object culture

for image disembodiment

In my post on Lebbeus Woods, I suggested that architects might one day find themselves no longer making buildings. This may seem surprising, but we're only at the dawn of network culture. We were under Fordism from the 1920s to the mid-1960s and under post-Fordism from the mid-1960s until about 2000. So no surprise that we have yet to see the full effects of this era. This essay from the photo blog "the Luminous Landscape" (must reading for photographers) suggests that just as film has faded into history, the print will too. As high definition screens exceed anything that print can do (this will come one day soon), why continue to valorize an outdated technology? 

And why not? I already barely use my printer for my photographic work. It's either printed in books and magazines or viewed on the Web. Can any gallery deliver the kind of recognition that Flickr can? Why own? Of course unless things go awry, high definition screens for viewing art will be open and works will soon be pirated and traded openly. You'll be going to rapidshare to download the newest Gursky. Artists may protest that this is awful. But it isn't, really, it's just a different model of property that other fields, like music, have to deal with. 

Property, it seems, is the last thing to invest in. 

7km market

image of 7km market

[image by glueckauf from Flickr]

Are there other versions of Quartzsite? Although I am frequently asked about it, the planned nature of Burning Man doesn't interest me. What does interest me is the 7km market in Odessa. 

In 1989 the Odessa city government expelled an impromptu flea market to a site some 7km outside of town. Since then the market has grown tremendously to over 170 acres in 2006 and does an estimated $20 million of business a day. 

See the New York Times for more

out with the old

Design cycles faster and faster these days. See the New York Times for Flash in the Can: Designs Soon Forgotten. If you have a wall for of antlers or resin deer heads, trade it in quick, or be as hip as a proud owner of a Michael Graves teapot in the supermodern era.

Which begs the question, how can architecture continue to avoid fashion? To be sure, there are mini-fashions, but the blob remains with us a decade after its rightful death. And what is parametric design, after all, then the newest version of Bucky-Fuller-speak? Has architecture even caught up with what I wrote about fashion back in 2001? Maybe instead of less fashion, we need more fashion? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this…

books and things

Amazon released its oddly-named (Farenheit 451?) Kindle book reader today. On initial view, the device is ungainly when compared to the iPhone or the Sony PRS-505. But with some 90,000 books on offer for the relatively low price of $9.99, the Kindle is a shot across the bow for book publishers. I confess to a certain hatred of books (my publishers wouldn't want to hear this, I'm sure). About 30% of the books that I bring home are elegant objects that I am glad to own. But some 70% are pointless to own in physical form. Why do I need a work of fiction as a book if an e-reading device can serve me as well? Why do I need to own a copy of a textbook when I could get it on an e-reader? This idea attracts me greatly.

Alas, web browsing seems rudimentary while magazines, newspapers, and even blogs demand a subscription fee. This is a big step back from the world of free content that my iPhone offers.

My prediction is that although Kindle will have some degree of success, it will take someone like Apple licensing the content (why does Amazon need to produce hardware anyway? seems like a questionable move) before this technology will really take off.

But see Newsweek for more.

 

Book Cover

 

 

objectophilia

Via Architecture for Humanity's Cameron Sinclair at Archinect and Boing Boing ... comes this piece from Spiegel online on objectophilia and the love one woman feels for the Beriln Wall and another feels for the Twin Towers. More on the woman who married the Berlin Wall in Blue Monday ...

the ongoing failure of everyday life

In thinking about expanding the work on network culture, one topic for expansion is that technologies have advanced to the point in which failure is a constant presence in everyday life.

As readers of this blog know, I had a series of server transitions which did not go smoothly by any means this year. Nor am I the only one. Problems in migration between versions of MYSQL are endemic on the web. From this site to Archinect to Natalie Jeremijenko's fabulous How Stuff is Made, the web is littered with junk like "’" instead of apostrophes these days.

