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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Back in 2004, at a wonderful ‘conference’ called Design Engaged (which was informative, transformational and fun – I made a lot of friends) I gave a presentation about technology and the city – I drew on the ideas of Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord to critique the trajectory I saw being laid down by telcos for the commodification of public space through ‘locative media’. Nearly a decade later, I’m still worried (that’s another post), but my place of concern is far more intimate – it’s our everyday banalities that seems to be rife for commercial transformation.

The rise of facebook and the forthcoming ad-ification of our timelines, means that the most banal witterings of our inner/outer selves become the place and data resource for people to sell us unwanted shit.

Now… this is not a ‘I hate advertising’ post… I have no time for that level of naive debate. What I’m concerned with is the lack of socio-political aspiration involved in mining our meaningless drivel. The power of social media lies in its transformational collective action – its ability to connect, organise and distribute knowledge and action across the globe. It allows for ideas to spread, inspire and engage people in different ways. Surely there’s a better business model beyond the commercialisation of our continual-partial-distracted attention?

I’m fond of the banalities that come from my friends and contacts, I like sharing some of the meaningless crap in my life, I like social media. However, I don’t want to see it reflected back at me in the form of advertising for weightloss pills. I don’t want my everyday struggles to be turned into a sales opportunity. If this is the only way for the internet to progress, let’s get better at it.

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The Kony 2012 campaign and video has been discussed a lot. This is inevitable after a video has received over a 100 million views. Thoughtful and intelligent analysis has highlighted some of its geo-political over-simplifications and Invisible Children has had its fair share of critics. The hospitalisation of Jason Russell highlighted the overwhelming nature, impact and popularity of the message.

What I’d like to focus on is how perfect a contemporary ‘media artefact’ the video is. I believe it’s an important point in our visual history and I’d argue that it typifies (or maybe expands) James Bridle‘s concept of the New Aesthetic.

What we see with Kony 2012 is the visual, organisational and philosophic language of the network being used in both form and message. The video is made for the internet and is constructed for the facebook generation. Every cut, faux click and zoom utilizes the visual and aesthetic language of our familar digital lives. We watch ‘the internet’ animate before our eyes, with a message that is produced to a point of sentimental perfection.

The facebook timeline becomes the structural device to move us through history, zipping through time we pause at different points in Russell’s life and enter his atemporal reality. We stop, gaze voyeuristically and move on to another vignette.

Google maps is another device used to move us through the space of the narrative. At one point we descend from heaven, into the heart of Africa in a move that reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten.

In many ways this typifies James’ idea of digital ‘ways of seeing’, but it is the collision of both the aesthetic and the political that gives Kony2012 its power. It is using the aesthetic language of the network to mobilise its masses, it’s harnessing the structural formation of digital telecommunications to highlight and change the realities it supports. It is the product and producer of a digital age.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of visiting a few care homes recently. My dad has vascular dementia and has needed respite care in a secure unit of a dementia home to recover from an operation.

Beyond the deeply upsetting nature of the homes, I’m fascinated by the architecture and design of the spaces. Here is the home that my dad is currently in:

The building is designed as a loop: internally it feels circular, it allows for a continual semi-cognisant drift. There is something profoundly tragic and almost cruel in allowing people to travel without ever reaching their intended (or impossible) destinations.

It reminded me of Loop Geography and Trap Rooms, the construction of an architecture to pacify and contain, forget and hide. They’ve built a psychological treadmill to allow for constant movement without interruption and restriction.

How are these structures designed? Do they come from an architectural consultation with Dementia experts?

An alternative, is Dementiaville. A dutch care village that constructs a different form of care. Instead of trapping the residents in an immovable now, they transport them to a fictional past. The ethics of this is complicated, but I know one thing, the now is not that great for these people. I wish my Dad was in Dementiaville.

After many years, I’ve decided to blog again. Thinking about things has been left to digitally decompose and SB-129 is born. The title of the blog is from a brilliant episode of SpongBob SquarePants: SB-129 follows Squidward’s travels through time – he’s accidentally frozen and wakes 2000 years in the future. Here he’s presented with a reality he is incapable of comprehending, he falls into a momentary FUTURE SHOCK. 

It’s both Squidward’s utter shock at the state of the world and his desire to escape it that makes SB-129 an appropriate title. A time travelling, reluctant futurist. But more than that, the writers of SpongeBob create a keen critique of how the future is visualised and represented:

Squidward: “Why is everything chrome?”

SpongeTron: “Everything is chrome in the future”

Even the ocean floor is chrome. However, what we see is a future that needs constant maintenance; although the future is shiny and consistent, it’s only a thin veneer of the future. At any given moment, chaos can break through and ruin the pristine vision. It’s the idea of constant maintenance that I love, not only is foresight a process of projection, invention, ideology and imagination it is also one of logistics, support and backroom services.

Beyond the obvious critique of cinematic and technological futures being presented in a material form of perfection, SpongeBob engages in the tools of maintenance and adaptation.

There’s a wonderful moment when SpongeTron gets out a hammer to break some ice, however it’s a laser in hammer form. A tool that holds onto the form of the past, almost a skeuomorphism of future things.

I haven’t got a clear remit for the blog, but it’ll be about things that I’m fascinated and possibly annoyed with. Things that need more than 144 characters to explain, explore and discuss. Most likely all things design, technology, speculative production, photography, cinema etc… you know, the usual stuff.

But to reminisce, here was the reason I started my first blog, the reason still stands:

“An Anti-rigour machine; working in an academic environment, i spend an inordinate amount of time critiquing ideas – sometimes, i believe, this restricts them – killing the ridiculous before it gets started.”

Bring on the ridiculous.