Present Shock

Before I was aware of the Alvin Toffler book, I first heard the phrase "Future Shock" as the title of a song by New Zealand rockers, The Gordons. Featured on their 1980 EP of the same name, it's a ferocious five minutes of punk repetition, with not much discernible aside from the same chords played over and over whilst the vocalist wails, "Future shock! Future shock!" It's one of my favourite songs.

As a phrase open to interpretation, "future shock" feels incredibly relevant to modern life, however in its pure Tofflerian meaning, it shows its age. Toffler's main argument is that the growing levels of anxiety and disconnection felt by people today are directly related to our movement from an industrial to a super-industrial, or at least post-cooperative, society. With our human interactions increasingly mediated by machines, the interactions themselves are becoming less human and more mechanical.

With over 30 years of hindsight, Toffler's ideas are hard to explain without making them sound luddite. His predictions failed to imagine the rise of the internet and social software and the degree to which these tools could bring people closer together. On the other hand, however, one can't completely shove it all aside as technophobic hogwash. How many Facebook friends does it take to make you happy?

Regardless of how relevant Future Shock is to me in 2007, I'm finding myself feeling something new lately that has me thinking of it again. It's not even a new feeling exactly, rather it's just something I've finally been able to put my finger on as a means of explaining the strangeness that I feel sometimes when not computing. It's not anxiety over the future at all, it's frustration that it hasn't arrived completely enough yet.

The virtual environment in which I spend so many of the hours of my days places a convenience at my fingers that no longer exists when I step away from the keyboard. I put the laptop in a physical bag and walk on feet for ten minutes to a train, where I sit for sixteen minutes before arriving in my neighbourhood and walking five minutes to my flat. Ten minutes, sixteen minutes, five minutes and some more minutes spent waiting for the train, possibly the worst minutes of all because I'm not specifically doing something. I read all the advertisements in under one minute. They stay there for weeks. If they were replaced by screens and changed infinitely, perhaps I would buy more.

I'm experiencing a sort of "present shock", a sense of disconnection resulting from being disconnected. The physical world fails to move as quickly as the virtual world to which I have adapted. Toffler didn't really give us enough credit to adapt to the rapid changes of the modern world, nor did he place enough value on how compelling a technologically-enhanced life would eventually become.

Just like Toffler, though, I'm not giving myself, or any of us, enough credit. My present shock is fleeting and almost as soon as I realise that I am feeling it, it slips away. I like the downtime, the slowness, the lack of teleportation choices from Transport For London. Most times I just play Nintendo.

In all seriousness, however, it fades and I love it. When I go away somewhere on holiday, I'm not one of these freaks that has to bring a fucking Blackberry or an iPhone or whatever the latest connection-maintaining device is. Our adaptability defines us as much as fast evaporation defines present shock. It's a perception of extreme slowness experienced during the in-between moments of transition from a technologically-enhanced, high speed realm down to one that is chiefly physical and acutely real-time.

Although I may live mostly in a highly excited state of overstimulation, after passing through momentary present shock I'm pleasantly back where I started. I'm not sure where that is even, but it feels real.

The Gordons - "Future Shock"

[audio:The_Gordons-Future_Shock.mp3]

Rubbish From The Crypt

Cigarette Butt Egg Shell

If the street I work on has a dominant smell, without a doubt it’s rubbish. Stale, rotten rubbish. A friend of mine pointed it out the other day noting, “It smells like a decomposing body. Like death.” I said I thought that was a bit harsh. I always assumed it was just the delicious stench of broken dreams.

One would think that given what they say about smoke and fire, there would be a rubbish lorry to be found parked nearby, or at least some bin bags. Unfortunately there’s no easy explanation like this for it. It’s not even me, I bathe almost daily.

Now what I’m about to propose may shock you, but before you start thinking about having me sectioned, hear me out: I think it could be ghosts. That’s why it smells like dead people. Think about it.

