Posts Tagged ‘society’

A history of haunting

January 15th, 2012

“Do you enjoy upsetting this family?” [Two knocks.] “You do. Well, now will you please go away? Because I think you’ve had enough of your jokes.” [Two knocks.] “You won’t go away. I would like you to go away, and go away because I think you’ve been upsetting this family long enough.”
A ‘psychical’ investigator on BBC Nationwide in 1977 attempting to get rid of a poltergeist haunting the above room of a house in Enfield.

Documentary maker Adam Curtis wrote a blog post just before Christmas about the changing depiction of ghosts and hauntings on BBC TV, tracing the way during the 1970s it moved from ancient piles to suburban homes, bringing the haunted house from the aristocratic to the domestic.


Science fiction and man’s future

December 20th, 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey

Perhaps conspicuously absent from my post on the need for a bit of magic in technology was Arthur C. Clarke’s famous edict, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think it kinda supports my point, adding the one that technology and magic aren’t so dissimilar as technology’s relationship with science and magic’s relationship with mysticism might suggest.

Anyway, it also reminds me that I recently listened to an incredible group discussion that was held in May 1970 between Clarke, sociologist Alvin Toffler, who was about to publish Future Shock, and cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. It’s called 2001: Science Fiction Or Man’s Future?

Though based on the recent release of the film of Clarke’s book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke’s preoccupation with the effects of space travel on society now sounds naive, while the other two sound brilliantly prescient. Toffler expounds his visions of a intensely participatory future and Mead worries about the aged being increasingly disenfranchised in a society that is continually going through rapid technological change.

Then, though, Clarke was focused on what society must have assumed was humankind’s future, while Toffler and Mead must have seemed boringly preoccupied by decidedly earthly concerns. Just shows how far we’ve come – well, in the sense that we’ve gone comparatively nowhere.

Incidentally, for those who are also fascinated by the past’s visions of the future, you’ll enjoy the excellent Paleo-Future Blog. Go!

Link roundup – mega edition

December 19th, 2010

Sorry for this screed, but it appears I haven’t had my Delicious links properly linked up lately. It’s worth it, I swear, if only for the casu marzu.

  • The Suits of James Bond – Well, just that, really. Good fetishism.
  • Clive Thompson: Will the word processor destroy our ability to think? – Looking at the impact of cut and paste on writing, and asking the question: has it changed the way we think? I can’t really imagine writing anything fully structured in one pass, but I must have done so when I was at school and early university. It’s strange to realise how alien the concept is now.
  • Designing Media: Interviews – Hyper interesting – a series of fantastic four-minute interviews with leading editors, designers and writers about the changing form of media, all to publicise Bill Moggridge’s new Designing Media book. Includes Neil Stevenson on making PopBitch, Chris Anderson on Wired’s relationship with its website, Ira Glass on telling narratives and Mark Zuckerberg on sharing and social connections.
  • The Twitter Hulks – From Feminist Hulk to Cross-dressing Hulk, Lit-crit Hulk to Film-crit Hulk.
  • Paleo-Future Blog: Dawn of the Wireless Phone – Professor William Edward Ayrton wondered in 1901 what it would mean to have portable, wireless telephones: “Think of what this would mean, of the calling which goes on every day from room to room of a house, and then think of that calling extending from pole to pole, not a noisy babble, but a call audible to him who wants to hear, and absolutely silent to all others. It would be almost like dreamland and ghostland, not the ghostland cultivated by a heated imagination, but a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.”
  • Chris Burden’s Metropolis II – “It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In “Metropolis II,” by his calculation, “every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city,” Mr. Burden said. “It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It’s quite intense.””
  • Batman symbols – Must be most, if not all of the Batman symbols. A remarkable range of shapes, but all maintain its distinctive identity.
  • NYT: The Attention-Span Myth – “At some point, we stopped calling Tom Sawyer-style distractibility either animal spirits or a discipline problem. We started to call it sick…” What exactly is an attention span? And is it really good to have one? Great piece of assumption busting.
  • Nine Eyes of Google Street View – Jon Rafman’s cuts of Street View, showing beauty and ugliness, humour and horror in momentary, sliced, sections of the world. Makes you realise that, though public, streets tend to go often unobserved. And it’s a project that seems rooted in a kind of compulsive madness of panning and zooming. Deckard surely has nothing on Rafman.
  • The Atlantic: The 12 Timeless Rules for Making a Good Publication – The Atlantic’s mid-20th century exceedingly elegant and thoughtful editorial guidelines. My favourite: “Always remember that the fastidious element in the Atlantic audience is its permanent and valuable core.”
  • Clay Shirky: The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics – Guess what! Shirky doesn’t think it’s been an enormous success. Expanding on that, the venture “suggests that paywalls don’t and can’t rescue current organizational forms”.
  • On Set: Empire Strikes Back – Vanity Fair – Pictures from the set of Empire Strikes Back show the wonderful mundanity of making fantasy. Mattresses scattered beneath the platform during the climatic scene between Vader and Skywalker, model makers towering above AT-ATs. Also, check the way they created the yellow scrolling text at the start – they actually filmed it.
  • Human landscapes in SW Florida – Patterns amid natural forms in new housing estates in Florida.
  • Cheese I’m afraid of #43: casu marzu – Maggot-riddled casu marzu from Sardinia doesn’t sound like my thing. It’s eaten with thousands of maggots still in it, maggots which are not only able to jump six inches but also have mouthhooks which they can use to tear up your insides.

