January 27, 2011
unexpectedly bailing to kiwiburn, as of now. better late than never.
unexpectedly bailing to kiwiburn, as of now. better late than never.
Went along to the world premiere of Zeitgeist: Moving Forward the other night.
I never saw the first Zeitgeist film, and don’t plan to. I saw the second one, and found it to be a reasonable presentation of issues around the money system – the kind of stuff I have been ranting about for a while now – along with some fun techno-utopian bullshit called the Venus Project.
The third one was long. Four parts, the first focusing on epigenetic effects on behaviour – essentially rejecting genetic determinist type arguments, and arguing for the influence of the environment – and was pretty solid. The second was more on the money system, this time focusing on its role as our environment, and its effects on us. The third part was an interesting if incomplete techno-utopian model of how we could run the world instead once we stop being so f**king stupid, but it struck me as a hyper rationalist vision curiously lacking insight into human values. The fourth part I forget exactly, but it got a bit more peak oil on our asses, and a bit more urgent about the need for change.
For anyone who has been paying attention, there is not much new here. The dude could use an editor/input from someone who isn’t him. From the kinds of things he feels the need to clarify – (eg) this is not communism! – he is clearly operating from deep inside an American consciousness. At times it is preachy, and flawed in its argument. But as a freely available idiot friendly introduction – and one with a lot of momentum behind it – it could be much worse.
As ever, it is easier to critique what is going on than produce alternatives. The critical comments are worth knowing about, and the alternative, while limited and flawed, contains some good stuff, and is more use as a contribution to a conversation rather than a viable model. (Following Monbiot, I feel more than justified in saying this, as most of my writing is about creating viable solutions to this sort of thing. Just need to get them published in some form :/)
Mostly what interested me about it was the social phenomenon. I forget the stats exactly, but the dude who spoke before it played said it was launched on the same day in (something like) 280 cities in 65 countries around the world, via a grassroots movement.
Now that is interesting.
Thing is, the Paramount was *completely* sold out – people sitting in the aisles – sold out with normal looking people, not obvious freaks.
Normally this stuff is encountered alone in your room late at night in front of your computer, or maybe with a few similarly cracked out friends. While widespread, it is underground. It is being thought about and talked about but it is not visible. Bringing thousands of people together, in public, around the world, for a shared experience of this material, interests me – it brings things closer to the “everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows” phenomena Clay Shirky talks about in Here Comes Everybody (which I talked about in the last section of this post). It is powerful in some sense.
I don’t know if we will look back on this as some sort of moment that mattered, but it is well named – there is a trend, a movement, a zeitgeist, towards the general awareness that we have comprehensive problems that require comprehensive solutions. Its value is in reaching “the masses”, and opening up these sorts of conversations. In this sense I am not the ideal audience – I am further down the rabbit hole than most people. But those I talked to afterwards had found new thoughts moving in themselves after the film.
It will be available for free download from the 25th of Jan.
Okay, so once again I am culling a bunch of books from my collection. The list is below the cut. All sorts, some quality literary fiction, some random junk, some SF/fantasy, and an eclectic slather of non-fiction
How it works: if you want something, make an offer. (Email best: wisdomofthedancingmoose (at) gmail) If it is better than what a 2nd hand dealer would give (pretty easily done), and no one else bids higher, you get it.
(being part of an occasional series thinking aloud about our interactions with information and technology)
Marshall McLuhan came up with the idea of sense ratios. Essentially, every technology extends us in some direction, and reduces us in another; it gives and it takes away. (The wheel is an extension of the foot.) Thus each technology we interact with changes the ratio of our senses – it changes how we are in the world.
Here are some observations based on two months alone at the beach without TV or internet, which, for someone who has been pretty connected for longer than most, was pretty fascinating.
* I felt way more connected to myself at the beach. Whereas online I am scattered across the world, and through people’s lives; a thinning of the self. An example of sense ratios in the most basic sense – I was returned to my body and senses.
* I did not miss the internet. To be more precise, I occasionally missed practical things – the ability to find an answer to a question, and the “third arm effect” (the ability to do some things by remote which I have become accustomed to) – but in no sense did I miss any of the communication side of things – email, blogs or social media. Yet this is where the bulk of my time online goes – and apparently where the bulk of most people’s time goes.
Yet I did not feel any less connected to people; if anything, more so, as people were certainly in my thoughts. (This is also partly a reflection of psychological type.) And the brief times I was around people were sharper and more focused. There was no time for frippery, only content.
* I am happier being online less.
* The contact I get from people online is less fulfilling than the contact I get in person. I obviously feel a clear need for social interaction and contact, but social media for the most part does not supply it; it grants a poor facsimile, which mostly serves to frustrate by highlighting precisely that absence.
I want more from my people than a status update – I want real connection. But a flood of status updates gives the illusion of connection. And that is where it is damning. Like sucrose or aspartame, it tastes sweet but is no good for you. Or perhaps, a better analogy, like the empty calories in wine, which don’t give useful energy. We think we are getting our fix, but we aren’t. So we scavenge for more, and engage in further online behaviours which paradoxically take us further apart.
