Archive for October, 2013

Thoughts on Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker article, “Only Disconnect”

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

I just finished reading Evgeny Morozov’s book review in the October 28th, 2013 issue of the The New Yorker, “Only Disconnect” (You need to be a subscriber to read from the link. (No matter your thoughts on Condé Nast, the magazine is worth it.)) and enjoyed it. The books he mentions are The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff, The Distraction Addiction by Alex Pang, and Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information by Malcolm McCullough. But, as to be expected, the article is less a comprehensive, point-for-point critique, more a chance for Morozov to springboard into his deductive hypotheses and thought gems. For all the judgement I have come across surrounding the man and his work, I have always found Morozov to press deeper in his musings, to glean more novel conclusions than other tech-cautious intellectuals. I also appreciate the frequency at which he cites the work of philosophers and media theorists of yesteryear to inform his analyses.

Through this piece, Morozov introduced me to several new phrases, namely “information environmentalism,” (which he did not coin) “slow spots,” and “contemplative computing,” (which he seems to have coined) all of which I look forward to using in the future. “Information environmentalism” describes the ideal to set aside spaces for humans, particularly city dwellers, that minimize the potential of sensory bombardment through digital channels. So-called “slow spots” would include, but are not limited to, spaces that lack and/or block wifi. They could be as simple as park benches with wireless signal signal jammers, wifi-free rooms within a library. To go even farther, with the advent of mobile advertising broadcasted via phones, Glasses, and interactive billboards, the ideal fantasy of a slow spot would call for a sanctuary free from both Internet connectivity and corporate influence. “Contemplative computing” encapsulates the mentality of being aware of the time-sinks and distractions and actively seeking to combat and manage, rather than relent to them.

I did take issue with “Only Disconnect” in at least a couple places. In a particular instance, Morozov writes, “All three [authors] manage to be skeptical without pandering to technophobia or neuroscience — the two dominant frameworks for discussing how digital technologies affect attention and distraction.” I read this as a line of vague dismissal and would have liked to see further elaboration. For one, the choosing of the categories seemed fairly arbitrary. Psychology and cognitive science are additional angles from which people have investigated the impact of technology on attention. Does he lop those in with neuroscience? Moreover, I do not understand the scorn implied for neuroscience by putting it at the level of “technophobia.” Is neuroscience not a legitimate way of elucidating the impact of digital technologies on human consciousness for Morozov? If so, I wonder why. If it is because of the flimsy and over-stepping conclusions drawn by some studies, well, I would ask Morozov not to confuse “neurobollocks” with all of neuroscience.

Another complaint — Morozov does not ever clearly delineate his usage  of “boredom” and “disconnection” in the piece, two words which stand separate in my mind. The subtitle of his article is “Two Cheers for Boredom,” and he glowingly cites German culture theorist Siegried Kracauer’s notion of “radical boredom,” a state initiated by “[drawing] the curtains and getting to know your sofa,” where a person is given the opportunity “to peek at a different temporal universe, to develop alternative explanations of [] predicaments, and even to dare to dream of different futures.” Morozov continues rallying around the banner of radical boredom later, writing of a need to not capitulate for a “tepid, mediocre version[].” And then, he pulls away. In Morozov’s final paragraph, he settles on a more balanced vision, writing about the preferred “possibility of controlled disconnection,” a more productive boredom in which “task lists and deadlines are manageable.” The glacial unstimulation of antediluvian train travel, which once compelled Gustave Flaubert to lament, (Morozov himself quotes. I, for sure, am not well-read enough yet to have Flaubert quotes at the ready) “‘I get so bored on the train that I am about to howl with tedium after five minutes on it'”? It is a “problem” eventually solved by “railway bookstores and libraries.” Does a more measured “disconnection” with books with fall under the umbrella of “radical boredom”? The words, the usage of language itself, suggests that it does not. And while he uses them interchangeably at times, Morozov himself ultimately seems to indicate a divergent regard for the phrases.

Morozov winds down the piece with a view that we should “[cultivate] our own gardens of connection and disconnection,”  retreating from a total war on Internet indulgence. I was surprised by this rare offering of an olive branch (or twig) to the tech world on his part. He once more invokes the Siegfried Kracauer and writes,

“As much as [Kracauer] favored radical boredom, he disdained neither modern technologies nor the masses, with their penchant for dance, travel, and slapstick films. On the contrary, all these diversions, he thought, could help sabotage modernity’s efforts to shove people ‘into an everyday life that turns them into henchmen of the technological excess.’…The trick is to honor and celebrate both [radical boredom and radical distraction]–and not to settle for their tepid mediocre visions.”

