lets me vicariously be that guy that I’d already tired of actually being by the time I was 30, but who I still miss, sometimes, a bit.
Anyway, all that’s preliminary to a plot thread from a couple of episodes ago that left me scratching my head a little, wondering if either I was out of touch with what’s actually happening to the language in America, or if the writers are.
See, Duchovny, playing boozehound and improbably-lucky-with-the-ladies author Hank Moody, is impelled into spasms of disgust and despair at the decline of Culture (the backstory being that he is blocked, thus drunk, and whoring himself out to a corporate blog for cash) when one of his recent conquests actually says ‘LOL’ out loud. In, if I recall correctly, barefaced unironic response to some bon mot he comes out with in the sack.
Do people actually say LOL now? Out loud? (And by people, I mean, you know, adults.) Do kids even do it? Am I that old?
See, the thing is, I’m almost willing to believe it, because listening to the quite entertaining Totally Rad Show podcast the other day, Alex, whose giddy wordplay I usually enjoy, came out with ‘[Name of somebody] FTW!’
FTW means ‘for the win’, for those of you even crustier and more clued-out than I.
But he didn’t actually say ‘for the win!’, he said ‘FTW!’ ‘For the win’ has three syllables, even after a dozen beers. ‘FTW’ has five. The combination of vowels and consonants are bumpier and harder to say. It just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.
WHAT DID YOU SAY MY CATS ARE NOT FREEBALLING GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN YOU KIDS WHO TOOK MY MEDICINE OH MY ACHING BUNIONS
I don’t know. I guess I’ll just go and have a nice glass of Metamucil or something.
OK, it’s Christmas, and although we are taught that at Christmas our thoughts should turn to peace, love and brotherhood among men (and presumably sisterhood among women, and siblinghood amongst those of differing genders), mine tend to turn pretty quickly from all that lovely and uplifting feel-good window-dressing to righteous anger, antagonism towards hypocrisy, and a big boat of greasy schadenfreude gravy.
Traditionally, it has always been America that has given me the greatest educational opportunities to compare and contrast, seasonal or otherwise. These days Korea can be nearly as amusing, but it’s still the good ol’ US of A that always comes through; it never disappoints in the mindboggling bullshit department.
So in that spirit of angry Xmas wonderchickens past, present and future, I offer you this uplifting publication (pdf, 4Mb) from The National Rifle Association, which I just found today courtesy of a Site That Cannot Be Named. Freedom, they say, is in Peril.
I agree, if not for the reasons these people suggest.
Peace, friends. Sleep well.
Greg Knauss, who is one of my favorite writers-on-the-web, has started up again. Years ago I remember being pointed to his site, which was closed at the time, and ending up reading reading through most of the archives in one sitting. If you haven’t read his stuff before, well, you’d damn well better start now.
Here’s a taste:
What do I want to do with my life?
That’s easy — or, rather, it’s easy to answer. I want to create something, build something, make something, with my hands and my brain and whatever tiny bit of passion I can muster. It doesn’t even matter what, really: cool things; fun things; interesting things; silly or stupid things. Things that make other people happy, or amused, or enraged, or some goddamned way other than what they were when they came in. Things that get a reaction, that have some sort of meaning, to me and to others. I want to exercise my creativity in ways that corporate and familial responsibilties don’t offer. I love my family and like my company, but they both need me to be solid and predictable and reliable. I want to be that, of course, but more, too. I want to do something.
Comparing and contrasting with this recent post from Dave Winer, which I marked ‘Keep New’ in Bloglines because it annoyed the piss out of me for some reason, and I wanted to keep poking repeatedly myself in the eye with that stick until something useful came out of it, may help you to see where I’m coming from, here.
When bloggers get together, the topic of every session drifts into “How do we make money doing this” no matter what the original topic was. It’s the same way with artists. It’s so funny, because bloggers don’t do it for money, and no matter how you try, the discussion never actually uncovers any ways to make money, it’s just about how we need to discuss how to make money.
Share and enjoy.
I have Adam Greenfield (whose recent book I still haven’t read, in part because I’ve re-immersed myself waist-deep a couple of decades since last time in Gene Wolfe’s richly rewarding Book of the New Sun) and coffee to thank for kickstarting me into thinking about some of the ideas I threatened to write about here. For some more background, Anne Galloway has a working bib(?)liography here, if you’re interested in the subject. I haven’t read any of that stuff, I’m just pointing to it in case, unlike me, you like to be informed before you gas up and start running your mouth down to the riverbank.