Loads of people over the centuries have seen as well as heard ghosts, which we all know from having watched television, where they talk about this kinda stuff all the time. Some have even captured these otherworldly entities having a chat on tape, which sounds totally dope when you mix it in under a trippy ambient track. This got me thinking that maybe you could smell ghosts.

According to the Ghosts of Chicago website:

Q) Can I smell a ghost?

A) Our olfactory system is often triggered by our unseen friends. There have been many times when people have noted smelling things when they should not have. Roses seem to be very popular among these smells. The scents that an entity might have been known for when there were alive can commonly be smelled when these ghosts try to indicate their presence: at times, without reason, there may be an odor of perfume, a whiff of a cigar or an aroma of food. As mentioned above, roses are popular; this usually occurs after death, and is always a good message.

Lafone Street may smell like a lot of things, but it certainly doesn’t smell like fucking roses. It smells like rubbish, so obviously this isn’t a good message.

Rather than any being attributable to any physical or even supernatural culprit, I think the odor emanates from the road itself. Deep under the cobbles, something unpleasant from old London bubbles up into the present. Or maybe something unpleasant from the present spills out from another dimension, the hidden parallel world where we keep all our hate, rage and Twix wrappers – the sordid realm of our dirty schemes, our evil inclinations and our melted Kit Kats. Someone probably left the fish out there, too.

An Anthem In A Vacuum

When I first bought tickets to see Sonic Youth perform Daydream Nation in its entirety, I assumed it was going to be a one-off gig. Six months later and the band has just finished a three day residency at The Roundhouse, which itself was only a portion of a small world tour based on this record. On first learning about their plans to turn one gig into a full tour, I was disappointed. Somehow it made the event that I’d purchased tickets for so far in advance a bit less special. After seeing Friday night’s performance, however, and witnessing the energy in that room and the smiles on so many faces, I wish they could bring it to every city that has even a few people interested in seeing it.

I must have heard this record at least one or two hundred times since I bought its CD reissue in the early 90s. Most likely I have listened to it more than any other record in my collection, which is something I hadn’t thought about until Friday night. I probably own tens of thousands of records.

Strictly speaking numbers, yeah, it’s a bona fide classic: Pitchfork handed it top honours in their list of the best 100 albums of the 1980s while similar lists in Spin and Rolling Stone placed it quite high as well. This is odd for me. Most of what comprises critic’s canon can be found somewhere in the disorganised mess of albums on my shelves, but I don’t find myself listening to White Light/White Heat every other month, discovering new personal meaning each time.

With this record such a fundamental part of my musical DNA, I couldn’t miss this gig, yet a part of me dreaded it. It’s hard to sidestep the notion that All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back series represents the museumification of pop music, something that could be performed perhaps by Kraftwerk’s robots. While that element is there on paper, the reality of the evening was much more alive than the rock-without-surprises of following a known track listing would imply.

Although almost fifty years old, Thurston’s still the eternal teenager. He probably always will be, too: tender and violent in unpredictable turns. The next day was Kim and his daughter’s thirteenth birthday. Sonic Youth has a teenager! I wonder when she’ll join the band.

Lee seemed genuinely exuberant throughout. Adding verses to his songs and improvising more than any of them, I think it might have been the first time I saw anyone smile whilst screaming. Steve’s drumming pounded through what is certainly some of the group’s most frenzied work, as Kim swayed and twirled at the centre of it all.

The final encore of “Schizophrenia”, the first song off Sister, made me want to shout for “Catholic Block” in the hopes they’d just play that record all the way through as well. If Sonic Youth had chosen to play a different complete album of theirs every night this week, I would have bankrupted myself buying tickets to each one.

Daydream Nation is like a photo-negative White Album. It is clearly the separate work of each artist but just as obviously a cohesive group effort. Maybe that’s just what it means to be a band at its peak: each individual voice can make itself heard whilst simultaneously playing off each other as part of one unified organism.

