On things that weren’t made to last

One of the things that I absolutely hate doing is getting new electronic devices. On the other hand there is a sense in which we are invariably forced to doing so as electronics are designed to have a limited lifespan and there is the other factor of predetermined obscolescence.

I had to get a new computer recently,well, I ‘needed’ it a year ago but was only in a position to get it recently. I was looking at specs of computers and remembering when I used to read PC magazines about 18 months ago and what were ‘hot’ features and what comes as standard these days. I found a desktop on ebay (used stuff eases my conscience) which had specifications that seemed absurd to me. 16GB ram (where the standard ‘high’ spec is 8) and a processor with 6 cores. It is a clear comparison that this machine was like an American Muscle car.

There’s a lot of talk about the latest Apple announcement. The Cult of Apple’s press conferences seem to get more attention and interest than when the Pope makes a statement on a social justice issue. Plus Bono is linked to both institutions. I was thinking about the notion of a smartwatch lately and I felt unconvinced.

The reasons are as follows: firstly, until the need has been ‘invented’, like my ‘need’ for a tablet computer that can check email anywhere at home. I currently work in an arrangement where responding to emails quickly gets me money and so my lifestyle has been oriented around the effiency of being contactable on email.

The other issue is that I already have a watch. I liked the idea of a tablet because it added to my life in a way that genuinely made things easier. It did have a cost of course, of having to charge it all the time and the one time where I actually went back to work on a weekend to find my lost computer (never again, never again).

As a man, a watch is one of those pieces of fancy bling that are socially acceptable and sanctioned without attracting too much attention. Such as wearing a chain might be considered gaudy or most jewellery in general seems gender subversive, but that’s a whole other issue. Watches have become for men signifiers of status and class, sometimes signifiers of what kind of person you are. I have to admit that one of the things I was socialised into was the cult of watch-fascination. I think it started from the fancy laser watch that Bond played by Pierce Brosnan had in Goldeneye. I’ve always wanted a laser watch and when that is invented and on a commercial market I will have a need invented for myself.

The other aspect of the ‘cult of watches’ is the durability of a watch. I love automatic watches or watches that don’t need battery replacements. I’m attracted to the longevity of watches and in an age where everything is supposedly replaceable and designed to break, there’s the notion that getting something that can last is a statement against it.

The idea of a watch that everyone else might recognise and have is contrary to the signifiers of watches as status-symbols. The iPhone has ceased to be a status signifier insofar as most everybody has one. Indeed it is true that watches can be prohibitively expensive signifiers and hardly the sort of thing that expresses a revolutionary temperament.

I do like that my watch has been repaired a few times over the years. I do like that I can keep my watch if it is repaired and its functionality remains. I would really wish that we could own things that we could repair easily and upgrade with ease. Of course, that seemingly doesn’t make money for these brand leaders nor is it in their interests to make something that lasts.

I remember hearing somewhere (probably from a comedian) that ‘it’s possible to make a toaster that lasts 20 years but nobody will make it’ because of the sudden loss of a market once everyone has it. There seems to me this fundamental tension, of having things that have amazing utility but in order to live in that economic zeitgeist, we must support the production chain of its production by buying it. I would wish there was an alternative to having to re-buy things every 3 years. I am bemoaning of a situation that I am very much contributing to and consciously so. I have so much electronic waste.

Apps as ‘extended mind’

I am a sucker for startups and upcoming apps. I am a user of the site ‘Erlibird’ which screens ideas for effective life hacks or similar fun things for the modern 2010s person (not that I am such a person). I love trying out new ideas or new ways of representing or conceptualising things. However I do find that after giving something a try, I either adopt it, or I drop it.


I’ve dropped a lot of the ‘early adopter’ apps and services after I tried it. I found it wasn’t useful for me, or its usefulness is not currently applicable to me (for example I’m not much of a regular restaurant visitor or eater during the working week). I did really like the Jots.me service, which is supposedly a very dressed down ode to project management services like Trello.


Organising my time and my life is important to me because I want to take in new experiences and revolutionary changes, while not being so muddled in novelty that I don’t know who I am or change my hairstyle (figuratively speaking) more than I can actually grow it. I love reading blogs and magazines, but I hardly have time. I use Readability on the tube because it doesn’t need a 3g or wifi connection to read articles. Having said that, nowadays the tube has wifi — I have to say that blows my mind!


My life is organised by a few apps. These apps have become so routine I am reminded of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man whose stabilities in a changing and confusing world are moderated by the various rituals he has (such as watching Judge Wopner or wearing clothes from K-Mart).


A couple of years ago (or was it last year?), Google Reader closed down. I kind of felt a bit lost when that announcement came up. But then Feedly took the space in my heart left by GReader. My life is oddly construed and organised by technology and I am always weary whether I am working for the systems I put into place or whether these systems work for me.