In his speech at Etech, Bruce Sterling militated against the idea that trying to settle on a name for a node and nexus of emerging ideas — theory objects, which he describes as ‘idea[s] which [are] not just a mental idea or a word, but a cloud of associated commentary and data, that can be passed around from mouse to mouse, and linked-to [...] a concept that’s accreting attention, and generating visible, searchable, rankable, trackable trails of attention’ — is necessarily a good thing.
After admiring Adam’s (and I merely assume without force of authority or any research at all that it’s actually his coinage) euphonious term ‘everyware’, he goes on to say
So don’t destroy the verbal wetlands just because you really like optimized superhighways. New Orleans lost a lot of its mud and wetlands. Eventually, the storm-water rushed in, found no nice mud to bog down in, and came straight up over the levees.
There is no permanent victory condition in language. You can’t make a word that is like a steel gear.
Adam pushes back, saying “But the naming of things is a matter of primary importance [...] …people have always understood the power of names, and of naming – that naming things is a way to shape reality. This is one big reason why an Internet of Things is a problematic notion to me.”
There’s all sorts of rich veins to be (data-)mined here. Let me give it a wonderchicken once-over.
Bruce is right to say with qualification that in some sense, literature is taming reality with words. Hell, everything that everyone could possibly say about art is true, because ‘art’ itself has become a term so diffuse that we can defensibly apply it to any human activity. We’ve both gained and lost something through that, and depending on how your daddy treated you (that is to say, whether your mind is of a ‘conservative’ cast or not), the process has been one of either evolution or erosion. Both can be equally true, simultaneously, and are, I think.
But I think the sense in which Bruce is right is a very limited one — the reality that is ‘tamed’ by the writer is not the objective one that is some approximation of what Is and what we acknowledge to exist through spoken or unspoken consensus, it’s the writer’s own reality. To what extent that subjective reality overlaps with or can be superimposed on that of the reader, and to what extent the work then has meaning to the reader, is a function of the writer’s skill, perhaps.
When the theory object is named, variously and haphazardly, through both the work of someone mining the literary vein, and through “the contentiousness and the definitional struggles [....] associated with those viewpoints, institutions, funding sources, and dominant personalities” reality is not being tamed, though. Taming is not naming, and neither, as we’ll see Adam Greenfield suggest, I think, is naming taming.
Bruce says “the words are the signifiers for a clash of sensibilities that really need to clash,” and that, I can agree with. Without conflict, the story goes nowhere, and bores the tits off of all of us.
Now that’s all probably old ground in literary theory or something, except maybe for the tits part. I’ve never studied it, and this is just my butt talking, as usual. Anyway, onwards!
Bruce then makes a leap that I can’t follow from “There is no permanent victory condition in language. You can’t make a word that is like a steel gear” to
What’s the victory condition? It’s the reaction of the public. It starts like this: “I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about.” Then it goes straight and smoothly through to “Good Lord, not that again, that’s the most boring, everyday thing in the world.” That’s the victory. To make completely new words and concepts that become obvious, everyday and boring.
He gets there by way of acknowledging that his neologism ‘spime’
is a verbal framing device. It’s an attention pointer. I call them “spimes,” not because I necessarily expect that coinage to stick, but because I need a single-syllable noun to call attention to the shocking prospect of things that are plannable, trackable, findable, recyclable, uniquely identified and that generate histories.
I also wanted the word to be Google-able. If you Google the word “spime,” you find a small company called Spime, and a song by a rock star, but most of the online commentary about spimes necessarily centers around this new idea, because it’s a new word and also a new tag.
So, if I’ve got this right, he’s saying that there is a ‘victory condition’ in language, which is that a neologism or new phrase to describe some emergent theory object becomes ‘obvious, everyday, and boring’, but that there is no permanent ‘victory condition’ — “you can’t make a word that is like a steel gear.”
Juxtaposing these two quotes would appear to me to reduce what he’s saying to the idea that language is constantly changing, which is, it must be said, trivially true. And it smells a little like an excuse for coming up with a crappy word like ‘spime’, which reminds me of SpumCo, a felicitious mental href, but probably not the one intended. In this case, the Author’s done a piss-poor job of taming his reality with words and handing it off, to me, at least. But I’m more than willing to cut him some slack, because he does kick a fair degree of ideational ass.
