You could no longer read as if your life depended on it. This is the other side of the now perennial cries of the decline of reading, of the humanities, of literary culture, of all that. What psychoanalysts call the decline in symbolic efficiency is more about the decline of the repressive function that excommunicated those that read the wrong way. -McKenzie Wark, Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Communication
In other words, in the old days, if you wanted to do something—navigate to the restaurant where you’ve got a dinner reservation—you might open a web browser and search for its address. But in the post-search world of context—in which our devices know so much about us that they can guess our intentions—your phone is already displaying a route to that restaurant, as well as traffic conditions, and how long it will take you to get there, the moment you pull your phone out of your pocket. -Christoper Mims, This is What Comes After Search
This sounds pretty good. Not having to search hard is nice, but there’s a large gap between the “old days” and having less-than-relevant suggestions tossed your way and then having to re-search to overcome technology’s autocorrect of your taste in food. It’ll run really well off of information it has, and in cases of laziness or indecision, it might be helpful. But predictive technology based on your or other’s past behavior keeps us locked and repeating, and isn’t all this about “innovation”? To follow Thomas Mann’s classifications of human understanding, this is mistaking data and information for actual knowledge about a person.
It is, in fact, remarkably superficial, and even while it purports to be post-search, it is something else entirely: it is browsing. The reliance on light amounts of information and cultural/contextual shorthand is browsing at its finest. The phone browses your past and comes up with a few suggestions. The chief error in the above-imagined world is that it commits you to a decision based on a browse. This is especially problematic in today’s world:
According to the study, we’re still into “stuff” and the prospect of attaining it, but we’re too poor and tight to actually go through with it. (Those exorbitant student loans might be one reason why.) -Thomas Gorton, Fauxsumerism: Shopping for the Intern Generation
Because we can’t afford to commit. It costs too much effort, too much money, and too much gas. We enjoy browsing for things, picking them up, trying on a dozen, scanning the covers, looking at the menu in the window, and hearing a snippet. But unless we know, or someone else knows it’s for us for sure, it is an overreach. With more information, the app might tell you to just go to the grocery store and buy some bread. It still takes people to put pieces of information together in new and interesting ways to make something helpful, to build up from the initial context-building that is browsing and make it knowledge, or in some cases, art:
Artists featured in LotPW use vast landscapes of data to collect and transform digital information, visual and otherwise, into analog experience; every work in the collection is a printed expression of search engine pattern discovery. -Library of the Printed Web, About
The shift from digital to print makes concrete to shift from information to knowledge, to make random collections seem to speak, reifying it, if you will, to build up a collection to then be dispersed again, both digitally and in print. The collection of knowledge is our advantage over most machines, but also over each other:
Mr. Dutreil said that young designers lack the cultural knowledge that older brands have accrued over time. He argued that new brands are informed by a fragmented, this-and-that cultural experience. -Joe McCarthy, Emerging Brands Lack the Heritage Needed for Luxury Status
Knowledge and depth still matter. Disruption is fine and good to learn from, innovation keeps us relevant, but I’ll contend now til forever, the library, no matter what size or state, is part of a heritage luxury brand that combines the best of contextual browsing and search alongside the knowledge of its people and institutions to do one thing: pass it on.
In the late 1970s we often dined in a Roman restaurant called La Sora Lella, whose owner had a gracula religiosa, a myna bird, one of those birds that can perfectly imitate the human voice, as well as the voices of other animals. Every time I walked by the bird would greet me by saying, “Hi, how’s it going?” One time I was annoyed and replied, “You always say the same thing.” To my terror the bird said, “So do you!” It might be possible to find an explanation, but the experience was an unforgettable one. -Giorgio Agamben, with Leleand de la Durantaye
We want vicarious participation in the popular because it feels less lonely than reclaiming one’s inherent potentiality as a solitary, transcendent avant-garde artist. If everyone can be an artist, no one needs to be congratulated or recognized for being one. Instead, one needs to be recognized for the rarer skill of appreciation, of being able to sympathize with others and unite with them in feeling. Eternity is very lonely. -Rob Horning, Beyond Avant-Garde
(The Modern Subject) removed the barriers created by enchantment and so transformed nature into material stuff that could be understood and hence made vulnerable through instrumental reason to being exploited for the sake of increased human happiness and material well-being. -James R. Currie, Music and the Politics of Negation, p. 127.
