some kind of code for consumerism at its most insidious

I’ve got a little girl who’s seven, and she lives in a world that’s all potentially magic. Within her imagination, the possibility of supernatural things sits alongside school and real things. There’s no distinction. At the same time she’s kind of assaulted by magic. What she watches on TV, the magic there is some kind of code for consumerism at its most insidious. They deliberately confuse children’s appetites by mixing magic and stuff up. I sit with her and watch all of this, some of it I really like but some of it is evil. It’s how you approach magic.

There’s that classic line by [Arthur C. Clarke] who says, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. And Marx talks about how the commodity has these almost magical properties. We’re in awe of them because they appear to us as supernatural. It’s like this black box idea: you can’t access the thing, it’s just this mysterious slab. Kids are fascinated by them not just because you’re using them but because they look like amulets or something. They look magical.

satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort

In 1928, the poet Paul Valéry had a vision of the future: “Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.”

I copied this quote into my notebook five years ago, and it knocks me over each time I come across it. Today we can let the entire world—and everyone’s opinions about it—into our heads with a swipe or a click. Of course we’re going to feel a little crazy. Sometimes my mind lands on a jittery thought: screens have become our reality and the physical world simply exists to serve their needs. It’s more of a loopy sensation than a coherent idea, but I clearly need to step up my information hygiene.

Quoting a quote of a note of a quote… partly because that Valery riff is a killer bit of Wells/Verne-era infrastructural futurism that has turned out to have a sting in the tail, but also for the sake of testing Quotebacks, a Chrome extension (Firefox version in the pipeline, apparently) for making and managing aesthetically pretty web citations for blogging purposes, as recommended by Uncle Warren. I’d have paid good money for a tool like this back in the Noughties, and here it is for free! Recommended.

dynamic entropy / epistemological bunkering

Yesterday’s XKCD is funny, but (for me at least) funny in a grimly ironic way that Munroe may not have intended. In it, he points out that major figures in early cybernetics (von Neumann, Claude Shannon) and/or computer science (Richard Bellman) carefully named their research fields in ways intended to make the criticism of said fields more difficult.

Were someone working in the social sciences or humanities to have admitted to doing the same, they would be pilloried as civilisation-wrecking postmodern relativists, the enemies of liberal reason and the impeccable rationality of “hard” science.

Of course, the truth was always-already a construction, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the cold equations of maths, comp-sci and “optimization theory”. As Oncle Bruno and others have argued for many years, far more eloquently than I shall ever be able to, it is that very insistence of “hard” science upon its monopoly over the truth which seeded the ground for the multiple denialisms that current plague us.

That we can evidence such cavalier efforts at constructing fortificational epistemological framings from such eminent and celebrated figures in the history of post-war rationalism—one of whom, it’s worth repeating as often as possible, was a sociopathic creep-genius, the inventor of game theory and Mutually Assured Destruction, and a significant influence upon the characterisation of Doctor Strangelove—is an irony as bitter as it is piquant.

science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology