Weeknotes 11

Some News

I got back from doing the New Dawn talk in the Netherlands at the weekend. had a good time and was turned on to the work of John Paul Flintoff who sometimes works with the School of Life. If you can, I'd highly recommend checking it out. 

Secondly, I'm going to be teaching a summer school in Split, Croatia on the networked city at the end of August. I think they've got all the applicants in but you can get a feel of it here.


Following a freedom of information request regarding the US governments policy on intercepting text messages, the American Civil Liberties Union received a 100% redacted document from the government. They wryly point out how this stands with Obama's claim of having an "unprecedented level of openness in government" from the "most transparent administration in history."

The Song of IBM

My father worked for IBM most of his life and so I was amused to come across this un-sinister hymn book while filling in time doing something or other. IBM is one of the few tech companies that I can kind of see as 'clean.' They don't seem to have designs on taking over the world at the moment, though this may be informed by paternal bias. 

Larry Page

Larry Page is definitely sinister. At a very rare press conference he recently said that he'd like to essentially live in Ayn Rand's libertarian utopia and perform experiment on children. He didn't say that but he might as well of. He wants a lawless zone where Google can be free to flex their muscles.

I've passed comment a few times about the slide of Google form the future of democratised humanity, freeing ourselves and giving us a new corporate face to turning into one of the most sinister entities in existence. They're at a stage where you just feel them hunkering down like a malignant beast testing the boundaries and finding them to be very thin.

 Start The Week...

Further sticking with the Google theme, Honor Harger of Lighthouse fame went toe to toe with Eric Schmidt on Radio 4's start the week. It's a good listen with some memorable soundbites that were resonating around twitter for a few days after.

Disposition Matrix

Even more sinisterism from James Bridle's flickr stream with an image of the Disposition Matrix literally laid out.The Disposition Matrix is the US's uber-kill list which also includes guidelines and frameworks on the assassination and rendition of enemies of the current administration.

The plan expanded the CIA to have it's own paramilitary force of drones it can operate in friendly territory without and clearance, gives permission to the use of 'enhanced interrogation.' A lot of the drivers for the matrix however are about offsetting responsibility. It's clouded through the use of drones as the weapons and then an obscure chain of command that makes it hard to decipher who exactly is in charge of what and where the gilt for sort of semi-legally murdering people without trial should go.


Also, do check out James Bridle talking about his work at Lighthouse with his new piece Under The Shadow of The Drone just finished. He has some really interesting reflections on the Disposition Matrix too.

Design Beyond Production at Z33

Some great photos by Kristof Vrancken from the opening of the Design Beyond Production show at Z33 in Hasselt featuring Mercenary Cubiclists.
The show is on for a while, go check it out. If you're in Hasselt, Belgium.





An Unintelligble Formality

'A formality is no less sacred for being unintelligible.'

In between other things I've been cracking through Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.  It's not a hard read and I'd really recommend it, filled as it is with characters sinister, eccentric and melancholic in a world equal to them. More specifically this world is the crumbling castle of Gormenghast. In this sense the novels are microcosmic. The world is a stage as they say, and this world is Gormenghast and we can read into the various characters messages about our world. Fundamentally the book deals with change and the melancholic resistance to it. Gormenghast is steeped in tradition and ritual but all of them are meaningless. Every day, Sepulchrave, the ailing patriarch of the limited cast of characters, must perform curious, archaic rituals like scratching a moon on a certain door or looking at a certain thing at a certain time. Or walking a certain corridor. Or standing in one place for a few hours. This is watched over by the ever-attentive Master of Ritual, a role filled by various characters throughout the progress of the story, last of all the Machiavellian and malignantly elegant Steerpike (pictured).

Steerpike is our primary agent of change. It's here that the old, crumbling, unquestioned decay of the castle comes up against its first weevil of discord. Gormenghast, even as it has decayed over the centuries from whatever forgotten role it once had, is infinite. The very concept of change or rebellion is not only unthinkable, it simply doesn't exist. There is no alternative that a comparison could be drawn upon and desires formed and so the rituals continue. Gormenghast is an isolated island of timlessness. A begrudging melancholia seizes all the characters, ultimately they all work for the sake of it, for the ritual and because a formality is no less sacred for being unintelligible. 

There's something magnetic about this phrase that appears about three-quarters of the way through the first book - Titus Groan. It manages to convey a respect of the stubborn that seems somehow romantic. I'm not sure where Peake's ideological loyalties lie. It's clear that Steerpike and the other agents are the various insidious forces of change that gripped post-war Europe when the books were being written - Commintern most of all. Just before this phrase Steerpike waxes rhetoric on the importance of equality to bring fairness while absent-minedly picking the legs off a beetle in a clear and simple parody of the Stalinism gripping Eastern Europe. Yet here we are, as readers with sympathy only for the melancholic 'old guard' running though choreographed rituals of long forgotten meaning simply because they must be done. Because that is the law.

