Lean Logic does not conform.
It is a community of essays about inventive, cooperative self-reliance in the face of great uncertainty.
Lean Logic acknowledges, with honesty, the challenges ahead in finding our way out of an economy that has all but destroyed the very foundations upon which it depends - the climate, the complex ecological system and the community and culture which gives meaning to life.
But rather than inducing despair, Lean Logic is rare in its ability to inspire optimism in the creativity and intelligence of humans to nurse our ecology back to health, to rediscover the importance of place and play, of community and culture, and of reciprocity and resilience.
It is not a book to read from start to finish. Begin in the middle, with something, anything, that sparks your interest, and let the signposts pull you through a chaotic web of ideas, brimming with humour and originality, with elegance and contradiction.
Lean Logic is a dictionary of empowerment.
Check out that image of a young Bill Gates evoking a sense of Julian Casablancas before Jules could even squeeze a pair of shades behind his ears. That was when computer entrepeuneurs had a little whiff of the sexy. Before geek was chic, when it just was. Now look at it:
Eugh. Gross. They must all rent that smarmy grin from the same place.
In Brave New World, first published in 1931, Aldous Huxley imagines a world 500 years from now of quantitatively perfected humanity - eugenically ordered, emotionally stabilised through the use of the drug soma and afforded carnal and 'earthly' pleasures in place of emotional commitment. In this potential future of battery-sapiens one of the less sexually motivated forms of entertainment comes in the shape of the 'feelie.'
Linda takes John, the savage outsider of the Brave New World, to the 'feelies' for the first time. Stills from the 1980 bbc TV film.
The 'feelie' or 'feely' is an obvious extrapolation on the part of Huxley of his belief of what the talkie, or movie might become. Huxley, and others of his time, feared that cinema was a hugely distracting element,which would prevent people from reflecting or being critical of what they consumed from it, making it a perfect tool for manipulation and sedation by a sinister government or other agency.
The addiction and the power of the feelies lies in their ability for giving gratification. Marshall McLuhan might call it a super-hot media - it immerses all the senses without demanding any critical reflection from the user. The narrator's voice is programmed to 'achieve an automatic erotic effect that has reduced the lips of all the individual audience members to just so many facial erogenous zones.' Later, when John Savage, an outsider in the Brave New World, complains that he prefers Shakespeare to the feelies because they 'don't mean anything' he is assured that 'they mean a lot of agreeable sensations for the audience.' Why would we want to extend ourselves over a lengthy narrative requiring a lot of cognitive effort and critical thought when we can get the prescribed thrills we need from the feelies?
Huxley, of course, implies that by immersing ourselves in media that are non-reflective, we ourselves become more docile, less reflective and less questioning and this becomes clear when Alphas from the Brave New World are exposed to poetry, music and Shakespeare by the savage and are subsequently forced into exile to avoid upsetting the tenuous grip the technostate has over human creativity and desire.
Montag observes a televisor from afar in the 1966 film adaptation of 451
Ray Bradbury takes Huxley's idea to an even more extreme level. In his novel, Farhenheit 451 books are not only hidden or discouraged but actively banned, with teams of government workers incinerating books and arts bonfire of the vanities style. 451 was first published in 1951, by this stage most of America and indeed, the first world had a television in their homes, and it was around this time that PR, psychology and advertising were beginning to take propagandist ideas, primarily under the leadership of Edward Bernays and apply it through the medium of television to sell products and ideas to the American people. In Huxley's nightmare vision, the home is filled with 'parlor televisors' - wall screens that the user can interact with viewers by offering primitve cues for scripts or that simply bombard the viewer with abstract images, much like Huxley's 'Three Weeks in a Heli Rocket.'
On one wall a woman smiled and drank orange juice simultaneously. How does she do both at once? thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an x-ray of the same woman revealed the contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her delighted stomach!Subsequently, Montag, the character beginning to question the world around him, turns the screens off and tries to engage the three female viewers in conversation about an impeding wold war for which they seem ignorant, impervious and unmoved - 'it's always somebody else's husband who dies.'
Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs to the accompaniment of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.
Huxley and Bradbury both believed that film and television could be (and in some ways Bradbury was right) used by sinister agencies to control and sedate the populace, supplying them with a cacophony of gratification and carefully calculated visual-chemical clues to subdue any dissent and silence critical thought. They were a direct propaganda machine.
In both instances, the book is the antithesis to the subversive new technology. In Huxley's work, John Savage, educated by Shakespeare, simply cannot accept the unquestioning inhumanity of the Brave New World. Montag sees that the televisors are evil because they 'create an environment as real as the world.' Books allow one to stop and reflect - to 'shut them and say "Hold on a moment!"'
