November 21, 2022

Dezombification

We’ve all seen and some of us have commented overmuch on the affect having these hyper connected super computers in our pockets has had on us.

We’ve all seen twenty somethings (and some of us have noticed the seventy somethings as well, to say nothing of the rest of us) turning in to c-shaped people barely ever looking up from their devices, endlessly chasing those dopatonin hits (I can never remember which one it is, give me some fucking rope) at such a pace that defies, quite literally, all reason.

We’ve all seen value and values grow more and more shallow.

Over the last twenty years I’ve watched people going from condescending to put their cell phone and their blackberrys on the bar, annoyed when they’d get an email or a call from The Office in the middle of a session to living one-handed, the cell phone becoming an appendage.

And I’ve watched, in the last ten years, those very same people go from having a cell phone as an appendage to being little more than an appendage for their cell phone.

We’ve gone from looking upwards hoping towards some day, to looking across, anxious to soon. And now we look down, demanding Now.

From albums, to songs, to samples.

From paintings, to images, to memes.

From novels, to articles, to tweets.

From philosophies, to quotes.

We demand everything and sacrifice nothing.

Or do we.

We’ve all watched this and seeing some of what it’s costing us.

We’re turning into some kind of animal longing for comfort of laying in the sun of abdication of the self.

We know it’s costing us something, which causes us to chase it more desperately, not realizing that the complete lack of silence in our lives has become a complete silence to ourselves.

But I saw something fairly recently that made me think rather a lot in rather a short amount of time.

I’m not going to talk about the specifics. Crossover to the real world isn’t really something I’m super hot on after all. The odd name here and there, sure. But certainly nothing like this.

I watched something I fear isn’t anywhere near the end game of this pathlessness we’re fighting for with everything we’ve got.

It was the end of self worth. The final wisp of self dissolve in the mad race for not merely reinforcement, but…something worse I can’t even really put my finger on, as if someone was waiting not to be validated but to be created, utterly dependent on a force something beyond carelessness, to a prideful scorn.

I watched someone lost in their dependence on others for their own sense of self worth get whipped around like a dog toy, totally aware of what was going on and endeavoring no defense, a state that amounted to regret for the future.

Though the facts would mark it out as an all too common story, never in my life had I seen it so nakedly.

And I suppose it could be a lot of things. I’m no shrink and am disinclined at the moment to swim in those waters.

But seemed to me to be the downstream of this massive zeitgeist of hollowing out of the soul, giving up everything of any meaning as our all too enthusiastic sacrifice to these twisted flippant gods through hand held silicon altars.

What defense after that do we have then against situations like the above? What strengths? What will? Hell, a sense of identity seems almost a Wu concept at this point, a pollyannic myth form.

We have no sense of meaning any more at all. Real purpose has fled from us entirely.

So, having groped my a bit more than thoroughly around that particular elephant, what’s the alternative?

That’s easy, but fucking tough.

Put the damned phone down.

If you can’t leave it home for a day, leave it in the car, leave it in the bag. Turn off your notifications, every one you don’t absolutely need. Do it for a month, a day, an hour.

There’s no way but to put the breaks on the flood.

Take all of these things in their reverse order.

Read fewer tweets and more articles, then essays, then novels.

Dispense with posting and sharing memes back and forth all over the place and go to websites (if you must) like DeviantArt (which has a tremendous amount of non-deviant art.) Go to a gallery and read a book on an artist, or artistic movement. Hell, one of the strangest things I ever learned was a whole hell of a lot (read: not all that much) about the Viennese Reniassance to impress a girl. The topic was more interesting than the girl.

Take your favorite oversampled, overproduced songstress (of which I have many. I claim little in the way of high moral ground here) and listen to one of their albums front to back. Maybe hunt down some of the samples they used and go listen to the originals. That’s an awful lot of fun. Go back a couple levels of “my inspirations were” from interviews (they can’t resist asking that question in interviews.) Then do some research. See where your favorite music really comes from.

Take your favorite “wisdom quips” that are posted in images (because words no longer serve) and go find where they come from. Read the original works. I guarantee most of the world has the wrong idea about Nietzsche, including some very smart people.

And, if you’re from my world: Stop using fucking stack overflow as an information source. Instead of looking up the solution to a programming syntax problem, go hunt down the original design principles, articles and tutorials, books and long-form lectures.

In a social setting, let a question remain unanswered. Resist that immediate pull. You don’t need to know that piece of blindingly irrelevant trivia. No one needs to know. There’s no general principle in there. But if you must reach for your phone, leave yourself a note to go digging around later, even if all you do is batch your research time. Make it a half hour a day of “resolving the questions of the day.” It’ll turn in to an hour (unless you end up on tvtropes, in which case you’re just fucked.)

And, for the Master Class: Think about why you believe what you believe. Do you even know WHAT you believe? Do you just regurgitate quips from your favorite public figures? Make THAT an exploration. Discover then develop your core philosophies. What do you demand of yourself? Where do you fail? What else is there to fix? How do you strive (if you even do)? Do you like who that is? No? What are you going to do about it? Sit around and hate yourself, or what little of “yourself” there even is?

You don’t have time? Why? You too busy watching fucking tiktoks? Fuck out of here with tiktok.

The power of technology needs to be brought to fucking heel and used as a tool for us, rather than us for it. But it takes intentionality, will, and a degree of personal power. And like any muscle, using it more and more will strengthen it. You will be less and less able to be cast completely adrift by the need for immediate gratification of some impulse you can’t even name.

