Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 29 Dec 12 00:37
Speaking of art, the past, and its lessons for the future: In my neighborhood in Turin, there's a bronze statue to a statesman called "Massimo d'Azeglio." Massimo happened to be born a rich Turinese aristocrat, but he always wanted to be a novelist and painter. He married the daughter of the most famous novelist in Italy, and his brother actually managed to become a painter. Massimo himself never managed that. He wrote a few derivative knock-off novels and he did a lot of weekend painting, but he happened to be living in a time of national catastrophe and tremendous political upheaval. So he enlisted in the cavalry, where he got shot in a losing battle and never recovered his health. Then he got called into politics, where the King made him Prime Minister because he was the only courtier around who didn't lie and cheat all the time. Massimo is a great statesman and the father of Italian Constitutionalism and all that, but I never stroll past his statue, and in Turin I do that all the time, without a shudder of dread. That guy was a born artist who was forced to become important because he was never left alone to do what he personally wanted to do. He put his bohemianism aside, and he became dutiful and responsible. He made a big difference: he liberated a suffering people (for the brief periods before they got stomped again), he forged a new national consciousness, he signed a lot of budget bills, he sat around a lot of smoke-filled tables with the rich and the well-born. The wife never liked it much. There seems to have been a lot of trouble over that. Massimo's got a bronze painter's palette and an open bronze book, sculpted at the foot of his towering monument -- 'cause his persecutors knew he was an artist -- but he's never gonna be able to bend down from his bronze heights of statesmanship and pick them up. Given his noblesse oblige, I'm not sure that Massimo was ever allowed an open choice about being powerful rather than being an artist, but power is a form of bondage. No one who needs power and has it, ever gets enough of it. Artists like to talk about their work, but powerful people like to talk about their vacations. To think that you can become powerful, and not become like that personally, is like thinking you can knock back a gallon of Gentleman Jack and not get drunk because you can write novels and paint. You can write and paint, but that's not what it is, that's not what it means.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 29 Dec 12 00:42
Y'know @jeffk, I was reading that Aaron Strope speech with great attention... And it was so prescient, and so lateral, and so crammed with weird harbingers that I thought, "Man, this must be just like what it feels like to read one of those Well State of the World encounters!" Normally I'm spared the full head-spinning farrago because I'm also creating it, but in the case of that Strope thing... It's full of the inchoate ghosts of five years from now. It's like the guy's speaking cloud-based Big Data Sanskrit. And he runs a museum, that's the good part. If that's what's coming out of our museums, imagine what the *innovators* are doing.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sat 29 Dec 12 02:24
Starting your new year by sharing your "pre-loved" possessions. http://www.shareable.net/blog/9-ways-to-kick-off-a-shareable-2013 There's enough of these share-ability characters around now that they're almost becoming a visible class of activists. Maybe this will be the year when they get a cute, slightly demeaning name for their emergent way of life, like makers and hackers did. "The share-arati." The "pre-lovables." The "disowners." Help me out here.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 29 Dec 12 04:47
This piece from Aaron Stope's talk really grabbed me: "We talk big about playing the long game but we don't, or haven't, really followed through on that rhetoric when it comes to our collections and the network. I always try to think about this in terms of the network and not the "web". It's hard to imagine the web going away these days but stranger things have happened, I guess. The network the internet is forever. Assuming that, like me, you think the network is here to stay. If you don't then none of this is really a big deal. It's a baseline. The whole point of putting our collections online is so that they will be there in 50 years. In 100 years. They will still call back when addressed because that's, I thought, the business we were all in keeping this stuff. Ours should not be to pre-vett every possible scenario or use case or association of our collections along a fixed linear history or if it is, it shouldn't be at the expense of the future. If that's what we're doing I will be the bad man and say that we have reduced our cultural heritage to little more than a monoculture."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 29 Dec 12 07:28
