revolution of the present in limerick

As part of the fall lecture series at the University of Limerick, Ireland, I will be showing the film "Revolution of the Present," a feature-length documentary by writer/director Marc Lafia, executive producer Jose Fernandez-Richards, and producer Johanna Schiller on Tuesday, October 14th at 5.00pm. This is the European premiere of the film, so if you are in the area, we hope that you can make it. Course director Peter Carroll and I will discuss the film afterwards. I am honored to be part of this production and immensely proud of the work the team did. There is hardly any better introduction to my work or network culture than this film. Should you not be in Ireland at the time, you can check out Revolution of the Present here.    

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Empires a Film on Networks

Last year, I had the honor of being interviewed by filmmaker Marc Lafia for a project examining the impact of networks on contemporary thought. This is an important project, which tackles the same issues that I'm tackling in my work on network culture.

Simply enough, as I say in the clip below, the network is becoming a cultural dominant. We are increasingly networks not just as technology of connectivity, but as a means of explaining and interpreting the world. Certainly, as we saw at Tahrir Square, networks can be liberatory, but they also provide an illusion of power and freedom that can be dangerously misleading. Producing a film on this topic is crucially important.

Check out this trailer. 

Marc, Joanna (the producer), and their team are reaching out by Kickstarter with one day left. The project is fully funded already, but that funding was only the minimum needed to keep the project going. They not only interviewed me, they also interviewed Manuel Delanda, James Delbourgo, Anthony Pagden Michael Hardt, Saskia Sassen, Nishant Shah, Cathy Davidson, Geert Lovink, Wendy Hui Kyong Chung, Alex Galloway, Florian Cramer, and Natalie Jeremijenko.

Check out Empires above and, if you feel compelled, visit the Kickstarter site. If you read this blog, chances are you're going to want to see it.  

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Inception, Disconnection, and Atemporality

I saw Inception the other night and was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I should have looked at the movie poster more carefully and noted the ominous presence of One Wilshire. For like One Wilshire, the film revealed more of itself as it went on and, even with all of its complexity, had a well-thought out ending, not the lame sort of ending that has frustrated me too often lately in projects that I otherwise liked, like Lost or Spook Country

The central conceit of the film is that the characters have access to a technology developed by the military to create dreams that can be inhabited and shaped collectively. I will refrain from discussing the movie in much more detail so as to avoid spoiling it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but I thought I’d make an observation about how the film engages disconnection and atemporality, the topics of the first two chapters of my book on network culture.

Let’s turn to space first. The argument that I make in the chapter of Life After Networks that I am currently finishing up is that everyday spatial experience today is marked by disconnection. Right now I am disconnecting from the space around me to connect with my readership in the mediated space of this site while teenagers in Japan are engaged in telecocoons with close friends via mobile phones, and bankers in London are getting back from lunch and texting each other on their blackberries. Now simultaneity has been a key part of our phenomenological existence since modernity came to its early adulthood and the telegraph was invented. Already in the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848, audiences in New York received daily updates from the front. By the turn of the century, simultaneity was recognized as integral to modernity and the products of the heady first thirty years of the century, from Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to Ulysses to the Light-Space Modulator evidence the modern’s fascination with this condition. Radio and television brought simultaneity into the realm of everyday experience, but it was still one-way. Local telephone calls were the exception, although these were tied to specific locations: you had to reach a location before you could reach a person. 

Still, modernity and postmodernity were both marked by an alienation that stemmed from feeling disconnected from the world around you. Today, however, we disconnect constantly in order to connect with others at a remove from us. Mobile and smart phones, wireless enabled laptops, and so on make it possible for us to leave the spaces for places in which we can feel more at home. Where disconnection is unhappy, it is generally the common phenomenon of the workplace intruding on our private lives (or occasionally the reverse)  Even the primary means of experiencing music today, iPods, are a form of disconnection, although they connect us less to other spaces than color our moods, the massive amounts of storage the offer allowing us to augmenting the world we inhabit with a soundtrack to our choosing in a much more seamless way than the Walkman or Discman ever could have.

Inception embodies this as dream piles upon dream, each at a different temporal pace, each in a different space. The experience of dreaming is not that different from the experience of entering into a telecocoon, blogging or playing an MMORPG (indeed, the film could have substituted MMORPG for dream rather effortlessly… that it did not is telling). 

In talking about the film with Kyle Hovenkotter, who is working with me at the Netlab this summer, he pointed out that Inception is also thoroughly atemporal. i’m not going to say a huge amount about atemporality here. I’ve done enough of that in the first chapter of Life After Networks here. Simply enough, atemporality suggests that more than ever, history has come undone for us and we have lost any capacity for understanding our lives temporally. Thus, we inhabit a world in which we live in the present, but are perfectly willing to treat the past as a fetish object to be recreated in perfect simulation (Mad Men, artisinal light bulbs, etc.), even as we eschew the postmodernist trope of pastiche, which operated in the mode of irony. For all that I said about technology in the preceding paragraphs, cell phones,  iPods,  even laptop computers are all conspicuously absent. Clearly we are in some moment after the invention of bullet train and the Airfone, but it could as easily be 1985 or 1990 as it could today. 

So that said, I was surprised by the Building Design review that attacked the film for the supposed blandness of its architecture. I think the reviewer missed the point here. The very corporate banality of the architecture—the LADWP building become a thousand feet tall, for example, or the repeated appearance of One Wilshire in a chase scene—is key. The ability of the dreamers to construct paradoxical architecture such as stairs that endlessly rise or streets that turn in upon themselves put the focus on the way the architecture performed, not the way it looked. Beyond that however, this kind of corporate modernism made for not just the best-collapsing ruins, but also contributed to a feeling that the people in it are not entirely real. Most of all the architecture of Inception is atemporal. To introduce a building by Libeskind, Piano, or Koolhaas would have marred the film.

Summing up, I recommend the film for anyone working in network culture today. It captures our moment and, in so doing, allows us to come to an understanding of where we are, even if, in the end, any final answer vanishes from our grasp.    


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dangerous reading

While doing research for my next paper at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, I ran across this pdf, the script of Three Days of the Condor, one of my favorite films.

In this brilliant collaboration between Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack, our hero is Turner, a CIA operative working in an office in ethereally beautiful 1970s New York. Turner finds himself on the run and is baffled as to why since all he does is read. Here’s one of the key moments in the plot, here Turner is explaining himself to the character Kathy, played by Faye Dunaway.

Listen. I work for the CIA. I’m not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world, and we–we feed the plots–dirty tricks, codes into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. I–I can-Who’d invent a job like that? I–Listen! People are trying to kill me!

The air is thick with Watergate-era government conspiracy as Turner tries to avoid being caught while tracing just who is trying to kill him by hacking into telephone networks.

Well worth watching, or re-watching. Well worth asking…just where is today’s version?