In 1884, Henry James published an article in Longmans Journal that has since been remembered as one of the great literary essays - The Art of Fiction. In the essay, he posited that a novel is a 'direct impression of life.' A few weeks later, Robert Louis Stevenson, at the time an obscure children's book author sent a little-known reply:
No art is true in this sense: none can "compete with life"...Life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing and emasculate. Life imposes by brute energy, like inarticulate thunder; art catches the ear, among the far louder noises of experience, like an air artificially made by a discreet musician.Art, and the novel, insisted Stevenson, and before him Shakespeare and after him, almost everyone else, is an abstract of life. Keith Oatley writes in his book of fiction psychology that 'Straight lines and circles do not exist in the physical world, but now they have been invented, we cannot do without them. They are abstract, they exist in model worlds.' Oatley's argument is that fiction and the narratives we use to entertain ourselves are not and never will be like the feelies or the televisors because fiction is a model which allows us space to reflect and that is something, as humans, we crave more than gratification and addiction. Although we can be addicts of instant gratification as Nicholas Carr eruditely outlines in The Shallows, we need space to reflect, to consider ourselves.
Oatley's definition of fiction is that of a 'psychological playground' where we can imagine what-if scenarios and put ourselves in the positions of the characters. As we have written and grown and also has science has progressed, these what-ifs and narratives have become more and more entwined and complex leading us to greater conundrums of critical thinking about ourselves.
It provides a safe space with which to confront disturbing feelings we would otherwise suppress; it allows us to recognize our most threatening fantasies without becoming paralyzed by them. - Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck
Fiction is a model, not an immersive reflection or paralysing fantasy. With the dawn of the internet in the late eighties and early nineties, as well as the promise and fears around virtual reality technology, a whole host of nightmarish scenarios, extrapolating further from Huxleyan ideas were put forward. In William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) users of a fictional 'cybespace' (a word Gibson invented himself) 'jack-in' in search of 'simstim', a soma equivalent. Here, cyberspace has been used to sedate and addict people to a gratification. The Lawnomwer Man (1992) is a Frankensteinian film set in virtual reality in which the monster's virtually augmented brain commences a killing spree in search of the gratification needed to sate his desires for data.
The Lawnmower Man
With every successive leap forward in technology have come sinister predictions of how it might be used. Visions of a dumb-struck, docile human race entertained by video games and celebrity gossip via Twitter or voyeuristic immersion in Facebook constantly appear now as potential harbingers of the demise of critical thought and reflection.
So far, none of these have come to pass, although Susan Greenfield and Nicholas Carr would posit that the internet and the pervasiveness of digital technology is making us, essentially, stupider. In a recent interview with New Scientist, Greenfield bombarded the interviewer with references to papers linking digital technology with all sorts of disorders of attention and addiction, and it's probably true that it is impacting our lives, but just like Huxley, Gibson, Bradbury and all the others, it represents an extreme view - a worst-case scenario that affects a minority and an important one to bear in mind but not the end-of-the-world as it is so often presented. She stresses that 'it's not the technology itself I'm criticising but how they are used and the extent to which they are used.'
Greenfield fears that our children, coddled in a Huxleyan digital paradise of gratification and 'hot' stimulus, without exposure to the slower narratives and 'psychological playgrounds' of long form fiction will lose their ability to reflect and be critical of the world around them, that without the ability to play out what-if scenarios in their minds, reflecting on their choices as they go, they will make for poor humans.
This remains to be seen, but dystopian nightmares provide us with a worst-case scenario and then we tend to avoid it. Enough individuals - both scholars and viewers - were critically aware enough of the role of television and film that it never occupied the position of the feelies or televisors despite efforts of advertisers and governments and the internet has yet to turn us all into mindless slaves. Debate is still out over what contemporary narrative actually is today. In these dystopian nightmares, it is all but vanished, seen as dangerous and subversive to the technostate, and with the apparent decline in first world literacy and book sales (both electornic and paper) some such as Greenfield fear we're now voluntarily giving it up. Many, however, argue that it continues, (and this will be something I'll write on later) most plausably, in video games, or hypertext or the narratives we construct around social networking or transmedia storytelling.
I like to imagine that Janet Murray's eponymous Holodeck might be the fictional future of storytelling. In the Star Trek universe, one can interact directly as if improvising a role in a film with the programs of a novel, controlling it's direction, acting out it's scenes. The user the player and main character in a constructed, transient wold based on a template you describe and revolving around you. You are the author, character and reader of this ideal fiction.
