Welcome to your monthly update at the intersection of technology and the cultural industries. This month I was particularly consumed by internet archiving and Augmented Reality, which seem at first glance like two poles separated by a vast distance. It’s the past vs the future, right? Maybe so, but it seems to me we need to master both if our cultural content is going to continue to adapt in the digital world.
We certainly want to save great culture, including that created in the early era of the internet, but we also want to learn the skills needed to create new and original content now and in the near future (that’s where AR comes in). I hope the following provides some inspiration for both…
This week I published my latest essay about technology and culture, Internet Amnesia: Clive James & his website.
It’s about the online presence of writer and cultural critic Clive James, who died last November at the age of 80. But his website, clivejames.com, lives on. James viewed the site as a way to preserve his work, and even in a sense live forever. What he didn’t realise is that the Web forgets the past all too easily, and sometimes erases it entirely.
Have a read and let me know your thoughts and ideas about preserving cultural content online. It’s something I’m passionate about and am actively researching.
Saving the Internet—and all the commons it makes possible 🙏
Internet theorist Doc Searls has published a must-read article that outlines nine “enclosures on the Internet,” including the advertising-supported commercial Internet, government censorship, and (this one surprised me) 5G networks. Given the subject of my essay this month, number 7 especially resonated:
The seventh enclosure is the forgotten past. Today the World Wide Web, which began as a kind of growing archive—a public set of published goods we could browse as if it were a library—is being lost. Forgotten. That’s because search engines are increasingly biased to index and find pages from the present and recent past, and by following the tracks of monitored browsers. It’s forgetting what’s old. Archival goods are starting to disappear, like snow on the water.
Why? Ask the algorithm.
I encourage you to read the whole thing, and then think about what you can do to help people break free of these enclosures. I’ve started thinking about it in terms of cultural content…
20 for 2020: Augmented Reality Trends 📱
Tom Emrich outlines the trends to watch out for in AR this year. For one thing, expect to see a lot more holograms in your cultural content:
2020 will be a big year for holographic projection and displays, an AR category which doesn’t require the user to have a headworn or handheld device. Projection mapping, light field and eye-sensing 3D displays and pepper’s ghost solutions will be on the rise especially for large scale events and venues such as stadiums, concert halls, theaters, museums, malls and airports.
How Star Trek: Picard creates the tech of the 24th century 🖖
I haven’t been too impressed by the plot or script for the new Picard series, but I have marvelled at two things. Firstly, Patrick Stewart’s acting (although at age 79, he does look frail now). Secondly, the way the show portrays technology in the 24th century. There are some brilliant special effects on that front, for example the holographic interfaces. Here’s production designer Todd Cherniawsky in Tech Radar, explaining how it was designed:
Rios also flies the ship via a new kind of interface, using virtual, holographic controls to tell La Sirena what to do.
“That came from a lot of our research into what’s being done at places like Caltech, MIT Media Lab, Stanford, Oxford or any of the other high-tech labs,” Cherniawsky says. “With what they’re doing in experiments, we’re already into tactile interfaces based on light and touch. It just seemed like a natural progression to migrate towards holographic technology. That was a very early decision [in the development of the show].”
Apple patent 👓
Who knows whether this gets made, but I love the idea of merging VR and AR in one device.
Andrew Keen: You can’t rely on a single medium. 📹
I previously knew of Andrew Keen as a professional Web 2.0 cynic, but he makes an excellent (and positive!) point for creators in this era:
“This is a great time,” he says “And, in essence, there’s potentially a creative renaissance coming. It’s a winner-take-all cultural economy, but you can’t just be pumping a camera or pounding a keyboard. You’ve got to be innovative in terms of building platforms, real platforms, crossing boundaries, taking risks, and also figuring out the money side, asking, ‘Who’s going to pay for this? Why is it worth my time?'”
“You need synergies,” Keen says. ” If you just sit in a room and write a book, it’s not enough. You can have 200 million followers on YouTube, but you still have to produce cultural content.”
My 2020 book project 📚
I just passed the 20,000 word mark for the nonfiction book project I’ve embarked upon this year. That equates to about four chapters, so I’m making good progress - and keeping to the word count timetable I set myself in January.
I’m not yet ready to reveal the topic, but I can tell you it’s set in the early internet era of the 1990s and early 2000s. So I’ve been frequenting The Wayback Machine as part of my research, which has led to tweets like this...
Consume This! 🍽️
transmediale, an annual festival for art and digital culture, took place over February and there’s a bunch of audio and video from it that I plan to consume in the coming weeks. This year the theme was “End to End,” which aimed to “outline potential futures of the network society and beyond.” I’m especially waiting for this presentation to be made available:
Book of the month 📚
I’ve been reading Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, the second volume in a biography of Elvis by Peter Guralnick. While I enjoyed the more succinct first volume about his early career better, the second book had this terrific quote:
At first it frightened him to think what his fans’ reaction might be. But then he fell back on the one precept that had guided him throughout his recording career: what you sang had to come from the heart; it couldn’t just be a matter of following trends, because then the public would never believe you.
That definitely sums up why I love the 1950s Elvis (although I’m not so sure about the Hollywood and Vegas eras). Regardless, it’s a sentiment all creators should take to heart.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Cybercultural! Do reach out by email or on Twitter if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.