““Let us not kid ourselves,” Professor Vladimir Nabokov reminds us. “Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever. … ” But practical value isn’t the only kind of value. Ours is a mixed economy, with the gift economy of the arts existing (if not exactly flourishing) within the inhospitable conditions of a market economy, like the fragile black market in human decency that keeps civilization going despite the pitiless dictates of self-interest.”
“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.
And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…
That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”
“They say hypocrisy is the respect vice pays to virtue. Well, kitsch is the tribute vulgarity pays to beauty, which is why bowlderizations, popularized settings of great music, sentimental visions of sublime scenery, are so touching: They show that we all long for the same archetypes.”
“A funny thing has happened since the social network debuted in 2004 [Facebook]—our friends stopped being themselves. “I don’t know about you but my friends are really weird,” says Spiegel. Yet all of their quirks have been lost in the rarefied air of social media, replaced by self-conscious, superhuman wits who trade in “envy me” scenes—sunsets and vacations, impossibly fun parties and gourmet dinners.
Spontaneity, now punishable by career ruin, has been abandoned. Instead, everyone is busy curating a perfected online image. “People are living with this massive burden of managing a digital version of themselves,” Spiegel laments. ”It’s taken all of the fun out of communicating.””
“I believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness. Things need fixing and tending no less than creating.”
“Alan had a culturally rich perspective just waiting to be harvested,” Mr. Rabbito said. “I don’t like the phrase ‘reinvent yourself.’ I think what really happened is that when Alan got to England, whatever he found there allowed him to discover who he already was.”
Alan Feuer, The Secret Life of a Society Man
People have always gone about reinventing themselves in the mode that they think is true to them—and sometimes that brings up a lot of questions about their authenticity as people. This is a great story of that, but my real interest in reading this kind of thing is to think about culture more generally. It used to be that if you were into a sub-genre of culture (like being a Punk), you dressed that way and advertised yourself—partly as a way of telling the world to fuck off and partly as a way of finding your own people.
The web has changed all that and the idea of identity—that you can participate in a dozen fringe cultures through the web while leading a completely homogenous existence to the casual observer. There’s something amazing and sad about it at the same time.
“Mr. Bloomberg spoke about the difficulties of leading a city into the future amid a political culture that is often focused on the short term.
The mayor noted that technology, despite its benefits, can add new pitfalls to an already grueling process. “Social media is going to make it even more difficult to make long-term investments” in cities, Mr. Bloomberg said.
“We are basically having a referendum on every single thing that we do every day,” he said. “And it’s very hard for people to stand up to that and say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do,’ when there’s constant criticism, and an election process that you have to look forward to and face periodically.””
“I believe that in our culture of simulation, the notion of authenticity is for us what sex was for the Victorians—threat and obsession, taboo and fascination.”
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together
“It appears that Tumblr built in a day or two what no D.C.-based technology supplier could come up with in the last five years.”
The statement above is false. I’m one of the co-founders of Mobile Commons, though I no longer work there. The Mobile Commons technology that Tumblr used to build a very nice graphical interface has been available to any organization for going on five years. In fact, it’s been used by many organizations to lobby for the change that is important to them.
What Tumblr was able to do was remarkable because of the size and scale of it’s userbase and the ability of the Tumblr team to articulate to that userbase why SOPA is a horrible idea. The size and scale of that userbase is the result of years of work by David and the Tumblr team.
One of the issues with online advocacy and politics is to get things happening at web scale—and it’s often disappointing that the web really only rallies around causes that happen to concern the web. At the same time, it’s important. The Internet is a historical anomaly—allowed to grow and flourish because it grew too fast to ever be brought under the auspices of the FCC or anyone else (imagine if launching a site on Wi-Fi was like submitting to the Apple AppStore).
Sean Parker’s been talking quite a bit about how the web should allow us to divorce influence from money in politics. That’s a grand ambition and an important one because when it comes to SOPA, legislators are weighing the perception of votes vs. the pressure exerted on them by lobbyists. While it’s good to get apolitical people motivated en masse, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done for legislators to understand how that fits into voting profiles and their self-interest in being re-elected.
I hope that the success of Tumblr’s call-in campaign was a wake-up call to many web companies that have the technical and design wherewithal to start taking on some of these issues and working together to apply more precise and sustained pressure in Washington.
“Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.”
“What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying to hard.”
Atul Gawande, Coaching a Surgeon - New Yorker
I usually love Atul Gawande, but I think he’s off-point about the real ethos of amateurism—which really just denotes a kind of love. Conflating amateurism with a specific anthropological tidbit is a disservice to people that pursue things for love. A lover can bring much more to a situation than someone that is a professional (which, to be rhetorically unkind, could be called a mercenary). I want more people in the world doing things out of love.
“I’m an actual artist (as in paid for fine arts, working on an MFA, etc.) and I am not an entrepreneur. I resent the startup community’s move to co-opt this designation. Partially this is due to jealousy—modest success in my field is not on par with modest success in theirs financially, so I want my remuneration in cultural prestige to remain undiluted! But more objectionable to me are these facile and specious arguments. By this definition, engineers are artists, chefs are artists, Jacques Cousteau was an artist, machinists are artists, teachers are artists, mathematicians are artists, and so the fuck on.
It’s certainly not my aim to denigrate the work of entrepreneurs (or teachers or machinists!) but rather to suggest that lumping every act of creation under the designation of “art” is unhelpful. It then takes the creative motive out of everything else. When I write code, I must be creative, but my algorithm for a distributed cellular automata is not art. When Jeff Koons builds an art factory capable of producing hundreds of Koons paintings, that was not art, but entrepreneurship, though it certainly took creativity and insight.
So fall back. We’re all doing interesting stuff, but we’re not each doing all the interesting stuff.”