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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

'...the graceful ease of a monkey in the jungle canopy!'

"What was that sudden silence?" said the girl next to me in the Apple Shop in the Bullring. I was awaiting an 11.00 am tutorial from Isaac, on using the latest version of iMovie. Having struggled with the first lesson I made progress, finding I could now edit compressed film, instead of doing that before compression. Now I can more easily create a medley of extracts from the archive. I felt someone tugging on my bicycle saddle as I wheeled it out of the shopping centre, and saw a uniform in the corner of my eye. An instant of anxiety, then I realised it was my daughter. I switched from startled, to the churn of joy I get when my children surprise me. She was on her lunch break. We looked in the Christmassy shops; strolled down to Steelhouse Lane. Always a walker, she's getting a professional saunter; not my flâneur stroll. More authoritative. We gaze over the street in different ways. With her earphone looping her into a commentary linked to the cameras swiveling over the city centre, Amy's gaze is more kestrel than conceptual, while I'm thinking panopticon - Foucault's view that what Bentham had designed inside, is outside ["...in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen. But - 14/10/08 - noting Danica, what would Foucault who wrote Discipline & Punish in 1995 have made of twittering? Is there a word for reverse panopticon; the watcher watched? Tom Stonier said this in one of his talks on campus in the early 90s. Instead of one way watch as in 1984, Brazil or coplink, watching works both ways, but it's not the image alone; it's the collating and processing capacity. Crude oil needed refineries. How do the information refineries balance out between agencies and individuals? The wisdom of crowds?...] I suppose Amy is becoming one of this world's 'experts in normality'. She has to make decisions about things that happen on the street. I get away with watching - unless I'm at work. Foucault would argue I'm still part of the process, as Marx argued - my role and actions reproduce the processes of production. I wrote Internal Polity feeling round the walls of such cells, pondering my involvement in what I try to change.
‘Depravity in the oppressed is no apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as being in large degree, the effect, and not the cause and justification of oppression’ Herman Melville, Chapter 14 White Jacket
On surveillance ~ I note the map of hits on 'Democracy Street'. "Na." says Lin "Don't delude yourself. Come on! "Democracy"? "Street"? You're just coming up on searches " Oh well. I still cherish that flattery about swinging through cyberspace 'with the graceful ease of a monkey in the jungle canopy!' I love that image. Thanks Freya. I could have responded with a reflection on my delight at her skill in reading and the pleasure she takes in following hypertexted prose. I love and will never abandon books - where the equivalent of hypertexting has long been done between hard copy and the far reaches of imagination (how ever brilliant the films, nothing on screen could match the world I entered on reading Lord of the Rings in 1956) I've no wish, nor need, to drill holes through pages, but to have that opportunity in cyberspace....oh wow, www. My first encounter - back 13 years...
William Gibson, confessing ignorance of computers, but struck by the concentrated attention of boys playing arcade video games, wrote a story about a place as much a mixture of fantasy and reality as the Americas of the Elizabethans....Gibson named it and, though he would refute the idea, has claimed it for many who experience the thrill of a newly imagined universe. Imagination - from cave painting to sky-writing on the Net has always worked with virtual realities. For Shakespeare’s Lorenzo in the finale of the “The Merchant of Venice”, a moonlit night suffused with music bespoke sweet harmony made inaudible and invisible by “the muddy vesture of decay”. Gibson’s neuromancer, Case, clinically maimed by those he had hustled can only see the sky above Chiba -“the color of television tuned to a dead channel”. The moment when the music swells, as in Robert Bolt’s and Maurice Jarre’s spectacular cinema sequence of Lawrence of Arabia returning to the desert, is when Case, his nervous system restored, settles “the black terry sweatband across his forehead, careful not to disturb the flat sendai dermatrodes” and launches himself into cyberspace:
...fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chess-board extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach. ... Somewhere he was laughing, in a white painted loft, distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face (Gibson 1984:69).
As I am more exposed to the world by communication technologies so I may shrink in relation to complexity “that cut the eye” (Gibson 1984:304 refers to a horrid image in Bunuel's film). Contact with even the fringes of the data wealth of the Internet has thrown me into superficiality - paddling not surfing. What is currently available on the World Wide Web is only a taster for what is presaged, with increased bandwidth, the multiplication of servers and information providers. It realises, even more than with newspapers and radio, Eliot’s condition of being “too conscious and conscious of too much”. I wander around a labyrinth as enchanting, in its own way, as the British Museum Library, before its move to St.Pancras , or the great Library at Trinity College, Dublin, with the dust-specked beams of sunlight just missing the carefully protected Book of Kells in its glass case, or the bookshops of Charing Cross Road or Hay-on-Wye on a chilly rainy autumn afternoon. I download and unzip material. Layer upon layer of reference tempts me onwards, diving through texts and icons through servers to other servers and home by different routes. I retrace my trail and find side exits that become the main trail. I follow trails laid out by others. I hit dead-ends and retracing my steps discover exits into new branching tunnels. It’s intoxicating and yet recalls alarm I felt as a child watching the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Disney’s Fantasia. Back and forth I roam into the early hours downloading buckets from the Pierian spring. I exhort myself to define my objectives, while another part of me pleads respect for the interactive conventions of new paradigm research... Every time I decide what I really want to know I read something that tempts me to type in another search word, another Boolean term to extend my enquiry back and forth via addresses at Stanford, Tokyo, Oslo, Towson State, Florence, Durban, Harvard, Ann Arbor, Tel-Aviv, Edinburgh, Princeton, New York, Göteborg, Melbourne, Mexico City, Cambridge, Colorado, Kobe, Geneva, Rio, London, Massachusetts, Marseilles - to and fro and on and on, half-hoping the magician will return, and after stern reproof, tidy everything up. This connectionist ramble will not submit to two-dimensional mind-maps. The trees bifurcate and bifurcate and form new nodes from which further branches expand and divide. I envy infinite memory, then recall Borges’ Funes the Memorius who, having perfect memory, took as long recalling as he did perceiving. At the foot of the screen I see hours have slipped by... [S. Baddeley (1997) Governmentality in Brian Loader (ed.) (1997) The Governance of Cyberspace (London: Routledge) (5) 64-96]
