So while this was always already intended as a blog post, I’m actually writing it on an honest-to-got note pad in Laurelhurst Park, which I only discovered recently because I was meeting my sister at Side Street and the 15 was running wonky. Let this be your notice that this oversight has gotten you fucking fired.
At any rate, writing things on paper. I went back to writing my diary in, well, a diary a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t doing very well with it. I recently started regimenting my morning a bit more, however, and I think that things are going to improve.
About that regimentation: initially, feeding the cat was the first thing I did after getting out of bed, but that turned out to be a huge mistake. He started trying to get me up earlier and earlier by jumping on my chest and biting my face. This was corrected by moving his feeding time back a bit, after I’d done some dottering. Shocking how something so devious can be so credulous about some things.
I decided to write in this fashion to get around a real lack of thinking that I’ve been doing lately, which is in dramatic need of correction. Well, not lack of thinking, of course, but maybe lack of correct thinking. I’ve been involved in some sort of plumpe denken, which has been taking a severe toll.
Now, I have been fixing things around the house (at least part way) and writing a new SDK for Temboo, so it’s not like I’m in a coma or something. The pattern is more like after I’m done with that stuff I don’t have an internal life. Instead, I have a bunch of niggling worries, a melodramatic awareness of my backlog of concerns, and then a bunch of self-deprecating. . . I don’t know, things.
So naturally this creates a bit of a death-spiral. I’m trying to combat it by just keeping closer tabs on the tiny details in the tick-mark on a list sort of way, and the aforementioned aggressive regimentation.
And then this, of course. Having a big stretch of empty space here means that I’ve been trying to write about things and then getting caught up in some manner of detail or another and then whatever I was thinking about has slipped too far from me, and it’s just another loss. That sort of builds up until all you can do is push out some maudlin business about how much work everything is. Bogus.
Okay, hopefully that is all over and we can get back to metaphors, which is all I really care about any more (and may, considered carefully, be the only thing about which I’ve ever cared.)
P.S.: Did you want everyone you’ve ever met to know that you’re a colossal asshole? Someone has sorted that right out for you.
If you thought the commenters on the Scalzi post mentioned in the previous entry were self-important misery merchants, check out what happened when the damn thing got reposted on Kotaku.
I had planned to be so good. Furthermore, I guess I’d sort of hoped to coast along on the momentum that came with the previously-mentioned promotion, but of course I don’t work that way. Instead, it seemed to cause a bit of a rupture and everything got kind of destructured.
Pinterest is great. Despite initial reservations, I think I’m getting more out of it than any other internet service these days. After my initial reaction to the information flood my impulse was to stop following everyone to whom I was automatically subscribed when I created my account. Luckily I didn’t do this, and instead starting dropping individual boards in which I was clearly not interested. The result is that I avoid being inundated with crap, but I’m still seeing a lot of things that are very cool that I wouldn’t have found left to myself.
In the olden days that doddering old fools like me only barely remember almost all personal web presences included a substantial link section. People would use these to collect lists of pages that they wanted to keep around, and there was a sort of discovery process whereby you would find someone’s homepage and follow their links, learning about various corners of the web as you went. Traditionally-minded bloggers like Warren Ellis still frequently post entries that are lists of links, but in general this process has moved within the silos of social networking sites. Of course, Pinterest is a social networking site too, but it’s very easy to get stuff into it and (and really, this is the most important thing) one doesn’t have to be logged in to view content.
I’ve been really scattered. I’ve always tended to be this way a bit, but it has accelerated lately. I think. I definitely feel like I am less able than usual to determine what I should be doing next, which often means that I waste time doing nothing. It is also the case that my attention span has been really dismal. I’m not positive what that is about.
The most obvious victim of this has been Markov Garden, which is currently pretty dormant. It is very hard for me to decide what to do about that. Part of me would like to really focus on how I can get organized in such a way that a next step is either obvious or discoverable when I find myself wondering what I ought to do. Part of me thinks that the most important thing is to finish what I’ve started and trying to organize myself more effectively ought to wait until after that has happened. If you hadn’t guessed from the previous paragraph, the outcome of this conflict is always that I don’t do anything worthwhile.
So. . . scarf, goofy t-shirt, Kung Fu slippers (not that I’m not entitled), Instagram mirror shot, cat, and I was (no lie) waiting for a test run of my Ruby project to complete when I took this picture.
So one of the things that I’ve been working on lately is trying to avoid information overload while still allowing myself the opportunity to discover new things. Part of this process involved spending a couple of hours mapping out a substantial cross-section of the ways in which I send, receive, and store data using the internet. Looking at the visual representation, C said she felt stressed out by the number of things with which I interacted regularly and wondered why.