My experience of this album, of any album, is so rooted in intimate listens that you’d think it might be awkward sharing it with a large crowd, but that was the secret to the strength of the gig. The public experience didn’t ruin it, rather it was like the venue became everyone’s teenage bedroom complete with a cheap stereo and punk posters on the walls. Had we turned it up loud enough, a few decibels more would have sent salvation, or at least deliverance.

Image of Sonic Youth from the original Daydream Nation tour at Whisky-A-Go-Go, Los Angeles, California, 1989 taken from spiralstares’ Flickr photostream.

Thin Air And Solid State Electronics

Knowing all too well about my recent obsession with Giorgio Moroder because I’ve covered most of our office with my Giorgio Moo-roder stickers, a colleague of mine was kind enough to send me this video:

Not only is it great because we get to see Moroder in his studio near the height of his career, but we also have a demonstration of him singing through his lovely vocoder. With his awesome mustache in full effect and classic early 80s nerdy newscaster narration, I wish I had this on VHS instead of simply courtesy of YouTube.

Kim Gordon And The Strength Of Street Knowledge

I just learned about the death of Tony Wilson and so I’m going through a range of emotions. One of these led me to look for some of his old television clips on YouTube. I found this one of him interviewing Sonic Youth, and although the date is not given, one can easily assume that it’s from the mid-to-late 80s:

The highlight is Kim Gordon on hiphop, "We like it because it isn't disco, because it comes from the streets, you know, it came from the streets and was brought into the clubs, whereas disco... it was made for the club, whereas rap wasn't."

I would try to point out the logical holes in this, but there are so many that I think it would give us all aneurysms. I hope she was high when she said this.

Meanwhile, feminist Thurston Moore adds, "The American disco was a 70s white bitch kind of cocaine thing." This, of course, is not cool because 70s white bitches are not street. Cocaine, however...

I'm still searching for Tony Wilson television appearances, most specifically old episodes of "So It Goes" (and not, like, the weather from 15 May 1978). If you know where I can watch these punk treasures, please let me know. Alternatively, I'll also accept videos of Kim Gordon pulling half-baked commentary out of her arse as a worthy substitute.

Mootion Stickness

When I first was introduced to Moo MiniCards, I fell in love with them instantly. At last there was a way to give someone my contact information after meeting them without having to resort to a boring corporate business card that says nothing about me and my life. Well, that, and my company doesn’t let me have business cards because I’d probably get jam all over them anyway, and then they’d be sticky in a bad way, unlike sticky in a good way, which is what…

Moo StickerBooks are!

For only £5 you get 90 high-quality glossy stickers, all bound in a protective book so that they don’t get all fucked up in your bag when you’re toting them about town. In typical Moo fashion, you can either upload photos directly to their web site or have Moo pull them from your Flickr account. Turnaround time for an order is about 10 days, which is really just splendid, but for geeks like me it can start to feel like centuries of waiting. I highly suggest placing an order for several books, because once they arrive, you’ll be so happy that the wait is over you’ll blow through 90 stickers in no time.

So what did I make stickers of for my first batch of books? First up, we have MooTube:

MooTube Stickers

These same 6 stickers repeat for all 15 pages of this book and are taken from my photos of London Underground seat cushion upholstery patterns. Moving left to right on the top row we have the District Line, Circle Line and Northern Line, while on the bottom row there’s the Victoria Line, District Line and Metropolitan Line. Some of these patterns make appearances on other lines, but these are the locations where I snapped them.

My favourite must be the Circle Line. I love its 80s splashes of vibrant neon, which are strangely fashionable again. It’s a shame this pattern is restricted to one of my least frequented lines. I quite like the Northern Line pattern as well, which is partly due to familiarity and partly because it resembles a sawtooth wave. I’d love to feed that fabric through a synthesizer and hear the crazy noise it belches out.

Speaking of synthesizers, the other StickerBook I ordered is a homogeneous pack of 90 that pays homage to one of the greatest electronic innovators of all time. His use of the vocoder on the “From Here to Eternity” album shames Kraftwerk. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present…

…Giorgio Moo-roder!!!