Commander Data and Geordie LaForge tend to 'play' Sherlock Holmes holonovels with their time on the holodeck.
This may sound as dangerous as the Huxleyan feelies but in reality, it is far apart. The holonovels, as they are called, retain the key tropes of fiction - they are fantasy and the user is aware of this, they provide the what-if scenario of thought but at a higher level of interactivity and, most importantly, like a reader can pick up a book and open it or close it whenever and wherever they want, they are in total control of the media. The holonovel is exactly the same as a book, only the form has changed. It provides the same stimulus as a novel because it retains the border between reality and the psychological playground and that is something that readers, viewers, users and players will always need.
Janet H. Murray - Hamlet on the Holodeck, 1997,
N. Katherine Hayles - Electronic Literature, 2007,
Nicholas Carr - The Shallows, 2010,
Keith Oatley - Such Stuff as Dream, 2011,
Aldous Huxley - Brave New World, 1931,
Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451, 1951,
William Gibson - Neuromancer, 1984,
Star Trek (various), New Scientist 2823,
Under the personality cult of leaders Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, North Korea has become fiercely isolationist, nationalistic, and totalitarian. Despite being one of the planet’s poorest countries, the communist state looks for any achievement to boost itself in eyes of the world. Its people know little or nothing of other nations except for the fact that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is vastly superior.
The DPRK is also one of the world’s most secretive nations. For a North Korean, contact with a foreigner can land one in jail… or worse. But there is one embarrassing secret that is hard for the government to hide, literally. It’s the Ryugyong Hotel in the Potong District of North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang. It’s difficult to hide because it’s a massive, 105-story structure which dominates the city’s skyline. It’s an embarrassment because it’s a complete engineering failure… its empty, dilapidated husk lurks over the capital, mocking the citizens of the proud country.
The hotel’s story begins in 1987, when the North Korean government began construction at an estimated cost of $750 million, or 2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). By comparison, 2% of the United States’ GDP would be about $220 billion. Construction of the hotel was a cold war response to other massive skyscrapers in Asia, most notably South Korea’s towering Stamford Hotel in Singapore. The North Koreans expected the project to bring in western investors as a first move into their nation. Investors were told to expect little oversight, and assured that casinos, nightclubs and lounges could be added. The North Korean government was so proud of the project that they added it to their official city maps before the project was even started, and they issued postage stamps touting the hotel before it was even half-finished.
The Ryugyong or “Capital of Willows” Hotel stands 1,083 feet tall, and it was planned to have 3,000 rooms and seven revolving restaurants. It has a total of 3.9 million square feet of floor space. The hotel would be the tallest hotel and seventh largest building in the world if it were finished. It would also have been the first building with over one hundred floors outside of New York or Chicago.
The first event scheduled to be held at the hotel was June 1989′s World Festival of Youth and Students. The hotel was nowhere near ready for that event. Its construction was plagued with problems, and after five years construction completely ground to a halt due to a shortage of everything… especially funding and electricity. Work on the hotel has never resumed; the project was abandoned, leaving a lonely construction crane perched on its peak.
Pyongyang SkylinePyongyang skyline, showing the Ryugyong Hotel on the top right.The shell of the building is complete but it has not been certified as safe for occupancy. There are no windows, fixtures, or fittings. The extremely poor quality concrete used in its construction has left the building sagging to such a great degree that the structure can never be finished without a massive overhaul.
The North Korean government is still looking for foreign investment, hopefully around $300 million. It’s going to be hard to find such an investor considering the DPRK has such a tight stranglehold on visitors coming to their nation. The DPRK only allows about 130,000 tourists in an entire year, and almost none of them come to Pyongyang. To make matters worse, the nation appears to be in a never-ending drought and famine cycle that is not conducive for the operation of a five-star hotel.
Today, few North Koreans are willing to discuss the hotel with outsiders. The hotel, which was once found on city maps before the construction even began, has now been completely stricken from the official maps. Tour guides usually claim not to know where it is. Either a majority of the country is in a state of denial about the whole thing, or they avoid the subject for fear of reprisal. Since the government’s embarrassing monument is visible from practically every point in the city, it’s most likely the latter.