The eruption of the industrial revolution was no doubt traumatic, and generations of revival have clearly not banished its destabilizing effects. Three characteristic symptoms of trauma in particular seem deeply inscribed in the history of craft revival: repetitive behavior, false memories, and flashbacks. -Glenn Adamson, The Invention of Craft, p.185
Now I realize they used these words to capitalize on their expiration date, their nebulousness and their opacity to anyone not encountering them that day, in that year, or that decade. I have assembled these items in hopes they will become equally misunderstood—for better or for worse—as soon as possible. They were gathered around October 18, 2013, and reflect a very personal worldview—but by the time you see this, they will all be post-recent. -Lumi Tan, Post-Recently
I recently learned about the post recent from the above blog, and if you want to really get worked over I suggest you check out the Joyce-challenging artspeak produced by Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo’s “The New Sleep: Stasis and the Image-Bound Environment“. Dating from fall of 1985, it’s a perfect internet K-Hole, and feels like a Tumblr. Lumi Tan’s wish that these things would all be buried, unearthed, and confounded is apt in its reflection on the blaze of images both in the article itself and in contemporary life, even for those not internet-enabled. The aesthetic-acceleration of contemporary life begs for a comparison, and NY Mag writer Ann Friedman has an interesting comparison:
Again, perhaps we can take a cue from teenage girls. They’re quite aware that they’re seen as frivolous and self-absorbed, but on a deeper level they know they’re engaged in an important project: figuring out who they are and what they want to be. If we took our Instagrams and Snapchats and reblogs half as seriously as they do, perhaps we’d reach some new insight about our adult selves, too. -Ann Friedman, Our Tumblrs, Our Teenage Selves
This sounds pretty legitimate, if not just apt, but the reality is that “the millennials” are among the groups of people who, perhaps as “natives” more readily see the pitfalls of these image-cycling platforms:
The “Intel Innovation Barometer” reveals millennials globally show a stark contrast to their reputation as digital natives who can’t get enough technology in their lives. A majority of millennials agree that technology makes people less human and that society relies on technology too much. -The Future of Technology May be Determined By….
Intel seems surprised by this, but anyone with a keen sense of observation of people under the age of 25 knows this already. Instead, the main supporters, and users of social technologies and associated issues were wealthier, not necessarily younger: “The research revealed that individuals with high incomes are the most willing to anonymously share personal data, such as results of lab tests and travel information. They are also the most likely to own technology devices and engage with technology on a regular basis.” This is the associated glamour of the internet. The ever-sharp Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The Beheld describes the way objects perceived as glamorous work:
We may perceive glamorous objects as an entrée into that world (hence the desire for that shade of lipstick, that style of ring, that color on the soles of our shoes), but it’s not the object we want so much as the life it promises. “But glamour only works when it can tap preexisting discontent, giving otherwise inchoate longings an object of focus.” -Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The Power of Glamour
Not to say that some teens don’t wan’t to emulate the silicon-valley lifestyle, but many just use them as tools to pursue their own visions, glamorous or otherwise, while still maintaining a keen sense for what it does to their selves, their self-perception and their projected image. In this they are different than many who are wealthy who by actively (over)participating in social media, want to get some of the apple-cum-facebook, instagrammed sheen. Over and over again, wealth seeks youth as a source of glamour, and what can be more so than the promise of a world not tied down to specific places, especially when the function of place, in a pre-globalized sense of the world, is mediated by the great equalizer so many try to fight, time. Matthew Battles says it better:
Time is the internet’s too-cheap-to-meter cultural resource, and it’s only just begun burning through it, generating a storm of atemporal media traces that pile up before us as our wings beat furiously. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat
But the kids, per usual, are alright, and they know this better than those seeking wealth. They might be plastering their walls and tumblrs with images, but they’re not looking for the glamour of platforms, they seek glamour in content, and project it back out into the post-current world at a rate Lumi Tan would appreciate as being post-recent:
Finally (but never finally), this: history is not another country, not the not-even-past, not even that which we are condemned to repeat. History is everywhere, rather; you’re soaking in it. And yet we’re not angels: our faces are turned away, and we’re trailing history in our wakes. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat