To read The Atlantic I need to pause adblock which is ” a down buzz” as my daughter is apt to say. You know the news as entertainment, my morning fix interrupted. Which brings me to

Are We Having Too Much Fun?Musement

In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. Well that’s the opening gambit from the Atlantic article listed below. I do like the quote…

His great observation, and his great warning, was a newly relevant kind of bummer: There are dangers that can come with having too much fun….“People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

Oh yes 2017 and I find my self falling between cellphone, desktop, sci fiction books and large screen tv (netflix and games) and gardening, if not working. Or working which is cellphone, laptop, fiction books and large screen whiteboard lessons and kids. It all seems like amusement… even education or especially education!…and I think of art making in the same way. Amusing.


Reality of the virtual

Some time ago I followed up ideas or theory around virtual reality. This video discussion stayed with me. Slavoj Zizek initially discusses ideas around the virtual through Lacanian categories of thought. For example our interaction or ideas of other beings with a limited or edited form of  imagined reality. He then discusses symbolic reality using the example of authority figures using visual or emotional cues of power or our belief systems which of themselves need to remain virtual to be potent and not dogmatic or uncontrollable.

From the first ten minutes of this talk I take away ideas around the virtual having always been with us…I take the remainder of the discourse on  ‘real’ reality as a wonderful exploration of film eg. The Sound of Music. I am probably missing something.

The uncertain toilet singularity

tapIn my attempt to live in a ‘Trump’ digital space I have watched too much Fox News /Infowar /Twitter stuff. Now oddly I did crawl back to this world somewhere when some divergent ideas led to The Atlantic the other day. It went like this…

A news interviewer on Fox stated that the computer was telling her that the interview was about to end. Not surprising in it self, I suppose, although human managers used to cue or control studio time as far as I knew. That’s progress or something. Anyway I found this digital management of time rather interesting.

I  then coupled this with a discussion from Radio NZ about technological determinism (Mark Pesce) who discussed an article by Ion Bogost in the Atlantic.(Sorry Trumpy this is way off task). The article called ‘Why nothing works anymore’ is as follows…


“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet. As a small person, she was accustomed to the infrared sensor detecting erratic motion at the top of her head and violently flushing beneath her. Better, in her mind, just to delay relief than to subject herself to the magic potty’s dark dealings.

It’s hardly just a problem for small people. What adult hasn’t suffered the pneumatic public toilet’s whirlwind underneath them? Or again when attempting to exit the stall? So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it’s evolving separately from human use.

* * *

“Precarity” has become a popular way to refer to economic and labor conditions that force people—and particularly low-income service workers—into uncertainty. Immaterial labor also rose—everything from the unpaid, unseen work of women in and out of the workplace, to creative work done on-spec or for exposure, to the invisible work everyone does to construct the data infrastructure that technology companies like Google and Facebook sell to advertisers.

But as it has expanded, economic precarity has birthed other forms of instability and unpredictability—among them the dubious utility of ordinary objects and equipment.

The more technology multiplies, the more it amplifies instability. Given its connection to the hollowing-out of labor in the name of efficiency, automation is most often lamented for its inhumanity, a common grievance of bureaucracy. Take the interactive voice response (IVR) telephone system. When calling a bank or a retailer or a utility for service, the IVR robot offers recordings and automated service options to reduce the need for customer service agents—or to discourage customers from seeking them in the first place.

Once decoupled from their economic motivations, devices like automatic-flush toilets acclimate their users to apparatuses that don’t serve users well in order that they might serve other actors, among them corporations and the sphere of technology itself. In so doing, they make that uncertainty feel normal.

* * *

Rolling out a proper portion of towel feels remarkable largely because that victory also seems so rare, even despite constant celebrations of technological accomplishment. The frequency with which technology works precariously has been obscured by culture’s obsession with technological progress, its religious belief in computation, and its confidence in the mastery of design. In truth, hardly anything works very well anymore.

The other day I attempted to congratulate my colleague Ed Yong for becoming a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. I was tapping “Awesome, Ed!” into my iPhone, but it came out as “Aeromexico, Ed!” What happened? The iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard works, in part, by trying to predict what the user is going to type next. It does this invisibly, by increasing and decreasing the tappable area of certain keys based on the previous keys pressed. This method—perhaps necessary to make the software keyboard work at all—amplifies a mistype that autocorrect then completes. And so goes the weird accident of typing on today’s devices, when you hardly ever say what you mean the first time.