An obvious and equally seemingly pointless ritualistic culture to draw comparisons to would be the Pacific cargo cults. Here, island civilisations would attempt to recreate the airbases of the US military - planes, parades and all - in order to call back the gift of cargo and the supplies it brought. There are differing definitions here though. The cargo cults hope for a result. The rituals carry with them the hope of an answer from the 'other.' In Gormenghast, the meanings are forgotten, the rituals exist for their own sake. 

Some cargo cults are still running strong and it might be that as time progresses and technologically advanced civilisation penetrates these cultures deeper, they might maintain these archaic rituals while the meaning, the history, even the technology of planes and parades is forgotten and all that remains is the unintelligible formality.

We could even scale this up, The Near Future Laboratory have a couple of projects looking roundly at this but I'm interested in what happens further afield, in wider systems when something like say... the nation state just becomes an unintelligible formality which no one can remember what exactly it is for beyond its branding and history and these rituals continue ad infinitum.

Sum ego sic dico...

Weeknotes 10; Loads of videos edition

Google Glass Again

Everyone's kind of losing their shit about Google Glass again. It's been paraded around recently a lot at tech conferences and there's been a recent renaissance in the art of Google Glass trolling seeing as the whole thing will be voice activated and some stuff about how counter-intuitive and downright annoying it is as an interface.

Next 13 Berlin

Talking of tech conferences and parading Google Glass, Bruce Sterling has produced what I think and a lot of people are calling his most seminal talk to date. It's a little like watching a viper go medieval in a kitten shop but in a really good way. He also basically reads through my bio at the beginning which is kind of nice.

Anab Jain's talk should be up sometime in the next few weeks but for now she's uploaded the slides and some notes to the Superflux blog.

Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?

Talking of kittens, last weekend I went on down to see Metahaven launch their new ebook Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? I found myself sat curiously divided. One part of me admires them for trying to introduce some critical debate into graphic design but at the same time that debate is somewhat childish and frankly... ugly. They keep referring to 'enemies' like there's a grand conspiracy somewhere and using other vernacular artifacts of the system they purport to want to undermine. At the same time, it's a pretty funny essay (let's not say book, it isn't) and has some wry and interesting observations about the connections between humour and the state.

You can get the idea of what I mean in this short Abitare interview below where they say 'Wikileaks is all about transparency' without any apparent irony.

New Mumbai is in Goldsmiths, Mercenary Cubiclists is at Z33

Yes, New Mumbai is being exhibited at Goldsmiths for a few weeks so go have a look and from tomorrow, Mercenary Cubiclists will be on show with Z33 for a few months so if you're ever in Hasselt that's one to check out to. Maybe.

Domus Interview

And here I am, about halfway though giving some words over about that very project. Largely incomprehensible and I wonder whether that's their editing or the fact that it was freezing cold and I couldn't work my mouth properly. The video won't embed so technically this is an image but it links to the movie.


Chatting about design education.

Also, while I was in Milan I did an event with Abitare where I chatted a little about design education, the role of exhibitions, the Internet and the exciting possibilities of MOOCs. Here's that video:


At the weekend, myself and Justin Pickard played host to the London edition of The Governance Futures Lab's Reconstitutional Convention. Lots of exciting things happened, lots of constructive arguments were had, afterwards much alcohol was drunk. Here's a link to the site with some of the results. Actually screw it, I'll embed a load of stuff and write some notes. This is my blog and I can do what I want.

The Department of No. with James Bridle and Sascha Pohflepp role-played a slightly larger version of the Department of No. by critiquing deceptive financial weaponisation with an elaborate scheme to sneak a particle accelerator under New York.

David Chatting, Simon Ings and Lydia Nicholas worked out a psychotropic LSD-driven, semi-anarchic, non-data future in complete rebellion to the harmonious Californian dream. An education system that graded you up to add responsibility in measured doses and targets.

Georgina Voss and Krisztina Katona developed the idea of the Blue Box, again in complete rebellion to the Californian ideal. A space for people and politicians to have a few therapuetic thoughts about who they are and why they're there made of shipping containers.

And lastly team Superflux with Re Dubhthaigh developed a subscription state in common with their underlying resentment of a certain Ms. May. Different gradients of subscription remove or enforce citizen's obligations to each other.

Right so there you go. I even linked all the names. There's some photos here too.

Interesting Words

The Great Facebook Exodus Has Begun - Peak Facebook and how it's all getting a bit silly now really. 
Lady Liberty's Watching You - Statue of Liberty to get brand new super hi-tech surveillance stuff.
Austerity Opposition Goes Mainstream - What do we do with it now?

Until next time.