This quote makes me think of the New Aesthetic: "We traffic in things that we don't necessary know how to collect yet, in part because of their nature as things devoid of a single narrative motive." Also, re. Parallel Flickr, "...an exercise to work through the idea of what it means for an individual to take a more active responsibility in archiving the digital bits that are left all over the internet." That Jack Berg quote hits me where I live: "No one cares what you do unless you think about it and no one cares what you think unless you do it." I love that Aaron gets into the details that we so often gloss. This made me think of a project I was involved with years ago, when I was working with technology for a large state agency. We were re-imagining the database to track eligibility for poverty programs like Food Stamps, AFDC/TANF, and Medicaid. A contractor was designing a relational representation that would be the basis for schema design, and my colleague and I realized at some point that he was including a lot of data fields for items he was hearing about, but lacked the experience to evaluate. I.e. he was including data that was not relevant to the database, but should be stored as documentation only. Determining what to store and how to store it can be a complex and difficult can o' worms, and you have to burrow deeply into the problem before you can solve it. And big data systems touch so many potential stakeholders who might not be asked for input when they should be... so I'm guessing we're building many databases that don't exactly work as they should, not because they were badly designed but because they were designed on incomplete or irrelevant assumptions.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 29 Dec 12 08:48
(great "trim tab" metaphor up there, jonl, amplifying in the same way as the idea it embodies; thank you) The idea and possibility of art has always been more important than the lives of those who make it, and perhaps more so than ever now. Art, design, speculation are how the present is liberated into the future. The baby Hermes invented the lyre after killing a turtle and stealing Apollo's cattle. Trickster is art's guardian figure for no trivial reason--to break the status quo, you need some chutzpah, some priapic disregard for proprieties, some infantile newness of vision, and a partly comic predisposition even if what comes out in the end looks serious. You mentioned the loss of your uncle, bruces, and spoke about how grief throws a needed winter light. That we feel these things are important is unquestionable. That they are outside any direct sense of utility matters immensely. It also makes it hard to talk about. That's partly what art partly holds--the realm of the seemingly unuseful which is somehow also essential. For me, the singularity question should be "Can a computer feel sad?" Decision-making untempered by emotion--is that a hell or a heaven or both? The state of the world... whose world, and what moment of looking... one instant I'm watching birds in the berries of the ceanothus right outside my window, the next I am terrified for my country's future as a functional society, the next I am reading about Japan's economy, the next about the dendritic cells of a scientist dying of pancreatic cancer. Each one of these is unweighable on any scale against the others. The only one I feel I could possibly affect in any immediate way is the birds. No wonder that Aaron Stope talks starts with a post it note with the word "anxious" on it. Our relationship to any sense of agency is one of the great shifting qualities of human life over time... we who participate in this conversation have some presumption of personal agency that feels to me an alteration from that of most human beings over most of history.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 29 Dec 12 09:00
From an off-WELL reader: Great to see the yearly discussion underway again. The year ends with me doing a slow-motion move to my own house on the other side of my Portland-suburb new-urbanism community. Packing and moving my own stuff one Honda Civic load at a time has given me the time and incentive to really cull my stuff. The web was around the last time I moved, but since then (2002) we truly have entered a world with different relations to information. I'm donating (or selling . . . thank you Powell's) great heaps of books. And magazines, and clipped articles . . . it seems utterly bizarre, now, that a clipping file was something once worth keeping. There's a certain genus of ephemera -- like a manual for wooden pipeline construction or a 1940 training manual for Navy electricians -- that I'm not sure what to do with . . . toss them? Scan them? Find a collector? The biggest attraction to having my own place: Room for a shop. I painted the garage to make it a room, a place to make things, as opposed to a cave to store shit. I hope making stuff, be it with a 3D printer or old school tools, continues to be a Thing. The whole notion of building stuff in cyberspace, be it Second Life or a Minecraft world, doesn't appeal. - I'm not an connoisseur of Bollywood movies, but I've been trying to get friends and co-workers to see "3 Idiots," a wonderfully goofy story about engineering students.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 29 Dec 12 09:23
Jane talks about something I have some to think of as emotional tectonics: all these things going on in our lives at the same time that must be dealt with, each on its own terms. My professional life consists of several interlocking gigs, which I am reasonably good at managing. There is my personal life, my engagement with the political and cultural world around, and so on. This idea hit me a few years ago, when my beloved cat was dying and I was on tour in Utah and Idaho, driving and crying and doing some critical listening for my radio show while on my way to play a house concert. Grieving the cat, wishing a slow death upon John Boehner, enjoying the hell out of my performances and the attendant schmoozing - all these powerful thoughts colliding in my mind. "It's all so complicated now," as Johnny and the Distractions sang. Why I still remember that band and that song after 30 years is another mystery of the mind.