Remember 28 December 1994 - my first entry into cyberspace, with help from the children and my university - in our study upstairs:
The machine is switched on, red lights blink on the front of the modem which amplifies the sound of the serial phone connections. Babble of static and staccato beeps of electronic space. Bumps and scrapes - “host error”, “host refused access”, “cache overload”, “host timed out try again later”, “call disconnected do you wish to reconnect” - and then as Richard enters a forum for people interested in tarantulas there appears at the top left hand of the screen the word “Hi”. For a moment we misinterpret this as an unfamiliar screen command. R. types back “hello” and identifies a girl in a suburb of Philadelphia playing on her parent’s computer. He begins a conversation with people in South Padre Island, Texas and in Philadelphia and Sunny Valley, Idaho - Mary and her son-in-law, Charlie, from Phoenix, Arizona - and Vicki from Dallas. They chat in text, each phrase appearing a few seconds after the other. The conversations go on for two hours as me and Amy watch intrigued, offering our own suggested questions. The light of the screen plays on our entranced faces deep into the night.
* * * On Saturday night with pouring rain outside there was a power failure. Lin lit candles. As it went on I dug from the garage Isobel's power-failure kit - two propane gas lights and lots of gas cans - probably last used at Raven's Cottage in 1990. They gave us warmth and light. Richard took one upstairs to continue working. Power came back. Lin's been working on my tax, having already saved me more than my accountant because she's got time I needn't pay for to factor in loads of small transactions. Furthermore she files my paperwork as it arrives. * * * I got up early Monday morning in the chilly house to go to New Street Station. Oscar, as always, comes down with me and presses to go in the garden. Do teeth. Have a cup of tea, then upstairs and shower and down again and dress. Leaving Lin sleeping and the house dark I cycle up the empty road and into gathering main road traffic heading into town. Through the Jewellery Quarter and down to the Parade then under the library into New Street by the Council House, past the Post Office, down through the New Street car park and into the station concourse, where, after buying my ticket to Peterborough I got into conversation with another cyclist called Alex. Didn't I think Obama had raised politics to - a sort of - higher level. Yes I did. Yes. But what a job he's got. That's when you need great leaders. No-one has to wear their pants hung low. I might even learn how to clap on the back-beat. * * * In Peterborough it was still raining. I cycled to M & S in the High Street to get some smarter trousers. How M & S has pulled its socks up in the last few years under Stuart Rose. They even had a scuffed Chesterfield in the men's changing room. Good service, reasonable prices and trousers 40' by 33' from a wide selection. It's good to see them back especially with the Fairtrade and green policies. The half day course I ran with Charlie went well, with a mix of politicians and managers. We talked about London and Liverpool on the train to Birmingham from where she was to catch another train north west and I, home. * * * A stranger e-mailed me earlier in the evening to ask if I thought travelling across the city by train late at night was safe. I replied saying why I thought there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Later I got another email:
Hi Simon. Thanks very much for your prompt and reassuring reply. I have just got back and my fears were totally unfounded. I enjoyed the experience so much I hope to do it again, often. On the way a cyclist got off as I got on and 2 more bikes joined my carriage at New Street. On the return there were no stops after Wylde Green until New Street. I got off 2 stops early at University and cycled through campus and cut through the back of Cannon Hill Park. It was great to stop on the bridge over the Rea and look at the river and the stars in the clear sky. Thanks again, I really must get off to bed
* * *
'Many Americans have already bought their last car...'
'...the car industry. The Big Three, all functionally bankrupt, are now lined up for bail-outs from the treasury's bottomless checking account. Personally, I believe the age of Happy Motoring is over. Many Americans have already bought their last car - they just don't know it yet. The current low-ish price of oil is a total fake-out, having to do much more with asset-dumping in the paper markets than the true resource supply-demand equation. Most of the world (the media for sure) has ignored preliminary leaks from the International Energy Agency's (IEA) forthcoming report which forecasts global oil depletion to be 9.1 percent in 2009. This is a staggering figure, very likely to offset whatever slack we see in global demand from the worldwide economic crisis. In fact, the global oil markets are poised for the most severe dislocations ever seen, meaning it's a toss-up what happens first in the USA: a major leg back up in oil prices, or shortages, hoarding, and rationing.' James Kunstler 10 Nov 2008
[Back to the future: 13 November 2008: Bank of England Inflation Report press conference ~ Mervyn King, Governor]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Simon on wonderful post and reflection of cyber culture and networked publics that exist in different forms.
    Thank you for the Foucault reference on Panopticism, interesting colleration. I'm afraid that Mac Luhan's global village extended into numerous virtual galaxies.

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