I said, and continue to believe, that it was because it was a comprehensible representation of the scope of the web. The complexity of my process scaled out to encompass a huge group of people gives a sense of the irreducible complexity, but not one so overwhelming that the mind simply doesn’t acknowledge it.
At this point it’s a Barthean “punctum,” placing it only barely on this side of trauma. On the face of I it, it’s easy to find this a bit overwrought, but I think it bears scrutiny. If you think about, people have always tended to avoid acknowledging the degree to which the world scales beyond them, and the world has never been so far beyond the average person as it is now, but I’m getting ahead of myself (I mean, it is the future.)
In a related development, your uncle Bruce wrote an article for Wired (a magazine that I would love to hate, but the degraded state of our discourse means it’s pretty damn good) about this newfangled “New Aesthetic.” Now I probably should have had more of an idea about this whole phenomenon, but for some reason the package as such was new to me, although I have long been familiar with the products from every day life.
Sterling starts with some effusive praise, and then gets down to the business of complaining. His objections are sound, but I think that there are two things that he says and then doesn’t combine which constitutes a significant oversight. The first observation is that many of the networks that NA celebrates are overtly hostile. No amount of charming glitches, for example, make a police surveillance network like London’s anything other than overt fascism. A lot of negative things that should be called out are instead played down.
The second is that the “8-bit” aspect of NA is complete fucking bullshit, and while he recognizes that, his analysis of it is where things go a bit wrong. Here’s what he says about them:
Finally, retro ’80s graphics are sentimental fluff for modern adults who grew up in front of 1980s game-console machines. Eight-bit graphics are pretty easy to carve out of styrofoam. There’s a low barrier-to-entry in making sculpture from 8-bit, so that you can “rupture the interface between the digital and the physical.” However 8-bit sculptures are a cute, backward-looking rupture.
This makes the whole pixelizing the external world thing seem like something that can be trimmed off, but the pixelization is actually an integral part of the process whereby people allow themselves to ignore the dangers of things like surveillance networks by making them cute. It’s a metaphor that allows someone to form an idea about how a network interacts with the world without being overwhelmed by the experience. Unfortunately, deployment of this metaphor doesn’t just ignore the unpleasant aspects of the things under observation, it actively confuses the viewer. The fact is, we’re already past the pixel-era. The eyes of the network are getting more acute all the time, and the charming pixel metaphor is a willful blindness to that, and a rush to repression.
I kind of want to talk more about this, including the fact that all human error is attributable to inappropriate metaphors, so stay tuned.
At Hampshire, people who didn’t know me called me Comic Book Boy, because when I showed up there I looked like Dream of the Endless. Now things have truly come full circle, and I look like Neil Gaiman.
But light makes a big difference.
So I was in New York last week, visiting the mothership and catching up with all and sundry. Because I hadn’t seen most of these people in at least two years, there was a lot of talking about what everyone was doing. Because I was fairly relaxed (for me) and enjoying myself (again. . .), I think that it’s worth putting stock in the themes that tended to come out in these processes.
Arguably the single most noticeable thing about all these catch-up sessions is that everyone wanted to be reassured that things were good w/ Carolyn. Now in most cases this is attributable to people liking her, but in one or two key instances it was clearly the result of thinking that we are a good combination based on a deep understanding of at least me. That’s pretty cool, and it’s a nice thing to be able to take away from the experience.
There was a lot of ribbing, mostly but not exclusively around the office, about me wanting to move back to New York. Not to throw my hat too far into the ring of the world’s smuggest man competition, but a fair amount of this was wishful thinking. As I said, I enjoyed the visit immensely, but I haven’t forgotten how burnt out I was on soulless yuppie swine when I moved here back in 2008. Properly filtered, the story here is that I am indeed eager for some sort of change of place. The specifics have yet to be worked out (and lord knows there’s plenty of time to think about it), but C and I are looking, in the somewhat distant future, to live elsewhere.
As for me by myself, I spent a lot of time telling people that things were okay, but that I felt like I needed to be working on being the kind of person that makes things. I think this is kind of a big deal, and I’m definitely going to be focusing on it more. In a way, writing a paper is sort of like a very small project, so I guess it stands to reason that I miss doing something that I did constantly at a time that I consider to have been pretty fruitful. Of course, things can run away from you. Markov Garden has been confusing and big in a lot of ways that I didn’t expect, but I think that publishing it will be a major coup that I really need to be looking forward to. And beyond.
At the all-hands, we spent a lot of time talking about connecting people from information and then I, during a brainstorming session about applications, said something to the effect of “Wait, what about filtering?” People sort of paused and scratched their chins, but we didn’t focus on it at all. It isn’t a thing yet. It will be, but for now people are racing ahead to get their faces in front of the fire hose.
