There’s never enough time to read anything properly these days, especially something on the internet. Even with Instapaper I need another step to filter and save what I’ve already filtered and saved. So, after a year of keeping the important stuff it only seems fair to do something with it. Printing out the internet seemed like a good approach to this problem. And yes, using a service such as Blurb fits perfectly with this project, living only on the internet. I didn’t want to spend too much time typesetting this or giving page numbers, just enough to make it a useful object. One of the problems I find with reading on screens is there’s no possibility for patina. Nothing can be dog eared, it can’t be taken into the bathroom (without pangs of guilt and shame) and yet the text is discarded too quickly.
After trawling through hundreds of saved posts and articles, a mild theme began to emerge. One that wasn’t just somewhat of a retrospective of the past year, but the way in which we’ve been thinking in 2011. Or, how I’ve been thinking this year at least. The overall shape of the 21st century is finally beginning to emerge and some of these pieces should point in that vague direction. While there’s somewhat of an underlying thread here, the most important thing was that this would be an interesting read. Something for the holidays. This meant loosening up the structure: taking out pieces that were too dry or specific. Editing is always the hardest part. I don’t want to ramble too much, so I’ll let you get on with it. Consider this my mixbook for 2011.
I should stress that I lovingly stole this idea from Christopher Butler (who lovingly stole it from Emmet Connolly). Chris is up to his third book so far (volume one, two, three) and I hope to continue the trend. He has much smarter things to say about this whole process, so read his and then come back here to read me waffle on for a bit. I've been planning on doing this for a year or so, when an email came in from Blurb that they were having one of their many sales, I quickly stopped everything for two days and got it done. Making it used parts of my brain that needed stretching, but also made me realise how much more time should have gone into it.
I wanted to include something by Dan Hill, which seems to be the running gag that any of these sorts of things should have one of his incredibly long blog posts. There's always next year. I couldn't help inserting my own private joke in here: having Bruce Sterling close the whole thing. Considering he's always called upon to close just about every conference it seemed fitting to let him do the same thing here.
I didn't have time for any illustrations, page numbers or links in the text (two days is clearly not long enough), so next year should be much more of a finessed object. The other tip I've learnt is to actually hand them out between xmas and new years. It's holiday reading but not everyone has them despite everyone going back to work. In needing a front cover I couldn't resist a photo of my first 3D printed object: because, well, it's a print out. The icing on the laser sintered cake is that it's a generative piece which I made during the Generative Design intensive this semester (I DID mention I was doing my Masters this year didn't I?). Lots of algorithmic logic in some of these articles, I couldn't resist. Looking forward to seeing the amount of batshit that goes on in 2012 just so it can be squeezed into the next book.
Is 2011 a year that will change the world - John Harris
For Mason, all this is also pretty clearly manifested in this year’s most iconic archetype: the tent community which springs up in the midst of the city, usually home to the flickering blue light of laptops and the incessant hubbub of intense conversation. “One thing that there has been in common between the Arab spring and the European and American events is this drive – which is almost pathological – to secure space, and live in it,” he says. “In one sense, it’s a meme … and I think it does satisfy a desire. Once you’ve lived and experienced this sort of spontaneous, communal, utopian sort of existence online, which is what you do if you’re a net-savvy young kid … well, put it this way: if you were to ask yourself, what is the real-world equivalent of being in a 200-strong World Of Warcraft horde? It’s probably sitting in a square, in a tent.”
Network Realism: William Gibson and new forms of fiction - James Bridle
So, if Gibson was originally writing “on top of Firefox”, he’s now writing on top of Twitter. The stream contains references, mixed up, to Prada shoes and Idoru dancers. All links. All references, premade scenes waiting to be pulled into the flow of fiction. When the Festo drones appear in the text, they appear in the same location, same architecture as in those product videos. The network’s readymades.
Gibson’s been talking a lot lately about atemporality, this idea that we live in a sort of endless digital now. In “Zero History” we have an echo of “No Future”: everything compressed into the present. This idea is what Zero History is really about. (This is the Order Flow: the future is defined by the present; who pinpoints the present controls the future.) ... it’s undeniable that something is happening, a network effect produced by the sudden visibility of just how unevenly distributed those futures are.
