There was a point at which John Lennon made a decision to become a media hacker. He boiled his Beatles following down to a concentrated audience that could hear what he was saying. And then he acted, he didn’t wait. He said ‘War is over. If you want it.’ Imagine yourself at that crossroads.
As ‘Rock and Roll’ lost its ‘Roll,’ left home and 1960s exploded, Christmas was left behind. The family holidays were left to the ‘family-oriented‘ music acts. As Rock music matured and started families, Christmas returned as a theme. But the new songs didn’t attempt to regain innocence; the real world and the politics of the times couldn’t be kept out of the sound. As we look back across the span of popular music, it’s interesting to observe which artists and styles of music intersect with the Christmas holidays.
The Beatles Christmas message made use of a very simple and direct technology. There seemed to be little more than a microphone, a tape recorder, the band and a loose script outline. This kind of casual production method was a far cry from the intense rehearsals and refined production methods of George Martin. The off-the-cuff nature of the message makes the communication all the more genuine; we don’t feel as though it’s constructed for our entertainment, but rather an actual message.
The sophistication of video and sound production has grown tremendously over the years. Its costs have skyrocketed, and then plummeted to an almost commodity level. By chaining together a Flip video camera, the Network and YouTube Christmas theatricals can be produced and distributed easily. The cost of the idea and the time to produce them far outweigh the cost of the technology.
Aimee Mann has left the recording industry cartel to become an independent microcaster. She records albums, tours with her band, and is one of the artists who has intersected with Christmas. Each year, for the last few, she’s put on a special Christmas show. Without the heavy machinery of the record labels, Mann has found ways of connecting with her audience using low-cost and no-cost technical tools. The production costs are low, but the communication/connection value is very high. This combination of high and low modes of production is a new model for all forms of mass media. Even newspapers have become broadcast networks, a printed paper is just one output of the content.
It’s a much more straightforward proposition for a performer to construct a persona for the highly produced recording. Like the transition from silent film to talkies, it’ll be interesting to see which performers still shine off-the-cuff and on-the-run. But mastery of low tech production modes is only one element of the equation. Video isn’t a one-way medium any longer. Messages can travel in both directions, and the best performers know how to listen.
“Marilyn Monroe was someone Marilyn Monroe invented, like an author creates a character.” Recalling a session that took place at his studio on a May evening in 1957, he continued: “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s—she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”
In the networked social space created by our new modes of communication and interaction we enact a similar form of theatrical self-impersonation. Most of who we are is hidden from view, each identity is constructed and by definition, incomplete. Shakespeare’s words ring true today as we signal to each through roles constructed and manipulated at a distance.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
But we shouldn’t limit our exploration to the commercial sphere, there are other modes in which this idea of theatrical self impersonation can play out. One of the stories that Ray Ozzie has been telling lately to introduce himself to Microsoft and the world has to do with a online system called Plato. An experience Ozzie had 33 years ago on an online network captured the promise and depth of this new space of interaction.
By the mid-1970s, PLATO’s many features included email and an instant messaging feature dubbed “Talk-O-Matic.” Ozzie wrangled a job working on the project, and, while doing so, communicated online with a collaborator who worked remotely from off-campus. Ozzie was impressed by the eloquence and intelligence of his offsite workmate and the two quickly bonded. Ozzie’s only complaint was that when they sent instant messages to each other, his offsite colleague was a frustratingly slow typist.
After their joint project was completed, Ozzie met his remote partner in person for the first time during a party at the partner’s house in 1975. Only then did Ozzie discover that his colleague was a quadriplegic, bound to a wheelchair, whose slow typing was a result of having to interact with the keyboard using a stick held in his mouth.
The incident had a profound effect on Ozzie. He was struck by how the technology allowed them to connect so closely, despite physical constraints and without preconceived judgments. The two had met in a shared mental space that was uniquely enabled by networked technology.
While we sometimes think of this networked social space we’re exploring as new, in an era where innovation occurs at lightening speed, the roots of the basic interactions reach back to a time out of mind.
The visible artifacts of these theatrical creations become detached from their originators and float freely in a field of play– currency traded in our social dance. Paul Ricoeur talks about these artifacts as “oneself as other” (Soi-meme comme un autre). While some talk of a technology that will allow us to aggregate the disaggregated, scooping up all the disparate pieces of personal identity and weaving them into a whole, the element of time renders these attempts necessarily partial. Perhaps we’re due for an exploration into the polar opposite of the single whole identity. The poet Fernando Pessoa created the literary concept of the heteronym. A heteronym possesses distinct temperaments, philosophies, appearances and writing styles– Pessoa had more than 70. Would the words I write here be the same ones I’d exchange with you over coffee at a little cafe on the other side of town? I really couldn’t say…
The poet is a faker
Who’s so good at his act
He even fakes the pain
Of pain he feels in fact.
Pinter’s gone (pause) He’s well out of it now (silence)
Although in our later years we had some disagreements, there was a long period where I read everything he wrote. Devoured it, like a starving man. Harold Pinter was a towering figure in the literature of our theater.
- pause -
The plays are very difficult to do well. Many of the works are an exercise in game theory, in wordless competition. They unfold at the level of everyday speech and a strange and dangerous undercurrent of action.
- silence -
It’s as though in his works, language reveals its potential as a strange and cruel weapon. The words spoken have multiple meanings and very sharp corners. But it shouldn’t be over-thought, it’s more like a game of catch with a hand grenade. Usually only one of the game’s participants knows when the explosion will occur.