I was reminded of this because C sent me a Pinterest invite last night, and for some reason ye olde Booke of the Fayce required me to upgrade to timeline view to blah blah blah and. . . I have to say that the effect is pretty ridiculous. Pinterest is also kind of nuts. It’s front page is just a massive grid of uneven rectangles full of pictures. Also, when you click on one there is no obvious control to go back to the home page. Presumably this is a way to encourage people to do some interacting with something they may have been merely curious about. Not a decision I would have made.
At any rate, not to bag on any particular site/company/whatever, because really the problem is with the zeitgeist. People want shit like that. People want all their email in one massive bucket that they can search using tags. To me that’s totally nuts. I kind of think that containing structures help create a flow that makes things useful. Of course, that can be limit your access to things outside of your extant experience (in fact, I’d say that part of the reason I thought being on Pinterest was a good idea was to encourage myself to look outside my extant structure), but everyone seems to be about searching, and nobody is about sorting. Yet.
Being sick was pretty brutal. Not last Friday night, but the Friday night previous I had fever dreams which, as far as I can recall, were all about things being set in stone. I was sick and would be unable, at the key moment, to do something to prevent whatever now indelible change my damaged psyche had created as a metaphor for my sufferings. I guess it’s pretty clear what I’m most afraid of these days.
Walking around after I was nominally recovered (which we’re going to put around last Wednesday, although I am still legitimately ill) I felt like there was some clear correspondence between my surroundings and what had been in my head. Everything was chaotic. It creates a fever-like anamorphosis in which you can interact with something about the space (i.e.: you can manipulate the objects which make up the chaos), but there is no way to influence the space itself.
The clever will no doubt suggest that I consider cleaning, and, in the end I shall. Slowly, painstakingly and, like a suicide from another epoch, reminding myself of all of this buttoning and unbuttoning. Because that’s what makes the objects of the chaos accrete into something opaque: the fact that they’ll be back. There is nothing in particular about the state of those shelves that is particularly insane. I imagine everything there could have a reasonable home in something like 15 minutes. But then I’d use something and wonder if where I put it after I cleaned might not be the ideal spot and before I know it I may as well have done nothing at all, because the effort will appear to have been completely wasted.
I’ve always hated this, and I have spent most of my life as a messy person. Because I have had productive and non-productive phases while still being messy it hasn’t ever been something that I’ve thought of as a determining factor, but pathology is insidious like that. I think that my solution has been, as noted in the previous paragraph, to get sick of things and then arrange them and wait for entropy to begin the process again.
Despite how it appears on the face of it, there is more to this than laziness. In particular, there is the fact that I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person who embraces chaos fully. I have, at many times in my life, made reasonable showing at this by not having any options, but the fact is that I’m really kind of delicate at heart, so those times have tended to be pretty telling. Now I’ve worn myself down to the point where I’m wondering what sorts of structures I can set in place to slow the return of entropy. I guess this is the positive side of inertia. It’s actually kind of peaceful.
One of the stops on my busy Thanksgiving sojourn was Matthew’s, where he and his mother attempted to coerce C’s experiences into a narrative about how texting is rotting the delicate minds of the youth of America, and god only knows what else. During the discussion I took it upon myself to point out that adults weren’t any less susceptible to the compulsions of constant phonography, but because that was orthogonal to what they were trying to get C to say it only held anyone’s attention as fleetingly as a “LOL” sent via text message.
I think that texting/mobile web abuse is related to the confusion I touched upon here, wherein people think this stream constitutes some kind of grasp on the world. Inundated with a steady stream of faux-information and faux-communication (fauxmunication?), people are too busy pressing buttons to wonder about the quality of things, which heads off some troubling questions.
This is the look — even as late as Proust — of the object of a love which only a city dweller experiences, which Baudelaire captured for poetry, and of which one might not infrequently say that it was spared, rather than denied, fulfillment.
–Benjamin, Illuminations, 170.
So I finished Wuthering Heights today, and the last quarter of that book is a total dog. I will note that by that time there were few enough pages that the whole thing didn’t just collapse under its own weight, so it’s still better than Great Expectations, and you should just ignore my mother.
I think I’m finally off this stupid old-book kick. I don’t know what I was thinking letting it go on that long. Moby Dick is awesome, but it isn’t awesome enough to justify reading 2/3 of Great Expectations. I’m all set for the new Hollinghurst novel, The Stranger’s Child.
It’s actually quite strange to me that it has taken so long for me to get around to reading another Hollinghurst novel, because I adored The Swimming Pool Library back at Hampshire. I think that the problem may have been that I studied it very closely for a paper (reading it maybe 4 times through in a month, and certain sections more than that) and I burnt out for a while. I was reminded of him by a couple of press stories recently, and I’m actually looking forward to working back through the rest of his oeuvre.