Friday, July 21, 2006

The Future is...niche

I seem to have overdosed on futurology by uber-geeks this week. First was Paul Caplan of the Mediatrust evangalising about new media made easy. His talk was invigorating, but since it was aimed at community groups, a couple of points are worth making. He said, "if I can use Wordpress anyone can...all it needs is a server with MySQL", which kind of seems a little extreme for any of us without a server or MySQL. (For the record, I've a "server", I guess, for my website, but it would cost me quite a bit more for the other bit.) A little hubristic I felt. And then I looked at his website - and God, when did he think that white print on a black background and a really small and very odd font was a good idea. Get accessible Paul! As always with such people they use a Mac, and have a bit of a blindspot about the 99% of the world that doesn't. Then, it was Futuresonic today, which is, I guess, where art and technology collide. It's always quite difficult to get a handle on. There's a bit of a private club sort of feel to this - a niche too far, so to speak - but it was interesting. Anyone visiting the 1830 warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry over the next week will see some great "homemade" musical instruments. This quirky arts 'n' craft side of things is what endears me to Futuresonic. Masaki Fujihata's digital mapping was partly aweinspiring - a GPS stream made into a visual movie with photos/videos along the route - and partly banal - the content was mostless pointless, arbitrary. Yet its early days for this sort of thing; the "doing it" is enough for now. For lovers of Sebald and Sinclair, a must, methinks. Maria Stukoff was evaluating the conference on behalf of where I work, and will no doubt blog on it shortly. Matt Webb's futuregazing was all over the place, a maybe attached to another maybe, but invigorating. He posited the sci-fi staple of a "generation" spaceship where whole generations grow up on a long distance space ship on the way to somewhere - and how they might adapt to the space. I began reading Brian Aldiss's "Non Stop" (1958) recently, its a similar premise, so nothing new under that sun. A particular point though: the web - "the space" - we're now inhabiting is consuming. It has a Year Zero, beyond which everything seems less documented; and it is also consistently, constantly re-inventing itself so that there are no equivalent of internet Victorian terraces we could live in - they've all been torn down so that we can live cheek and jowl in our neighbourhood of Myspace and Blogger identical boxes. I'm too cynical (and too old) to be too obsessed with the cusp, the margin of the new - it seems that it hasn't alway furnished us with the same leaps of imagination that you find in Burroughs and Gysin for instance. Webb talked about "Second Life" - a virtual world - where, because second lifers don't have genitals, someone has invented genital underwear to put on their second lifer characters, and just as inevitable perhaps, someone else has started doing "upskirt" shots of secondlife characters. This is a maybe of a maybe of a maybe of a maybe which maybe a new record. What has this to do with literature? Nothing. And everything. Literature kind of invented the web (from Douglas Adam's Babel fish to Burrough's Interzone to "Slaughterhouse 5" to Jerry Cornelius) - and now its everywhere, can a book truly exist that doesn't reference it? Last week's Guardian summer short story selection was a treasure trove, but distinctly ancient in its references. I'd recommend everyone reads Colm Toibin's striking "A Summer Job". It's from a different world, but the emotional strangeness is strongly contemporary.

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