The effects of business consolidation and just-in-time logistics offer another example. Go to and search for an ordinary product like a pair of shoes or a toaster. Amazon wants to show its users as many options as possible, so it displays anything it can fulfill directly or whose fulfillment it can facilitate via one of many catalog partnerships. In some cases, one size or color of a particular shoe might be available direct from Amazon, shipped free or fast or via its Prime two-day delivery service, while another size or color might come from a third party, shipped later or at increased cost. There is no easy way to discern what’s truly in stock.

Digital distribution has also made media access more precarious. Try explaining to a toddler that the episodes of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” that were freely available to watch yesterday via subscription are suddenly available only via on-demand purchase. Why? Some change in digital licensing, probably, or the expiration of a specific clause in a distribution agreement. Then try explaining that when the shows are right there on the screen, just the same as they always have been.

Or, try looking for some information online. Google’s software displays results based on a combination of factors, including the popularity of a web page, its proximity in time, and the common searches made by other people in a geographic area. This makes some searches easy and others difficult. Looking for historical materials almost always brings up Wikipedia, thanks to that site’s popularity, but it doesn’t necessarily fetch results based on other factors, like the domain expertise of its author. As often as not, Googling obscures more than it reveals.

Most of these failures don’t seem like failures, because users have so internalized their methods that they apologize for them in advance. The best defense against instability is to rationalize uncertainty as intentional—and even desirable.

* * *

The common response to precarious technology is to add even more technology to solve the problems caused by earlier technology. Are the toilets flushing too often? Revise the sensor hardware. Is online news full of falsehoods? Add machine-learning AI to separate the wheat from the chaff. Are retail product catalogs overwhelming and confusing? Add content filtering to show only the most relevant or applicable results.

But why would new technology reduce rather than increase the feeling of precarity? The more technology multiplies, the more it amplifies instability. Things already don’t quite do what they claim. The fixes just make things worse. And so, ordinary devices aren’t likely to feel more workable and functional as technology marches forward. If anything, they are likely to become even less so.

Technology’s role has begun to shift, from serving human users to pushing them out of the way so that the technologized world can service its own ends. And so, with increasing frequency, technology will exist not to serve human goals, but to facilitate its own expansion.

This might seem like a crazy thing to say. What other purpose do toilets serve than to speed away human waste? No matter its ostensible function, precarious technology separates human actors from the accomplishment of their actions. They acclimate people to the idea that devices are not really there for them, but as means to accomplish those devices own, secret goals.

This truth has been obvious for some time. Facebook and Google, so the saying goes, make their users into their products—the real customer is the advertiser or data speculator preying on the information generated by the companies’ free services. But things are bound to get even weirder than that. When automobiles drive themselves, for example, their human passengers will not become masters of a new form of urban freedom, but rather a fuel to drive the expansion of connected cities, in order to spread further the gospel of computerized automation. If artificial intelligence ends up running the news, it will not do so in order to improve citizen’s access to information necessary to make choices in a democracy, but to further cement the supremacy of machine automation over human editorial in establishing what is relevant.

There is a dream of computer technology’s end, in which machines become powerful enough that human consciousness can be uploaded into them, facilitating immortality. And there is a corresponding nightmare in which the evil robot of a forthcoming, computerized mesh overpowers and destroys human civilization. But there is also a weirder, more ordinary, and more likely future—and it is the one most similar to the present. In that future, technology’s and humanity’s goals split from one another, even as the latter seems ever more yoked to the former. Like people ignorant of the plight of ants, and like ants incapable of understanding the goals of the humans who loom over them, so technology is becoming a force that surrounds humans, that intersects with humans, that makes use of humans—but not necessarily in the service of human ends. It won’t take a computational singularity for humans to cede their lives to the world of machines. They’ve already been doing so, for years, without even noticing.

The non-death of the Album


Shayne P. Carter: Offsider Photo: Greta Anderson/Shayne P. Carter

This might all sound naff but I think I came to art and images through album covers. The idea of sound, image and ‘outsider’ attitudes all in the one experience was to good to pass up. Sometimes, in the age of vinyl, I chose albums by the cover alone, a dangerous approach indeed.   Of course many of these albums were a let down making me feel poor and vacuous. But then when they hit the spot they left me searching for more. Anyway I became more discerning or so I thought. I listened to this show recently and it reminded of all the wasted/wonderful years.

Graeme Downes, founding member of the Verlaines, songwriter, musicologist, senior lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Otago argues the album is NOT dead. He illustrates this by featuring Shayne P Carter’s album The Offsider.