It is just that radical distraction has already been plenty honored by Silicon Valley and the cultural values of  Corporate America. Thus, as a start to balancing the scale, he proceeds to advocate for a “subsidy and a national holiday of sorts” to commemorate and set aside time for radical boredom. To this notion of a boredom stimulus package, a National Do Whatever The Fuck You Want That Isn’t Against The Law Week, I offer my wholesome, unadulterated support.

******

I did not check my email once while writing this. I feel lightly proud, knowing that I will check my email right after.

******

Fighting for boredom. Aggressive and taxing campaigning for right to boredom. How sweet of a notion is that?

Dream Recollection: Grimes the Anime

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

An anime series orchestrated around Grimes’ music in the spirit of Interstella 5555, with each episode essentially being a twenty-minute narrative music video punctuated by only the occasional exchange of dialog between characters.

It was quite colorful.

Ethical Botnet

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Compromised website installs cracked MATLAB on your computer along with tutorial.

Compromised website installs anti-virus and CCleaner on your computer.

Dream Recollections — Car Salesman, Ted Cruz, Glider, Albatross Girl

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Yesterday was a hectic, nail-biting day in American politics, filled with drastic twists, turns, shifts, shits.

It was appropriate last night then that my dreams took a similar rhythm, jarringly shifting from one scenario to another:

1) A nightmare. Because a US government default actually happened (knock on Internet that this current fragile Senate agreement does not fall through), I was forced to find another job. I ended up taking a position as a used car salesman. This nightmare was more horrifying than the ones where very gory things happen to me. I woke up for a good twenty minutes after this vignette before going back to sleep.

2) Ted Cruz lobbies me to support his cause through a video robo-call — wait for it — broadcasted through the LCD monitor of a Canon DSLR I happen to be holding.

3) Most fun vignette. I am in a glider that looks a bit like a mini-version of this concept sketch for a future version of the Space Shuttle, doing loops, dives, and donuts in the sky.

4) I am walking through a hospital. Nothing is wrong with me, I am just taking a leisurely stroll through a hospital. I am passing through one of those pretty hallways that have less wall, more window, huge glass panes chained from end to end. I see two huge albatrosses approaching from outside the building.

Fuck, I think in slow motion, they are going to hit glass.

One, two, they both collide, huge motherfuckers, fifteen feet wingspans (larger than they are in real life).

I want to check to see if anything can be done for them, so I open a window and shove my body through the gap – this hallway is on the ground floor, so I flip out onto a grassy lawn, rather than falling to my death.

One of the albatrosses is clearly dead, motionless. Skull is cracked open, brain has plopped out of the crack. Oddly enough, it looks like a human brain. The other one is writhing, spasming its wings. There is maybe a scrap of hope left for this one.

I am at a human hospital, but I figure someone can be of help here. I run back towards the hospital, but when I turn to look back, the surviving bird is gone. The dead one is still there, being munched on by a homeless man. However, in its place, there is a girl with wispy blond hair standing there, crying, her face buried in her hands. I jump to the only possible conclusion – the bird transformed into a girl.

I stop in bewilderment. And then, it gets even stranger. A dude materializes out of thin air, puts an arm around the girl to comfort her.

I do not really remember what he looked like, but I feel that he was a beefy guy with spikey dark brown hair. I think he was wearing a blue fleece. I know that he had wintry irises.

He looks at me.

Leave us the fuck alone, his eyes flash.

Sea Huell

Friday, October 11th, 2013

There are a class of sea lions that look like Huell from Breaking Bad. I have no idea whether they are male or female. I’m guessing male.

Image Credit

Sea Lion Huell

I was kayaking yesterday, making my way around the end of a pier. I turned a blind corner —

ORR! ORR! ORR! ORR! ORR!

To my immediate 1 o’ clock, there was a gargantuan Huell resting on a horizontal support beam of the pier. I have no idea how the fuck he managed to lift all of his heft onto that beam. I have no idea how the rotten-looking wood did not give way.

ORRR! ORRRR!

He leered at me and reared his posture. Leapt into the water right in front of the boat and started menacingly slapping water.

Fuck, was he going to jump on the kayak?

I wanted to reverse direction immediately, but my paddling skills still sucked too much. The current did not help. All I managed to do was slow down.

No one was giving way. I pondered how to do a paddle float self rescue while dodging a sea lion’s bite attempts.

But he relented. He whimpered one last, raspy ORR and then dove into the water.

Crisis averted. But I felt bad. Sorry Huell.

******

Dead seals also look like sea-polished logs. RIP seal. I meant no disrespect by calling you a log.