From Mediabastard via E-Mail (captward) Sat 29 Dec 12 11:56
"The state of the world"...ok which world? ok. lets assume we mean "ours" the tech driven, money counting peoples clicks supreme being one. the one about "people" and "communities"..;) lets ignore the earth,nature, and universe, which just do their own things and pretty much don't care about us humans or what we do anyway... so. the "state of the world" it's "leveling" for all but .01%. We're allowing media machines to "level" all "humans" to "media impressions" as how we relate to each other. Thus the age of "human rights" for actual individuals is over, and the age of "media rights" for systems has begun. Well, began "again"., since its not new and we've been here before-- dark ages, feudal ages, tribal ages etc. Soon we all will be "equal" property (IP)... grunting sounds we echo from the internetz to pass the time....and fighting over water and dumping grounds. A very few will live in Googedomes... those who like the Emperors new glasses. And of course the Court Jesters...
Via E-mail from Maximilian (captward) Sat 29 Dec 12 12:42
hi jon & bruce, again a great and thought provoking wrap-up of currents and undercurrents in the world! given you touched quite a bit on europe and the dynamics happening there I wonder what your take on germany is? seen by some as a new hegemon - or even as an accidental empire - germany certainly is in a much different position in 2012 than it was before say 2008 and the beginning of the financial crisis.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Sat 29 Dec 12 13:10
On another topic, how bout those quantified self folks. Trim and fit and shiny and wired up with more sensors than an F1 car. It used to be pedometers and wireless connected scales, now they're getting stylish gear that measures heart rate, persperation and skin temperature constantly. Pretty soon they'll be getting "You just had a heart attack" push notifications. <http://www.mybasis.com/tour/>
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 29 Dec 12 16:18
Belatedly, would like to clarify something I said some posts back--"The idea and possibility of art has always been more important than the lives of those who make it..." I meant that from the point of view of art, not from the point of view of lives. It's easy to read fast or excerpt and get the wrong impression from a sentence like that, and I would not want to let that possible misinterpretation sit in the archives uncorrected. "Emotional tectonics," gans, yes, you have named it beautifully. We go through our days so often feeling like slip-strike zones. It's that old slippery wrestling partner--are we a "self," a "selves", a system with a set of interesting/sometimes useful delusions, or something far subtler than any of the above.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 29 Dec 12 20:36
The Quantified Self practices seem rational: it makes sense to monitor health data and work at optimization, though many won't go there. It could be even more interesting if we build systems for collective collection and comparison of metrics. We've seen interesting results when patients with common conditions form online communities and start comparing notes and researching together. But there's also those who have an intense obsession with the processes and flaws without our bodily systems, stoked by media and advertising. In industrial nations, especially the U.S., health issues abound. We have depressions and bipolar states, cardiac arrythmias and blocks, surging rates of self-inflicted diabetes, urinary urgency if not incontinence, viral epidemics and mass vaccinations, roaring tinnitus, positional vertigo, allergy cycles, headaches, fibromyalgia, erectile dysfunction, maybe-its-alzheimers moments, drawers filled with antacids, antiflatulence pills, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, loratadine, fexofenadine, diphenhydramine, etc. Patients fill clinics and emergency rooms, now spilling over into drug store and grocery store mini-clinics. Ad channels are filled with pharmaceutical inducements with rapidly mumbled small-print side effects galore, and those side effects are creating even more health issues. The healthcare system is strained, costs are spiraling upward, insurance companies are cutting benefits... what a mess.
