I've spent the evening reading John Seabrook's book Nobrow (2000). Seabrook has posted the New Yorker essay that led to the book. If Nobrow is a little too personal and untheorized to be useful, it nevertheless leads to the important observation that network culture has gone beyond postmodernism's delight in mixing high and low to a condition in which these are merely inflections within a homogeneous field. In this light, Pierre Bourdieu's analysis of taste as a marker of distinction seems thoroughly undone, the quaint product of a bygone age.
What's important today at a dinner of academics or museum curators? Knowing about "24" or what show is at the Met? What's more elite, Naples, Florida or Newport, Rhode Island? What's worth cultivating more, an obsession with 15th century Italian painting or 1970s New York Noise? Network Culture offers little in the way of guidance. Depending on which cluster you belong to, you decide what your taste should be.
The New York Times has a story today about two voice recognition systems that take voice mail from your mobile phone and send it to you as a text message or email. But as David Pogue enumerated the ways this could change your use of cell phones (live blogging via audio, phones as mobile transcription devices) this seemingly modest (does it really seem modest? usable voice recognition?) technology began to seem transformative to me. What sort of changes will this create?
Imagine, at the very least, the ability to give out your mobile phone number much more promiscuously than ever before. It would be child's play to have unknown numbers go straight to a voice-to-text system while previously-vetted numbers ring.
Even further, if many computers such as the new Mac Books and Mac Book Pros have built in microphones, this could mean that people will craft emails with voice.
As a field that has recently been re-invigorated by technology and neo-modernism, architecture is also susceptible to the temptations of an endlessly deferred future. Whether it be leakproof flat roofs or mass production of carbon nanotubes, architecture has an inherent drive toward futurology that gets in the way of seeing the real and massive potential within the contemporary, both as it already is and as it could be, with some tweaking. We've lived through 1984, 2000, and 2001. So now what? The Netlab sets out to look at the contemporary condition.
To be sure, however, visionary, utopian, and dystopian projects do have a role, as for example, Superstudio's Continuous Monument or Archizoom's No-Stop-City. Yet these are most useful when they don't rely on a proximate future but rather suspend the question of their nearness, thereby being both already present and objects of contemplation.
In the "Terrazzo Jungle," a New Yorker article from 2004, Malcolm Gladwell recounts the history of the shopping mall and the role of Victor Gruen, the Viennese crusader for the shopping mall as a new form of urbanity in the 1950s United States. Gladwell points to a little known change in the 1954 Internal Revenue Code that allowed developers to write off their investments much more quickly, stimulating them to make ever bigger shopping centers and, in so doing, undoing America's downtown retail districts.
Some subtle changes this morning. The first is the implementation of Drupal 5.1 behind the scenes on this site. Discovering RSS and moving to Drupal got me back into blogging in 2005 after a year's absence. I have spent a huge amount of time learning this content management system (CMS), but it has really been worth it, not only in terms of being able to maintain this site, but also in being able to build sustainable infrastructures for the LA Forum, Networked Publics (offilne at the moment, but ready to be updated next week), Docomomo, and Netlab sites. During this time, Drupal has matured significantly, making layout and site administration much easier and making the program much more of a CMS than a blogging tool. The Open Source nature of Drupal often leads to quirky decisions about priorities (image management is not in core) and branding (it's called "community plumbing" and it could use more well designed themes out of the box). I'm never sure if the entire thing is going to derail in the next version or not and remarkably often developers of specific modules vanish into the ether (as the developer of a popular wiki module and the maintainer of a WYSIWYG editor recently did), but on the whole the Drupal community has been great and this powerful software deserves a plug. Who knows, maybe this year I will finally get to site development and even contribute a theme.
I am fairly sure that this is the longest running individual architecture blog on the web (see the lonely archives for entries from 2000 onward) but the idea goes even further back, to 1994. For a long time, it was enough to collect general observations on architecture and urbanism, but as blogs on those topics have proliferated (I count 20 in my RSS feeds alone), defining just what you are up to has become necessary. To this end, the other subtle change is a new mission statement (to the left, below my bio) and a new tag line at the top, "network architecture | network cities | network culture" that better reflects both my research work at Columbia and the focus of this site.
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.
I was intrigued to read about the release of the Clocky in today's New York Times. No longer just a cool idea, Clocky is now shipping.
Developed by Gauri Nanda, a graduate student in MIT's media lab, Clocky is an alarm clock that jumps off the night table and runs away from you if you hit your snooze button one time too many, randomly screeching at you with its alarm.. Not only do I need a Clocky (I have two small children after all!), with Clocky I think we see a glimpse of the future of network culture in which our relationships with things become ever more emotional. I'll take the shag one.