Link roundup

August 15th, 2010
  • Thirty Five Images of Space Helmet Reflections – A compendium of faces peering from within bulbous glass at the great beyond (via Berg).
  • The New Science of Morality – “Nearly all of us doing this work are secular Liberals. And that means that we're at very high risk of misunderstanding those moralities that are not our own.” Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s talk on how western liberal culture, the one that has essentially built the foundations for the study of human psychology, has a restricted moral spectrum compared to other cultures around the world, and why confirmation bias means it’s much to easy for these psychologists to profoundly misunderstand other cultures.
  • Granta: Cinema's Invisible Art – An essay on the scriptwriter's talent of spare but vivid description, from the Coen brothers to Shane Black's awesome script for Lethal Weapon. No, really.

City parking

January 5th, 2010

Multi-storey car parks aren’t commonly beautiful places. They usually sit as ostracised blocks in the city, rough and slitted concrete walls facing the outside like the those of a gaol; an ugly and barely tolerated necessity of urban life.

How to redefine the multi-storey car park? If you’re stern Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron, you try to invite the city into its structure, rather than close it off. 1111 Lincoln Road is a newly opened car park in Miami, situated on the border of its social downtown heart and its suburban sprawl.

Its angled concrete columns support floors uncharacteristically open to the balmy climate; inside lie parking spaces and an enclosed shop, with retail units layering the ground level, and condos at its side. If you’re inside, the structure’s geometry ascribes inclusive views of the city, according to Financial Times architecture writer Edwin Heathcote. And he says that it works the other way, too:

“The idea is to create a series of layers that extend the public realm up into the building, to attract events, parties and life into the structure. Both architects and developer see the structure as an experiment in a new kind of downtown transport architecture, a building as exciting to enter as to emerge from, blinking into the Miami sun. This may be optimistic, but it’s a good story.”

Not that this ideal hasn’t been attempted before. Gateshead’s Trinity Square was built with a restaurant on its top. Now it seems an incredible – and doomed – gesture of pride at the ideal of harmony between the motorist and the city. Its top levels have been closed since 1995, a decline that’s due in part to changing car access in the city centre. But the seed of its demise was surely more deeply planted – it was featured at the end of Get Carter in a scene in which it was implicated in the activities of a corrupt local businessman. That’s the usual image of the multi-storey – an embodiment of the unethical and sinister side of the city.