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Sat 29 Dec 12 22:58
I'll admit that I had the fitbit pedometer (till it took a bath in the washing machine)... and the wifi connected scale. They've certainly made me attentive to my body's metrics, but looking at the graphs, they haven't resulted in an improvement. It's possible that they stopped things from getting worse, of course. I saw the CEO of Aetna speak at SXSW and he said that they found about a third of people respond to metrics and monitoring, a third of people respond to group encouragement, and a third of people don't respond to either. His take away was that just encouraging 'fitness squads' or giving pedometers to everybody wasn't going to fix the entire problem.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 30 Dec 12 01:35
"The baby Hermes invented the lyre after killing a turtle and stealing Apollo's cattle. Trickster is art's guardian figure for no trivial reason--to break the status quo, you need some chutzpah, some priapic disregard for proprieties, some infantile newness of vision, and a partly comic predisposition even if what comes out in the end looks serious." I'm all for this cool notion of the artist as the mental-liberationist Greek trickster figure who steals most of his material -- but it's because I was raised that way. It's a very bohemian approach, very anti-bourgeois, very grasshopper to the ant. In some ways this approach to art limits what you can think and create. It's a freeze-dried set of attitudes; when all you've got is the crowbar of Hermes, everything looks like art-loot. That's why I enjoy art such as Petar Njegos' epic of early Montenegrin literature, "The Mountain Wreath." http://www.rastko.rs/knjizevnost/umetnicka/njegos/mountain_wreath.html Here we've got this very intelligent and determined hillbilly aristocrat, a poetic priest-warrior gangster chieftain, out of a half-forgotten province of the Ottoman Empire. His people are pre-literate; he's one of the first to read and write his own language. This poem, the "Mountain Wreath," is mostly about tribal patriarchs flying into a righteous rage and cutting each other's heads off. It's very like the Iliad in that way; it's full of noble perorations that are mostly along the line of, "Rascal, you've done something unbearable for years now, and I was constrained to get involved in this awful mess you've created; but this time it's personal. So, prepare yourself: I'm taking your head, your pistols, your horses and all your women, and I may even burn your farm." In the context of this artwork, it's certainly the right thing to do. It's the definitive thing to do; it's how you know you're alive. Then you compare that artwork -- written by an aristocrat, an authority figure in deadly moral earnest -- to this kind of ontological-trickster writing, this kind of "What is Reality, Mr Njegos," postmodern gendankenexperiment, of which me and my sci-fi colleagues are so enduringly fond... Well, keen as I am to write that stuff, it can seem like pretty thin soup. There are mountain guys in Pakistan and Afghanistan who think just like Mr Njegos now. They're not going away. They're not even losing their wars, and they've got the highest birth-rates on Earth. If they could read, they'd read this Njegos text and back it a hundred percent: "At last, moral advice from the shores of the Mediterranean with which we entirely concur!" Brian Aldiss once told me that science fiction was full of guys who would write about Martians without ever visiting Indonesia. But visiting Indonesia is one thing -- if you actually *hang out* within Indonesia, you *become* Indonesian. You don't visit it, or steal it, you are it. You have to get past the stark fact that Njegos is an Ottoman Christian-sect hillbilly on horseback who knocks people down with spiked clubs and cuts their heads off as trophies. He is, but he's also a great poet. Njegos even has a wry sense of humor; it's just not what Americans would consider "wry" or even "humor." When you understand his jokes, when you know they're genuinely funny, that's a bigger mental yoga-stretch than we're supposed to allow ourselves within the USA; it makes a "galaxy far far away" look like a Hollywood backlot in Southern California. Which is what it is, pretty much.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 30 Dec 12 01:39
I like the "Quantified Self" trend -- I'd certainly like to know more about what's going on in my own body. It doesn't seem fair that it's such an unknown world in there, wilder and lesser-known than the Amazon. But I wonder what will happen when this practice mainstreams, and becomes less of a fringe hobby for numerate Yankee geeks. It's alarming to live in a place with disastrously low life-expectancy, like Belgrade. The lifespan difference between Serbia and Northern Italy must be close to 25 years -- especially for men. These Serbian men who perish in droves of alcohol and cigarettes in their late 50s, they've got a "quantifier" already -- all they have to do is look in the mirror. But telling them that they'd live longer without those substance-issues is like telling Americans that they'd live longer without their cars and handguns. It's perfectly true, but it's so beside the point of living that it doesn't show up on the radar. Maybe if you had *much better radar* -- like you got nagged by your handheld every morning, because it took your pulse and sniffed your breath? People think that if you're told the truth you'll change what you're doing. Obviously they've never met a Creationist or a climate-change denier. I can imagine a Russian-style Quantified Selfer where Ivan Sixpack checks himself out and says, "hey, I'm not drunk enough yet!" and chugs down another one. "Yeah, my lungs are brown now -- but on me, that looks great!" And, somewhere in California -- "My Quantified New Age Self." "My God, look at the state of my chakras this morning!"
