103: Harvesting Garfields from the coastline


Verbatim

It’s always worth reading anything James Bridle has to offer up (if you’re a reader of ours and haven’t read his book New Dark Age, you might like it). This little essay at the Barbican, part of a fascinating series of commissions related to their ‘Life Rewired’ program, tickles so many of our sensitive spots, as he looks at the future implications of AI through the lens of ghosts, Go, the microbiome, bored octopii and mycelial networks. That’s Buckslip bingo.

It seems significant that we are investing so much time and energy in building these toy versions of our own minds, just as our ability to control our own destiny and live on the planet sustainably appears to be failing. That failure is in part one of hubris: the belief that we can, as the planet’s dominant species, continue to act selfishly, wastefully and without regard to the future. But with AI comes the sense that we might not be the dominant actor for much longer – and an attendant opportunity to really consider what it means to share the world with other, barely knowable intelligences.

Because of course, we’ve shared the universe with other intelligences for a long time, and we’ve handled the situation pretty badly. We have consistently downgraded or reclassified forms of intelligence that do not resemble our own narrow definition, and as a result felt free to treat their possessors as lesser creatures, lower orders of beings, or not really as things at all. To ignore, consume, despoil and poison them, both to their detriment and in the final, devastating, analysis, to our own.


Things

“Another issue is that the novelty items that escaped and continue to wash up on Brittany's beaches will not decompose in a human lifetime. In the meantime, both Ar Viltansou and local officials say they will continue to harvest Garfields from the coastline.”

With Longyearbyen warming faster than almost any other habitable place on earth (makes sense, geography-wise), the Global Seed Vault that’s supposed to be our failsafe for end times is under threat. We found ourselves agreeing with artist Julian Oliver’s take on this: “We could never trust the Doomsday Vault itself anyway. Centralised resilience strategies are an oxymoron. Armies were always going to race to own that vault, if it ever came to that.”

It’s a shame this piece on the mad history (and present day) of the “sovereign citizen” movement is hidden away in the business section of this week’s NYT and framed mostly around the tax fraud angle. It’s actually one of the best overviews we’ve read of this confounding fringe movement that’s always just at the edges of every lunatic political moment these days.

If you came across an Airbnb scandal recently, it was probably about hidden cameras. Much more interesting (unless you’re a pervy landlord, in which case, change your ways!) is Paris Martineau’s in-depth Wired expose on the travel monster’s ongoing lobbying and legal “guerilla war” with city councils across the US (and, we have no doubt, elsewhere). Keep an eye out in a couple of months, come IPO time, for a very aggressive “public good” advertising campaign to sell the opposite truth to this – Lyft must be giving them inspiration this week with their “our success must include the success of our cities” message rolling out across platforms, whatever the drivers might think of it.

We have no particular hot take on Apple’s various content announcements this week, other than to say that relaunching the Texture magazine service as a slightly jazzier version of itself with the same lineup of established newsstand magazines in standalone format (the same you can get for free from any library-linked magazine app service) is mostly just an indication and reminder that the most lucrative market for tablets is probably still boomers, and they love reading magazines on them. This, along with announcing what’s basically cable TV, is a solid play for making things easier for the normcore market, which absolutely makes sense for the most monster of businesses, and lacks any magic whatsoever. The big difference from the last time Apple tried this with Newsstand is that nobody in the publishing industry seems particularly fooled, or hopeful of it bringing magazines to a new generation of readers. While we can just picture all the executives and IT departments at the big media companies excited to make decks and call meetings in the war room about something other than mergers and acquisitions for at least half a second, the embrace of the rollout reads largely to us as “fuck it, may as well”.

We (those who work in publishing and media related fields for a living) know that platforms will not save us, nor will blustering venture capital plays by overconfident men – yep, The Outline’s finally given up the narrative about doing things differently, changing the game, building new models of advertising, so forth and so on, and has found a new home in a back drawer of Bryan Goldberg’s wunderkammer of failed media, alongside Gawker and Mic (mostly, it seems, for their snazzy CMS). This is a shame! There was so much early potential here, but perhaps the disconnect between content and the type of advertisers their approach needed was always going to be too far apart? A platform built on assertive and fun work by bright, young, generally unknown writers is a wonderful thing, but perhaps a touch difficult to hang fancy whisky and car ads on? Particularly when you alienate all the good writers along the way, and let all your bright young editorial staff drift away.

What about crowdfunding? We had a lot of hope early on for De Correspondent’s move into the English language market, and have always had a soft spot for what the parent site pulled off back in the Netherlands. Ad free, member funded, devoted only to truth. Sustainable, too! It’s the sort of thing that we always hear about when being told that Europeans just do it better. But there was something overly lofty and annoying about their crowdfunding campaign for an English language launch, which promised to fix everything broken about English language media with… maybe opinions and stuff? This week, they found themselves in hot water when they suggested they never really had any plans to open a US-based newsroom, forcing prominent backers like Jay Rosen to come out and simultaneously apologise and sort-of defend them. Look, this is all totally inside korfball, but there’s something worth noting here about how it takes more than just big promises to actually fix what’s broken, and as soon as you hear people selling themselves as saviours use phrases like “message discipline”, you know you were screwed from the start. Joshua Benton’s detailed Twitter thread is the best thing to read to get a sense of what a waste the whole thing was and is, but chase it with Laura Hazard Owen’s excellent Nieman Lab interview with editor-in-chief Rob Wijnberg, which really exposes how much of this was a half-thought-through ego project. We hope they take this moment of shame and being held to account to do something worthwhile with the money they raised and prove us all wrong.

To lose Scott Walker and Agnès Varda in one week, it’s just too much. No words to offer, just wallowing with bittersweet joy for days on end in the works both of them left behind. We found out we lost the great filmmaker Barbara Hammer too, which had us both savouring and weeping over this beautiful “exit interview” between her and Masha Gessen. That’s too much radical brilliance to be gone in one go.

And speaking of radical brilliance, here’s the great Donna Haraway, interviewed in Frieze, on the occasion of the release of a new documentary about her work. We’ll leave you with this for this week (and thanks to reader Julian for sending this little cri de coeur our way):

All of us are at risk of toppling into hopelessness or cynicism or both, a toppling away from staying with the trouble. It’s not just climate change; climate stands in for a whole raft of things. I have been converted to saying climate justice or environmental justice, but justice itself isn’t enough. I think what I would want is to be saying climate justice and care. Continuing to work with, as best we can, to join with, agitate, imagine, build and form alliances. Support people, like the water defenders, who are putting their bodies in the way, and take action ourselves.

None of us have any excuse for not being part of something but in the mix, I think that the practices of reimagining, proposing, storying, laughing, dancing and playing, of connecting, of sexuality, all the practices of these things are about living well and giving heart.

I don’t think we should be approaching these dilemmas with the notion that they have to be fixed. The job is to live well, which includes bringing down the various extractive and exploitative industries and so forth, and this living well is for a thick present.“


Spring break! By which we mean we’re taking a couple weeks off to variously travel to other corners of the world, mark assignments, or just chill out and live well in the thick present. See you towards the end of April! If you miss us, there’s 102 timeless back issues right there waiting for you.