Thinking in Tumblr - Alexandra Lange
Which is why I recently found myself discussing with a designer why I thought his industrial design client should not publish a commemorative book, but should start a commemorative Tumblr. (I couldn’t believe it when those words came out of my mouth.) Considering this history project, my mind reassembled its pieces as a blog, asynchronic, motley, sketchy. Rough rather than smooth. An archive of affinities rather than a resolved history. There’s a reason so many archives are using it. On a Tumblr, every kind of memory could be collected and streamed, linked, as so many of the “f*** yeah” genre are, by a single word.
The Elusive Big Idea - Neal Gabler
And that’s just the point. In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.
Innovation Starvation - Neal Stephenson
SF has changed over the span of time I am talking about — from the 1950s (the era of the development of nuclear power, jet airplanes, the space race, and the computer) to now. Speaking broadly, the techno-optimism of the Golden Age of SF has given way to fiction written in a generally darker, more skeptical and ambiguous tone. I myself have tended to write a lot about hackers — trickster archetypes who exploit the arcane capabilities of complex systems devised by faceless others. Believing we have all the technology we’ll ever need, we seek to draw attention to its destructive side effects. This seems foolish now that we find ourselves saddled with technologies like Japan’s ramshackle 1960s-vintage reactors at Fukushima when we have the possibility of clean nuclear fusion on the horizon. The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it.
Inside the Mind of an Octopus - Sy Montgomery
Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.
But new evidence suggests a breathtaking possibility. Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and University of Washington researchers found that the skin of the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis, a color-changing cousin of octopuses, contains gene sequences usually expressed only in the light-sensing retina of the eye. In other words, cephalopods—octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid—may be able to see with their skin.
How Algorithms Shape our World - Kevin Slavin
And that’s the thing, is that we’re writing things, we’re writing these things that we can no longer read. And we’ve rendered something illegible. And we’ve lost the sense of what’s actually happening in this world that we’ve made. And we’re starting to make our way. There’s a company in Boston called Nanex, and they use math and magic and I don’t know what, and they reach in to all the market data and they find, actually sometimes, some of these algorithms. And when they find them they pull them out and they pin them to the wall like butterflies. And they do what we’ve always done when confronted with huge amounts of data that we don’t understand -- which is that they give them a name and a story. So this is one that they found, they called the Knife, the Carnival, the Boston Shuffler, Twilight.
A Critique on the Critical - Patrick Keating
Critical design cannot predict the future. Our ideas of the future are often less radical than the reality. Design however, can invent worlds giving us freedoms to explore various branches of reality. Speculative design is a dreamlike exercise – manufacturing alternate worlds, ones which feel every bit as real as the “real world” we inhabit day-to-day (whatever that is!). It cannot predict the future, but it can shape the present.
The Movie Set that Ate Itself - Michael Idov
One of the twins admiringly touches my head. Before coming to wardrobe, I’d stopped in hair and makeup. My nape and temples are now shaved clean in an approximation of an old hairstyle called a half-box. All to help me blend in on the set. Only, from here on, I can no longer call it that. According to a glossary of forbidden terms posted right in front of me on the wall, the set is to be referred to as the Institute. Likewise, inside the Institute, there are no scenes, just experiments. No shooting, only documentation. And there is certainly no director. Instead, Ilya Khrzhanovsky, the man responsible for this madness, is to be referred to as the Head of the Institute or simply the Boss.
Twenty Years Fore and Aft - Bruce Sterling
Twenty years from now is 2031. That year is not Utopia or Oblivion, it’s not made of sci-fi hologrammed tinsel; it’s just another year among many, and most of its working parts are already scattered around. Like any other year, it offers novelties, but also huge absences. 1991 had many thriving elements denied to 2031. Film cameras. Newspapers. Bookshops. Print magazines that were simply, entirely and utterly print. National analogue broadcast television networks. Young people.