| At the Corner of Technology and Culture

How Soon Is Now?

Sending a note to yourself in the future is nothing new.  We’ve long called a voicemail message to home, or made use of some of the many ‘send me a message in the future’ online services, such as Future Me.  Consider, though, (via Crunchbase).  The premise is that you can message yourself, or others in your social network, at a specific time, up to 50 years in the future.  Your mother (provided she’s in your social network) could message you five years from now with updated reminders to make sure you’re getting enough protein.   The project imagines such uses as a parent sending messages to a child in the future, when that child is the same age as the sender is now.  Another feature lets you sort of future blog, where you write things that will be read in the future. (Don’t we always write things that will be read in the future?) Or you can use the post-mortem feature, to send messages after you’re dead.

I actually had to spend a fair bit of time looking at it to figure out whether it was ironic, an art project, or a serious social networking cum messaging service.  Such is the nature of our time-shifting existence that I find it increasingly difficult, really and truly, to tell whether something is A/completely absurd or B/ a great idea.  Is this of a piece, say, leaving a letter with a lawyer to be read after you’re dead? Or is a difference in kind….a sort of proto-time travel?

Everyone Loves a Zombie

Fox News (yes, I know) is reporting that a digital road sign in Austin, Texas was hacked recently. The impish hackers changed the sign to read “Zombies Ahead”. Heh, zombies. says that:

“According to the blog, some commercial road signs, including those manufactured by IMAGO’s ADDCO division, can be easily altered because their instrument panels are frequently left unlocked and their default passwords are not changed.”

The speculation is that it was the work of university students, which is the digital equivalent of drunkenly stealing a street sign for the dorm room.

In addition to reminding me to watch L.A. Story and Land of the Dead again, it made me think about what happens when digital information is more widely dispersed among our real, physical environment. Will it take the ‘true-for-now’ tendency of the web out into the wild?

Flying the Squirrel Flag

Another new coffee shop opened up in my area recently, called-ahem-Coffee Shop. It’s so new, I can’t find it online, but it’s right by Clafouti, across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. Nothing much unusual about that; every time you walk down that strip of Queen Street there’s something new opening up, or–more and more often, it seems–closing down.

What I noticed about it, though, was the clever sign (sorry, didn’t have my camera) which combined the generic “Coffee Shop” name in a generic white font, with a white silhouette image of a squirrel. Trinity Bellwoods Park is locally famous for its population of white squirrels–I imagine they have a form of albinism. So, the uber-generic name was matched with a kind of hyper-local signifier of local neighbourhood pride.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen the image. Fleurtje had a purse with one on for a while; one of the neighbourhood shops had t-shirts with a white squirrel logo. I’m intrigued by this hyper-localism. Is it just a reflection of the fact that we’re a bigger city now, and so the population base supports it? Is it because so many people in this city were born somewhere else that it’s feeding a desire for place, for settlement? Or perhaps it’s a reaction to a broader sense of rootlessness. I talked about it on the podcast with Cathi a while ago. Any thoughts?

McLuhan Fer Ya

A guest I interviewed today for Spark reminded me of a great McLuhan quotation: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”

We’re always looking at technological change in its immediate technical impacts, but with very little sense of all the social organization that surrounds it. The way the social changes with new technology always seems to catch us by surprise. Reminds me of another great bit of McLuhanism: “As long as we adopt the Narcissus attitude of regarding the extensions of our own bodies as really out there and really independent of us, we will meet all technological challenges with the same sort of banana-skin pirouette and collapse.”

What would it mean to look at our technologies, those ‘extensions of our own bodies’ as imbued with culture, and embedded within culture?

Life in the Perpetual Future

I saw this cool post at New Scientist, suggesting that we no longer have a clear sense of when “The Future” is, in the way that we once would have said ‘the year 2000’ or ‘the 21st century’.

I wonder whether it’s actually that we now live in a time of perpetual almostfuture. In the way that we have ennui about technological innovation, and lack surprise, hope and delight about the future. We seem perpetually not in the present, always in the almost tomorrow.

First One is in the Can!

We just put the first episode of the new season of Spark to bed. We’ve been working with Chris Kelly from CBC Radio 3, while Dan has been working elsewhere for a little bit.

It’s amazing how much more exciting it is when you actually hear it as audio, rather than as a bunch of scripts. A kind of alchemy, really. Now only another 41 to make!

More Animals With Weapons

Following on my last post, Trendhunter points out these silhouette images of animals fused with weapons. It’s a bit more ambiguous than Ludo’s images. Is it making the point that humans are engaged in a kind of warfare on wildlife, or is it a more ambiguous and Ludo-esque evocation of wildlife’s retaliation–kind of, wildlife-as-suicide-bomber?

File Under Weird Art

Lately, I’ve been thinking about cyborg chic. If we are inching towards a cyborg reality in medical innovations, perhaps we are also moving towards an aesthetic of obvious human/machine crossover. For instance, consider the cell phone ads featuring hands made up of cell phones, or the hot rising star, the deliberately cyborg-esque singer Janelle Monae. The weirdly bloated, waxy effect of today’s injected and implanted cosmetic procedures dovetails nicely with this celebration of obvious artificiality.

An interesting spin on this is the work of Paris-based street artist Ludo, who has been making a series called Nature’s Revenge. He creates images of plants appended with weapons or electronics, a symbol, I guess, of the other side of our war on nature. (via Design Boom) If there is such a thing as cyborg chic, what is it telling us about our relationship to nature?

Podcasters Unite!

Just came back from Podcasters Across Borders (my third). Great to see old friends again, of course, and to learn some new tricks of the trade. It inspired me to be more diligent about audio quality with thesniffer.

It was also interesting to see how the podcasting community has evolved over the past three years. There seems to be a comfort with different streams of podcasting. For some people, it’s pure hobby, mode of expression, and way of connecting with like-minded people. For others, it’s part of their business. For some, it’s a way of leveraging their digital profile. We all seem to co-exist happily enough. I guess for me, it’s a bit of all three.

Some personal highlights: Sylvain gave a great talk on Learning From The Beatles (and I don’t even really like The Beatles). Jay gave the first presentation on McLuhan I’ve ever seen that also talked about Harold Innis…Yay! And of course, the food was great!

Thanks to PAB for a great weekend!

Teachers, Librarians, and the Future of Ethics Online

Gave a talk last night to a great group of teacher-librarians from the Toronto District School Board. It was about social media, the increasingly social character of information, and ethics online, as we move into the reputation economy. They were clearly so passionate about literacy, access to information, and learning in general. It was just great to be around that kind of energy.




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