I’m not going to be able to go all the way down the path to the riverbank with Adam either, though, because, while Bruce seems to be proposing (on this admittedly minor point) the trivial conclusion that language mutates constantly but First Logos Movers Get Mindshare (or second movers, pace Winer), Adam seems to place inordinate importance on the ‘rightness’ of names for things, although his focus is outwards. He looks at the spectre (or boon) of a bit-chirping silent cacophany of embedded-arphid objects interpenetrating our daily lives and rightly suggests that calling it an ‘internet of things’ leaves out the whole reason that it might be called into existence – us.
Well, again, I think he’s right and wrong. There is no such thing as the right word or phrase, or the Best One. That would not even be true if there were only one language our species shared. There is the one that wins, and it is true — and I think both Adam and Bruce would agree with this — that whatever word or phrase achieves that temporary victory condition will shape both our thinking and attitudes about the element of our loosely-joined consensus reality to which that word or phrase points. Now and in future. This can be a bad thing, or a good one, or both. Bruce talks in his speech about the cerebral fallout from out adoption of the word ‘computer’, and he’s bang on in his discussion of it, as is Adam when he says “people have always understood the power of names, and of naming – that naming things is a way to shape reality.” Even though they’re paddling their canoes in slightly different directions.
Words are poor things, but they have power. But there is no best, just as there is no ‘best writer’, for reasons I talked about up there a ways.
Right then. This leads me out of the vale of words to the Thing Itself, and I thank Adam for helping to crystallize the ideas that fill me with some fear and not a little loathing for an ‘internet of things’ (or whatever the hell you want to call it).
That, again, is this: an ‘internet of things’ leaves out the whole reason that it might be called into existence – us.
Adam describes it this way: “Things may well have autonomous meaning in and of themselves, but my primary allegiance has to be to the meaning that things derive as a consequence of their use by human beings.”
This is right and true, and reaches far deeper than language to touch the core of how we experience and shape our experiences of whatever external reality may actually be. A rock becomes a ‘chair’ when we use it as such. A plant becomes a ‘drug’ or a ‘food’ when we use it in certain ways. A child makes a concave object out of clay in his art class, but his father may not know it’s an ‘ashtray’ until he is told that is the intended function. I date myself with that example. Ah well.
You can guess that I actually go further than Adam, maybe, if you’ve managed to follow along this far. I am inclined to believe that the idea that ‘things may well have autonomous meaning in and of themselves’ to be contradictory to the meaning of the word ‘meaning’.
Which is all a little too much, no doubt, and the coffee is wearing off, so I’d better get to the bridge.
Here’s the meat, finally: an ‘internet of things’ can serve us — individuals — about as much as it references us, which is ‘not at all’, or perhaps at best ‘not much at all’. Yeah, sure, I’ll be able to find some useless crap that went missing in my 800 square foot apartment (whose front door sends a ping and a doorshot jpeg to the local police each time it’s opened and closed), shit that I probably lost because I didn’t need it in the first place, but was brainfellated into buying by some stealth guerilla-marketing asshole in a miniskirt at the bar the night before. Sure, my fridge’ll be able to talk to the food packages, or note their absence, and talk to the grocery store to order more, and the packages’ll be able to talk to the stove so my cooking gets better, and my doctor’ll be able to subscribe to my fridge’s RSS feed and know that I’ve been eating too many goddamn eggs again and text-message instructions to my microwave oven, or whatever gleaming Jetsons future you can spin out of the coming welter of ubiquitous data. There might be some benefits for those of us who like the idea of being part of the hive.
But what small good I might see in our daily lives I see dwarfed by the massive benefits that would accrue to the Usual Suspects in that future world — governments and corporations, our employers and our creditors, our health-care providers and law-enforcement agencies.
Here’s today: if you live in London, you get photographed an average of 300 times a day going about your daily business. If you live in America, you can be wiretapped without warrant on the thinnest of pretenses. Data about where you spend your money and who you talk to is available for a price, and a mighty low one. If you live in Korea, the government can get records of text messages you’ve sent on your mobile phone, just because the want it, and then send you a text message to tell you you’ve been indicted. Search engines hand over their records when asked. ISPs rollover for the RIAA and MPAA as a matter of course. Use a credit card and leave a snailtrail of your cashfree life in the databases, and you can’t do much without picture ID, including travel domestically. Total Information Awareness didn’t go away, it was just rebranded.
