Mobile devices from Super Sad True Love

Last week, Julian recommended me this book called "Super Sad True Love" by Gary Shteyngart. A long flight over to Fog City CA gave me plenty of time to peruse it carefully. It's a good novel set in a near future dominated by media, retail/commerce and the collapse of the US economy. It feels a bit like Steak crossed with Idiocracy. 

There are many interesting and humorous bits in the book (the critique of media/retail, the transhumanists perspective) but what caught my attention is the way smartphone usage is portrayed. Shteyngart use the term "äppärät" to refer to smartphone/mobile devices. The book offers various descriptions that shed some light on current socio-technological rituals, and upcoming ones:

About the device behavior:

"my äppärät buzzing with contacts, data, pictures, projections, maps, incomes, sound, fury"

"my äppärät began to produce its “heavy thinking” noises, a wheel desperately spinning inside its hard plastic shell, its ancient circuitry completely overtaxed by the otter and his antics. The words ERROR CODE IT/FC-GS/FLAG appeared on the screen"

"I’m learning to worship my new äppärät’s screen, the colorful pulsating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors."

"My äppärät pinged."

"But even he seemed unimpressed, glancing impatiently at his äppärät, which was alive with at least seven degrees of information, numbers and letters and Images stacked on the screen, flowing and eddying against one another as the waters of the Tiber once did."

On device usage and gesturing practices:

"A half-dozen of my fellow citizens were seated behind their chewed-up desks, mumbling lowly into their äppäräti. There was an earplug lying slug-dead on an empty chair, and a sign reading INSERT EARPLUG IN EAR, PLACE YOUR ÄPPÄRÄT ON DESK, AND DISABLE ALL SECURITY SETTINGS."

 "I took out my äppärät, flicked it open in a gesture that was au courant maybe a decade ago, held it stupidly in front of me, put it back in my shirt pocket, then reached for a nearby bottle and refilled my glass."

"my äppärät picked up on some scan-able faces, an old-time porno star and a slick guy from Mumbai just starting out on his first worldwide Retail empire."

"I took out my äppärät and began to thump it loudly with my finger to show how much I loved all things digital, while sneaking nervous glances at the throbbing cavern around me, the wine-dulled business travelers lost to their own electronic lives."

"I took out my äppärät, but noticed that the new kids all had the new pebble-like model around their necks, the kind Eunice had worn."

"I lay in my bed, listening to Eunice teening furiously on her äppärät in the living room."

"her index fingers raised above the book as if ready to tap at the BUY ME NOW symbol on her äppärät,"

"Shu descended into another äppärät reverie. I did the same, pretending it was something serious and work-related, but really I was just GlobalTracing Eunice’s location."

Of course, there's a lot on social rituals, scanning, personal scores (which reminded me of Doctorow's reputation currency called 'whuffie') and surveillance:

"My äppärät data were sampled and scanned to a military äppärät by a young man who seemed to be missing a face beneath his cap’s long green visor."

"he wasn’t there. He didn’t have an äppärät, or it wasn’t set on “social” mode, or maybe he had paid some young Russian kid to have the outbound transmission blocked."

"They trooped past me, surprised, agitated, bemused, their äppäräti already projecting data about me, perhaps telling them how little I meant, my thirty-nine-year-old obsolescence."

"We need to get you a new äppärät,” he said. “You’re going to have to learn to surf the data streams better. Learn to rank people quicker.”

"Shu, a goddamn relentless immigrant in the mode of my janitor father but with English and good board scores on his side, was dealing with three äppäräti at once, his callused fingertips and spitfire Chinatown diction abuzz with data and the strong, dull hope that he was squarely in control."

“Learn how to use this thing immediately,” Shu told me. “Especially the RateMe part. Learn to rate everyone around you. Get your data in order. Switch on CrisisNet and follow all the latest. An ill-informed salesman is dead in the water these days. Get your mind in the right place."