Giorgio Moo-roder Stickers (Closer)

The power of his moustache compels you. You will dance and feel good and sexy, from here to eternity, baby.

Overly practical people will ask, “What business use does this all this have?”, because the MiniCards work so nicely as business cards. Thankfully, I think this may have no business use whatsoever and very likely is a 100% life-based fun-increasing tool (sorry, just trying to word it in a way that makes sense to these sad pathological pragmatists).

With three products on offer now, where to for Moo next? I vote for button badges or postcards, but mainly button badges. I’d love to pin Giorgio and my tube patterns to my laptop bag so that I can rock the discothèque during my commute and represent for the Northern Line when I’m up in the club. Please don’t make us wait too long for this wish to come true, Moo!

Top 67 Dangerous Life Uses Of Twitter

Regardless of the topic, I hate sensationalism. Living in London, the Evening Standard headlines give me all the sensationalism I need each day, so generally I try to avoid it. When I do stumble upon blog post titles like Three Hidden Dangers of Twitter, I try to remain optimistic and give the author the benefit of the doubt. For all I know, Twitter shags sheep, causes cancer and eats babies for breakfast. So in the interest of being an informed citizen ready to protect the world from having its soul swallowed via SMS, I read on.

Figure 1.1: Dangerously hilarious post from my friend Rik on Twitter. Sage advice, too. I now completely avoid sleeping in houses with Portuguese people on acid, though I do still have a bad habit of kipping on coaches full of English people on ether binges.

It turns out that the hidden dangers are only dangerous if you’re writing yet another linkbaiting list-based post and need that crucial attention-grabbing headline. True that the author’s technique worked because I linked to his post, but it was good in the sense that it helped me coalesce the ideas I’ve been having about Twitter ever since I started using the service a few months ago. By no means is this a comprehensive collection of every Twitter-related thought I’ve had, nor is it an annoyingly quantified list like “The Top 27 Ways To Be A Dick” or “The Leading 73 Reasons To Drop More Acid”. It’s just a few ideas that crossed my brain whilst eating a sandwich and reading about undangerous dangers.

  • Frequently Twitter’s detractors complain that it doesn’t have a business use. Meanwhile, others suggest exploiting it for its business use. So the question remains: does Twitter have a business use? First, I don’t care if it has a business use. Too many things have a business use. Maybe it just has a life use. That’s fine by me. Second, articles like Monster.com’s How Twitter Can Help Your Career tell you how to fine-tune your use of the service in order to boost your reputation in your professional field. How Twitter Can Help Your Career… and lead to more incredibly boring, self-serving tweets from overly ambitious twats.
  • Don Steinberg sees the fun and the business potential in Hacking Twittter For Fun and Profit. Most of his business-related points aren’t about the bottom line, despite the title, rather they highlight ways to engage your customers. Yes, this may lead to a profit eventually, but that’s the point of business. There’s nothing wrong with making a little money, but there’s also nothing wrong with having fun acquiring it and finding ways to make people happy along the way. I completely disagree, however, with his suggestion that anyone should use Twitter to monitor a group project at the office. That’s a sure fire way to bore the living shit out of anyone that’s not sitting in the same room as you between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. His suggestions to “compose classic Twitterature”, “get some answers” and “be a very mini-blogger” are brilliant ways to see the service as more than it claims to be itself when it asks you to simply tell us what you’re doing right now. If you blog, try as a writing exercise to use Twitter as your mini-blog. For thoughts that need no more than one or two sentences, this service is perfect. There’s no need, nor room, for filler. Tweets can be the pure pop brilliance of the single instead of the bloated album that only has one good song.
  • Updates from faraway friends, especially the minutiae, make these friends feel closer. I recently moved country and when it’s 3 p.m. for me and I see an old friend of mine post about eating breakfast, in a small way it takes me there. It may be irrelevant to you, but you don’t have to follow my friend, you can follow your own friends and if you’re lucky get taken into the quiet moments of their days.
  • Oscar Wilde would have loved Twitter. Some of his best aphorisms would have worked marvellously as tweets. Some ideas only need 140 characters to be expressed. Shakespeare famously wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit” and had 114 characters left to spare.