The forces that created this kind of culture are the same ones pushing this technology out, because they have the most to gain. You know, the invisible hand of the market and all that. These are the same forces that made barcodes ubiquitous, and Bruce, at least, is of the opinion that RFID-tagged objects will achieve the same universal penetration of our daily lives in a few decades, profligately pouring out their data all the while. The volume of human data now is a stream of bat’s piss compared to the dataAmazon™ our internet-of-things ubiquitous arphids will push out. And then? Our ability to get lost — not just our things, but our selves — disappears in a wireless byteburst. When we live immersed in a thunderous and silent torrent of raw data generated by everything we touch, so ready for mining, will there be anything we do that is not recorded in some way? There’s no sacrifice involved for the companies and the governments; pretty clearly there’s opportunity for a massive payoff in their abilities to sell to us, to monitor us, to datamine ever cleverer ways to give us what we want, and to keep us in line. Edward Bernays would be pitching a pants-tent over this stuff. Are we prepared to sacrifice what little remains of our ability to be free autonomous actors for the minor gains we might see as individuals? Me, I say ‘f–k, no’.
That’s all a little orwellian-apocalyptic, I know. But the future we’re talking about looks like a corporatist dictatorship-by-the-advertariat stealth-totalitarian wet dream. And it’s the kind of dystopia writers in Bruce Sterling’s tradition have warned us about, over and over again. I’m a little confused at his apparent enthusiasm for it.
We could go blackhat and hack it, those of us with the skills and the will, of course, like Paul Ford suggested a long time back, about something related-but-different
but that would take too much damn energy.
I’m willing to be schooled to the contrary, but I don’t see much light at the end of this particular tunnel.
Writer of some excellence Bruce Sterling gave a talk at Emerging Technology 2006, and the transcript of it is here. I think he’s coyote-into-the-brick-wall wrong about many of the things he has to say, and he sucks pretty badly at inventing neologisms, but it’s fascinating to watch the arc and spatter of the fountain of ideas he throws off, and there’s light there, aplenty. About his ideas, more, later, maybe, when my brain has time to percolate for a while. Perhaps it’s just that the future he describes isn’t one in which I have a whole hell of a lot of desire to live.
Then again the present is not one I’m all that thrilled with, either.
Anyway, one of the reasons I found it interesting, beyond the thoughtprovoking superball boing! of his ideas, is that if you squint and tilt your head the right way, he’s exploring the opposite end of the teeter-totter from the one I perched on here, recently. That I mentioned Neal Stephenson and William Gibson in that post, and that Bruce completes with them a neat authorial trio in my mind, is just a pleasant serendipity.
Not only that, but he mentions my net.friend Adam Greenfield, and Adam’s new book ‘Everyware’, which I am pleased to recommend highly even though I haven’t actually read it yet (but will, by god, soon).
Whiskey, cocaine and hookers! Announcing the Stavrossian Accord™, an alternative to the SFcompact. The SFcompact made a small but measurable ripple in the text torrent recently. Compacters vow to eschew purchasing anything new other than food, health products and underwear for a year. Secondhand, though, that’s OK. Poor folks are going to suffer for their ideals, aren’t they?
Accordians, on the other hand, are expected not only to stop wearing underwear entirely, but to spend money on nothing other than whiskey, cocaine and hookers for a year. New or used, it’s all good. And to do it, wherever possible, with stolen money.
It may seem a bit mean to make fun of a group of people whose hearts are, when it comes down to it, in the right place. Making an ‘accord’ and announcing it to the world, though, seems a little ripe for mockery. Particularly when some of the participants are marketers themselves.
That sort of response is exactly why the Compact is needed, Perry said.
“If it’s national news when a small group of professionals decide not to buy anything new, and it bothers people so much, it really speaks to how deep we are into consumerism in this country,” he said.
Penetrating insight. I’d venture that people aren’t bothered (or, god knows, threatened) by a cadre of self-absorbed assclowns forming a support-group tribe because they’re watery-bowelled at the daunting prospect of not actually buying all that unnecessary crap (or *shudder* buying it secondhand), so much as they’re amused. It doesn’t ‘speak to how deep [Americans] are into consumerism’, it tells us that there are at least some folks left who know shit from shinola.
Me, I haven’t bought any underwear for 5 years.
Join the Stavrossian Accord™. It might not save the world, but not buying a new iPod every six months wasn’t going to do that anyway.
Scott Reynen has created a Greasemonkey script to automate the “…which is completely idiotic” media game I invented a little while back. How cool is that?
Now anyone Mozillafied can experience news the wonderchicken way, and Scott has helped our fine organisation to further propagate the principles it holds dear. Bless you, Scott. Deep in your nougaty centre, you are also miraculous poultry!