Idiotic design decisions make ours an age of "enraging technology" (thanks to Adam for that link). As technologies begin to talk to each other, the connections between them mean that when one system fails, another fails. Little by little you find yourself doing nothing but debugging a cascade of problems. Why can't I post images on audc.org when I can on varnelis.net? They run off the very same code. I have no idea. Why do my printers sometimes fail to respond? Who knows? Why has my car been back to the mechanic four times to debug a check engine light (I checked, it's still there). My mechanic doesn't know. My espresso machine is in a similar cascade, with a heating element failing then a switch failing, then the AC cord. Or was it the AC cord to begin with? As I was mailing copies of Blue Monday to friends in Canada, I noted with frustration that the Postal Service's click and ship labeling program generates blank addresses fields for the city and country if you fill in a company name. There is simply no way to add a company name for Canada. Who tested this garbage?

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I insisted that we have an apartment with a dishwasher. We were grown-ups, with two real jobs for the first time, and neither of our families had owned dishwashers. Why? Well maybe because they didn't want more technology in their lives, but I'm too busy to deal with dishes, moreover I find nothing therapeutic about it.

So it was with great delight that I turned on the dishwasher and, it failed immediately.The repairman kept coming in while I was at work to replace a part but when I started the unit that evening, it would break again. I was very annoyed. After all, this was a main reason for renting that apartment! Finally I decided to stay home to watch him do the repair.

"Ah, he said," in his heavy Russian accent, while holding part of the machine in his hand.

"You see, first motor burn out control unit. Then control unit burn out new motor. It burn out second new motor too. Now I replace motor and control unit. Same problem here as at last job, ten years ago. Too much automation!"

"What was your last job?", I asked.

"Service engineer, Soviet nuclear power plant, Ukraine"

He actually didn't work at Chernobyl, but at another similar plant. The day the explosion happened, he took for for Israel and, eventually, for L. A.

What all this suggests is that our emerging relationship with objects—which will only get more intense in the world of ubicom that is rapidly on its way—needs a theory of everyday failure. The concept of the everyday that Lefebvre formulated in 1944 needs to be rethought for the age of semi-intelligent (and sometimes even malicious) objects. Alienation isn't the right term since we generally don't think of the object as being designed, but rather we think of objects in terms of the agency they themselves possess.

I have to go help my wife get a desk for her office since the keyboard drawer she needs to use won't fit on it and to bring in the car for repairs or I'd post more, but this seems like a necessary, if miserable, part of network culture to address.

Please comment. That is, if you can get the comment system to work (it usually does, really).

What's in Your Bag?

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The Berlin Wall's Wife, Clarence the Record Collector, and Mike the Headless Chicken

The previous post on Clocky brought us to the topic of our relationship to things, something that Robert Sumrell and I have spent a good deal of time thinking about in our new book Blue Monday. This week, I have been going over the edits one very last time before we sent it to the printer and, in so doing, realized that I should point varnelis.net readers toward three short stories in Blue Monday that we have, thus far, kept largely under wraps.

The first is the story of Wall W. Berliner-Mauer , a Swedish woman who fell in love with the great modernist icon, the Berlin Wall and married it in 1979. As you might imagine, Berliner-Mauer's story is quite tragic as her husband was demolished a decade later. Berliner-Mauer has extensively theorized her relationship with the wall on her web site. The second is the story of Clarence, an obsessive record collector who has given up his life to the objects of his attention. In this story we explore our devotion and even slavery to objects. The third is the story of Mike, a chicken who survived decapitation to form a bond with the man who chopped off his head. Mike's life allowed us insight into just how perilous relationships of people and things can be.

Together, these three stories explore the fraught relationships we have with objects and our desire not only to make them submit to us, but to submit ourselves to them. We hope you'll enjoy them, and enjoy them even more when they become available in far more readable form in the book.

the persuaders

PBS's Frontline carried another fantastic episode today, "the Persuaders," on advertising today.

In 1957, Vance Packard wrote "The Hidden Persuaders" on how corporations employed subliminal techniques. Do the Persuaders really need to be hidden anymore? Frontline finds out. As usual, the show has an impressive web site with discussions between key analysts, supplemental material, opportunities to speak out, and the entire show online (just in cased you missed it).

Afrigadget

Afrigadget is dedicated to "solving everyday problems with African ingenuity." Mortar shells that fell on Ethiopia become coffee makers,wood flash drive case mods, Kenyan carved lion iPod stands, hippo rollers and other products of everyday life in Africa are featured on this blog that reminds us that Network Culture is by no means confined to the first world.

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