What I would say (being normative) is that one should use apps and techniques and systems and tools that make life easier, however we can have so many tools that it becomes work to maintain them, and maintaining them can end up being our be all and end all. I used to idealise the notion of living minimally, but even that too is an idea, and I would say, a culturally constructed narrative.


Apps are inescapable now; even if we don’t use smartphones, we still have some form of extended mind. It’s a way of imposed thinking and imposed behaviour that is supposed to help us and make life more efficient. But it’s easy to forget that original intent. The way I see these apps is that it is a way of ‘outsourcing’ my brain to not do so much of the boring stuff and I can focus on the stuff that’s important, like working and playing; living and loving. The ideal of my use of ‘extended mind’ tools is to enlarge the time I have for things I love to do.


Of course, turns out it doesn’t work that way. I haven’t even got time to blog…

Keeping the memory, or “My old hardware is a burden to me”

My hard drive

My old hard drive – we’ve had some great memories together

The subject of this blog post started with a little pile next to my table. There’s a printer, a scanner and a generic box (of unsorted documents that graduates to sorted/processed documents) which sits right next to my desk. I have an 2006 Canon Pixma printer, which supposedly was designed to print photograph sized prints in photograph quality I used it a few times but I found that it ran out of ink very quickly. I argued this point with my dad that it is not economical to own such a printer that barely prints maybe 2 dozen prints for the cost of £30-40 colour prints, when you can get prints for 20p or so each these days. As such, for this reason, and due to the other reason that I have a smaller and more efficient portable printer (its so portable it fits in a shoe bag), my once fancy Pixma printer is now obsolete. Also thanks to great retailers like Boots and other such photo processing serviciers (sic).


This Pixma printer is a 1ft square or so heavy box of plastic that just fills up space. It feels like emotional clutter due to its unuse. I feel guilty that a fancy printer is essentially surplus to requirement. I then thought about the 2 xbox 360s that I have above a cupboard. I bought two because one of them was in disrepair and I felt a strong urge to get an xbox by christmas of some time maybe a year or two ago, in order to have a ‘halo marathon’ (a tradition among a few friends of mine). Now that the old Xbox 360 is obsoleted by the new Xbox One(tm); I have more tat that is just gathering dust. I also have Xbox accessories, games, pads and even a neat little wifi adaptor. If these things were universal for say, a PC or other device I surely could have found use for it.


Thinking about my old technology brought me to a deeper and deeper rabbit hole. I’ve got meters upon meters of USB cables all scrunched up in my desk. I have endless earphones that don’t work or half work, or are ugly that came free with something. I have AC adaptors for things I don’t even remember owning and some of these things are not even 10 years old yet I feel like I am one of those people on the hoarder TV shows.


All this technology finds itself obsolete very quickly and it makes me sad. Lately I’ve been thinking things like: I have been using my USB keyboard for 8 years now, I should get rid of it; perhaps I should get rid of my USB speakers – they have served their time.


Lately I bought a tablet and a phone. I have a reputation among my friends for having ‘old technology’, and I am often reluctant to stop using something simply because a newer version of x has come out, or that the newer version does more things. Having said that, I am not exactly a Luddite. I sometimes  used my older laptops as experiments in Linux and in overclocking and working beyond their original specifications and default software settings. I’ve found  that some laptops that I bought have hardware specs that purposely lock out other operating systems. The Xbox 360 and other consoles notably have measures to detect if a device has been modified and once noticed, locks out and bans the user/machine for what I think is an open and inquisitive exploration into a piece of software.


People should not feel guilty for ‘hacking’ into their store bought hardware and using technology in ways beyond the original company’s design for them. I’ve seen creative mp3 players installed with windows xp just to see if it can be done, and games consoles with fancy lighting. I think that such modifications are an ode of respect to the companies that made these devices, and show a sense of openness and imaginative creativity on part of the consumer, that makes a consumer an active participant in the commodities they buy, and exactly because of this, the things that they buy are not ‘commodities’ but enabling.


Products like the iPad and Windows 8 devices are said to be enabling by all the Press Releases and tech conference presentations, but only in a limited way of thinking and perceiving and using a device. I feel that there’s a political analogy here. I think about geographical space lately. In the area where I live, there are lots of shops, and lots of houses, but nothing else. There’s a public library, which had the threat of closure more than once in the past decade. However there’s not really much for anyone if you don’t have spending money or a mortgage/monthly rent. The physical space where I live is exceptionally limited in the terms set by consumption: you live, sleep, and buy.


For this reason I think that my local library is an amazing place. I like going to the library just to peruse the books. I see a lot of self-improvement books, a lot of books about Tamil culture (a cultural group who have a distinct presence locally) and even a few comics, graphic novels and Mangas. The library is a place where you can read magazines and newspapers at no charge and there are sometimes local Councillors having surgeries and children’s storytelling meetings there.


