Society and culture

As Hurricane Katrina makes ‘landfall’, this from the Viridian Design mailing list’s Bruce Sterling:

In the meantime, however, humanity’s incapacity to recognize and deal with its own peril is becoming eerie. And hilarious. Granted, this situation is not going to feel all chucklesome if you’re shivering in the New Orleans Superdome while its parking lots sink underwater, but that awesome mayhem is just the Southern Gothic version of our planet’s rapidly increasing woes. Here comes America’s worst storm ever, yet nobody on this plethora of satellites whispers the obvious: “climate change.” It’s catastrophic. It’s also surreal. A perfect placement for science fiction as political satire.

Watching the CNN coverage is surreal, he’s right.

They are covering it like a sports event – and inventing a psuedoscientific argot of catastophe as they go along: “wobble factor”, “cone of possibility” etc.


Update: AD calls out BS on his apparent glee.

A long and interesting critique at Abstract Dynamics of the changing nature of privilege, control and access to the web that “web 2.0” seems to be creating.

What really separates the “Web 2.0” from the “web” is the professionalism, the striation between the insiders and the users. When the web first started any motivated individual with an internet connection could join in the building. HTML took an hour or two to learn, and anyone could build. In the Web 2.0 they don’t talk about anyone building sites, they talk about anyone publishing content. What’s left unsaid is that when doing so they’ll probably be using someone else’s software. Blogger, TypePad, or if they are bit more technical maybe WordPress or Movable Type. It might be getting easier to publish, but its getting harder and harder to build the publishing tools. What’s emerging is a power relationship, the insiders who build the technology and the outsiders who just use it.

He’s also tired of the Web2.0 monicker:

Are the internet hypelords getting a bit tired? There’s this funny whiff of déjà vu that comes along with the latest and greatest buzzword: Web 2.0. Web 2.0? Wasn’t that like 1995? Don’t they remember that Business 2.0 magazine? Or remember how all the big companies have stopped using version numbers for software and instead hired professional marketers to make even blander and more confusing names? I hear “Web 2.0” and immediately smell yet another hit off the dotcom crackpipe…

Personally, I’m now just going to be refering to Web5.5

It has a whiff of the crufty, featuritis midlife of mainstream applications (Quark, Wordperfect, etc) which renders it pleasingly mundane and irrevocably intertwined with the work-a-day world.

Web 5.5 comes with a couple of giant manuals in binders and a little plastic overlay to put abouve your function keys.

It’s been 10 years between Web1.0 and Web2.0 – so expect Web5.5 sometime around 2035.

Along with space elevators.

Update: a response to the AD essay by Michal Migurski

From Ascription is an Anathema to any Enthusiasm, on the rebroadcasting of ideas:

"The cartoon phase is what happens as the ideas are repurposed to serve
the goals of actors further down the supply chain. What Paul Krugman
calls the “Policy Entrepreneurs.” Here’s a typical sentence that
illustrates how he finds this species distasteful ” am also unable to
pretend to respect ‘policy entrepreneurs’, the intellectually dishonest
self-proclaimed experts who tell politicians what they want to hear.”
These actors are no different than the rest of us; they are looking of
a place to get some positive feedback. If you frame an idea in certain
ways you get a commercially viable product. Frame it another you get a
fat book deal. Frame it another you a durable notch in the belt of your
reputation. Frame it as a open source project with sufficient
worse-is-better affordances for other people to play and you create a
bloom of activity that is really fun to watch."

But, perhaps all of those are necessary to support each other cf. Google Answers posts on Vonnegut’s "Bluebeard", which I suspect are to a question posed by Webb, who first brought the passage to my attention a few years back when arch-cartoonist Gladwell’s "The Tipping Point" was causing a fuss:

"Catching up on some reading which had gotten by me I came across a passage in Vonnegut’s Bluebeard wherein one of his characters (Slazinger) has written a book titled "The Only Way to Have a Successful Revolution in Any Field of Human Activity."  Supposedly extracted from a study of history this ‘only’ method requires a team of ‘mind openners’ to break people out of their current mindset, regardless of how unrealistic or dumb that mindset may be.

This team of ‘mind-openners’ consists of three people:

1)An Authentic Genius: a person with seemingly good ideas not in general circulation.  He adds "A genius working alone. . . is invariably ignored as a lunatic."  (copywrited in 1987)

2)A highly intelligent person in good standing in the community who will stand up and attest that the genius is not mad.

3)A person who can explain anything, to anyone."