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 30 Dec 12 01:50
I am starchily informed by a member of the home team that there were plenty of drones in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. At least, according to these Russian guys: http://www.radardaily.com/reports/Unmanned_Aerial_Vehicles_Increase_In_Numbers _ 999.html "In this context an analysis of UAV losses during the Yugoslav war from April to the end of June 1999 is interesting. All in all, the coalition lost 47 vehicles: 17 by the U.S., 7 by Germany, 5 by France and 14 by Britain. Four vehicles were traced to no specific sources." I'd totally digging the "sourceless" drones. I'm betting sourceless drones are gonna be a major trend.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Dec 12 06:47
Interestingly, "sourceless drone" can also be a musical reference. I have a friend whose hobby, building radio-controlled hobbyist airplanes, has become exponentially cooler now that these devices can be characterized as drones. He was recently showing me a sophisticated device he'd built - it was mounted with a camera that could be controlled via head movements from the ground. He had another device that was more of a hovercraft with granular controls. It could be mounted with a ping-pong "bomb" that he could drop wherever. I think there are many like him who have the technology well in hand and are looking for suitable applications. "Sousveillance" came up in our conversation. Imagine anti-drone drones...
(Jeff Kramer) O o . o O (jeffk) Sun 30 Dec 12 10:00
It sounds like there's some deeply weird EU-bending stuff going on in Catalonia right now. Of course, there's no mention of it in the US news. Is it something the rest of the southern Europeans are talking about?
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 30 Dec 12 10:48
I can tell you the French around here are eyeing it nervously, and I'm sure down by Perpignan they're really watching. It's all very interesting, especially the comparisons with Scotland. What do you see, Bruce?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Dec 12 10:49
Some context re Catalonia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Catalonia#The_amendment_to_the_Statut e_and_current_political_issues
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Sun 30 Dec 12 12:23
A sourceless drone that delivered GPS-scrambling "sourceless drones" might be a force to be reckoned with. I was stunned to discover in this article that the Chinese Red Army allegedly has a crack force of 50,000 carrier pigeons. That's right -- silent, radar transparent, winged, avian Chinese drones! What do they know that the West doesn't know? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324439804578104933926157320.html
reminder (satyr) Sun 30 Dec 12 17:30
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sun 30 Dec 12 17:40
John Payne (satyr) Sun 30 Dec 12 19:03
> <28> (bruces) Americans don't have state-supported censorship, but > they do have a civil cold war, and the factions don't talk to one > another at all. There's no open debate, there's no discourse. This was the sad conclusion I came away from the election with. Sure, I was glad that Obama had won, but that was tempered by the narrow margin of victory in the popular vote, an inexplicably narrow margin if you were to assume that everyone was exposed to the same media as myself. Had that been the case, Obama should have won by a landslide! It's sad, and worrisome, and I don't know what to do about it.
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