Outside of this little haven of the library is shop upon shop. The options are limited in shops: you buy, and that’s about it. This can be very isolating and exceptionally limiting to the imagination. With my group of friends we sometimes try to subvert the perception of geographical urban space by inserting a bit of humour (and confusion) to the area. One thing we like doing for example is going out in costume or wearing a horse mask, the breaching of our ascribed sense of conformity to public spaces shocks most of the public. Another thing we sometimes do is while in a moving car, play a bit of music on our instruments, usually people are amused or bemused. I think there is a significance to being bemused. It shows the possibility of other alternatives for use of that space. The ideal of art is to show an interpretation of the world differently and hopefully show that we can differently interpret the world as it is.


Technology is similar. Technologies are sold to us so often as things that are enabling and yet, when we are overwhelmed with it, or when we are sanctioned for using technology in an alternative way, this is hardly enabling. It saddens me that there is such limitations often built in to hardware, that limits alternative uses.


Another aspect of my woe about my hardware is that there’s such a waste. I’m getting rid of a few old laptops this month, and once upon a time they probably cumulatively cost £8000-9000 all together, and now I have to pay for someone to get it off my hands! All of the machines I’m getting rid of this month are not even over 10 years old. By contrast I still have some VCRs from the mid-late 1990s and they work as well as in the days in which they were used most.


There seems to be a turning point with old technology, certain things like a first generation Nintendo/Famicom console are lovely products in their retro glory. A friend of mine recently bought a flat and one of his ‘christening’ gifts was to set up his NES in his fancy HD big screen TV. We found that Duck Hunt, the game that uses a light gun, no longer works on new TVs, because of the way that the light gun was designed for CRTs (old style TVs) to map and track pixels. Something like a NES, a SNES or maybe even a Dreamcast, are seen as retro-tastic mementos of a golden past and childhood or teenhood or early adulthood, and yet my old laptops which are highly more sophisticated technically than games consoles, and my printers and USB accessories have been made to be obsolete by the successors.


Old games consoles from the 80s and 90s are quaint bits of retro, yet consoles from the 2000s are a heavy burden, because the new generation of consoles are basically the same in functionality – but do more! I think that the same cannot be said for the transition between say, the NES and the N64 – they do vastly different things and enable vastly different possibilities. However between say the PS3 and PS4 – they are basically the same machine where one does vastly more than the other but there is no qualitative transition of gaming or thinking or concept.


I would consider this way of consuming computer games and hardware to be in line with the critical Adorno view of late capitalist culture. Like Adorno I think that the transitions to newer technologies and the pressures to take up things like tablets and HD televisions; Blu-Rays, Tivos, 4G and cloud services are difficult to avoid to function in the modern world, but it is highly wasteful and makes things obsolete very quickly. I really love my new tablet computer at the moment, but I know there will be a day when it becomes hurrendously outdated and obsolete compared to what comes in the future.


What can we do about this? I feel like this is the open question that I cannot quite answer yet. I think this is the interesting open question of our culture. How do we find ways of opposing the trend of creating so much waste, while keeping modern? One thing I have done is that I’ve opened up my old laptops and taken various chips out and I’m going to re-use some of the hard drives and play with the RAM cards and explore the processor chipsets in the same child like way that I used to break things to see how they worked. One other reason I kept some of my old hard drives and processors are that they are a physical memento, a sentimental trinket that looks cool kept in my room, but they are also my, if you will excuse the amphiboly, memories.

“Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” – A MOOC from Jonathan Biss

This month I have been following quite a few MOOCs. One MOOC in particular, and the subject of this post, is “Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” delivered by the concert pianist Jonathan Biss. Watching this MOOC helped me with a few reflections about music appreciation in general, as well as my own aesthetic tendencies and preferences. I recommend the MOOC for anyone with an elementary or nonexistent familiarity with classical music.


One particular dimension of the course, which surprised me a lot, was that it was very non-technical. I was expecting commentaries from musicologists and extended discussions on cadences and fugal writing. However it was not the specialism of Biss, who as a concert pianist, to comment on those aspects of Beethovenian and 18th century composition. However it does serve as a good introduction for anyone who has a passion about music to understand more about the ways in which Beethoven has a distinct legacy and relevance to listeners today. You don’t need to know too much about music to understand this course.

Music appreciation is lifelong

One of the key themes to this MOOC was that music appreciation is lifelong. Coming to terms with great musical works is ongoing through our lives. I grew in my appreciation of Beethoven while going through the course. I used to be a massive fan of the Romantics, and as I got to learn more about musicians like Adorno and Gould, I became a little bit more formalistic and austere in my musical preferences. However I feel like I’ve gone to a middle-way with Beethoven. There are pieces of music which have special value, and their value can relate to a time of your life, or your way of seeing the world then.