I’m guessing from Krugman’s remarks that it’s not that often that types (1) and (3) get along, as (3) gets the big book deal…

From Ecyrd:

“Look at us: every year, we churn out more computer games than your entire industry is worth. You know how we do it? We like our customers. We don’t treat them like potential criminals, and try to make our products do less. We invent new things like online role-playing -games, where the money does not come from duplication of bits (which cannot be stopped, regardless of your DRM scheme) but from providing experiences that the people want.

We saw that you were old and weak. So we took advantage of it: told you things that you wanted to hear so we could kick you in the head in twenty years. Some of us told you that the future is going to be interactive – what did you do? You started to think how to make interactive movies (CD-I, anyone?), not what it really means, while we wrote games and tried to understand the new mediums, not how to bolt it on onto old things.

We lied to you. And we apologize for that, but it was for the greater good. So we’re not the least bit sorry.

Signed: The Computer Industry”

» The Butt Ugly Weblog: We lied to you

UPDATE: So poor old Ecyrd is getting smacked by everyone, especially Les Auteurs. As Yoz points out, Ecyrd glosses over some very salient points when it comes to some of his supporting arguement, but I know some of the back story to what he was trying to say, so I think characterising him as some uberzealous /.’er who wants everything to be free is not quite right. I can’t speak for him, but when he’s done this riff before IRL, it’s been about the inability of the computer industry to deliver on it’s promises/appeasement to/of the content industry, while simultaneuously shafting the users and the artists – NOT that all art and creativity should be free. Maybe the humour and the message got lost in translation. I’ve personally seen Ecyrd pay an awful lot of money, over and over again for art and creative works, especially those of Hayao Miyazaki! What this does however illustrate is that both artists and users are pissed off at how broke this stuff is, and the current options presented by the Redmond/Anaheim axis. Joshua and Warren are two artists doing something about it at least. Let’s move on from the smackdowns to a militant, united front between smart artists like those guys, and smart users/technologists like Ecyrd that can and will present compelling alternatives to the technology companies. Like mine I hope.

Last week, Tyler Brule spoke at Nokia. One of the suggestions he made for societal trends to watch was that of an informal, ‘top-of-the-world’ cultural confederation forming; knitting Vladivostock, Sapporo, Vancouver, Rekyjavik, Helsinki and Beijing, and points between, somehow.

It seemed a bold claim, but I thought there might be something in it – already Helsinki Vantaa airport is a major stopover hub for flights between Europe and China / Japan.

Later the same week I read a story in the Economist [Subscription required, sorry] about one of the consquences of global warming being that the Northwest Passage would de-ice and become a viable route for shipping all year round.

Such a route would shave something like 4000 kilometres off the existing Panama Canal route between Europe and Asia. The story left me a little dumbstruck, as for one thing, it pictured global warming not as catastrophy (which it undoubtedly will lead to many of) but as a matter-of-fact that will reconfigure human geographies, commerce and culture.

Trade routes, until the advent of telecommunications, had enormous influence on culture. In the age of the internet, would a top-of-the-world commerce result in a top-of-the-world cultural continuum as suggested by Tyler Brule?

is the title of a lovely observational essay by Momus, who’s in Japan, envying train drivers:

“This Tokyu Line employee seemed to have the very soul of a train driver. He had made train driving his religion. He made me feel admiration and jealousy. I wanted his commitment, his dignity. I wanted to wear white gloves and make delicate ceremonial gestures even while doing something completely pragmatic and down-to-earth. I wanted to cry out with ecstasy every time I crossed points. As this driver, I would never feel unimportant. I would feel, in fact, like a star. I would catch glimpses of fascination and envy from children and adults alike. I’d never be surprised to find myself being photographed or filmed. It would seem perfectly natural that video game arcades featured simulations of my job. My glamour would be apparent, though lightly-worn. I would hand over to the next driver with a low bow and a deep sense of satisfaction, not to have the job behind me, but to have the same glories ahead of me tomorrow, and forever. Whatever I was paid would be okay. My reward would be a deep sense of legitimacy. Superlegitimacy, a rich reward.”

He goes on makes a list of “a cluster of ‘irreducibly Japanese values’ which might be hiding in the micro-gestures of some ordinary social interaction”, which sound like beautiful culture ships:

  • Superlegitimacy
  • Mutual capitulation
  • Cute Formalism
  • Society as ‘The Voice of Heaven’
  • The veneration of smallness
  • The universality of fetish
  • Micro-metaphysics
    • the investment of small, practical actions with ‘undue’ gravitas and charisma

I’m really enjoying Momus’s writing in his LiveJournal, but I must confess I’ve never heard any of his music. I’d like to. Any ideas of where I should start?