“Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” by Megan Garber for The Atlantic

I vividly remember witnessing what Sherry Turkle describes as being “alone together” in her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (2011). I was in Seattle on business sitting in a restaurant. At the table next to me, six or seven twenty-somethings were all had their heads pointed toward their laps, tapping at their smartphones rather than interacting with one another, as they waited for their food to be served. Not healthy.

Stories Make Sense

During our holiday travels to Nevada and Utah, we went to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. To say it was some of the most incredible landscape I’ve ever seen would be a major understatement. Bryce in particular was amazing to see, especially under a pristine snowfall. I’ve been fortunate to experience some great country in the past couple of years, Arizona’s Grand Canyon included. Like the Grand Canyon, Bryce is breathtakingly vast but it also invokes a sense of intimacy — as AG remarked, it is as if you can reach out and touch the rock while looking down from the rim. Each hoodoo, with its unique curves, cracks and colorations, seems to have a story to tell.

I guess this is what it comes down to — narrative breathes life into the abstract, stories make sense of things.

I’ve seen evidence of this over the past few days as people respond to the South Asia earthquake and tsunami disaster. Like the events of 9/11 here in the U.S., the scale of loss, the facelessness of the numbers is incomprehensible and can only begin to make sense once it is tapered to a human level. Our networks showed their utter lack of understanding of this fact during the first few days of the aftermath, when instead of useful information we were fed platitudes and headline-grabbing generalizations. It was insulting. The packaging and broadcasting of disaster, right down to the just-catchy-enough byline pulsing at your television’s edge, is so inappropriately calculated and manipulative that I had a hard time watching. Since the new year, with more people “on the ground,” the attention thankfully has turned more to how people are helping survivors, and of course the urgency to do even more. The stories of bravery, luck, misfortune and grief make the local global and back again, all the more so without a tyrannical dictator to blame or fanatical extremist to out-hate.

Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004)

Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975

Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975

Susan Sontag’s essays, along with those of Roland Barthes, Siegfried Kracauer, and André Bazin, are a cornerstone of my critical understanding of photography. Her insights not only opened new and interesting questions but did so with a fresh perspective and infectious energy.

I’ve archived her NYT obituary here.

Coffee Spoons

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot (1915)

 

You will take on whatever task comes your way and show great depth and stamina. This is your turning point, your time to show your worth and make things happen. You will be a powerhouse — unstoppable and willing to do whatever it takes to reach your set goal.

from horoscope.com (April 28, 2003)

Alan Moore, “Big Numbers” (1990)

Find me a dead cloud
and a sharp piece of science
I want to see the skeleton /of weather
And let me map
all maps we have mistaken for the world
And learn by heart the time table of dice
And in our clutching self-invented dance steps see
An accidental grace
A choreography.

Things Thinging

I may be a little late to the table on this one. “All My Life for Sale” is a project devised by John Freyer in which he catalogued and sold nearly everything that he owned on eBay (the last item sold was the website domain itself to the University of Iowa Museum of Art on August 11, 2001). Hearing his story on NPR, I immediately felt a modest kinship, having recently culled through most of my own worldly possessions — selling books and electronics, donating clothes and random miscellanea, finally abandoning vinyl and audio and video tape, shredding all but a few of my handwritten writings from over the years, and generally purging all but what I might call the “bare essentials.” While not nearly as thorough a divestment as Freyer’s, the act produced in me an anxious sense of both liberation and dread. No doubt, as a kind of antidote, the next phase will be marked by accumulation. And so it goes.

For Freyer, his project lives on as a travelogue documenting his visits to his sold life, the things that are now hinged to the lives of their winning bidders. Freyer claims the project has become much less about the things themselves and more about the people he’s met through and between them.

Of related note and interest, The Dead Media Project, originally organized by science fiction novelist, Bruce Sterling, chronicles those devices and technologies once but no longer used to record, represent, transmit, transport, translate, save, project, amplify, or otherwise communicate human experience. The list seems a bit dead too these days, but still offers a great archive and reminder of just how transient and fragile our messages can be.

Words of the Year (Like No Other)

The American Dialect Society (via SG) each year votes on which words best “reflect the concerns and preoccupations of the year gone by.” 2002’s winner: Weapons of Mass Destruction (W.M.D.). Other categories of distinction include:

Most Likely to Succeed: Blog
Most Useful: Google
Most Creative: Iraqnophobia
Most Outrageous: Neuticles
Most Euphemistic: Regime change

For those who are interested, they also have lists for 1990 – 2001.