The joy of having a lifelong musical appreciation is that you can revisit pieces of music and simultaneously revisit yourself in a dual form of internal critique. To appreciate music is to appreciate culture, and to have an engagement with culture often involves an engagement with our own sense of individuality. It is fair to say for example, that my appreciation of motets and choral forms comes as a default from having a Catholic upbringing, but something like Beethoven’s later period is not something I was introduced to, yet learning more about Beethoven’s work in the post 1810 era makes me feel like I’m discovering a new part of myself, and a different kind of appreciation as a musician and amateur performer. I’m starting to appreciate what some may call ‘mature’ works of piano, which require emotional maturity as well as technical competence.

Socio-historical reflections

There are sociological and borderline philosophical insights that Biss had about Beethoven which will at a later point inform my commentary pieces on Adorno and philosophy of music, however for now I won’t focus too much on that. What I will say is that Biss’s discussion about the ‘independent’ musician feeds very much into discourses of today. Heck, even technical discussions about sonata form relate to songwriting today (which is a sign of poor technical ability for pop musicians today). Beethoven, unlike Bach, was able to write music that he wanted to write. Biss establishes a two tier scale of the independence of a musician against their creativity. The scale goes something like this:


Prolifically creative, Patronaged musician


Highly creative

Patronaged, then independent musician

Mixed ability during independent period


Highly creative during Patronage

Poor ability during independent period


Poor creativity during Patronage

Highly creative during independent period

The idea of the creative individual, self supporting has implications from the Transcendentalists of the American philosophers to Romantic ideas of the Bohemian, and relates to the discussion of the Adornian cultural industry. Beethoven was the cultural archetype of the independent genius, which has been mimicked endlessly since. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about the nature of dependency for artistic types to perform their work, relative to the financial support that they have. This discussion I’m sure will prompt my thinking on Adorno’s capitalistic view of culture.

The cult of Beethoven worship

Beethoven, for many the name has establishment and bourgeoisie linked to it. Like say, Bach or Aristotle. There is a reason why there is such hero worship about Beethoven, and that is due to the depth of his genius. Often however we have dilettantes who may for instance reference Descartes without actually understanding it as a way of passing off cultural capital or intelligence, and this is sad and facile. Saying this may merit an accusation of calling me a musical or cultural conservative: there is a good reason why Beethoven deserves a high place as a landmark European figure, akin to say Aristotle or Newton. Beethoven’s Sonatas express a multitude of temperaments, technically speaking they are wonderful works of pianism, the ‘New Testament’ to Bach’s ‘Old Testament’ (i.e. the Well Tempered Clavier).

A course such as this helps to unpack some of the reasons of Beethoven’s greatness. It even addresses a comparative to Mozart, in which the latter does not fare as favourably in terms of creativity. I have recently been annoyed at someone who has been trying to start a philosophy salon without having a clue about how to conduct philosophical argumentation or even appreciate the depth of the philosophical ideas he’s trying to appropriate, to borrow Adorno’s word, it is dilletanteish . A course such as Biss’s on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas makes accessible the numerous and profound ways in which Beethoven’s sonatas are truly powerful even as listeners in the 21st century.

Changing my own attitude to music appreciation

I’ll try my best not to sound snobby about music. Glenn Gould’s low opinion on Mozart’s later work is upheld by Biss himself. I remember a conversation that I had with someone completely unrelated to music, where the topic of piano appreciation came up. I talked about how I liked the showy Rachmaninov and Chopin pieces at the time, and he said how he enjoyed Beethoven Sonatas. I said to him that the Romantics were better than the Viennese classicals, and to me their appeal was much more obvious to me. The showiness and fanciful fingerings and exploitation of dissonances had a much more visceral and sensory appeal. The gentleman said to me that an appreciation of Beethoven comes from a more mature place and mature sensibility. I’m starting to be won over by that point of view. Not to say that I do not appreciate the Romantics anymore, but I am growing to enjoy the formalism and structures imbued in the more 18th century works. Biss emphasises the lifelong power of music appreciation. Music is a bonding thing between people and introspectively, music and its wonder is ongoing. Our relationship with the same piece of music can change, perhaps diminish or grow, and Beethoven’s Sonatas are a great example of a set of works that show development relative to Beethoven’s own life cycle, but also in response to our own introspection.


My amazement at Whatsapp

It’s been a year since I finally upgraded to a Smartphone. Despite appearances I am quite a late adopter for appliances I generally have. I quite like to use something until it is completely dead and then I’ll upgrade. That way my technology becomes quite rustic, like my laptop speakers or my mp3 player! That mp3 player has lasted a lot of theme park water rides and drenching and still survives.


I’ve found many of the apps to be really helpful in everyday life. Using Google Maps to find locations; using Evernote for basically everything; Foursquare to find potential places to go and keep little logs of my travels. I think however the most interesting app has been WhatsApp. What has life been like without it! I keep about a half dozen casual conversations, most of them non-serious.


