IN CASE YOU WONDERED, inhabiting virtual worlds 24/7 has a downside. Our brains aren’t equipped to handle it all (though our kids’ might be). That according to last night’s panicky episode of Frontline in which a long-time advocate for fully wired living asks scientists, educators and businesspeople to confirm his hunch that 10+ hours a day of flickering media stimulation is more draining than empowering, and that the fleeting sensation of mastery it provides edges out deeper satisfactions.
I didn’t need to be told this.
Lately my media diet has left me feeling grasping and needy. I have way more avenues to share an opinion than I have actual opinions. A frantic desire for “presence” leads to exhausting cycles of posting, cross-linking and commenting, predicated on recycled content of dubious substance: Has Selleck Waterfall Sandwich been posted here today? Is Whythefuckdoyouhaveakid.com an apt ripost in this thread, even if it hasn’t been updated in days? Is my lack of interest in ____ (insert #vikings/#lost/#broganmpls) a tweetable sentiment in and of itself, or proof of my irrelevance?
And then there’s my blog: shots fired into a vacuum on a platform that flamed out in 2004. I might as well be fomenting a flash mob. In the spirit of retro squareness, maybe I’ll go sing karaoke tonight.
> Jay Z – Lost Ones (Feat. Chrissette Michelle)
INHUMAN COLD is collapsing my holiday balloon fast. But it’s fine weather for filmgoing, by way of the budget cinema and the wonders of Instant Netflix. I found special resonance in the last three flicks, “The Hurt Locker“, “Time Out” and “Up In The Air.” As someone preoccupied with issues of work and personal identity (My job does not define me! Oh wait, it does! Do I even want that? Maybe!), I enjoy watching people in professional turmoil.
“The Hurt Locker” follows American soldiers in Baghdad whose daily routine is to avoid being killed, intentionally or by accident. They ride around with their heads down looking for improvised explosives to disarm. If they aren’t blown up or shot, they move to the next cache. The film asks you to question your own fortitude in the face of unremitting tension and death, and the soldiers showcase the full range of reactions, from paralysis to casual indifference. You can’t help but admire the talent and technical expertise required of modern warriors—or wonder, as one does with any job, what if anything their efforts are worth.
A stable corporate breadwinner unravels in “Time Out,” a French film from 2001 about a recently fired executive who deceives his family into thinking he’s still on the job. He leaves home in a suit each day only to drive around in circles, stopping to wander the hallways of companies where he doesn’t work, creepily invisible. You almost think his charade will magically redeem him, but when it inevitably collapses, you’re reminded that escape from work is impossible (at least for us middle-class suckers).
“Up In The Air” sheds light on the blindness of vocation: how we ignore the consequences of what we do, excusing ourselves because we do it well. Competence trumps compassion. George Clooney’s supremely confident “employment termination expert” dispatches soon-to-be-former employees with a wink and a packet. But despite the “first day of your new life” pitch he gives the people he cans, he’s not doing anyone a favor, himself included. His self-proclaimed freedom from obligation (about which he gives motivational lectures) seems enviable at first, then starts to look clueless. If success is the ultimate virtue, why bother?
> Listen: Gang Starr – Work
I STUMBLED ON A COPY OF “THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE” at the library this weekend, a 1996 reprint faithful to the stark and brilliant design of the 1967 original. As pervasive as the central idea now seems—that our information environment shapes thought, society and responsibility—there’s an unexpected freshness to the book (and it’s not just the crocheted tights everyone’s wearing).
Quite obviously, you hear its echo—if not its clarity—in every discussion of the web and social media. Those of us who straddle the 20th and 21st centuries like to reflect on our supreme cultural moment, celebrating the total erasure of old rules and means (today’s marketing book shelf alone has more “revolutions” than all of human history before 1901).
So it’s reassuring to read a dusty old pamphlet that waxes triumphant about the irrevocable changes wrought by technology and the unimaginable consequences. And to see that worldview perfectly intact 40 years on.
> Spoon – Everything Hits At Once
They Might Be Giants (11/3, First Ave) was one nostalgia show I didn’t bother with this year (X and Sonic Youth were solid; De La Soul was a long, tiresome harangue to put your hands up—or is that every hip-hop show I’ve seen for a decade?). TMBG now makes music for children, which means I’ve run a full generational lap with college rock.
A poem by Kurt Schwitters, a collaging hero of mine, animated in type.
In the right frame of mind, the Country Teasers’ hypnotic rants sound something like Truth.
Add “Lisa Bonet Ate No Basil” to the list of things I find endlessly funny AND mark me as a total dweeb.
In more nerdcore news, Sarah and I saw the Mountain Goats at the Cedar Cultural Center (my new favorite old venue), with opener Final Fantasy, who stepped in with his violin for the tune “Going to Bristol.”
>> Richard Buckner talks about finding a new career after your last one dries up.
>> I have never before this month been thinking so much about Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwiches. Or eating so few.
>> Global Culture Snippet: Latvia’s Ethnographic Mittens.
>> On the tragic scarcity of street food in Mpls/St Paul.
>> Bodaciously browser-rockin’ art GIFs (hit the arrows to peruse) (thanks, Kate)
>> Bank robbery communiqués and their authors.
>> We are contemplating a trip to Colombia. I am cautiously optimisitic.
Turns out Harry Allen a/k/a “the Media Assassin,” doesn’t just lurk around the PE water cooler like Professor Griff, but is, in fact, out there assassinating media ignorance. A short essay on racism in the new Old Navy commercial that white people probably can’t see.
Why my local dry cleaner rocks (not only because it’s staffed by teenagers using pre-1970’s technology).
I avoid blogging about creative/media/advertising work, but this social networking application by Zeus Jones suggests what can happen when smart ad people divert their energy from helping us to consume more, like to enter a contest.
A well-worn technique hits sardonic new heights: The Nietzsche Family Circus. (Thanks, Sytsma)
The only weather site I will ever need.
A piece I did for MnArtists.org has been published, a profile of fontmeister Chank Diesel. Rereading it, my pedantic tendencies are striking. Hopefully readers will machete through to the better parts.
Even if you don’t give a flip about typography, Chank’s art-from-everyday philosophy is inspiring. Here’s an excerpt:
Putting the tools of type design into the hands of students and professionals is part of Chank’s M.O. He enlivens his regular speaking engagements with font-making workshops to engage his audience in a hands-on way. In a typical workshop, Chank assigns each participant a character, then they all gather source material from the immediate environment. This summer, Chank and the Las Vegas chapter of the AIGA created Atomic Vegas Seasnakes, a font made from twisting strands of glow-in-the-dark plastic jewelry. “Cheap Chinese imports like these flow into Las Vegas. And they look like neon.” At a summer workshop in Northern Minnesota, designers built letters from found bits of nature with inspired results. “People were using flowers, leaves, sticks. I didn’t know if it would turn out, but it ended up very Victorian—fancy and frilly.” For another Minnesota workshop, Chank had students sculpt an alphabet from the region’s most abundant resource: snow.