"I put the name of my oldest Media pal, Noah Weinberg, into my äppärät and learned that he would be airing our reunion live on his GlobalTeens stream, “The Noah Weinberg Show!,” which made me nervous at first, but, then, this is exactly the kind of thing I have to get used to if I’m going to make it in this world"

“Damn, cabrón,” Noah said, eyeing my pebble. “Whuddat, a 7.5 with RateMe Plus? I’m going to stream that shit fucking close-up.” He filmed my äppärät with his äppärät, while I swallowed another mug of triglycerides."

“‘FAC? What’s that? Who am I? Where’s my diaper?’” “It means ‘Form A Community,’” Vishnu said. “It’s, like, a way to judge people. And let them judge you.” He took my äppärät, and slid some settings until an icon labeled “FAC” drifted onto the screen. “When you see FAC, you press the EmotePad to your heart, or wherever it can feel your pulse.” Vishnu pointed out the sticky thing on the back of my äppärät that I thought could be used to attach it to a dashboard or a fridge. Wrong again. “Then,” Vishnu continued, “you look at a girl. The EmotePad picks up any change in your blood pressure. That tells her how much you want to do her.”

“Set up your Community Parameters. Make it ‘Immediate Space 360’—that’ll cover the whole bar. Now look at a girl, then press the pad to your heart.” I looked at the pretty brunette, at the hairless crotch glowing from within her see-through Onionskin jeans, at the lithe body crouched imperiously atop a set of smooth legs, at her worried smile. Then I touched my heart with the back of my äppärät, trying to fill it with my warmth, my natural desire for love. The girl across the bar laughed immediately without even turning my way. A bunch of figures appeared on my screen: “FUCKABILITY 780/800, PERSONALITY 800/800, ANAL/ORAL/VAGINAL PREFERENCE 1/3/2.”

“The personality score depends on how ‘extro’ she is,” Vishnu explained. “Check it out. This girl done got three thousand–plus Images, eight hundred streams, and a long multimedia thing on how her father abused her. Your äppärät runs that against the stuff you’ve downloaded about yourself and then it comes up with a score. Like, you’ve dated a lot of abused girls, so it knows you’re into that shit"

"Vishnu worked my äppärät until some RANKINGS came up. He helped me navigate the data. “Out of the seven males in the Community,” he said, gesturing around the bar, “Noah’s the third hottest, I’m the fourth hottest, and Lenny’s the seventh.” “You mean I’m the ugliest guy here?” I ran my fingers through the remnants of my hair. “But you’ve got a decent personality,” Vishnu comforted me, “and you’re second in the whole bar in terms of SUSTAINABILIT¥.”

And finally on attention and disconnection:

"She really listened to me. She paid attention to me. She never even looked at her äppärät while I was speaking to her."

"My äppärät isn’t connecting. I can’t connect. No one’s äppäräti are working anymore. “It’s an NNEMP,” all the thirty something Media wizards hanging out in the lobby of our building are saying with finality. A Nonnuclear Electromagnetic Pulse."

"Eunice had opened up her äppärät and was concentrating on the last shopping page stored in its memory before communications collapsed. I could see she had instinctively opened a LandOLakes Credit Payment stream, but every time she tried to input her account info, she ended up throwing her head back as if stung. “I can’t buy anything,” she said. “Eunice,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything. Go to bed.

Why do I blog this? I started recently a follow-up project to "Curious Rituals", in which I'm exploring smartphone usage. I'm mostly interested in people's gestural and postural habits with these devices. Shteyngart's writing is spot and offer a fascinated perspective on this topic. The humor and accuracy of his descriptions are impressive and it's fascinated to see how such a novel offer a good ethnographic perspective on mobile technology. The fact that it's set in the near future is also pertinent, as some of the features are just a stretch from existing practices.

 

 

 

Supercargo: an interview with Peter Moosgaard

In the last weeks of December, I blogged about this fascinating project called "Supercargo: a parable of desire". In this tumblr collecting intriguing examples of current cargo cults, Peter Moosgaard provides us with an exhaustive display of  what he calls "Supercargo". He defines it as "ritual appropriation + subversive mimickry". I'm definitely mesmerized by these examples, which I find both curious and revealing; which is why I started chatting with Peter. This is the resulting interview:

Nicolas Nova: Can you tell us more about your supercargo tumblr? What's the logic behind it and how did you become interested in this?