“It was an email from my daughter” says Graeme Downes of his interest in the flourishing art of the album, despite the prediction that it would die. “The free streaming service she was using would only play songs from the Shayne P Carter album in shuffle mode. So she bit the bullet and went out and bought the record.”

He says that the journey for the listener, from seeing the album cover, to immersion into the musician’s world for 40 minutes, is still an important interaction. Long-form organised listening has been popular for hundreds of years in Western music – since the birth of the Symphony.

Downes reflects on his own history making albums as The Verlaines. “The opening track sets an agenda. With vinyl, the last song on side one is a set closer, and the opening song on side two is a new beginning. So there’s all sorts of structural aspects that have survived the digital and CD age. I think people think about where the journey is going to go, and where it’s going to end up.”

Downes dissects Shayne P Carter’s record The Offsider with Lynn Freeman.

Bohemian Snobs

Off topic as usual but this book sample in the Guardian by Kathryn Hughes was interesting. I especially liked the discussion of Rossetti and Fanny Cornforth’s mouth. It was the way she spoke and the food she “ett” rather than her looks that were her downfall. Class bigotry, like racism, performed some form of societal control and dis-empowerment of which this is only one example.


Cornforth was not simply Rossetti’s favourite model of the early 1860s. She was also his on-off domestic partner for a quarter of a century. Her mouth – not so much its shape but what she did with it – marks her distance and difference from the other two, far more celebrated, mistress/models in Rossetti’s life. These were Siddal (to whom Rossetti was briefly married) and Jane Morris (the wife of his friend and business partner William Morris). Like Siddal and Morris, Cornforth came from a working-class background. Unlike them, though, she never bothered to change the way she spoke in order to fit with the pre-Raphaelites’ middle class mores (the young men may have been bohemians but that didn’t stop them being snobs). So while Siddal and Morris worked hard to eradicate their original dialects (London and Oxford respectively) and struck observers as remarkably uncommunicative, garrulous Cornforth chattered 19 to the dozen in her rural mid-Sussex burr. “I know I don’t say it right,” she shrugged when Rossetti’s friends sniggered at her tendency to mangle aspirates, past participles and even plurals.

Then there was the question of food, or rather appetite. Siddal and Morris kept themselves rigorously thin, to the point where they might today be described as anorexic. Disciplining your flesh was necessary to have a hope of fitting into the “aesthetic” dress that the PRB preferred their women to wear – loose, floating gowns with minimal underpinnings that looked as though they belonged in a medieval fresco. Cornforth, by contrast, loved food, preferred the cheerful vulgarity of contemporary fashion and relied on a corset and cage crinoline to squeeze herself into the required shape. A rare photograph taken when she was not yet 30 shows her with her chest puffed out, waist bitten in, and a huge sticking-out skirt that resembles a galleon in full sail. By this time Rossetti was regularly referring to her in her hearing as “the Lumpses”. She was also his “Elephant” – a play on both her name (EleFANt) and her bulky shape.

While Rossetti’s friends registered Cornforth’s “sumptuous” beauty, that didn’t mean they were willing to acknowledge this vulgar woman with her unruly mouth as a significant part of the artist’s life. The moment he died in 1882, at the age of 53, Cornforth was cast out of what remained of the pre-Raphaelite circle and all but excised from its biographical records. She ended her days in the county asylum in her native Sussex, where the medical casebook records that, now an old lady, she is “incoherent & talks incessantly”, but also loves her food. And as for the mouth that was once described as “so awfully lovely” yet perversely indecent too, the asylum authorities say that it is now devoid of teeth apart from a few decaying stumps over which upper and lower dentures are insecurely hooked. What’s more, the authorities note in a final terse observation before rearing back in disgust, Cornforth’s tongue is furred and her breath foul. Sad perhaps, but irrelevant surely not. For it is here, in the smells, blots and gurgles of the body’s physical life that some of the most revealing biographical stories about the Victorians turn out to reside.

School of Art

There was much to like/miss/connect/dislike about art school. Discovering my own ambivalence and ambiguity. Not seeing just self observed disorgainised restraint comes to mind. Then that’s just me. Pointless success/failure and narcissistic loveless obsession. A dry,cold sexuality. Art school.

The following are images were not used for my MFA final. Perhaps more telling than images used. Of course the space itself and the general theme of time, gesture and the handheld devise required close consideration.

I did like this double image from Thailand but then the double does mess with concerns with timefulness. The left hand film was used in isolation.

This film was part of a much longer sequence. A little too tourist like and unnecessary, it was a risky shot considering the rocks at the end. Fun to make and the freedoms of risk taking not to be underestimated.