Tentative Beginnings

Here goes; the start of publishing thoughts, concerns, points of interest, and presumably a whole bunch of drawing, by way of recording my third and final year of studying Visual Communication at Leeds College of Art.

My (hopefully) final summer as an Undergraduate was not nearly as productive as I should have made it (my hands are trembling now with apprehension for future repercussions), but I feel as though I have been making some mildly encouraging progress in many ways.

I spent a good three weeks back in the homeland, where I hid myself from the cruel sun’s midday rays by staying indoors and busying myself with reading.  I’ll do a quick recap on this with notes explaining what this did to me:

  • Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues: I landed in NI with this stowed in my luggage bag, and gorged my way through it.  This was my first encounter with Tom Robbins‘ writings (at the recommendation of the lovely Lydia), and I never want to lose him again.  I have been trying to write a sentence for some time now that might adequately offer up a hint of my admiration for his writing, and it is not going well.  This is akin to coming up with secret speeches to a secret crush, and just as embarrassingly inarticulate.  I will say that it proved to be an important precursor to delving back into theory regarding cybernetics, digital culture and humanism (as well as anti-, post- and trans-), leaving me feeling a good deal warmer towards humanity than I had been before.
  • Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A GadgetThis was a mostly enjoyable read that didn’t quite have the romantic heart flutters I need to make it a serious love.  Lanier makes some great arguments however, and I found myself thinking much more objectively about the culture of computers than before.  Here are some of the sweeter nuggets:

‘We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as difficult as possible.  We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.’ (5)

‘The rise of the web was a rare instance when we learned new, positive information about human potential.  Who would have guessed (at least at first) that millions of people would put so much effort into a project without the presence of advertising, commercial motive, threat of punishment, charismatic figures, identity politics, exploitation of the fear of death, or any of the other classic motivators of mankind.  In vast numbers, people did something cooperatively, solely because it was a good idea, and it was beautiful…  It turns out that even an optimistic, idealistic philosophy is realizable.  Put a happy philosophy of life in a software, and it might very well come true!’ (14)

‘Antihuman rhetoric is fascinating in the dame way that self-destruction is fascinating: it offends us, but we cannot look away.’ (26)

On information: ‘Cybernetic theorists love to think of the stuff as if it were alive and had its own ideas and ambitions.  But what if information is inanimate?  What if it’s even less than inanimate, a mere artifact of human thought?  What if only humans are real, and information is not?’ (28)

‘The Turing Test cuts both ways’ (31-32) – on lowering our own standards to make the machines seem more intelligent.

‘Wikipedia, for instance, works on what I call the Oracle illusion, in which knowledge of the human authorship of a text is suppressed in order to give the text superhuman validity.  Traditional holy books work in precisely the same way and present many of the same problems.’ (32)

‘I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.’ (39)

On Digital Socialism: ‘A prominent strain of enthusiasm for wikis, long tails, hiveminds ad so on incorporates the presumption that one profession after another will be demonetized…  This trajectory begs the question of how a person who is volunteering for the hive all day long will earn rent money.  Will living space become something doled out by the hive?  (Would you do it with Wikipedia-style edit wars or Digg-style voting?  Or would living space only be inherited, so that your station in life was predetermined?  Or would it be allocated at random, reducing the status of free will?’ (104)

‘In the same way [as us taking time to manage our money], the maintenance of the liberties of capitalism in a digital future will require a general acceptance of a social contract.  We will pay a tax to have the ability to earn money from our creativity, expression and perspective.  It will be a good deal.’ (106)

In defense of schlock: ‘Only people can make schlock, after all.’ (123)

‘Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in at 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotised into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature.  Linux is a superbly polished copy of antique – shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it. (126) – Are these things predetermined before your birth not a kind of ‘fact of nature’?

‘If the computing cloud became effectively infinite, there would be a hypothetical danger that all possible interpolations of all possible worlds – novels, songs, and facial expressions – will cohabit a Borges-like infinite Wikipedia in the ether.  Should that come about, all words would become meaningless, and all meaningful expression would become impossible.  But, of course, the cloud will never be infinite.’ (174)

‘Children want attention.  Therefore, young adults, in their newly extended childhood, can now perceive themselves to be finally getting enough attention, through social networks and blogs.  Lately, the design of online technology has moved from answering this desire for attention to addressing an even earlier developmental stage./  Separation anxiety is assuaged by constant connection.  Young people announce every detail of their lives on services like Twitter not to show off, but to avoid the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of an isolated mind.’ (180)

‘At these companies [Silicon Valley startups] one finds rooms full of MIT PhD engineers not seeking cancer cures or sources of safe drinking water for the underdeveloped world but schemes to send little digital pictures of teddy bears and dragons between adults members of social networks.  At the end of the road of the pursuit of technological sophistication appears to lie a playhouse in which humankind regresses to nursery school.’ (182)

  • I was reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle when I needed something a bit more fictional, but it only made me despair and undid a good bit of the goodness done by Tom Robbins.  I knew it was unfinished when I started reading, it’s my own fault for trying really.

When I wasn’t sheltering from the sun or drinking dangerous amounts with my family (all seven McCann children were home for a while, though one was all encumbered with child, and not included in these late night sessions), I was recruited for collecting turf from the bog.  This seems to be a particularly Irish summer pastime, but I got some photographs to help explain it to my English overlords:




Bog nose deposits

I blew the bog outta my nose and waved goodbye to the emerald isle, eyes shining with the hope of seeking my fortune across the water.