Back to McLuhan – tech gives and takes away. And it does give a lot. There are doubtless people I would have lost contact with altogether without the web. Things like Chat or Skype are a fantastic technological boon for communicating with those on the other side of the world.
It is kind of awesome, but yeah, we have not tweaked our delivery mechanisms… we need better filters. Filters are where we can massage the details of what tech gives and takes away. As a simple example, Facebook would gain a thousand times more functionality if there was an “Actually Important” flag you could tag an update with; because people do slip actually important information into the stream, but it is lost among the majority of stuff which is just chatter. (People would abuse such a flag, sure, but it is a self policing mechanism – everyone yell at them for being dicks and they will stop polluting the stream – or have a “not important” flag readers can use. In this way we can introduce feedback to train our information systems.)
There is a lot wrong with Facebook besides that, that is just an example of what I mean by filter – we have access to too much information, and need efficient ways to get the relevant information.
Which again begs the question, what information is relevant? Answering this is key to setting our filters – and this answer will be different for each of us.
So on the whole I am pretty sure I want to radically reduce internet time in general. Like, maybe check email twice a week, and leave it at that. Maybe trawl for news and information an hour a week – the once a week spin through the sunday mutants seemed functional. Because really, an hour here, an hour there, throughout the day, gives shockingingly poor returns. Used unconsciously, the internet is no better than television. Filters can take many forms – this is exercising a filter in time. By removing the time for anything but the important, the signal to noise ratio hopefully improves.
(But part of the power of communications tech is immediacy – some information is time sensitive. So ideally filters would be integrated into real-time – letting me know things that matter to me when I want to know them – which is getting closer to something like an AI monitoring my incoming data streams and filtering things for me. RSS feeds etc are a “dumb” form of this.)
That time of year where parts of my end of the blogosphere do this. I am tempted to do this just because I doubt I actually heard 10 albums released in 2010, and in general hardly listen to music anymore. So this will be pretty arbitrary.
In no order, these are the best albums I discovered in 2010. Most aren’t from 2010, but I have marked those that are.
Matthew Dear – Black City 
Awesome. No idea what it is. Sort of electronica/pop with flat distorted vocals? Feels very now. Excellent, and extremely cool. Best album I heard released in 2010.
Random track from youtube:
Isaac Hayes – Instrumentals. [1970something?]
Whereas this collection of Hayes’ instrumental funk from the 70’s is my Album of the Year. So damn cool, so smooth. An essential album.
Mariem Hassan – anything you can find.
“The voice of the Sahara”. Biggest discovery of WOMAD. Incredible West African music. The roots of everything good.
Solo Andata – Fyris Swan
Fragile lilting drifting electronica from Melbourne. Beautiful. (Chur, Mike.)
Drums of Death (African Voodoo music) – Ghana Funeral Field Recording
Live recording of a voodoo funeral from the 1970s I think. The best and most intense voodoo album I have ever heard. Think twenty minute long tracks, and serious energy.
Globus – Epicon
Debut album by a collective that does music for movie trailers; sort of modern classical, enormous sweeping/rousing atmospheric emotional stuff. If that sounds like your idea of fun, the album is well worth checking out.
Louis Mackey – Destroyer of All Things 
Some kind of jazzy instrumental funk from a guy who normally does hip hop; seven tracks. Real nice. Available free here.
Orchestra of Spheres – Nonagonic Now 
Local psychedelic weirdness played on a peculiar array of instruments; has a strong world/improv flavour.
Mulatu Astatke – Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974
Just seriously cool, instrumental jazz with an excellent vibe, and a definite funk flavour. Like, really good. (Cheers, AmyB.)
Nearly made the cut:
Within Temptation – Black Symphony (Live album from a vaguely goth metal band with an amazing vocalist and an orchestra.); Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma  (Electronica. I have no idea what this is. Initially it really put me off, it was just too hectic, but then it sort of grew on me.)
One of those documentaries in the ‘you have to see it to believe it’ basket.
We Live in Public is the story of Josh Harris, an early dot-com millionaire, who was once worth $80 million, and lost it all.
Part visionary, part madman, part wannabe artist; also a very weird and messed up guy, whose clown alter ego started turning up at business meetings.
Most of what is interesting about him is how far ahead of the curve he was. He founded an internet TV station and let it run wild years before broadband came along. Then he ran “Quiet”, a bunker with a few hundred people in it, cameras everywhere, interrogations, psychological testing, uniforms, and everything provided free of charge, an experiment that ran for over a month before being shut down by police; a forerunner of reality TV, and a formal experiment in what happens to us as we become socially mediated by technology. After that, he wired up the house he lived in with his girlfriend and put their life live online, interacting with viewers in chat.
All in all it is pretty berserk; thought provoking, unusual, and stimulating. Raises many questions about where we are going with our social media as it becomes a bigger part of our lives; the line between privacy and control. Well worth watching.
(Oh, apparently it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2009. I can see why.)