Category: People

Taking back the world with Rushkoff

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I’m an old fan of Douglas Rushkoff, who is one of our most generous public intellectuals. I appreciate how he keeps the Gen X flame lit. In this nifty little Webcomic from Seth Kushner Rushkoff covers some key points from his current book, Life Inc., and themes from his Frontline documentaries, The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders. In the above panels he riffs on a few motifs that I’ve been playing with: slowing down, mediating less, doing more with people outside the Internet, and engaging in organic and slow media.

Quotable: Warhol the Zen master

Warhol

One of my favorite books is The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again). This might sound unbelievable, but I actually think Warhol was an enlightened master who simply spoke in the language of his time: mass media. What makes his contribution so important is that he went against the grain of a 2000 year legacy that distrusts images. While it is necessary to be skeptical of visual illusions as a kind of perceptive magic, at the same time the reaction to it can be just as bad. The striving for some unattainable Utopia also causes incredible suffering. Is it possible to interact with media in a way that is both skeptical but also incorporates a willingness to take responsibility for our own happiness here and now instead of blaming society?

The solution may be to mindfully engage the illusion, and I think that is what Warhol was cryptically alluding to.

Some of the best quotes from his book are:

“The camera turns [people] on and off.” (p. 80)

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there. I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television— you don’t feel anything.” (p.91)

“At the end of my time, when I die, I don’t want to leave any leftovers. And I don’t want to be a leftover. I was watching TV this week and I saw a lady go into a ray machine and disappear. That was wonderful, because matter is energy and she just disappeared. That could be a really American invention, the best American Invention— to be able to disappear. I mean, that way they couldn’t say you died, they couldn’t say you were murdered, they couldn’t say you committed suicide over somebody.” (P.113)

“Space is all one space and thought is all one thought, but my mind divides its spaces into spaces into spaces and thought into thoughts. Like a large condominium. Occasionally I think of about one Space and the one Thought, but usually I don’t. Usually I think about my condominium.” (p.143)

“Before media there used to be a physical limit of how much space one person could take up by themselves. People, I think, are the only things that know how to take up more space than the space they’re actually in, because with media you can sit back and still let yourself fill up space on records, in the movies, most exclusively on the telephone and the least exclusively on television.” (p.146)

“You should have contact with your closest friends through the most intimate of and exclusive of all media— the telephone.” (p.147)

“I always bring everything back to chemicals, because I really think everything starts and finishes with chemicals.” (p.?)

PS Another fave is POPism: The Warhol Sixties. It’s a great chronicle of life and experimentation at the cusp of the social revolution.

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Lovink on politics and social media

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The Surveillance Camera Players doing tactical media.

One of my favorite media theorists, Geert Lovink, wrote the indispensable Dark Fiber, a collection of critical essays published by MIT about media activism and networks. His discussion of tactical media as an alternative to culture jamming is why I put any kind of media activism under that category of the same name.

In a recent interview, he discusses politics and social media.

net critique:

SBJ: Have social medias taken over the political debate and activism or do real life debates and organisation still serve a purpose–and if so which?

GL: Taken over? No, there isn’t any statistical evidence for that. Television, assisted by newspapers and radio, are still dominating the political agenda. The Web is playing a strange, new role in all this. For many, Internet is the perfect place to hang out and escape the boring, pre-programmed world of the ‘old media’. Simultaneously, society is moving into the Internet at the same time, just think of the re-invention of advertisement out there. What we see happening is not an easy convergence of media. Real and virtual mix but in unexpected manners. That’s the fun of it. However, the current crises are not properly addressed either in cyberspace. It’s really questionable to think that the paperless Internet is contributing in a positive way to the global warning and environmental pollution that we have in China as the place of production and Africa as the waste basket. But I remain positive. Remember that all these hyped-up self-important dotcom people in the late nineties had no idea about their own upcoming crash, let alone about the social aspects of Web 2.0. This makes me optimistic about Web 3.0, 4.0 and so on. Why won’t some Afro-Brazilian consortium draw up the principles for the Internet architecture in 20 years time?

Quotable: Marshal McLuhan

When I say the medium is the message, I’m saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It’s when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So ‘the medium is the message’ is not a simple remark, and I’ve always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. It is the environment that changes people, not the technology.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews.

Growing a brain garden

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I Heart NY designer Milton Glaser has some heads-up advice about how to treat your brain. If you click the link below you can see the other nine things he’s learned about life.

Milton Glaser Inc.:

7 – HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN.

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

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Neil sings alone

Maybe he’d be happier if he considered collective intelligence.

