Travis Kalanick’s recent string of run-ins with reality have put me to thinking, as I occasionally do, about how weird it is that we ignore empathy when evaluating intelligence. While anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that Kalanick’s apologies are insincere, the hurt and confused demeanour isn’t. He’s genuinely at a loss, because he’s getting in trouble for the exact behavior that has caused people to throw money at him. Kalanick may be the (punchable) face of the problem at the moment, but the fact that VCs are clamoring to get in on a company that’s hemorrhaging precisely because of its cavalier attitude towards its employees, the law, and the world at large constitutes a problem on a much larger scale.
We can quibble about lionizing sociopaths having been appropriate in the past, but for people trying to make their money off the opportunities presented by the connected world, not being sympathetic to someone else’s perspective is basically wanting to have your cake and eat it too, which I think is something that everyone can agree is a sign of limited intelligence.
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.
Despite not keeping up to date with posts, I have been progressing with Markov Garden. Whilst enjoying my vacation in the ancestral homeland, I worked mostly on the appearance aspect, which I’m not very good at, but I think the results have been alright.
As I have noted elsewhere, I am deeply concerned about the homogenization of the internet, so I have been trying to find a look that isn’t too in keeping with the temper of the times. After sort of wandering around a bit, I decided that I’d try to work on something based on this amazing Luibov Popova textile design.
I love this because it is organic, but that doesn’t prevent it from boldly facing the future. Unfortunately, as I’m not much of an HTML-ologist, I found myself compromising in ways that undermined the value. After a little more exploration (for which I think I’m really getting a lot out of Pinterest, despite its sloppy design principles) I came upon this Jean Arp image.
This is an easier stylistic guide, although I’m still trying to incorporate influences from the Popova. Right now the thing runs the risk of looking a little mod, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get past that. I want something that reflects optimism about progress without having to refer to it explicitly.
So I decided that my existing side-projects were all too mercenary and that I needed to do something goofy. The goofy thing I decided to do centers around generating random text using Markov Chains. I’m learning Javscript as I go, and when I was ready to have it generate text from the probability table I wasn’t somewhere where I could connect to the internet, so I didn’t know how to generate random numbers. Just to test the generator I arbitrarily set it to retrieve the first word from the list of possible words. For various implementation reasons, this will give you the input text, unless certain kinds of repetition occurs.
As an input text, I used the last two paragraphs here, because I thought it would be funny, and a little meta. After all this explanation, this will probably be a little disappointing, but the point is I got this:
and I thought it was totally hilarious.
I gave up on reading Great Expectations. The sanctimony overcame the quirky humor, and I couldn’t be bothered to keep track of what was going on any more. Now I’m reading Wuthering Heights, mostly because of Hark, a Vagrant. It’s way better, although every single character is totally fucking loathsome. Almost as bad as Austen, in that regard.
Speaking of loathsome, the previously observed race to the bottom of the Facebook-UI-emulation barrel continues apace with Gmail and WordPress’ control panel being the latest things that I use to become completely fucking horrible. It’s enough to make me hope that rich fucks do in the global economy completely so I’ll be too poor to see it get any worse.
My Drunk Kitchen is great.
I managed to add functionality without compromising the anti-design feel. I’m excited.
Okay, so this probably isn’t going to last long, but I was fooling around with some theme ideas, and sort of ended up with this and just thought it looked so great. Compared to the garbage I had, or this bullshit that people want money for, it seemed refreshing. Hopefully I can make it more functional without losing that good-ol’-days-y feel.