Peter Moosgaard: I think it was about 2005 in south-tirol when i read about cargo cults on a trivial persuit card. i was studying digital arts at that time and got extremely bored with technology. Media arts and digital culture seemed too much about technological progress at that time. everybody was just celebrating technology itself, but technology is never just a cool tool. its pure ideology. the artistic approaches on the other hand were extremely lame. do you know ars electronica festival? it became more and more of a toy expo. i was intrigued by the cargo cults because they celebrated and mocked technology, culture, imperialsim at the same time. i thought, well maybe theres a strategy! when i was crippled by a major depression and panic attacs in 2013 i started the Supercargo Blog. i found myself completely unable to work, but could still surf tumblr, repost stuff etc .. posting became a daily ritual for me and it still is. i just try to put together sets of images with found material, maybe some day i will be able to work again.

These are LAVR-glasses (Lower Austrian Virtual Reality) I built together with local youngsters. after the image of 90ies VR promises, we buitt these for Supercargo (the movie), which is about the founding myth of the artistic cargo cult in Austria.
supercargo-img1

NN: There seems to be a growing interest in this kind of projects, this sort of logic. I'm thinking about this Futur Archaïque exhibit in Belgium I mentioned, but also other art/design projects related to it. Why do you feel this is happening now?

PM: I think something like this is in the air, and its getting bigger. why, i dont know .. maybe its an archaic revival in connection with digital media. Terence McKenna described that conclusively decades ago, and i think he is still right. as advanced these technologies are, they set us back into a mystic perception, a general attraction to archaic forms. we just have to adapt to immense data income every day, logic has to be set aside simply to cope with a hypernervous global culture. it all becomes archaic and mythological. it is just a necessary strategy. another more mundane explanation would be, that people are just getting fed up with the slick, sterile utopia apple is trying to sell us.

these are cargo phones i found on tumblr, a kind of stone age communication, or maybe rebuilt from collective memory after the pulsar-apocalypse.

NN: Do you see this relate to this "post-digital" art scene that we see popping up these days? A need to go beyond the digital?

PM: Yes the postdigital aspect was always very important in my work. i started making postinternet stuff before it even had a name. i tried to see art and technology from the viewpoint of the simple consumer. basically because i myself had no skills at all, no programming skills, no crafting skills etc .. and i find everybody can relate to that everything else is not subversive/emancipatory in my eyes. in my view we´re more and more trying to work like machines, like computers. but how would a simple human do that, not trying to imitate a machine? the postdigital has many forms, and with "supercargo" i took my simplistic position. use only poor materials, embrace capitalist mythology, make a second hand utopia. its a free party from now on!

NN: Lots of these projects are fascinating because they interrogate us about the nature/culture debate. From your perspective, as an astute observer of such projects, what do they tell us about our relationship to technology?

PM: Culture, art and technology are basically utopia factories. you can relate and research (maybe subvert) that in form of simple products. messianic devices, artwork masterpieces, they are part of a larger system. they all have their histories, rules, all these invisible forces manifest in products. the way i see it, we are living in a time governed by cybernetics alone. it was allways in the interest of cybernetics to describe organisms and technology alike. to make a supersystem for processes be it biological or cultural. that is frightening in the end. anyway, maybe through cybernetic thinking we can realise that technology isn't artificial at all. we are just a material processing species, like bees producing honeycombs. i find it interesting to look at the material world again, as we are absorbed in informational worlds. Mcluhan said that every new medium absorbs the old media as its content, therefore making it visible AGAIN. Look at todays TV Shows, they became an artform after the internet absorbed TV. Now the World itelf is upon total simulation. The physical world is becoming visible for the first time i think, and material world will be a cult- a fetish.

these are so called “Dre Beets”. i couldnt figure out who built them, but they are kind of the asian brother of the cargo cult: Shanzhai
supercargo-img2

NN: It's interesting to see Cargo Cults as the new sort of belief, beyond the Western/non-Western distinction, a sort of general perspective on things with a strange relationship to consumerism and material culture, what's your take on this?