“A Song Alone”

By Neil Young

No one song can change the world. But that doesn’t mean its time to stop singing.
Somewhere on Earth a scientist is alone working. No one knows what he or she is thinking. The secret is just within reach. If I knew that answer I would be singing the song.

This is the Age of innovation. Hope matters. But not hope alone. In the age of innovation, the people’s fuel must be found. That is the biggest challenge. Who is up to the challenge? Who is searching today? All day. All night. Every hour that goes by. I know I am.

My friends write to me don’t give up. I am not giving up. I know this is the time for change. But I know that it’s not a song. Maybe it was. But it isn’t now. It’s an action, an accomplishment, a revelation, a new way. I am searching for the people’s fuel. Will I find it? Yes. I think so. I don’t know why I may have been chosen to help enable a discovery of this magnitude. I know I can only write a song about it when I find it. Until then I can write a song about the search or spend all my time looking. But a song alone will not change the world. Even so, I will keep on singing.

Quotable: an eater’s manifesto

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Photo of LA billboard by Antonio Lopez
ChangeThis :: An Eater’s Manifesto:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.

We are entering a postindustrial era of food; for the first time in a generation it is possible to leave behind the Western diet without having also to leave behind civilization. And the more eaters who vote with their forks for a different kind of food, the more commonplace and accessible such food will become. This is an eater’s manifesto, an invitation to join the movement that is renovating our food system in the name of health—health in the very broadest sense of that word.

Michael Pollan

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Gender bender: the face of freedom

OK, don’t ask me how I came across the above video, but it features Andre J, one of the finest people I have ever met. S/he used to work at the fashion store below the Dharma Punx meditation studio in Manhattan. Before meditation I’d hang with Andre to chat about life. S/he is one of the deepest, most fearless people in the universe. I wish I had one ounce of Andre’s sense of inner peace.

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Quotable: Burroughs on Castaneda

I stumbled on this nice little interview snippet with William S. Burroughs talking about Carlos Castaneda. Meanwhile, it reminded me of the Burroughs’ piece, Thanksgiving Prayer, which is posted above. Gobble Gobble.

Burroughs on Castaneda:

BURROUGHS: …You’ve read Castaneda’s Don Juan books. Don Juan says that nothing can be accomplished magically. Stopping the internal dialogue, in effect, enables you to have access to your will. Stopping the internal dialogue enables you to will without desiring. Don Juan says that you can’t advance until you achieve that. see, If you want money without desiring it, you get it, but if you desire it and are thinking, ‘I’m going to do this, that and the other with it,’ that desire becomes a hindrance.

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Quotable: Naomi Wolf

Do you have an hour? Sit back and put your seat-belt on, Naomi Wolf deconstructs the steps towards a fascist state. This has everything to do with media because media are responsible for diseminating the big lie. To quote the master propagandist himself, Joseph Goebels:

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie … The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state.

Take her very seriously. To read her cliff notes version, click here.

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Another outstanding Rushkoff interview

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Mediacology readers know that I am a big fan of Douglas Rushkoff. His recent interview for WorldChanging is full of beautiful gems, but I’ll highlight one in particular, his insight that we unconsciously inhabit an architecture of centralized currency, and its fraking us big time.

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Doug Rushkoff on the Technologies of Persuasion:

WorldChanging: I’ve been hanging out with people who want to transform economic thinking – build an economy based on sustainability… “economics as if people mattered,” as Schumacher said. How do we get to that kind of transformation? It feels like we have to sell, but selling it is sort of antithetical to the intention.

Doug: I don’t think you can do it without first revealing the underlying biases and false assumptions of the money we’re using.

Centralized currency — invented during the Renaissance, really — favors the kinds of business practices and centralization of power that actually works against good, honest, local commerce. In short, it favors Wal-Mart over, say, Community Supported Agriculture.

There are other kinds of money – and they were in existence until they were outlawed by kings and queens looking to centralize authority. Money that is lent into existence by a central bank will tend towards scarcity and competition. Money that is earned into existence by people in a specific place has very different properties, and works on a model of abundance.

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Quotable: Paul Hawken

AlterNet: Paul Hawken: How to Stop Our Political and Economic Systems From Stealing Our Future:

I estimate today that there are between one and two million organizations in the world that are addressing social justice and the environment, human rights and ecological restoration. It’s not only the largest movement in the world, it is so large compared to any other thing that exists or has existed, that there is really no second place. And I think the reason we don’t see it as a movement is because it is so different from anything we’ve seen before. We see movements as ideological, as starting in some center and spreading out from that place, as having leaders that we look to for inspiration, and who then manage and guide.

