Friday, March 04, 2016


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It’s funny that I ended up as a librarian because my earliest memories of libraries were not entirely positive.

While the children’s section of the central branch library and the school bookmobile regularly brought me joy (largely in the form of Peanuts Parade volumes), I have distinct memories of being filled with dread every time I had to move through the towering shelves of the grown-up section of the library.

Yes, the main library was largely devoid of the sound and colour and the furious activity of the children’s section, but that wasn’t the entire reason why it gave me the creeps. I distinctly remember that when I was younger I associated all the books on the shelves of the library with the work of dead people. Each book represented a person who was now gone and they had left their books behind and the terrible thing was that, by and large, it looked like most of the books stayed on the shelves, unread.

Now, I didn’t actually think that the library was haunted. And over time the whole library became  comfortable to me. Eventually I became a librarian and now I think the library is and can be many, many things to many people.

Some years ago, I wrote this

What if every person who worked at a library was obligated to create and leave one book that remained in the library as long as it remained. Imagine the sense of legacy and the sense of connection that could be established by the shelves of these books. Imagine the ways that those who made these books would choose to express themselves. Would they write a history? a biography? poetry? How could these books connect the people to the place to the time of the library?
I still think of the library as a memento mori.


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#53 In The Desert

February 4, 2016
“You know, there’s always that fear that an unreasonable person is going to show up.”
-- Michael Saba, on his house being The Bermuda Triangle of cell phones. 

Strangers keep coming to Mike and Christina’s house looking for their stolen cell phones. Nobody knows why. We travel to Atlanta to find out what’s going on, in our thorniest Super Tech Support yet.

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Art and Math and Science, Oh My!
by sailor mercury

Technology can bring art to life.

One very literal example of art bringing technology to life is the experimental theatrical show Sleep No More: an interactive modern retelling of Macbeth where you walk around 4 floors of the set to watch and interact with the actors.

For future shows, they’re working together with the MIT media lab on making the set itself more interactive with embedded programming: mirrors that write messages to you in blood or typewriters that type out cryptic messages to you if you linger too long in front of them.

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Summary: The world of magic is a world where inanimate objects come alive; it's as if they had computational power, sensors, awareness, and connectivity.

By saying that we'll one day be like Harry Potter, I don't mean that we'll fly around on broomsticks or play three-dimensional ballgames (though virtual reality will let enthusiasts play Quidditch matches). What I do mean is that we're about to experience a world where spirit inhabits formerly inanimate objects.

Much of the Harry Potter books' charm comes from the quirky magic objects that surround Harry and his friends. Rather than being solid and static, these objects embody initiative and activity. This is precisely the shift we'll experience as computational power moves beyond the desktop into everyday objects....

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After reading a book of German ghost stories, somebody suggested they each write their own. Byron's physician, John Polidori, came up with the idea for The Vampyre, published in 1819,1 which was the first of the "vampire-as-seducer" novels. Godwin's story came to her in a dream, during which she saw "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together."2 Soon after that fateful summer, Godwin and Shelley married, and in 1818, Mary Shelley's horror story was published under the title, Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus.3
Frankenstein lives on in the popular imagination as a cautionary tale against technology. We use the monster as an all-purpose modifier to denote technological crimes against nature. When we fear genetically modified foods we call them "frankenfoods" and "frankenfish." It is telling that even as we warn against such hybrids, we confuse the monster with its creator. We now mostly refer to Dr. Frankenstein's monster as Frankenstein. And just as we have forgotten that Frankenstein was the man, not the monster, we have also forgotten Frankenstein's real sin.
Dr. Frankenstein's crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself. When Dr. Frankenstein meets his creation on a glacier in the Alps, the monster claims that it was not born a monster, but that it became a criminal only after being left alone by his horrified creator, who fled the laboratory once the horrible thing twitched to life. "Remember, I am thy creature," the monster protests, "I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed... I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous."

Written at the dawn of the great technological revolutions that would define the 19th and 20th centuries, Frankenstein foresees that the gigantic sins that were to be committed would hide a much greater sin. It is not the case that we have failed to care for Creation, but that we have failed to care for our technological creations. We confuse the monster for its creator and blame our sins against Nature upon our creations. But our sin is not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them. It is as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our children.4 - Bruno Latour

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[Confession: the whole point of this post is to encourage you to read this]

Our Gothic Future

The other day, after watching Crimson Peak for the first time, I woke up with a fully-fleshed idea for a Gothic horror story about experience design. And while the story would take place in the past, it would really be about the future. Why? Because the future itself is Gothic.

First, what is Gothic? Gothic (or “the Gothic” if you’re in academia) is a Romantic mode of literature and art. It’s a backlash against the Enlightenment obsession with order and taxonomy. It’s a radical imposition of mystery on an increasingly mundane landscape. It’s the anticipatory dread of irrational behaviour in a seemingly rational world. But it’s also a mode that places significant weight on secrets — which, in an era of diminished privacy and ubiquitous surveillance, resonates ever more strongly....

... Consider the disappearance of the interface. As our devices become smaller and more intuitive, our need to see how they work in order to work them goes away. Buttons have transformed into icons, and icons into gestures. Soon gestures will likely transform into thoughts, with brainwave-triggers and implants quietly automating certain functions in the background of our lives. Once upon a time, we valued big hulking chunks of technology: rockets, cars, huge brushed-steel hi-fis set in ornate wood cabinets, thrumming computers whose output could heat an office, even odd little single-purpose kitchen widgets. Now what we want is to be Beauty in the Beast’s castle: making our wishes known to the household gods, and watching as the “automagic” takes care of us. From Siri to Cortana to Alexa, we are allowing our lives and livelihoods to become haunted by ghosts without shells.

Now, I’m not at all the only person to notice this particular trend (or, more accurately, to read the trend through this particular lens). It’s central to David Rose’s book Enchanted Objects, which you all should read. This is also why FutureEverything’s Haunted Machines symposium exists....

 [you really should read the whole thing]

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