When I was informed by the service that I had to subscribe to the service, I was kind of aware this point in time would happen, but then I found out the price of the subscription was ridiculously cheap. These days everything is overpriced and it is such a delight to find an app that I use a great deal which by no means breaks the bank! Thinking about how much I’m saving from the alternative of texting and picture messaging makes WhatsApp a really cool appliance. I had to admire the business model of it as well. Get one hooked and then put a minimal price. I also expect that many other users will subscribe, and that will be a very neat profit. I am pleasantly surprised and impressed at this neat little strategy for an app!


This is admittedly quite a frivolous post. I like Whatsapp for being frivolous. I keep a group chat with my friends from badminton, and then I also like to snap pictures of things I think are amusing like newspaper headlines or other such items to share with friends for a quick laugh. I am generally apprehensive about apps because sometimes they can be a convenience at a cost of being some form of inconvenience (for example: smartphones have a short battery life at the cost of being really useful).


Clever move, Whatsapp. Clever move.


Goodbye Google Reader

In my opinion I think there’s a direct relationship between the discovery of Google Reader and my emergence as a blogger through WordPress. I used Google Reader as a way of collating news, where before I would follow websites individually and constantly have lots of bookmarks.


As you might know. Google is shutting down Reader in a few months. I’m very sad. Google Reader is by no understatement, a big part of my life. I find out jobs through RSS feeds, I get podcasts, read news, philosophy blogs, find out about journal articles, watch videos and even follow comedy blogs like wtfpictureisunrelated. The centralisation of my internet browsing in a single place was a great innovation for me. I even made APIs to do things like link it to a mobile phone app, so that when I star a story it will be sent to my phone so I could read it on the train. I’m going to miss GReader and I’m not understating by saying it has been a big part of my modern life.


So now what shall I do? I have been reading a couple of ‘here are some alternatives’-type pieces. I might trial other RSS readers, I might separate my podcasts from blogs – get a podcatcher and then use another program for RSS reading. To be honest I feel kind of lost without GReader. That is the impact of a brand’s presence, and Google’s ubiquity. On the other hand I am not entitled to complain as Google Reader was basically a free service. I think the moral of GReader’s closure is that you really can have iconic brands and presence in the internet and social media age. Maybe one day people will be all hipster if they say: ‘I was around during Google Reader’ or ‘I was using it before it was cool’. One of the other things I didn’t realise is how so many other people use it in largely similar ways to me.


I just hope they don’t close down Evernote, then my life is seriously borked!


The Audiobook

I love audiobooks. During a period between my undergraduate finals and throughout my postgrad days, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I estimated that I typed between 20,000-25,000 words a day, and that’s just on notes, not to include googling, IM conversations, emails and button bashing playing a game or such. I was forced to think of alternatives to my regular methods of note-taking and I was assisted by the university to think about alternative ways of learning to sitting with a book between my knees and moving my neck between the screen and the two pages beneath me.

During this period of time I developed a lot of new rituals, all of which were with the intention to increase my efficiency while doing physically less. It was simply not an option at the time to force myself to take less notes. This was the start of a story that got me into book chairs, and perhaps more pertinently, audiobooks.

At the time I only read for learning and reading in the exegetical way of interpreting philosophy texts and journal articles is a very specific form of learning. I had very little time for any other kind of reading, and that includes the fun stuff. Audiobooks for me represented a departure and radical alternative to taking in information through books. I’ve spent years reading as a way of memorising every detail and nuance of a piece, to some extent I still do this and it’s a habit that has its benefits and curses.

The audiobook is an aural experience. Reading can be an aural experience, it is often good for one’s comprehension to read aloud what one is reading, this was a habit that James Mill taught his genius son. Reading is also a tactile experience, feeling paper, its texture, the thickness or smoothness of a page. Reading can also be an olfactory experience, an old book has a distinct smell, a wet book as well. A new book has a satisfying chemical odour to it. I can find these things distracting for reading ordinary things. I find it more difficult to turn pages than most people for example, partly due to RSI and mostly due to dyspraxia. Associating multiple sensations can help me memorise things, but they can also be distracting. My favourite association is when I play my old piano repetoire and I feel like I am psychically re-living when I was learning these pieces in the early 2000s as a teenaged younger me. Dry and dusty books also remind me of Kant, perhaps because the B1xxx section of the libraries around the world don’t tend to be visited very much.

Audiobooks have become very much in vogue in recent years. Often when I tell people that I enjoy audiobooks, you can tell on the basis of their age the kind of cultural connotations it has. Some people think its an easy option for reading as reading is often hard work, others think that its an intellectually lightweight option, normally because audiobooks have been for simple or accessible audiences. A few others have bought into the recent marketability of a certain audiobook provider that is very good right now and sponsors many of my favourite podcasts.