At the same time, most movements have wanted to amalgamate power to themselves in some form or another. They’ve looked at concentrations of power and said, “We want some.” But this movement is very different. It’s not ideological, it’s based on ideas. Ideologies constrain and dictate what you can and cannot do.

A haunting tale of mental illness, video art and suicide

On July 10 blogger and multimedia artist Theresa Duncan took her life. A few days later her soul mate Jeremy Blake stripped his clothes off and entered the ocean never to return. Both were video game designers, Blake was an established video artist, his video for Beck shown above. The Newsweek story below touches upon the link between technology and mental illness that sometimes manifests in disastrous ways. The more interesting angle is the creeping paranoia towards the end of their lives that they were being sabotaged by Scientologists, perhaps triggered by the project for Beck (who is a Scientologist).

I wouldn’t go so far as to blame the media for this sad story, though I’m sure many have considered it (there is a hint of the wagging finger in the Newsweek story), but am interested because the strangest part is how the couple lives on within the digital realm. This confirms what some (such as Mary Ann Doane) have written about concerning the subconscious motive of our civilization to create media: so we can capture death and contingency in order to escape life’s impermanence. Of this I’m certain: Duncan and Blake will be immortalized by film, for this story has the perfect intrigue of a noire script. But the screenwriter will most certainly have to omit Scientology from the script; otherwise it will never appear in a theater near you (or a small box on your computer screen for that matter). Maybe Twain was right when he said the only thing certain is death and taxes, but we can add to the list as well that our digital apparitions will be eternalized as long as we still have electricity.
Duncan’s digital remains: Wit of the Staircase

For a more literary take, read this article.

Art, Technology and Death: A Love Story – Newsweek Society – MSNBC.com:

For some, technology and mental illness have long been thought to exist in a kind of dark symbiosis. Blake and Duncan’s case follows a long history that began when the electric age upended daily life with baffling, complex innovations. The first victim is believed to have been James Tilley Matthews, an 18th-century British merchant who thought France planned to take over England with a mind-controlling magnetic machine using technology developed by Frank Mesmer—from whom the word “mesmerized” is derived. More recently, the introduction of television inflamed the minds of patients who believed that their TVs were watching them or broadcasting secrets about their lives. In this regard, the Web is especially powerful. “The condition of being super-social and super-isolated at the same time is an Internet-era kind of thing,” says Fred Turner, a media historian at Stanford University, who speculates that as Blake and Duncan withdrew from friends, “their only reality check left was the wisps of information on their computer screens. And unfortunately, that isn’t a very powerful check.”

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Quotable: Paolo Soleri

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Paolo Soleri:

To cultivate one’s soul is then the quest that will back up the skills of the eyes, the ears, the hands and the body with the synthetic power of the mind and ultimately will cast aside the cages of separateness. Separateness is a peculiar invention of man and it is a menace to his position within the evolving universe. Small or large, the individual work is a contribution toward or an inquiry on the body of the species. The responsibility is personal and awesome and the punishment 1s as intrinsic to the performance as much as are the rewards. Each of us is a universal man or woman because we all are of the universe. To neglect this is purely to neglect oneself, a neglect that kills.

(Matter Becomes Spirit, p.224-5)

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Another great impresario enters the dustbin of history

Slate does a nice tribute to Tony Wilson, the man who first put the Sex Pistols on TV and was the inspiration for the amazing movie, 24 Hour Party People. I find this mediological because of his unique combination of talents that superseded commercialism, and because of his connection to the history of punk, which is very relevant to my world view.

How Tony Wilson changed the face of pop culture. – By Jody Rosen – Slate Magazine:

Wilson was a strange mix of carnival barker, hack journalist, and intellectual. He was forever bloviating about punk’s links to the Situationists and other philosophical movements. No one who has seen Factory’s gorgeous, über-sleek LP cover designs could doubt that Wilson was a man of certain tastes and pretensions. It was Wilson’s dedication to his aesthetic and sense of propriety, regardless of how the numbers crunched, that led to the repeated implosion of his entrepreneurial ventures. When the Haçienda was at its late-’80s apotheosis, one of the most famous clubs in the world, it still charged less for door fees and drinks than many Manchester dives. (While Wilson and his partners were hemorrhaging cash, the drug dealers at the Haçienda were raking it in.) The most famous story involves the 12-inch single of New Order’s “Blue Monday,” a huge best-seller, which Factory managed to lose money on because the label had shelled out so much on the sleeve art design. These days, you can pick up a copy cheap on eBay, a keepsake to remind you of Tony Wilson’s terrible head for business and great head for the other stuff—awesome album covers, all-night parties, art, joy, mischief—that mattered more.

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