Which way forward, modern man?

Bespoke

It’s 10:00 at night and I’m fucking exhausted. NOT that I had a particularly strenuous day. I hit Books-A-Million looking for something to spend money on and couldn’t come up with anything. Well…I could, but I price checked them against Amazon and left without buying anything.

It’s a damn shame and I’d rather spend money at a brick and mortar store. But my limit on the “local spending tax” is about 20 percent. If the price difference is any more than that, I’m just not spending my money in person. The instant gratification bonus is just not worth more than that to me.

It makes me sad, it really does. I’m watching the world change and I just don’t think it’s for the better, at least in this way. Sure, it’s great to get stuff cheaper. With the truly incomprehensible selection of things available to be delivered to my doorstep, sometimes within a couple hours is really little short of a literal miracle.

But it’s costing us in ways I don’t think we really appreciate. And no, I’m not about to presume I’ve figured out a bunch of ways you haven’t and then proceed to lecture.

Not…I suppose, that I wouldn’t. I mean, in fairness it’s a pretty me thing to do. But not this time.

What made me think of this today in particular, aside from this morning’s little instant gratification frustration (sounds like a grunge album name) is the juxtaposition between this morning and a brief conversation I had on twitter a few days ago.

There are a couple accounts that just post objects d’arte. I’m particularly enamored of Art Deco stuff. And graphic art is one thing, but Deco and Nouveau stylings of things I’m much more interested in, door knobs and lamps, desk legs, doorways and staircases. Interestingly, now that I give it even a little more than a little thought, I like Art Deco anything, but I’m not much for Nouveau in two dimensional art, but adore it when it’s made a bit more concretely manifest, as if the nominally organic nature of the form lends itself more naturally to 3d manifestation. I’m gonna have to give that a think.

Someone responded with something like “It’s a shame people don’t appreciate this kind of craftsmanship anymore.” That launched into a discussion about where one would even go to FIND such things, supposing with perhaps naive optimism that if such things were more easily obtained they would be in demand. Markets work both ways, after all.

Which brings me back to the point (believe it or not.)

The incredible ubiquitous availability of…stuff has contributed mightily, as we all are painfully aware, of the not so slow downfall of “mom and pop” stores. Specialty brick and mortar establishments are just closing up shop, unable to compete with the commoditization of goods available from institutions that can afford to put in place the perhaps literally inconceivable logistical infrastructure required to get us “pretty much anything” from “pretty much anywhere.”

As such, those products have gravitated, though not I suspect through necessity so much as through gravitational convenience, to generic lowest common denominator “solutions to problems” with little or no thought given to design past notions of necessarily generic mass appeal.

For instance, no one is truly mass producing steampunk light fixtures.

Oh sure, you can find some on etsy.com here and there. Maybe something on ebay or something similar. But such things as are “artistically designed” have become distant and few.

This was clearly on the way as a result of mass production to begin with. But the as The Internet Age gave way to The Internet Shopping Age, it’s really exploded and exacerbated that divide between the custom and the mass produced.

So what then has happened to the craftsmen? Where are the woodworkers, sculptors, engravers, stained glass…err…well, glazier isn’t quite right. But whatever they’re called.

Is there even a place near where you live where you’d be able to go if you wanted something ornate even made? I’d love to be able to go someplace and look at representative examples of an artist or craftsman’s work. Sure, there’s the odd gallery in the more prideful neighborhoods, though they tend to be little more than consignment shops.

Someone responded to this conversation with some pictures of work done “by local graduates.” And it…really didn’t help the case at all. Local graduate of what?

Say you wanted to work with a designer to have…oh I don’t even know because it’s been driven so far away from cultural consciousness by this phenomenon, a lamp. Let’s say a lamp. You want all the lighting in a room (if not the house) to be of a type, nothing bananas, just something that has some style to it.

Right now you’d go to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Maybe you’d go to Amazon, Pottery Barn, or Wayfair or something like that and you’d find a “collection” that you liked and, presumably working with your subcontractor, arrange to buy the “generic sterile ass fucking white and steel house with vaulted ceilings built so it looks like a picture on a magazine cover of a house with no soul” collection. (Which means it’s matte black or bronze and very square, but I digress, if only slightly.)

That kind of thing is what really passes for “fancy” nowadays or as though you had some part in the design process, instead of just bolting together commoditized crap and convincing yourself the result had some personality and didn’t look like it was something out of a little town in Connecticut named Stepford. NOT that I have any opinions on that.

I don’t even really mean that you’d need to go so far as having something custom made for you, working with an artiste who’d get to know you, come up with an idea, and make it happen. Just…one of a kind pieces.

I may be wrong. But it really is all but gone.

Of course it COULD simply be that I’m missing something that never existed. To me it seems unlikely. Sure, maybe the downstream of the industrial revolution having iterated a few generations has bred out unique works across all disciplines.

As bad as it was twenty years ago, it just seems like the gulf between made and created is growing impossibly wide, and I don’t really have any good answers on how to create/facilitate/enable an alternative.

There ARE things like etsy…but…that’s the only one I can think of, where you can go to get handmade stuff. It’s got its own problems, to be sure. But I’ll take it as a starting place.

Perhaps we’ve moved beyond the age of the hand made, of the personal.

It’s a kind of cultural soullessness at least as frightening as any Cyberpunk dystopia.