- pause -
Pinter’s writing was part of what attracted me to theater in the first place. The plays engaged the human situation at a fundamental level with energy and ferocity. Looking back, I now understand how rare a playwright he was. And as time passes, his work only grows in my estimation. His passing, and the time of year, brings to mind Auden’s poem in memory of Yeats. “The death of the poet was kept from his poems.”
He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
The discussion of Rick Warren’s participation in the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States has stirred up a number of thoughts. These ideas were given more focus by listening to an episode of Philosophy Bites on Derrida’s idea of forgiveness:
While Derrida says that national reconciliation is a separate matter, forgiveness itself, is worth some serious thought. In short, Derrida’s thoughts of forgiveness run as follows. A forgiveness that has no cost, is not worth much. It is forgiving the unforgivable that is the essence of the act. And also seemingly impossible to accomplish; it asks us to do the undoable.
This is a very disturbing idea because it seems to run counter to the idea of justice, or at least a rough form of justice. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – these practices can lead to an infinite negative feedback loop. For a change to occur, one side must do the impossible.
Someone asked, looking at the statues in the Greek and Roman section of the Met, why there were so many bodies without heads, and heads without bodies. Turns out there was a time when Christians took a fancy to knocking the heads off of statues. Power shifted, paradigms shifted– Christianity moved from the margin to the center; from a form of atheism to the primary form of theism.
There’s a particular humanity and sense of personality that is still transmitted from these faces. A connection is still possible, even across the centuries. These artifacts, even with the ravages of time, radiate meaning. Contrast that with the digital artifact, once corrupted– it becomes unreadable.
Imagine a culture that encoded all of its artifacts in digital media. Then think about a power shift where the new authority erased the digital artifacts of its predecessor. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for power to imagine its end. We assume that what exists will continue to exist. What tools will the archeologist of the future require to unearth the digital culture that we’re creating today?
After spending hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, your mind spins. So much taken in, so much to process, to sort through, to connect up, to start whole new trains of thought. The items kept and displayed in the Met are often exemplars of their type.
But as Montebello notes, it’s the ability of the curator to find a particular item, a painting, a cultural artifact and tell a coherent story about it; to connect that story to the others floating around the culture in which the object was embedded. The value of the curator’s thought and writing ensures that the objects in the collection have value and that the value continues to grow and deepen.
Compare this to the value of the digital object. While our understanding of a digital work can grow in depth, can the artifact itself actually grow in value? The digital object’s relationship with time has been one of depreciation, its existence ephemeral. The business of the digital has been managing a downward slope toward commoditization, and ultimately a price of zero (Of course there are strategies of renewal).
Will the digital object ever have the same investment characteristcs as the items in the Metropolitan’s collection? In the Computer History Museum, the collection is comprised mostly of the physical computers– the software isn’t much to look at. While Jonathan Ive’s designs will certainly earn a place at the Cooper-Hewitt, will there be a day when we will see digital objects in a physical building like the Metropolitan Museum? If there is such a thing as a digital art object it may displace the Museum. Is there a reason to view such a work in such a place? The digital object can only be viewed in a digital venue. Unlike the artifacts in the Met, the digital object is not unique. It’s always a copy, it can always find its way to you through the Network. And the most valuable currency in establishing a collection? Curatorial expertise.
To what extent does the question establish the possible ground from which an answer can emerge? Does the shape of the question determine the shape of the answer? What happens when the question doesn’t match the subject?
Search is a query against a fixed set of data. To achieve depth the volume of data must be enormous. What happens when you search a real time stream? It’s a batch query against a stream of data. There are two common examples:
Getting a quote on a stock during market hours on a 15-minute delayed basis
Getting a quote on a stock during market hours on a real-time basis
Each is just a snapshot; a moment in time. The 15-minute delayed quote isn’t information you can trade on. The moment for action has long since passed. The real-time quote is almost time you can trade on– but it’s still just a snapshot. A trader has a live quote that changes as trades hit the consolidated tape. The quote changes in real time without an additional query. The live quote gives additional color, one has a sense of the volatility and direction of price.
Now think about the difference between search and track. with regard to Tw*tter and the micro-messaging stream. If you’ve ever used track via IM you’ve experienced the difference between a snap quote and a live quote. Imagine if you had a watchlist of your track terms that you could see change in real time. A trader can transact on any ticker she tracks– that means both reading and writing. This gives you a sense of some of the possible user interfaces, as well as the economics, of the micro-messaging stream.
There’s a liquidity of meaning at work in Google’s Voice Search. While we think of it as computers understanding speech, it’s really nothing of the kind. The kind of talking that we do when we make sounds that a computer can understand is more like writing– perhaps even like typing words. Voice becomes writing in this context.
When we use SMS, IM or Twitter writing becomes voice. We speak through marks that we make on a screen through a keyboard. We call it writing, but it’s actually a form of speech. Think about how sign language operates– it’s speaking with the hands, with the gesture.
Voice becomes writing, writing becomes voice. But the poles are not solid, meaning moves back and forth, like Dali’s paranoic critical method. Swans reflect elephants, elephants reflect swans– a most interesting form of recursion.
The time has ended. The idea that the device at the end of the pipe is the pipe itself. The phone is not a telephone line; an internet connection is not a desktop computer; a cellular connection is not a mobile phone.
Rent the pipe, connect what you want to it. Multiple devices share defined bandwidth. One device gets it all, two or more share. These things are not integrated, they are now modular.