Audiobooks have become a market in a similar way to the ebook. Many major publishing houses and publications appeal and open themselves to the audiobook market. There are unique reasons for the appeal of the audiobook. Some audiobooks have ‘secret’ content specifically for audiobook format compared to say, printed format. Some newer audiobooks are read by the author, and what an interesting experience it can be to physically hear the author as if they are thinking those thoughts. Christopher Hitchens’ biography is a notable case in point, I read Hitchen’s biography around the time he died and I recall the haunting nature and significance of not only reading an author who is no longer living, but listening to his voice. Hitchen’s autobiography also includes a post-book interview in audio format where he describes his changing views on the audiobook as a medium.

Accesibility is a very important aspect of audio reading for me. I find it intellectually difficult to read anything, including children’s literature or fiction, because my mind is always working several different angles that would be apt for reading Adorno, but not Doctor Seuss. Reading an audiobook allows one to choose their degree of commitment to a text. I can read an audiobook while I’m working on something, while I’m at the gym. I can by contrast, spend full attention to an audio text as well. One of my most intimate audiobook experiences was one day when I was down with the flu, and I read the whole of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar while laying in bed, the experience was like living the life of Esher Greenwood and that book will always have a special place from my experience of listening to it.

Accessibility has many manifestations. Audiobooks I presume were initially made for the visually impaired. When I absorb an audiobook, I have found that my comprehension level is distinctly different to the tactile experience of reading a book, or even the visual experience of an ebook. Audiobooks (and for the same reason, podcasts) have allowed me to enjoy literature again and I have discovered the comedic monograph as well. George Carlin’s series of essays ‘Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?’ is a personal and hilarious collection of essays which is highlighted by the medium of audio. The sonic experience of a book has its aesthetic merits.

As with many things, I think the audiobook brings us closer to Homer. What I mean by this is we so often emphasise texts as the archetype of knowledge or communication. Namely through books or articles and word-representation. It is anachronistic to think of a great tale as the Iliad as a book, for its origins were as an oral poem. There is something powerful about the oral story and the diversity of ways a message can be communicated. The pre-eminence of the text can be a distraction, when what matters is the message it has. Audiobooks can be liberating in that way and also allow for a wider range of experiences in ‘reading’. I’m really glad that audiobooks are a bit more in vogue.


Musing: A life in data

Earlier this week my External Hard Drive sort-of crashed. I say sort of because it came to a point where I knew it would become non-functioning and I migrated all of the data to another space before it fully died. I had a moment of shock for a variety of reasons. I’ll talk about two of them in this post. One reason is that I came to realise how much of my life can be gleaned from the data within that external drive, and perhaps more valuable than most physical objects I have, that data is a record of my life. The secondary point pertains to my ‘dependence’ on computers, cloud hosting and other such technological marvels of the modern world. Every solution has a problem, and I came to realise the problems of my over-dependence on digitising my life, this shall be the second part of my post.

A life in memories

When my hard drive faltered, my first thought was like the Titanic ship officers were apparently depicted in Cameron’s 1997 film, the proverbial ‘women and children’ most vital files must be preserved! This involved an extensive scan of my paper records which include most of my paper files and folders from about 2004-5 to 2009-10 (I’ve not digitally archived my files since 2010). I then took a lot of unsorted files, miscellaneous audio recordings and songs I’ve made. Then I found some pictures. Antisophie made a joke to me once saying that the perfume she got from a romantic partner lasted longer than the relationship itself. Digital memories have a shelf life which is potentially longer than the human lives that they describe. They may be our equivalent of cave drawings for whoever may come to know of us humans one day. Or it may be a lot of dirty poisonous plastic bottles and argon filled disposed fridges which are semi-degraded in deep sea waters which continue to poison its environment in the future earth.

When I looked at my archive I found various pictures and videos. I sw lots of happy times. I saw an old flame and her vibrant beauty; I saw my little nephew from birth to when he started to talk and then I saw some people who are now deceased. I had a realisation to myself that these pictures and videos are essentially all I have left of them, even if the angles and focus are a bit off or they didn’t look particularly prepared to a picture, its still all that remains, as a digital and as an human memory.Time is frozen in a photograph, and it gave me pause for reflecting on what once was.

One person whom I barely recognised was myself! I found a few pictures of myself back in about 2008 when, according to a few testimonies, I was at my ‘sexiest’. Back then I had ridiculously long and thick hair which almost went to my waist plus I was much more arrogant and times were much more innocent. In recent months for unrelated reasons, I have been thinking about contextualising the past few years of my life. In terms of social context, my own personal narrative and my wider family narrative, I was thinking about how times are different. One thing I noted amusingly with my sister recently was what life was like before she had children, she jokingly implied that she missed those days and also implied that it seems so long ago that she didn’t remember that there was such a time! It’s funny how 4 years can change lives.

