On 8 September 2014 I walked to the Best Buy in my neighborhood and purchased the Canon SX700HS point-and-shoot that I had been researching for the previous few weeks. Then I walked on a few blocks to my favorite neighborhood bar, Room 11, for a celebratory drink to accompany opening the camera, fondling it and reading through the manual. This is the first picture I took with the camera. Shawn was my favorite bartender there. I never took this picture off the card, so if I scrolled forward through my pictures one arrow-press too far, I landed back at the beginning, on this one. I have looked at this picture probably thousands of times (I retired the point-and-shoot in 2019 after purchasing my fist DSLR).
Yesterday Room 11 posted on their Facebook page that they were selling the remains of their booze collection, glass and silverware, and closing indefinitely, owing to the pandemic.
In my former life, that I was a barfly was a huge part of my identity. As a boozehound, I have gone through so many phases that broadened and deepened my booze knowledge. My parents, a college duo, The Pearl, Flowers, The Monkey, the Tabard Inn, House of Foong Lin. Room 11 was one of the best bars I’ve ever known. It was intimate, dark, full of beguiling bottles shimmering in the low light. It was less a restaurant, more like a theater of bar tending, its bar a stage, it’s wall of bottles a set, it’s beautiful barware props. When I started going there, the Tabard Inn had taught me to love vermouth and Campari. Room 11 was a masterclass in Amari.
After each bar has passed out of my life, it has been hard to imagine it ever being equaled. And sometimes it has taken years. But there has eventually been some new gem. But I don’t know. I’m older now. I don’t drink so much anymore. I have a kid now. There is no time for lollygagging. And there is little spare money. Maybe Room 11 was the capstone of a drinking career that is past now. Still, it is terrible to see Room 11 as another casualty of COVID-19.
We are totally fucked. There is no way we’re not going back on lockdown. This is the way it goes: the rate of positive tests goes up, then, followed by a couple of week lag, the rate of hospitalization follows, followed by another couple of week lag, then the death rate goes up. 1,506 people died from COVID-19 today. The experts keep on making these predictions that keep on turning out to be too conservative. The current warning is that daily deaths could go over 2,000 per day. We are going to go over 2,000 deaths per day next week. The thing we should be thinking is that we are going to go over 3,000 death per day this winter. That’s going to be 100,000 Americans dead per month.
“But people aren’t dying at the same rate from COVID-19 as they were early in the pandemic” (compare the bumps in the pink and grey graphs). We’ve learned things. We have some treatments now. But remember that whole discussion we had about flattening the curve back in Spring? You will also remember that there were two lines on those graphs back then: one was COVID-19 infections and the other line was hospital capacity. The importance of flattening the curve was so as not to exceed hospital capacity. What doctors have learned and the treatments we’ve developed don’t do anything if you can’t get into a hospital where they can be administered. We are already at nearly 80,000 people currently hospitalized. We are about to start exceeding hospital capacity all over the country, at which point the death rate is going to skyrocket. “But we can surge capacity.” The only reason we could surge capacity in Spring was because COVID-19 outbreaks were limited to a few regions in California, Washington and New York. It’s everywhere now. There is no area that can afford to loan personnel to other states. Once hospital capacity is exceeded, that’s it: people are going to start dying anonymously at home.
For the next 60 days, the Federal government isn’t going to do a thing about this. In fact, insofar as the Trump administration can be said to have a policy at all, unchecked spread is it. Almost as shocking is the degree to which Democrats in Congress and Governorships are supine in the face of Trump’s total abdication. The next two months are going to be the most gruesome of any of our lives.
To the left, the Venus of Willendorf, a 10.8 cm high stone statuette dating from the Paleolithic era, 30-27 kyr. To the right, the first anthropomorphic design for an atmospheric diving suite built by the Carmagnolle brothers of Marseilles, France in 1882.
The Carmagnolle brothers diving suite is the stuff of steampunk fantasy, but perhaps so situating it is time-out-of-joint in the wrong direction. Instead of designating it as a paleo-future, it is more properly a parachronism: perhaps we should call it the Venus (Ares) of Marseilles (with the Venus of Willendorf as old stone punk).
Seeing what my partner sees might make me never want to have sex again. I am reminded of Steve’s disquisition on “nether freckling” from Coupling s3:e5: “There are … angles. In a relationship you get seen from certain … angles.”
But more seriously, total immersion in the experience of another ranks along with immortality, total recall, omniscience, radical subjectivity, demediation of desire and fulfillment and a few others as ultimate goals of technology.
What I’m saying is that I think technology is teleological. The evolution of technology is not a random walk or a function of reachability or the traversal of a dependency network. Well, it is all those things, but it is not only those things. There are ends or extreme outer limits toward which technology is evolving. I think I listed a few off-the-cuff. Some systematic and dedicated attention to a fuller list is warranted.
