‘My treatment of these representations of the future has been just that – a consideration of representations: stories, characters, discourses, motifs, metaphors and so on and so forth. However, … these representations are grounded in the material. The performativity of these representations does not take place in some abstracted a-material domain. It is conducted in material settings, where bodies and texts, for example, come into contact or close proximity…’
— M. Michael, ‘Futures of the Present’, in Contested Futures (2000)
Cartesian Minefield Design Material/Digital Pop Culture Speculations Technology Visual Culture
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Design Politics/Economics Visual Culture [future shock]
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Journalism Material/Digital Politics/Economics Speculations Visual Culture [future shock]
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Okay, so this one’s just a suggestion — but we’re operating at full batshit here, and you know someone’s going to try building it. The panopticism of the public database, from one of the comments on Charlie Stross’ piece on the peculiar machinations of Foundation X:
‘Also, does anyone else keep thinking of that textual analysis algorithm they used on Agatha Christie’s books, that was meant to identify when she started to lose it?
If there’s an open source implementation, would it be cruel to integrate it with [They Work For You]?’
– Alex, on ‘Did somebody just try to buy the British government?’, Charlie’s Diary, 03/11/2010
UPDATE (04/11): Here we go.
How does this video make you feel, at a bodily/emotional level? One early answer, courtesy of El Fortunio:
‘watching it did feel like a camera tumbling through some gigantic blob of human experience’
Politics/Economics Pop Culture Visual Culture [future shock]
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Thus far, 2010 seems to have been dominated by media artifacts of such world-historical contingency and raw peculiarity that – following any kind of close examination – they cause your brain to effervesce all over the floor.
Ondi Timoner‘s video documentary of the last days of Rome, where Rome is the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. Rolls along like something out of Coupland, all the more absurd and disturbing for the fact that it actually happened.
“It took me a beat to realize that what Josh Harris created in 1999 was a physical metaphor for where the Internet would take us,” she said. “It was his way of saying, ‘No matter what I put together, no matter how fascistic it may appear; whether you have to wear uniforms or you have to be interrogated, or the fact that you can’t leave — people won’t care about that. They won’t bother with the details.’ He knew they would pour through the doors for the promise of 110 surveillance cameras and being part of what, right then, was the place to be.”
- Timoner, quoted in The Washington Post
Spent a significant chunk of my Saturday afternoon watching Allan Sekula‘s documentary The Lottery of the Sea (2006). Here’s the blurb:
“Iconoclast photographer and documentarian Allan Sekula unfolds a series of variations shot in the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Japan and other maritime countries around two of his major obsessions: globalization and the sea. In this rumination on the sea as a “primordial source of sublimity,” Sekula explores a matrix of narratives – Greek myths, American movies, and stories of longshoremen, lost sailors and displaced populations – and rejects on the globalizing effects of Adam Smith’s notion of the seafaring life as a form of gambling.”
At 179 minutes, it’s a bit of an endurance test, with the unashamedly grim and grubby worms-eye-view of global capitalism thudding regularly, as a hammer pummelling you into submission. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad documentary, because it isn’t. And if it was, that wouldn’t be the point. Sekula’s VO work is lyrical and seductive. There are some really striking sequences, particularly those focusing on the Panama Canal and the Prestige oil spill. The politics is a bit heavy-handed, but there’s an interesting contrast between the diffuse “affective politics” of the anti-globalisation movement and the more overtly class-based syndicalism of the dock workers.
It does hang together well, with the pieces least relevant to the narrative trajectory being interesting enough to warrant inclusion on their own merit. More importantly, it’s a powerful antidote to the digitality of most media coverage of globalisation (the BBC Box being a rare exception, but still – by its very nature – hitched to the digital) … focusing instead on the gunk of the oil spills, the metallic bulk of the shipping containers.
Overall, it’s a gruelling and unevenly paced documentary, but with enough interest to sustain a viewing. Doesn’t require much active brain work, but will leave you with questions and images – a beached squid dragging itself back to the water // a domestic servant, behind glass, moving to the drumbeats of the anti-globalisation protesters in the streets outside // bored-looking junior Panamanian government personnel, overseeing the endless rubber stamping of paperwork for flags of convenience …
Following on from the whole #WeLoveTheBBC thing, I’ve been up late tonight watching Micro Men – a BBC drama charting the stormy relationship of Clive Sinclair and Acorn’s Chris Curry in their race to dominate the British market for personal computers.
My dad bought an Acorn Electron in 1983. I spent the early 90s with an Archimedes firmly installed in my family’s “downstairs loo” – a tiny room created by partitioning the back of our garage, and the only free space for such a machine. (With all available deskspace now colonised by laptops, it now houses a tumble drier.)
Hence, I approached Micro Men on some level already rooting for Curry (portrayed by the incredibly likeable Martin Freeman), and – as such – couldn’t quite work out whether the writers had deliberately tried to set up Clive (below) as the “bad guy” of the narrative. Certainly, he was angry and arrogant, but I’d be interested to see how I might have reacted if I’d been born earlier, and my first exposure to computing had been through the Pickard family’s ZX Spectrum (rediscovered in the early 2000s while clearing out the loft).
(Sir Clive Sinclair, as portrayed by Alexander Armstrong)
Taken as a whole, the programme was light, frothy, 1980s nostalgia porn. While the narrative arc was clearly simplified and sanitised in the retelling, the programme was none the worse for it. The sound and production – in particular – were fantastic, anchoring the narrative firmly in the look and feel of 1980s broadcast media.
If you’re in the UK, you can catch Micro Men on the BBC iPlayer, where it will remain until sometime in the tail-end of next week. And if you do, I’d be very interested to hear your reactions, or – for that matter – your memories of early British home computing.
Journalism Material/Digital Politics/Economics Visual Culture
A near-perfect marriage of medium and message, the upcoming BBC documentary Digital Revolution (working title) is everything I could ask of a public broadcaster. Indeed, if I owned a television, this alone would justify my license fee for the next five three years.
They’ve given me a platform to rant and rail against Baroness Susan Greenfield; made their interview rushes available for people to download, embed, and remix; and actually seem to be listening to the comments and suggestions they’ve recieved.
Two people sharing a passion – it’s intimate, authentic, and utterly of-the-moment. So zeitgeisty it hurts your teeth. And I love it.
(Admittedly, this video is an off-the-cuff clip from Tim, rather than an official output of the documentary, but the BBC enabled this meeting of minds – so my point on the BBC being awesome stands.)