Thinking about the past I have thought in some ways that I am a bit wiser, and a bit more organised. I feel that I’ve worked a lot on many of my flaws and I still am working on a few ever vigilantly. I’ve seen the past few years as a journey and one with many difficulties. Seeing the archives which I forgot existed then forced me to change my perspective yet again. Without looking at the archives, I had been thinking about the past. After looking at my archives I then changed my gloss on recent history. Times seemed much more innocent back then and a large degree of that is due to the political climate. I remember the days when Sainsbury’s basics had a super-cheap range of everything from chocolate to brandy, which, in South London parlance, I caned. Things like job stability, economic growth were much different too and from the perspective of 2012 there seemed to be a luxury of ignorance.

I miss the old me. Sometimes I wonder if it was the hair that I miss, or being so naively arrogant (both of which constituted a sense of sexiness). I perhaps miss the innocence of the time and I hate how the present feels like a redux of the late 1980s or early 1990s downturn and pessimism. Fry and Laurie sketches where the Police became Privatised or where idiots appeared on television shows are now more like satanic prophecies than quaint liberal absurd humour and my own political concerns are diminished by the fact that Real Life Stuff is more pressing a concern than say, activism or waxing political, proto-socal theorist style. The tone of our blog has significantly diminished as part of Real Life Stuff getting in the way, and I do realise I could talk about more interesting things, more socially prescient things. I see much change through digitising my life and there’s a great advantage to it.

The Umbilical USB

I keep records of financial transactions, boring administrative documents, bills and so forth and I would ideally like a unified and organised manner of keeping it all together. Google’s various appendages have been ultimately useful to me over the recent years, and I’ve discovered more and more applications and services that also help me archive and organise my life. Then there’s a point where it becomes too much: do I really need to use twitter? Do I really need PInterest? The answer to both of those is no. I do however, find Google Reader immensely helpful. I also find GCal a lifesaver. I find facebook more significant for contacting and organising things than my boile phone, in fact I use so many cloud based applications that I can get away with my phone being used only for SMS and phone calls. The irony of me being a phone Luddite is lost on most people! Most people don’t use IFTTT to syncronise their twitter to flickr, or use boolean functions to automatically save news articles to a CMS for which is later used for creating a dossier.

There are great uses for cloud applications, or even backing up data through hosting services as a way of preserving those important things. I have learned however that there have been instances where a paper based method could have been ultimately easier for me in some aspects. If I had a physical photo album, I would be more tactile and perhaps I could physically note the presence of photo albums of the past decade and pick them up to reminisce more often, instead of whenever I’m having a computer crisis and I end up almost never seeing these photos otherwise.

I’ve developed a system which links most aspects of my life together using cloud applications, I might talk about that in another blog, but it has a lot of personal implications for me. Realising that I’m dependent on GCal to organise my day makes me more stupid in some ways: I don’t need to remember things if I’ve already set it in a timetable. I also don’t need to decide things if I have planned and decided what I am to do in advance. This means I get to think less. I must admit that there is a skill to memorising and keeping a mental note of plans and keeping it all in your head. I used to be known for my exceptional skills of recollecting, and GCal is basically outsourcing some of my brain computation to the cloud. I consider it part of what philosophers have called the ‘Extended Mind Hypothesis’. Antisophie also jokes that I am a real life ‘Otto’ with his notebook.

Having GCal is great, except when the internet is down, or when my computer breaks down (both situations faced in the past year). What if there is a massive EMP or natural disaster to cut out connection to communications infrastructures or electronics devices? There is a place for the older physical methods of keeping records and data, there’s a place for keeping data on your computer and on servers as well as just the cloud. Backing up is not longer considered an 100% efficient way of preserving those precious memories or important work files. I think you probably need about at least 3-4 copies in order to really have some protection: A backup on a detachable medium; a cloud back up; ‘the original medium’, maybe a P(hysical) copy if applicable, and a second copy using one of the aforementioned means just to be secure.

A few years back I was reading a website (the exact name of it escapes me) which had this radical revolutionary idea: you only need to own a few things in your life: have enough clothes for a few days (and circulate/clean them regularly); have a few personal and sentimental items and have your laptop computer. At the time I read this website, the ultraportable laptops (which never really took off) were in vogue and were of low memory capacity. This website proposed to keep all of one’s memories and records and personal items as digital versions: ebooks, mp3 files, youtube videos and image hosted photos.

There is an extent to which I adhere to that digitally minimal philosophy. I suppose I’m personally attracted to the fact that I can still have my alienware in this minimalist ascetic idea. Especially since my alienware is a decadent overpowered piece of technology which is metaphorically and (as I’m typing right now) literally on a pedestal which centralises all of my life. It’s nice to have one’s life centralised, unified, rationalised. I think Weber would consider it a nightmare, and Kant may have considered this digital age as the potential ideal of his ‘science is organised knowledge, wisdom is organised life’. Personally, I like being away from my cloud from time to time. I find it liberating when I leave the house and I don’t need my phone, or I don’t even need a watch. As much as I am attached to technology and so reliant on cloud computing and the web to organise and enact much of my life: I also really like when it has nothing to do with it as well! Recently I’ve gotten involved in a community garden, a choir and I play badminton and try to do some weight and circuit training with a few mates.

