Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Battleship Quinquireme

It's not every day you find yourself trapped in an upstairs room of a phenomenally posh pub with only one of the founding fathers of cyberpunk/steampunk to chat to.

But such was my fate last night, and as I'm rubbish at standing around with a drink in my hand playing at Who Can Say The Cleverest Thing, I instead chose to ask Bruce Sterling whether he thought that blogging might - in the immortal words of Ned's Atomic Dustbin - kill your television.

Anyway, the man from Austin/Belgrade/Viridian Design he say yes, blogging (and Flickr and digg.com and YouTube and last.fm) *is* the new television. Unless you're a woman, or poor, or uneducated, in which case you're probably still slumped in front of the telly mindlessly absorbing the output of the Murdoch empire. Well. I can legitimately claim to be at least one of those things, but I haven't watched any telly (GW notwithstanding), for the last eight months. Perhaps that means I'm an honorary man. Not sure.

Prior to this conversation, Bruce had been preaching to the assembled crowd (which mainly consisted of educated blokes) about the New Social Revolution that is 'Web 2.0'. For the uninitiated, Web 2.0 is a handy term that's being applied to any web-based technology where the users get to create the content - like blogging, or putting photos on Flickr, or tagging things, or putting your band's music on myspace, or contributing to Wikipedia (pace Chuffy!).

Photo courtesy of Tom Armitage at Infovore

According to Bruce, this whole culture of mass participation means that there are 'no consumers any more', as we've stopped mindlessly buying/reading/watching stuff and started making it instead.

It's the Why Don't You? paradox made flesh!

While there are clearly gaping holes in this argument (like, you generally have to buy computers and stuff to even get on the internet, and there's ample evidence that the 'mindless consumer' never existed in the first place, plus there's the fact that 'Chairman Bruce' is still selling his books in ye olde paper format, presumably because that way they actually make him money), I do find it all terribly exciting.

I mean, when has it ever been this easy to be a revolutionary? In the old days you had to wear scratchy coats and rush about half-starved on battleships in the freezing cold, probably being shot at. Now all you have to do is post up a picture of two men kissing and a couple of sentences about getting on a train to Southampton, and suddenly you're the Great Destroyer of the Culture Industry. Brilliant!

As I haven't done this subject any kind of justice whatsoever, I recommend you get the proper lowdown on what Bruce Sterling said about Web 2.0 (and the threat of climate change, and futuristic RFID torture devices) by downloading his talk and the subsequent Q&A session as two podcasts here:

Bruce Sterling May 15 2006 podcasts

NB: This post has been brought to you by Tunng's splendid folktronica cover of Bloc Party's 'The Pioneers', which you can download for your aural pleasure here:

Tunng - The Pioneers (mp3) - courtesy of Lonesome Music

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Spinsterella said...

Will blogging kill TV?

Nice thought, but 90% of blog-action seems to happen between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday.

Will blogging kill work?

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Major post, a lot to think about...meanwhile I'm seeing the Dollis Hill jacquerie, starved of bread and circumstances, storming the Channel 4 HQ in Horseferry Road (the original site of Westminster College, where my grandfather trained to be a Methodist teacher)and finding nothing inside but three Estuarine lunatics drawing moonfaces on contracts...later R.Murdoch is publicly executed at the behest of a ruling caucus of lawyers and intellectuals and a voice in the crowd shouts 'Thus art thou revenged, John Reith'...if someone called Charlotte knocks at the door while you're having a bath I shouldn't let her in if I were you.

I think you're really on to something here. But how to present it in a popular manner?

patroclus said...

Spin: Good point. In fact I'm execting to be told at the conference I'm going to today that blogging will *become* work. It already is for some, god help us.

IP: I think James can probably confirm that that's what Channel 4's like most of the time. But I think I should start learning to knit anyway.

Dave again said...

'Updates to follow, if I make it back...'

So what did you do in Southampton?

*Studiously ignores content of this blog post as the implications are too exciting to contemplate*

frangelita said...

see I like to blog while watching television. The best of both worlds...

The Blind Flaneur said...

Good point about Why Don't You. I wrestled with that one for much of my youth. Those pesky kids might just as well have well sung: '... switch of your TV set and explain what happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object', such was the psychological confusion it caused

First Nations said...

far from killing television, i can see it being co opted, wrested from the public and marketed in the very near future. so enjoy the free, wide open spaces here in blogworld while you still can!

it is unbelievably gratifying to see someone reference STEAMPUNK. i have been trying to explain the coolness of this genre to people for the past ten years and getting blank stares in return.

all that aside, i think ol bruce is awfully impressed with himself.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Learn to knit, yes, because: (1) you can knit while watching TV, when you're feeling retro enough to do that; (2) you can knit in work meetings, which freaks people out but makes you look quite unflappable*; (3) the Defarge connotations are subtly intimidating to onlookers, which is good, especially in meetings; (4) all the cool kids are doing it; (5) half an hour of random stumbling will soon reveal that knitters are taking over the blogosphere, so if blogs do become the new work, you can combine these three domains in new and exciting** ways; (6) if you're finding the whole postconsumerist thing a bit traumatic, remember, there's a lot of cool kit (which I could provide at very reasonable rates, really). Much like Web 2.0: you can try to use it to bring about the fall of capitalism, but only after shelling out for the shiny toys.
* Sadly I have never been unflappable enough to do this. Or maybe it's just because I don't actually have a lot of meetings in my job. I do knit at my desk though.
** Not really new, but potentially exciting, if the idea of making a living from knitting and blogging about knitting works for you. See Yarn Harlot et al.

patroclus said...

Excellent advice, Scroob. There's something very, very appealing about bringing about the fall of capitalism through the medium of knitting. That's probably what the Make blog is all about, although confusingly, they also have a magazine what one has to pay for with real, filthy, olde-worlde cash. Hmm, haven't quite untangled the economic implications of this yet, mainly because I haven't given it any thought.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Ooh, nice blog. Also see glittyknittykitty, which isn't nearly as cutesy as it sounds, but is heaps of fun (even, I think, if you're not - yet? - a knitter). And from there, you can get here, where you find out that "When [the tank] is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses it’s authority". We'll forgive the misplaced possy because she's Danish. Anyway, it's all rather cool.

patroclus said...

That's fantastic - I especially love the pompom!

Ceridwen Devi said...

You have been dugg!
Battleship Quinquireme
God bless her and all who sail in her.

patroclus said...

Crikey! Thanks CD! Er, I think. Watch it sink to the bottom of the pile like the two unfortunate boats the post's named after.