PM: As written in the Supercargo Manifesto: Surprisingly the local performers of the Cargo Cults succeeded: By remaking western technology with bamboo, they attracted actual planes full of tourists and anthropologists. People got interested in the exotic parades using western imagery. The John Frum Movement (“John from Merica”) suddenly had an audience, soon bringing actual stuff (cargo) to the island. The cargo shaman once said: You build your plane too and wait in faith. the waiting is the hardest part. According to some shamans the planes awaited will also bring weapons to throw off colonialist oppressors. The cargo cults are strange mockups of imperialism, at the same time keeping old traditions. But is the cult for real or just performance? It does not matter, no difference, it is about the act. The Tale of the Cargo ringing true on so many levels. The cult of the cargo is our world exactly: We perform meaningless routines we call work,in hope for future cargo. With a technology that could navigate us to the moon, we write LMAO. The western world itself is a giant cult of imitating things that somehow work: dressing in suits, using buzzword-vocabulary, mimicking old forms of art. who knows why.. The longing for godlike goodies on the horizon, the usage of things we don´t understand: a big parable of desire. The waiting, the waiting is the hardest part!

NN: thanks for your answers and good luck with the project, keep us posed.

8-bit reggae book playlist

For those who asked, here's the list of the tracks I've included in the 8-bit reggae book. Definitely not exhaustive but a good list of tunes that inspired me. Of course there's not just chip music as the book started with the evolution of reggae.

Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up"
Jody Bigfoot: "Nintempo riddim - Heathen dub"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"

Reggae
The Jolly Boys: "Touch Me Tomato"
The Skatalites: "Scandal ska"
Higgs & Wilson: "Manny Oh"
Desmond Dekker: "'007' (Shanty Town)"
The Wailers: "Simmer Down"
Prince Buster: "Judge Dread"
Folkes Brothers: "Oh! Carolina"
Toots and the Maytals "Do the Reggay"
The Paragons: "On The Beach"
Lee Perry: "People Funny Boy"
Lee Perry "Clint Eastwood"
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Prince Jammy: "Conspiracy on Neptune (Destroys the Invaders)"
The Clash: The Guns of Brixton""
Blackbeard: "Electrocharge"
Papa Levi: "Mi God Mi King"
Smiley Culture: "Cockney Translation"
Dub Syndicate: " Ravi Shankar
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Wayne Smith: "Under Me Sleng Teng"
Shabba Ranks: "Get Up Stand Up and Rock"

8-bit reggae
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Balloon Fight"
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Wrecking Crew"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 001"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 000"
The Secret Of Monkey Island
Henry Homesweet: "Out-House #11"
Dubmood: "Pressure Drop" (Atari-Ska L’Atakk)
Puppa Jim: "I am a robot"
Quarta 330: "Sunset Dub"
Helgeland 8-bit Squad: "Psybeam Riddim"
Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up!"
The J. Arthur Keenes Band: "Expelling Bee"
Burro Banton: "Badder dan dem"
Black Chow feat. Pupajim: "Signs
Goto80: "Steel Egg"
Raquel Meyers and Goto80: "2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 001 Echidna, moder till alla monster"
Goto80: "bababy dubub"
Extraboy: "Flintskall dub"
wellwellsound: "Super Marley World"
LEGO Sounds "Dubologist Encephalogram"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"
2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 005. EXEDUB
Squincyjones: "Nintendub"
??? "Burgerville in 3D"
Snoop Lion: "Here comes the King"



"The complex relationship of sub-systems and their larger wholes."

Currently at the Media design seminar here at the Geneva School of Art and Design, we discussed this interesting way to explain the notion of modularity. Called, "the parable of the two watchmakers", It's from Herbert Simon and it nicely explains the relationship of simple and complex systems (organic and social):

"There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently and new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered while Tempus became poorer and poorer. In the end, Tempus lost his shop. What was the reason behind this? The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Tempus made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch, it immediately fell into pieces and had to be reassembled from the basic elements. Hora had designed his watches so that he could put together sub-assemblies of about ten components each, and each sub-assembly could be put down without falling apart. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly, and ten of the larger sub-assemblies constituted the whole watch."

Why do I blog this? This looks like a good way to introduce the notion of modularity, using an analogy which is understandable (as opposed to the use of fractals by other authors).