1111 Lincoln Road presents a different reading of the role of a multi-storey car park, even though it’s an idealistic if not fantastical one for most urban realities. It requires additional height to accommodate the numbers of spaces most car parks require and desirable shops to act as conduits between itself and the social, cultural and economic life of the city. But then, it’s also good to see a celebration of something otherwise so shunned.

Comments in the cloud

December 26th, 2009

From Iain Tait’s Trend Predictions For 2010. Spot on, I say, and a good thing, too.

Commentary is and should be disparate – to attempt to contain all relevant discussion in the tidy comments list below the original article is just pissing in the wind. And the good stuff is so often dislocated from the source, anyway – I rarely comment on posts, but often talk about them elsewhere.

Besides, the sooner good material is stopped from getting polluted by crappy comments the better. It breaks my heart to see another carefully written piece immediately followed by a thoughtless line of crap spat out in an instant.

All we need, then, are commentary aggregators, pulling stuff from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and all that jazz. Separate yet inclusive, embracing plurality.

Death, therefore, to comments. Long live discussion.

On boredom

July 22nd, 2009

This is a post from my old blog, circa early 2006. It was probably its most successful in terms of readers (a modest claim, to be honest) and how pleased I was with it, and it also generated some angry responses, accusing me of petty, bourgeois narrow mindedness. That wasn’t my intention at all, of course – I just kinda thought that there was a a new generation of people that had forgotten, or had never experienced, true boredom in a world  increasingly tuned to providing continuous partial attention. Self-indulgent it may be, but here it is again – now with footnotes!

We took our son to our book club yesterday evening. We all met at a bar restaurant place under the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, and we spent a glorious three hours talking about Rodinsky’s Room and uproariously deciding what book to read next1.

And all the time, little eight month old Jack2 was there, playing with bits of paper, being bounced about, smiling at people and (eventually) sleeping in his pushchair, but, naturally, marginalised from the main activity. And I got to thinking about how bored I used to get as a child, how I remember the hours of being dragged to places by my parents, made to wait as they had mystifyingly entertaining conversations with friends, or watched stuff on telly or went round National Trust properties3. In fact, an abiding memory of being a kid with my parents is of boredom4.

And I realised that I can’t really remember the last time I was truly bored. Whenever people tell me that they’re bored, I often find myself telling them that I love being bored. I’m wrong, of course. I mean that I love being aimless – fiddling about with whatever’s at hand. I don’t really know what it is to be bored any more. There’s so much to do – play a videogame, watch one of our backed up Lovefilm DVDs, read a one of my many backed up books, flick through one of my many backed up Edges5, read my backed up Bloglines feeds, write a review for Pixelsurgeon6, write a post, like now, for Rotational…

And these are just the things I like doing. Then there’s cleaning the flat7, sorting through all that paperwork that I keep putting into great, horrifying untidy piles, wash some clothes, get some bloody milk we can’t keep spooning baby milk powder into coffee8.

And before all that there’s looking after the boy.

Even on long journeys I don’t get bored – there’s DS and reading and watching Sin City on PSP and listening to music…9 Bored just doesn’t come into it any more.

I guess that’s good, but I’m not sure. Could I cope without being endlessly stimulated by something or other? What if the electricity runs out?

  1. It was Flowers For Algernon – lovely stuff, too. The book club days remain treasured memories.
  2. Now four and about to start at school. Jeepers.
  3. Here’s the rub: making our final descent into middle age, last year we became members.
  4. Though the kids often get frustrated that things don’t always revolve around them, they haven’t yet experienced the drawn-out horror of a long afternoon with nothing to do. Aside from the evergreen delights of Lego and felt-tip pens, now there’s the modern impositions of all-day Cbeebies and YouTube.
  5. Oh the irony.
  6. Now up on blocks, it was a good illustrator/web design community.
  7. Now a house and with one extra kid, so even more cleaning.
  8. Yup. Still do that.
  9. I love going on trains because they impose on you time you can’t do anything other than the things you have with you. With the advent of iPhone (or iPod Touch, in my case), though, continual distraction invades even the sanctity of First Great Western.