Maybe someday North Korea will become a popular tourist destination, but not in the foreseeable future. If they ever do, there could be plenty of vacancies waiting for the throngs of outsiders… assuming some investors are willing to risk a third of a billion to reanimate the Ryugyong Hotel’s rotting corpse.
n. A fetishistic attraction to the printed book as a way of denying that its demise may be nigh. This odd term - why bibilio- as a prefix an not biblio-? - was coined by Ben Ehrenreich to describe the practice of venerating the physical characteristics of a book over it's content.This particular definition, tucked away in the corner of WIRED's Jargon Watch this month took a nagging idea from the deepest recesses of my, admittedly small, paranoid suspicions, chewed it over for a few minutes before spitting it out, pointing at it and shouting it's name.
It's easy and common for blogs and mags to take cheap punts at why print might be in decline and to vehemently extol the virtues of mobile, digital text. Punting books is so old and tired, in fact, that even satires of the ubiquitous vehement extolling are growing tawdry. In the original article, Ehrenreich laments the bickering in the no-mans land the digital/print divide:
It is perhaps a symptom of print’s decline that the current conversation about the book’s demise has forgotten all these other ones. Instead we shuttle between two equally hollow poles: goofball digital boosterism a la Negroponte on one side and on the other a helpless, anguished nostalgia for the good old days of papercuts. Call it bibilionecrophilia: the retreat of the print-faithful into a sort of autistic fetishization of the book-as-object—as if Jeff Bezos could be convinced to lay e-profits aside by recalling for a moment the soft, woody aroma of a yellow-paged Grove Press paperback; as if there were nothing more to books than paper, ink, and glue.The decline of print as a medium for carrying content is inevitable, everyone, be you a faddy iPad-popper or some mad, finger ink-blackened, pale-skinned sociopath must accept this. Print will never truly die though. Bleakly, in a similar way to how the Ramones out-survived their own band and themselves through a t-shirt, print will never actually go away.
In years to come, we'll be seeing print relegated to a decorative object like a ship's compass or an hourglass - contemporarily-redundant, inefficient and outmoded by better, faster, cheaper ways of getting information. At 25fps for 17 seconds, a video of a seagull stealing a packet of crisps is worth 425,000 words - a 1,700 page novel. A novel that would take about 46.6 hours of solid reading to complete or 17 seconds to watch on YouTube.
The analogy is simple and thoughtless, but serves to highlight the perceived bilateral battleground of the future of text and set good ground for further research. Discussing the end of the codex is no simple thing, and it is the fault of booksellers and tech-columnists alike to over-simplify what we are pleased to call a phenomena.
All of our words for book refer, at root, to forms no longer recognizable as such: biblos being the Greek word for the pith of the papyrus stalk (on which texts in the Greco-Roman world were inscribed); libri being Latin for the inner bark of a tree, just as the Old English bóc and Old Norse bók referred to the beech tree. Likewise “tome” is from a Greek word for a cutting (of papyrus) and “volume” is from the Latin for a rolled-up thing—a scroll, which is the form most texts took until they were replaced by folded parchment codices. Prior to the late 13th century, when paper was first brought to Europe from China, the great works of Western civilization were recorded on the skins of animals. The Inca wrote by knotting strings. The ancient Chinese scrawled calligraphy on cliffs. (Do mountains count as books?) The printed, paper book, as we know it, dates only to the mid-fifteenth century, but those early Gutenberg exemplars were hardly something you’d curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The book as an affordable object of mass production—as something directly kin to the books that line our shelves—was not born until the 19th century, just in time for the early announcements of its death.And since about that time we've been looking at ways to hack what a book is and break it from the rigidity of it's form. It's easy and obvious to assume the malleability of text in digital form sets the reader 'free', where in fact the reader is constrained by a consciously designed progression of content, pre-decided by the designer or programmer. Espen Aarseth and N. Katherine Hayles both raise this in their books on the subject and others continue to point out the changing priorities within the reading machine - that of creator, medium, reader and content.
Aarseth perhaps raises the most erudite point, and perhaps the one that Kindle-bashers and gadget obssesives might both do well to bear in mind - that the medium is an 'ergonomic concern.'
Just as a film is useless without a projector and a screen, a text must consist of a material medium as well as a collection of words. The machine, of course, is not complete without a third party, the (human) operator and it is within this triad that text takes place.
Aokigahara forest is known as the most haunted place in Japan. This could be something to do with people going there to end their lives. Wataru Tsurumui described Aokigahara as ‘the perfect place to die’ in his bestselling book The Complete Manual of Suicide. In 1998, 73 bodies were found in the forest. In 2002, 78 bodies were found in the forest. By May of 2006, at least 16 new suicides had already been found. More than a few of them were even carrying copies of Tsurumui’s book. In 2003 the rate climbed to 100, and in recent years the local government has stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to downplay Aokigahara’s association with suicide. They think about 50 – 100 people go there each year to die.