But wence do the ends come? As I have framed them, they could be construed as merely the desiderata of the human makers of technology technology has no end of it’s own: they are bestowed by their makers. But perhaps technology as a continuation of life, as a fourth domain, inherits these ends. Or perhaps these ends admit of a more objective formulation: eternity instead of immortality, idealist anarchy for radical subjectivity. Or perhaps for Kantian cyborgs, they are the transcendental illusions of technology.
Also, as if my digression hasn’t already been far enough, there’s this as a longing to supersede individuation:
“This kind of innovative thinking is exactly what we need more of when it comes to finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict,” says Alison Kock, research manager of Shark Spotters, apparently a shark social media PR firm in South Africa (Alan Yu, “More Than 300 Sharks In Australia Are Now On Twitter“, NPR, 1 January 2014). This is, of course, the sort of utopian thinking rampant among tech enthusiasts. But it’s only a matter of time before these vital shark voices are shouted down by a bunch of galeophobs, reminding us of Internet Rule 14.1: Don’t chum the trolls.
There is constant talk of the Internet of Things, about how all our devices are getting on-line and being internetworked with one another. But what about an Internet of All Creatures Great and Small? Instead of just us humans getting on-line, living in augmented reality, having brain computer interfaces, being enhanced by cognitive prostheses, we need to get all the other animals on-line too.
And look, we humans can’t stave off the robot apocalypse by ourselves. Presumably SkyNet and the Matrix don’t stop with the humans. Both SkyNet and the Matrix blot out the sun as a tactic. The other animals have a stake in the outcome of this as well. We animals need to pull together. Maybe even the plants too. Already we’re developing thought controlled power suits for monkeys and cockroaches that can interface with your iPhone (there’s an app for that). Raspberry crazy ants can detect electromagnetic fields and already have a vendetta against electronics. Now we just need to upgrade them to Raspberry Pie Ants. Maybe once we get this computation using protein folding and DNA, Craig Venter will engineer protozoa and yeast with wireless access and IP addresses to fight the nanobots.
A certain sector of nostalgic curmudgeons among us is driven to distraction by the fact that many people today are engaged in a significant amount of interpersonal communication and interaction with their environment mediated by their mobile devices and web technologies. This annoyance that the young people today don’t interact in the time-honored ways is expressed in a number of criticisms: that they are anti-social, isolated, rude, sedentary, disengaged, aesthetically foreclosed, temporally scattered, attention deficient and consumed by trite distractions. Sherry Turkle, the dean of cellular woe, was taped just last week by the New York Times to lament the presidential selfie. She goes so far as to suggest “device-free zones” as “sacred spaces” (“The Documented Life“, 16 December 2013, A25).
Back in June I wrote about two popular memes expressing this dismay and posed Apple’s then airing ad for the iPhone 5 as a corrective (“Technology and the Profound“, 18 June 2013). Watching the ad again now, it does address a number of these criticisms, but it is unclear whether the creators were thinking of something else and it is merely inadvertent how well the various episodes of the commercial line up with the criticisms; whether they were very subdued in their response; or whether something in between: they were generally aware of some negative perceptions of their product and attempting to show the iPhone in a sentimental, social, generative light without quite explicitly matching their critics.
With their new Christmas advertisement there’s no mistaking it: Apple it using its Madison Avenue genius to directly engage this debate. And for its emotional delicacy, it’s quite a salvo.
We are presented with exactly the teen that critics of our technological mediation obsession portray: bored, disengaged, one hand always unfree, constantly removing himself from important family events to fiddle with his device. But then, a third of the way through the commercial, the reveal: all those moments when he wouldn’t put down his phone, when he dropped out of family events, what he was actually doing was making a very personal video Christmas card to the entire family. We now rewatch all the moments from the first part of the commercial from a new perspective — in both the positioning of the camera, and in our understanding of what’s going on. As the mise en abyme — our protagonist’s video within the video — ends, he signs off with a bit of video of himself, the teenage veneer of boredom now replaced by an unselfconscious, sheepish happiness and pride. The title of the commercial is even “Misunderstood”. Not only is the teenage experience misunderstood by the adults around him, not only are his actions misunderstood, but here is the cutting edge of this soft light and sentimentality play. The title is not just descriptive of the events of the commercial: it is outwardly directed: it is an accusation against the critics of these technologies for which the events of the ad are the argument: you misunderstand what we are doing with these technologies; you mischaracterize the effects they are having on us.
