March 06th, 2014

What I’ll be Reading This Month

reading

Bumbling around the web tonight, drinking tea and trying not to disturb the cat while she teetered on one of my thighs, while the laptop teetered on the other, I encountered a slew of articles that irritated the shit out of me.

The first one was over on Salon, where it discussed how tech corporations are attempting to co-opt the practice of Buddhist meditation to up the well-being and job performance of their employees. Reading that felt like chewing on a piece of tin foil. I recoiled and started doing a bit more research and discovered this statement from Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute website:

“Developed at Google and based on the latest in neuroscience research, our programs offer attention and mindfulness training that build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for peak performance and effective leadership. We help professionals at all levels adapt, management teams evolve, and leaders optimize their impact and influence.”

Uhm…OK…

So now mindfulness is enabling corporations to “optimize impact”?

That’s just what I want more of in my life — corporate optimization.

And I echo culture critic Curtis White‘s response, when he noted:

9781612192000_p0_v1_s260x420

“In this view of things, mindfulness can be extracted from a context of Buddhist meanings, values, and purposes. Meditation and mindfulness are not part of a whole way of life but only a spiritual technology, a mental app that is the same regardless of how it is used and what it is used for.”

Having read that quote I went on a search for the interview the quote was lifted from, and I found it here, titled The Science Delusion, over on Tricycle.

You need to read it to understand the particular gulf we live in today. Especially if you are a young person contemplating your future. The implications for the arts and humanities are disturbing, unless of course your only aim is to have a tremendous amount of followers on YouTube because you’re able to shill Doritos to your followers and then Frito-lay cuts you a check (depending on the number of video views, of course). See Frontline’s Generation Like for more insights into that nightmare.

And then Consider White’s ideas here, from the same Tricycle interview. And then buy his book.

“For the moment, the idea that we are neural computers is in ascendancy. Currently, from a very early age our children are given to understand that if they want a decent standard of living, they’re going to have to make their peace (ideally, an enthusiastic peace) with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM. Universities are now in the business of training people to go out into a world that is understood to be one vast mechanism, and this includes nature or, as we now say, “the ecosystem.” But that’s okay because we’re computers too. I can’t emphasize enough how oppressive this feels to many young people. As one reviewer of my book wrote, rather bitterly, “Anyone who doesn’t want to be a graphic designer, or a techie, or a slavish Apple devotee—no jobs for you!” And, I’ll add, no way to pay off your huge student loans.”

“Anyone who doubts the seriousness of this vision should read David Brooks’s December 2013 column for The New York Times “Thinking for the Future,” in which he predicts that the economy of the future will depend upon “mechanized intelligence.” Fifteen percent of the working population will make up a mandarin class of computer geeks and the “bottom 85%” will serve them as “greeters” or by doing things like running food trucks. And yet, Brooks claims, this vast class of servants will have “rich lives” that will be provided for them by the “free bounty of the Internet.” “



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February 10th, 2014

Adam Curtis: Pop Culture’s Edgiest Truth-Teller

“Although we don’t realize it, the way we see everything in the
world today is through the eyes of the computers.” — Adam Curtis

 

curtis

I discovered documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis a couple of years ago when my friend, the writer John Calendo, forwarded me a link to Curtis’ 2011 film All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace with an ammendment: “This is weird, so you’ll like it.”

On the surface (not a good place to go for a description of Curtis’ work) this looked to be a documentary about how computers and people have come to co-exist. But no. This was a bold salvo that cracked open the notion of how computers have colonized the world by playing off of our inability to tolerate uncertainty and the unknown. Computers promise systems and control and people like control.

Remember in Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001, when HAL is slowly disassembled by Dave and the computer keeps moaning: “Stop. Don’t do that Dave. I can feel myself fading.” Well, that was a fine bit of prescience that Curtis’ film indirectly explores. Computers and feelings. Feelings as visions. Visions as the future. A ridiculous confluence? Not really when you consider the power of identification and what identification can wreak when wedded to machines.

Revisit the devastating economic crash that destroyed East Asia in 1997 or the ‘recovery’ we are still stuck in after the global economic meltdown of 2008 — all directly related to the manipulation of the markets via computers. Or doubly unimaginable, revisit the utopian visions of the counterculture movement in the 60s. Those dreamscapes of returning to the organic rhythms and glorious symmetry of nature?