If there’s one thing I don’t miss about my 21 year old (with the lovely long hair) self its the inflexibility and sense that I had it all set and sorted in my ideas and the way I organised myself. I don’t, and my reliance on GCal is probably going to change. There will be some new app that does it better and I’ll change. Perhaps the greatest experience I found from revisiting my memories is knowing that I am adaptable and things will change. Photos will stay the same forever and the past is fixed. Today and tomorrow are (at least from an epistemic point of view) undetermined.


On having too much technology

Lately I have taken to the more serious suggestion that I need to immerse myself less with technology. The issue is not whether technology is a bad thing, or the appliances are no longer helpful; but how to effectively create an equilibrium between using appliances for convienience and utility against having to do so much work just to keep them that one is better off without them. Appliances, whether from a Firefox app to an operating system or even a hand blender in the kitchen are servants to ease human effort. Once we commit too much labour to an appliance we become slaves to them and no longer masters. At that point one should consider not using the appliance or removing it.

I shall consider some possible reactions to the overload of so many new applications about:

1. Convergence: When appliances converge, we have two or three devices less combined into one. I use my mp3 player, for instance, as a dictaphone, radio, portable hard disk drive, picture bank, and wireless podcatcher. Oh, not to mention an mp3 player. The iPhone is a good example of a convergent device. I would like to think that eventually we will not depend on so many gadgets but be so integrated into a unified appliance that we can have our pockets free for other things. I suppose another example of convergence is the swiss army knife.

2. Removal: I’ve been so inundated with twitter and google reader feeds at times; telling me useless news about celebrities, moral panics, or what stephen fry is doing for christmas; that I feel the inclination to just purge it from my life. Some RSS feeds are given a probation period where which I give them a chance to get me a nice and important feed, failing that, I drop them. A sometimes therapeutic approach is to imagine how life was before google reader, microsoft outlook, mozilla thunderbird etc; and take life in a different gear. Sometimes this gives us a good sense of perspective and questions whether we really need so many appliances. Being removed from technology helps us appreciate other things.

3. Limitation: because there are so many blogs about, and so many feeds with similar aspirations, one becomes slightly more critical. Choose feeds that say all the news that you want; avoid overlapping interest blogs that repeat stories. Perhaps getting rid of certain interest blogs altogether. There are many reasons why we may be convinced to remove a feed; time is one of them, having too many feeds to really appreciate in little time is a big reason for me. Another reason to remove a feed is that we may tire of the interest or agenda of the blog, or the agenda of the blog may change so radically that it loses interest. Of course, one may want as many feeds as possible, but this is at the cost of spending/wasting too much time looking at feeds or even not looking at them at all.

Concluding, there seems to be a certain kind of equilibrium between wanting to do so much that we have no time for any of it; and getting an efficient amount done. Our goals and desiderata may vary, of course, but the applications we choose are very much an issue of choosing one’s battles. It is unbecoming to see an uncritical use of technology with a lack of selective criteria. A related thought that I had was this: the only technology that the star trek officers normally have on their person at all times is a communicator/universal translator. Given all the applications of the 24th Century, they should choose to have no pockets and a minimal amount of tat. Perhaps that’s a utopia conception we should learn from.


The lesser reliance on independent computers

This week marks the release of Windows 7. Some of the critical reception of this operating system has let me to consider that the saleability of operating systems as big commercial commodities may come to an end. Microsoft, due to various reasons, is losing its market dominance. It also seems that, with the disappointment of Vista (and other notable Windows operating systems between Windows 95 and XP); we will enter different market and consumer conditions, which do not bank on the great release of a new operating system.

It is a far cry to maintain that the open source movement will fill in much of the void left by Microsoft’s disenchanted consumers, but one possible contribution towards the downfall of the importance of the CPU is the changing nature of our computer use. Perhaps it may be more useful, for instance, to not focus on the CPU and other aspects of the hardware but towards the degree in which a user is integrated into a wider network, namely, the internet.

A lot of the functionality of software can be outsourced to external servers and online programmes. Music and radio can be streamed; documents and databases can be dealt with online; even the managing of our personal affairs need not be centred on a single computer unit. There are lots of benefits for this; greater communcation with others and greater accessibility, we rely less, it may seem, on the hardware of a computer terminal, than the usernames and passwords we use.

What happens when the internet shuts down? An analogous thought came to me when watching the recently released film ‘Surrogate’; where humanity, through the introduction of neurologically-controlled robotic shells, had radically changed their social and economic activities. Crime had almost eradicated and sexual/gender boundaries had blurred so much that no one really cared about them. Without to spoil the end, consider that if we become too dependent on something, we may, without it, forget other kinds of functionality. To adopt a new approach is to put away another: who for instance, still uses shorthand?