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No Curtises Today
After looking at my tumblr yesterday and realising I kinda went overboard, I am declaring today to be Curtis-free day. Obsessions like this are something I use to fill the yawning chasm of my own emptiness, rather than anything positive or good. I don’t want that band back, I want my life, as it was in 2005 back. Which is ridiculous, not to mention impossible.
Sitting on the bus this morning in a traffic jam, listening to Kraftwerk’s Computer World and reading Ellen Ullman’s Close To The Machine and thinking “ha ha, this is my ~lyfe~, this is the most ~my lyfe in a nutshell~ thing I could be doing” but that isn’t even true. I started reading it to try to make me fall back in love with my life and my job and my ~career~ as a programmer, but it isn’t working. I’m just feeling the awful horrible sick nausea she describes feeling in the first chapter of the book.
I’m in a state of complete burn-out right now. Which I suppose makes it a good thing I’m going on holiday tomorrow. But I’m not sure this isn’t the kind of soul burn-out that going on a holiday will not cure. But then again, neither will pictures of beautiful boys.
The radical is not gone, just hidden
I recently read Austin Kleon’s recommendation on tumblr of Ellen Ullmann’s book Close to the Machine, a book, as can be seen by its subtitle Technophilia and Its Discontents, that is exasperated by the progression of the internet has taken from exciting, radical beginnings to a commerical space lacking in creativity.
Ellen Ullmann was there at the beginning as a radical programmer, along with Jaron Lanier, who writes the introduction, and who wrote about many of the same themes in his critical manifesto You Are Not a Gadget. In the decades that have passed since the radical beginnings, both have become disenchanted by the manner in which the internet has become commodified, has cast off the possibilities that it promised.
It’s not that I think Ellen Ullmann or Jaron Lanier’s dismay is not valid, or that I do not feel sympathy for the disappointment. Nowadays the vast majority of people using the internet do so through browsers, which narrows the possibilities of what they can do, and narrows them in a way that means businesses have co-opted most of the activities that happen on the internet.
But I think this is just an standard example of the history of most art forms, or radical new movements: a radical beginning evolves into a less creative form whenever mass consumption enters the picture. But just because something is being consumed en masse does not mean there are not radical fringes where people are still doing new and interesting things. There may very well be just as many or more people doing radical things with the internet than there were at the beginning – but they are less visible because their activities make up a much smaller proportion of activity than before.
Compare the huge number of formulaic Hollywood films made each year, or the number of formulaic albums. But this does not mean there is not cutting edge art being made in both these fields, and in every other field. And the real radicals are creating whole new fields of which most of us as yet have no idea. Ellen Ullmann and Jaron Lanier are now the old school of the web – they are not as likely to know about the radical stuff that’s happening as they once were.
It’s just the way of the world – when a thing is good, everyone wants a piece of it, and it becomes mainstream and commodified. But the radical is still around, it’s just hidden.