Those were computer-based ideals that took hold like a fever as techno models more and more came to be considered the perfect matrix to build a new world upon. They do not exist in nature, as Curtis shows. Nature leans towards the chaotic. But not so, when framed in a computer-based template.

Even the title to Curtis’s film is taken from the hippie poet Richard Brautigan, who wandered through early 60s Haight-Ashbury, distributing xeroxed copies of his idyl to whomever would have them. Man and machine cohabiting in constant bliss. It seems a crazy conceit of the counterculture ethos, but, again, as Curtis shows, this concept was based on computer systems as matrixes for creating a better society.

His documentary, All Watched Over disconcertingly opens with Pizzicato Five‘s pop song Baby Love Child bouncing through the soundtrack while images of people jacked into computer screens stream by. The rapt computer users remind me of those “dairying ants” that milk aphids for honeydew, a juice that’s excreted from the aphid’s ass. Meaning, there is a constant, never-broken attention loop projected into the computer screen, as if nourishing forces are flowing from the screen’s glow, into its viewers’ brain-holes. It is weird.

And then, boom, a disruptive cut, a studio tech’s blaring announcement amidst the disintegrating soundtrack and we’ve jumped back 55 years to a Mike Wallace interview with the doyen of capitalism, Ayn Rand — her dark, darting bird eyes scanning the studio furtively. Read more



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January 27th, 2014

The Grammys: Porn Yes. Protest No.

porn_crunch

Like I’ve done every year since I was a wee lad, I watched the Grammys last night. Which was more of a long slog through tepid, dish-watery music with lotsa nostalgia and female artists stirring hormones (shock!) to confirm their viability in the pop marketplace, which isn’t much of a vital music milieu anymore.

When a friend asked me at dinner recently to name my favorite albums from last year, I couldn’t think of any. Singles stood out, yes. But cohesive productions, works that normally qualify as an ‘album’? Not so much. There was engaging music, for certain, but it was found on obscure paths, from esoteric artists or labels or autodidact home studio aficionados. That New Zealand’s lovely Lorde won two awards last night was a nice compensation for the long train of tedium.

Gone are the days when a creation of genius, like Stevie Wonder‘s Innervisions, would command a pile of Grammys. Now it’s target group, marketing department-derived music that translates instantly into cash for the dinosaur labels. During her acceptance speech last night, some country artist thanked Mercury and I thought: Oh cool, she’s into astrology; but then recalled how that used to be a big label.

So, is it surprising that the big winners last night were robots? Artists that didn’t even speak but osmotically conveyed gratitude through other entities on stage. Very much the reverse of how Daft Punk comprised their album: by siphoning off the best melodies and riffs from previously established hits from Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and others. I enjoyed Daft Punk’s album, I have a copy, and it’s fun to put on when I’m cleaning the house and thinking about Donna Summer‘s Bad Girls — which I used to clean the house with. Back in the 80s.
Read more



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January 04th, 2014

The Roaring Engine of This Tremendous Time

“We are living in a demented world …

Everywhere there are doubts as to the solidity of our social structure, vague fears of the imminent future, a feeling that our civilization is on the way to ruin.

They are not merely the shapeless anxieties which beset us in the small hours of the night when the flame of life burns low. They are considered expectations founded on observation and judgment of an overwhelming multitude of facts.

How to avoid the recognition that almost all things which once seemed sacred and immutable have now become unsettled, truth and humanity, justice and reason?

We see forms of government no longer capable of functioning, production systems on the verge of collapse, social forces gone wild with power.

The roaring engine of this tremendous time seems to be heading for a breakdown.

But immediately the antithesis forces itself on our minds. Never has there been a time when men were so clearly conscious of their commanding duty to co-operate in the task of preserving and improving the world’s well being and human civilization.”

— Johan Huizinga

From In The Shadow of Tomorrow
Animate GIF by ABVH from an illustration by Alexis Diaz.



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November 21st, 2013

Still and Always We Want Waking

Why does death catch us by surprise, and why love?

We still and always want waking.

We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up: instead we watch television and miss the show.

– Annie Dillard
 
Installation by Eva and Franco Mattes (aka 0100101110101101.ORG)



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