Silicon Beach, Bournemouth 2015
“Fight the war, fuck the norm.” — A manifesto for a Revenge of the Humanities.
In 1784, philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote about the ‘unsocial sociability of men’. The interwovenness of our lives is the source of our solidarity, but here too lies the root of our mutual harm. It is this paradox in human behaviour that Technology is accelerating at an exponential rate.
This is a call to recognise not just what’s good about IT, but the bad and the ugly… and what could happen if we do more than click to change or save the world?
Throwback to a Past
It’s 2005 and Mobile is a popular buzzword, coined ‘Seventh of the Mass Media’ by Tomi Ahonen, author of Communities Dominate Brands. Employed at an advertising agency in London, one of the perks working on Nokia is being given early adopter access to shiny N-series 3G handsets. This leads to experimenting with Lifeblog, and a Typepad entry ‘Testing 123’ is published on April Fool’s Day, which received no comments.
That’s how it began for me. From private dear diary and mailing handwritten letters to broadcasting personal anecdotes on a dot com.
How easy it was to share moments in real time through a 6630 model as it happened and/or was happening, documenting photos and thoughts on the go. The slogan was ‘Connecting People’.The lack of delay in narrating experiences to family and friends living overseas in other cities felt like an improvement. In addition to bitty MSN messenger chats and mass Yahoo group emails, Mobile blogging is the next stage in telling people what you’ve been up to.
Though you’re told off for being somewhat anti-social, it’s enjoyable playing with a mobile gadget, since it’s just like hand-held games devices. You end up enthusing to your Business Director that attention should be on multimedia software rather than mega pixel byte hardware. But being keen and geeky isn’t sufficient enough to be taken seriously when you’re only an account coordinator. Back to your status reports!
Desiring a more fulfilling job description, alternative roles are brainstormed in the pub with colleagues who created the elaborate ARG Lost Souls transmedia campaign by Stella Artois. In possession of a History of Art degree, I speculate about the feasibility of being a ‘content curator’. It sounds incredulous, and sceptical about the potentially pretentious proposition of such a title, it’s dismissed with laughter.
The ‘Now-It’ Present
Fast forward to the #futurenow of 2015. David Balzer’s Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else confirms I wasn’t foolish after all. The metaverse and dystopian immersive reality in sci-fi novels like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash exists. King Content & The Millennials rule — it’s not a band or a music album, but it’s definitely the soundtrack of the times. In the postlapsarian 21st century, eating the fruit of knowledge is a constant flash mob. Gluttons swallow their digital daily bread, cravings not fully sated.
A noteworthy writer on the sacred and profane advermarketing pr socio-phygital industrial complex, is the tall and verbose Matt Muir — a witty satirical evangelist of Imperica’s Web Curios, with a frequent love of CAPS LOCK and electronic kisses. I met Matt after a This Is Playful conference, facilitated by a Purple Simon — another typical example of how friendships are mediated by events, twitter follows and professional links with ‘digital’ folks. With perennially enlarged pupils, Matt is a watcher that recognises both delight and delirium of the hypermodern life, the spectrum ranging from WTF to FTW. His weekly newsletters are not only irreverently funny and entertaining, they serve as contemporary chronicles during an Age of Escalation. Such necessary reporting exposes the multiplying insanity of commercial enterprises.
A vignette from the 1981 film My dinner with Andre brings up the idea that we are living in an Orwellian nightmare. Maybe we’re all underpaid and overpaid monkeys pushing buttons. What if all the content being generated ad infinitum contributes to turning us into robots? Communications interrupt, disrupt, competing to entertain… but what if:
“The process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now,
may very well be a self perpetuating unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money,
and all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks?”
Perhaps we are already the industrialised androids dreaming of electric memes, programmed to produce and consume according to template and what is economically viable. Oh and there’s The Entrepreneur telling you to WORK FUCKING HARDER.
Is it not bizarre that we pursue artificial intelligence and coding, when we have barely solved the basic and prevalent problems of the planet? So much resource is spent on business KPIs and performance metrics, but what about sustainable development goals? It’s hip to talk about finding your tribe, but what about the people in villages that have been destroyed and displaced by conflict or financial tyranny? There’s so much demand for virals, but what are we doing to supply for the vital? Society is saturating itself with accumulation of likes, but shouldn’t someone investigate and do something about what we dislike?
Back to the Future
Storytelling is all the rage, and the past is being pillaged by opportunists resurrecting nostalgia for profitable sales. Historians need to step up and reclaim their roles within the social and the cultural, to wrestle it away from the clutches of a virtual capitalist consumerist vortex. An article by Deborah Frenkel prompted that to discover what’s next, we need to look at what was yest’, for indeed, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” The internet is not neutral, it has been affected by ideological viruses and we need to be aware of its corruption. Human intervention remains more crucial than technological innovation
In 2013 I resigned from ‘a global full service digital marketing agency, driven by the purpose to deliver borderless ideas enabled by technology to transform businesses and brands.’ Quitting full-time contracts within the media industry felt like leaving a cult behind. A twitter note by Anjali Ramachandran quotes:
Looking back, it’s absurd that I worked far too long from 9–5 as an office clerk, waiting to spend meagre vacation allowance to go somewhere hot and sunny, especially since I was born in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,000 tropical islands. In spite of suffering frustrating interviews that questioned lack of agency longevity, the choice is to live a life I love, not be held hostage by futile occupations. Escape the City is a thriving organisation and movement. Neither tired of London or life, there simply is more out there to explore. It’s time to properly go native, and build towns just like in Settlers of Catan.
Regardless of the latest mediaspeak or product being peddled, it has always been people who matter, not career credentials and incorporated tech advancements. What I valued was the time, generosity, kindness and friendship of all the individuals I have come to know. Matt for example is not just some online contact or pen pal. After mentioning I’d booked a Roman holiday, he responded by introducing me to his Italian mother via email. Just like that, a kind gesture of a friend, offering not web links to user reviews or search engine results, but a person to interact with. When Matt’s mum told me I could only reach her on an ancient Nokia phone or landline, it was a reassuring reminder that when in Rome, old school works.
If the city is what it is because its citizens are what they are — what cultural legacy are we contributing towards and leaving behind?
As I walked the streets of The Eternal City, surrounded by historic art and architecture, I observed the sales and prolific use of selfie sticks. The ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ attitude of a foregone empire has become status updates. Why bother buying the t-shirt, when you can find a Wi-Fi spot or use data roaming to upload and post about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. Inevitably I compare and contrast with other metropolises — trending issues about rent, property development, steel glass skyscrapers, niche interest cafes, Silicon Valleys, roundabouts and tech hubs.
Benedict Anderson wrote in 1983: “Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.” Equipped with the tools to promote plural lifestyles, what kind of societies do we want to create? Life is stranger than science fiction, so I shall boldly go where I have not been before for brave adventures IRL. I seek heart and soul that cannot be summarised in emojis. As a slasher for Evil Schemes Ltd, you will find me plotting with international collaborators for a Revenge of the Humanities.™ I’m hitting the beach to sip on idea cocktails for a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view, whilst listening to The Sophtware Slump and OK Computer.
Wicked people are always up to something.
Let’s make a mess, and customise the default order in the internet of things.
CTRL. ALT. DEL.
Thanks to all the brilliant people who spoke and attended #SB2015.
HT to @FernMiller for the Rage Against The Machine call to action.
Follow @MattDesmier! xx