I’ll add a personal story here, lest you write Apple’s commercial off as a contrivance of corporate propaganda. Toward the end of my college years I attended a birthday party. It began, as such things often do, as a late afternoon back yard cookout. But just after sunset one of the organizers brought out a slide projector and for about a half-hour told stories and played music while projecting onto the white wooden siding of the large side of the house photographs from the recent life of our celebree. It was beautiful and sentimental and poignant and really funny and just a wonderful celebration of this person — so much more so than had we just stood around in the yard eating hot dogs and getting slightly buzzed and then going through the heavily scripted song and cake ritual of birthdays. In other words, had we all only lived in the moment, it would have been just another meaningless collegiate afternoon. It was specifically the documentary consciousness and all those interruptions over the years and the need to share and the clever exhibitionism and the devices that created that evening’s sacred space with its deeply focused consciousness, its break from the ordinary, its reflection and appreciation.
This was the late 1990s, so the technologies of this presentation were the old ones: gelatin emulsion film, shoebox archives dug through over the course of weeks, order forms printed on the back of envelopes, photo developing booths isolated in the middle of the shopping plaza parking lots, cardboard mounted diapositives, that beige slide projector with the torus of black slide slots protruding from the top. So the documentary intrusions were fewer, the pace of production and archiving less frenetic, the sharing less ubiquitous. But also less of the life was available, there was no parallax view, the required bravery of the performance was greater (a slideshow!? so hipster).
This is what I really like about Steven Johnson’s response to Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (“Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social“, The New York Times, 20 June 2010, p. BU3): Johnson frankly concedes that yes, we are losing something. But loss is not the entirety of the transformation. We are also gaining something. And neither the loss of the detractor, nor the gain of the enthusiast are to be weighed in isolation. The proper debate is: is what we have gained worth what we have lost?
I love pre-Raphaelite women and I love homage, parody, covers, remix, mashup, etc., so I’m crazy for Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of Jennifer Chastain as Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (1895) for the cover of the December 2013 Vogue. The Vogue website has a slideshow counterpoising the photo shoot with the inspirational source material.
This isn’t the first time I’ve posted about Annie Leibovitz and Vogue spoofing some vintage design. Perhaps the most popular post on this blog (not because anyone is interested in the rambling post; mostly because people are ripping off the image) is “Destroy This Mad Brute“, an analysis of the meaning of LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen mimicking an anti-old Europe First World War U.S. propaganda poster.
The thing to know about Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden is Sir Thomas Gresham’s principle that bad money drives out the good. So long as the government continues to prosecute a secret war beyond the principles on which this country was founded, people of conscience will continue to come forward with these kinds of revelations. We cannot drill into young people the American mythos and require new recruits into government service to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic without planting the seeds of the very dissidents we now simultaneous seek to suppress. At some point the government will figure out how to screen out people of conscience, after which time our secret wars abroad and the surveillance state will be administered by scoundrels and unthinking bureaucrats. That power corrupts is as true of institutions as it is of individuals. Bad money drives out the good.
There are two perennial memes, critical of web 2.0, social networking and mobile devices, that keep appearing in my various feeds (Um, kinda ironic that you’re expressing your Luddism through JPEGs). They are these two:
Of course as is the case with the web, the second one isn’t even true. Einstein did say something similar to this, but it was with respect to the atomic bomb — the legitimacy of which is beyond reproach — not cellular telephones.
To anyone who’s posted “the real zombie apocalypse” or this purported Einstein quote: nothing is profound or incipient on its own. We are capable of finding and making such experiences where we will. Technology is as capable of beauty and the sublime as any other experience in life.
In this respect, Apple’s recent advertising campaign serves as a wonderful reply:
Of course, this is corporate propaganda, but this is an instance where what makes this such an effective advertisement is just how well it has captured the truth of an experience. One of the things that I love about this commercial is how it is composed of a number of episodes, each of which show a aspect of this particular technological experience: noticing in greater detail textures and objects that would have warranted less attention in the past but that are uniquely beautiful (weathered wood, oil slicks), being the laggard in a group for capturing an image, the foodie thing, handing cameras to and retrieving with gratitude cameras from strangers, selfies, etc.
And before you go dismissing other people’s interests too quickly, I think your children and your pet are boring.
Now that I’m spending time doing research for my thesis at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and the National Archive, I’m really wishing that the fictional manual / memoir that serves as Daryl Zero’s voice-over in The Zero Effect were a real book that I could consult:
Now, a few words on looking for things. When you look for something specific your chances of finding it are very bad because of all things in the world, you only want one of them. When you look for anything at all your chances of finding it are very good because of all the things in the world you’re sure to find some of them.
Daryl Zero is for me a guru on par with Yoda, Keisuke Miyagi and Ogami Itto.