My Fucking Awesome Button, Version 2.0

In the spirit of innovation that exists at the centre of Web 2.0™, I’ve added new functionality to My Fucking Awesome Button, whether it needed it or not. Turn your sound up loud and prepare to click hard:

If you repeatedly click it as fast as you can, I've found that it builds quite nicely into a roaring crescendo of rock. I claim no responsibility, however, if this wanton clickery destroys every blog within a 10 mile radius.

Music taken from the song "Fuck This Shit" by Doomriders from their recent split live album with Boris, "Long Hair and Tights". Please buy their albums and play them very loudly (but only when your mum's gone out).

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Update (27 July 2007):

If you would like to put My Fucking Awesome Button Version 2.0 on Your Fucking Awesome Web Site (or even Your Mildly Shit MySpace Page), try this embed code:

My Fucking Awesome Button

If you find yourself crushed under the wheels of Web 2.0™ as often as I do, you should pay a visit to My Cool Button. As the URL indicates, you can make cool buttons there, like this one I made:

My Cool Button

Go on, try clicking it! See, it does nothing good. It doesn’t make the shit fuck, nor does it fuck the shit away. The shit remains. But I hope you at least experienced some catharsis there.

Shared Sight

Art Rules

Of the many social tools available on the web, my hands-down favourite is easily Flickr. It’s not something I came to prefer based on a systematic comparison of all of the features of the various web applications I use, quite the contrary: I just like it a lot, plain and simple. It’s a feeling more than it is a thought. Isn’t that the sort of user-engagement most software products only dream of attaining?

It’s feature-rich, yes, but on a more personal level it is responsible for making me passionate about photography. On the surface that statement suffers from a basic chicken-or-the-egg problem. Many professionally-trained photographers would no doubt scoff at it, because in a way it’s like saying that a typewriter or Word has sparked one’s love of writing. But that’s a bad metaphor, because it’s really more like saying that blogging has made you love writing, which is true for me as well.

Publishing tools fundamentally changed when they became social. Obviously a blog is more interactive than a typewriter, and for me Flickr has made me want to take more pictures. It’s like visually blogging, for those times when I need to show you what I saw instead of describing it.

My Flickr usage has rapidly increased in the past year. At first I just posted my photos as a way to share them easily with a few close friends. Around this same time I tagged photos like I would tag del.icio.us bookmarks, so that they would be useful to me and I could find them again later. Then at some point other people started finding my photos – total strangers – and I started noticing their photos. We became social network “friends” because we liked seeing the ways each other saw the world. Around this time I started additionally tagging my photos according to ways I thought others might enjoying stumbling upon them. As my experience of Flickr as a community grew, what started as a personal system of classification became social.

As Ross Mayfield observes in his post Power Law of Participation, “Part of what makes Flickr work isn’t just excellence at low threshold engagement, but the ability to form groups.” A few weeks ago I could no longer resist the pull of the high engagement side of the graph. I started not one, but two new groups and one of them, believe it or not, actually is related to the original idea (and title) of this blog!

First up is Stuff on the Ground. The concept is simple. It’s photos of stuff. On the ground.

Next up is my first case of ever staying on-topic with anything: Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Although I nicked the title from (paid homage to?) Dick Hebdige, this isn’t an exercise in cultural theory. I just want photos of punks, goths, hippies, ravers… all the freaks we know and love because they make the streets of this planet more colourful. If that leads you to a meaningful examination of some dialectic or other, it’s not my fault.

If you enjoy photos in any way, taking them or just looking at them, and haven’t yet visited Flickr, dash over there and check it out. You don’t have to contribute photos to have fun or be social. Leave comments on the photos you like or participate in group discussions. If you’re anything like me, though, it will suck you in and very shortly you’ll be obsessively carrying a camera everywhere you go.