Leigh Alexander

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The day the mermaid washed up in the Thames, the docklands light railway was down, leaving everybody stranded on the Isle of Pigs. A long summer drought had revealed the riverbed, stinking of silt and dotted with old debris. Laurel’s gaze wandered among the eldritch shapes, wondering if they hid treasure beneath their fuzzy algal coats.

She had been on her way to school, but turned back when she saw a riot of suits all around the station. …

Watching old commercials is like watching a sleeping America dream about itself

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Photo: Frank Okay on Unsplash

Much has been written about my generation, the one suspended “between Gen X and Millennials” like an incomplete thought. Analysts have long groped for our defining traits: We are old enough to have morosely watched “Nirvana Unplugged” when it aired on MTV, but not too old to post Instagram stories about sheet masks. Ours might be one of the first generations to watch the fashions of our teen years return while we are still just able to pull them off. I’m a freelance writer who’s occasionally had to exploit her personal experiences to cultivate an audience in a rapidly diminishing digital economy. But I also made $36K a year at age 22 as an administrative assistant, which I know sounds unbelievable but was once a fair starting salary for an advanced computer user — even without a degree. …

I wonder a lot about how Jane ended up. When we were small we did everything together. “She’s just like you,” Aunt Cissy kept insisting, and Jane was, in that her birth parents were, for the most part, out of the picture. We also both liked fantasy books and hated afterschool, but honestly, that’s where the similarities ended. Jane was a weirdo.

“In what way was she weird,” Dr. Carla asked me, clasping her hands.

“My uncle said Jane couldn’t tell fantasy from reality,” I said after a pause.

“But your uncle still performed care for Jane,” someone in the circle said. A group member in leggings, let’s call her Ruby, said loudly, “People said that about me when I was little, too. It’s a common avenue leveraged to oppress girls of imagination!” …

An ‘algowave’ short fiction

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Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

For the past few weeks, I’m pretty sure I’ve been seeing another me. Wednesday afternoon I left my apartment to walk to the train and I saw her — me — crossing the intersection at the top of the hill, walking briskly. Then over the weekend I was washing dishes and staring out the window, just spacing out, and she was crossing the park, a shape appearing and disappearing among trees. I couldn’t get a good look.

I know you’re thinking it can’t be, that it must just be someone who looks like me. I’ll admit that none of the clothes I see her wearing are mine, but they’re similar — like when I saw her jogging near the gate at the foot of the hill in the park, she was wearing a fleece exactly like my mint one, but purple. In fact, when I saw her the first time, barely a speck in the distance boarding a bus, I thought: I’d buy that handbag. …

On stock photography memes and the illusion of reality

Around 2013, a relatively new meme format went mainstream. Stock photography juxtaposed with lines of surprising text was suddenly comedy gold, as Redditors proved — particularly when they took the benign and made it dark.

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But there’s a lot of life in stock photo memes besides rude subversions. The “distracted boyfriend” meme will probably turn out to be among 2017’s most recognizable, as users assign the role of disloyal man, offended girlfriend, and “other woman” to all kinds of concepts. …

The Unearthing is a piece of fiction written in 2014 about that year’s public excavation of Atari games that had been infamously buried since 1983, and which I, working at the time as a ‘game journalist’, did not actually attend. All events and persons here are invented except for Ian Bogost, who is extremely real. I’m thrilled to republish this edition with beautiful illustrations by artist Tom Humberstone.

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I’m talking to a magazine editor about attending a funeral for someone neither of us know.

Robert Phelan wants me to do a magazine feature about the big desert dig, with the Atari games that have been buried since the 1980s. That E.T. game, and stuff. A landfill full of old video game cartridges is being dug up, and apparently people care, or they are making dutiful obeisances to caring, which is what people in my line of work do these days. …

When your lived reality is repeatedly denied, why not believe in a harmless crystal or two?

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Photo: Dimitry Posudin

This is going to sound strange, but bear with me: I think a lot about witchcraft and computers, specifically the concept of magic in digital space. Common assumptions hold that the world of technology is rational, scientific, a business, while magic is insubstantial fiction — but virtual spaces have long been sites of mystery and resistance. Sites of magic.

This column I’m writing here at Medium is about those rare times when the internet still feels capable of magic, in every sense of the word — undiscovered regions, unusual entertainments, underground cells. Do you ever imagine virtual space as a country, or as a second land? You have a form that exists only in this space; you may have relationships that exist only here; you may have beliefs and behaviors you perform with your fingertips that do not extend into your life when you shut your laptop or put down your phone. …

Massive on YouTube, these viral videos are colonies of forms and formlessness in rainbow hues

I can spend hours watching disembodied hands inject silicone molds with clear or tinted fluids. Sometimes syringes of glitter are involved, or gelatin. Often, there is slime. Coca-Cola features prominently, injected into the kind of membranous and fragile balloon you make from a tube of goo. Or there’s kinetic sand in the perfect shape of a soda bottle. The backgrounds are always white. Charmless unlicensed music plays. People speak softly, if at all.

“Satisfying videos,” as they’re called, are massive on YouTube, viral colonies of forms and formlessness in rainbow hues. It’s impossible to tell who originated them. Faceless channels borrow liberally from one another, continually spawning compilations, propagating the same oddly specific content: “Colors Spoon Ice Jelly,” “Glitter Ball Galaxy Slime,” “Eyeball Jelly Pudding,” “Slime Poking and Cutting Kinetic Sand.” …

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Illustrations by Nick Norwood & Ana Vasquez

I’m putting less energy into social media and more into creating physical artifacts from my life. It’s an act of political rebellion and joy.

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People mean something specific when they complain about the internet — they’re sick of the social media overwhelm, of refreshing feeds in the toilet or stealthily under dinner tables. This year, there’s even more to be sick of: fake news, ugly arguments in the comments, the incoming president’s bizarre, misspelled, inflammatory Twitter feed.

Peak social media has effectively staged a coup on my preferred means of self-expression. When I was younger I had private journals online, anonymous friends to chat about music with, and multiple different screen names (remember those?). Beyond longing for a simpler time, though, it’s that I don’t remember ever having been a person who prized arbitrary “sharing,” in the social sense, to the extent that I do now. …

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I am an American woman who has decided to marry an English man. Wow! I’ve got lots to say about this. I mean, I have a lot to say about it. I’m really trying to hang onto my own speech patterns, but it’s tough. You might laugh when I say this, but Britishness is a battering ram that very few people can hold up against.

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Image: BBC

Let me do my best to explain Britishness as I understand it: It’s a welt of humility so deep it’s inefficient, conversations full of endless apologies and circumlocutions on the way to the point. Collectivism and self-effacement are both mandatory and to be resented — the individual who dares to tilt mutely at convention, who makes an awkward impulse-grab at self-assertion, is the bread and butter of almost all British humor. …

About

Leigh Alexander

I write about the intersection of technology, popular culture and the lives we’ve lived inside machines. I’m also a narrative designer! leighalexander1 at gmail

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