Finding a Home

Anyone who’s ever spoken to me about the internets knows I’m a bit obsessed with the concept “n-1“. Lifted from the intro to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, the concept essentially represents an inversion of the Enlightenment analytic framework: rather than starting from a singular unit or object and building an understanding outward, one instead takes the always too-big multiple as a starting point and subtracts. The point is to not only foreground the numerous networks of relations that constitute the object, it also highlights the provisional nature of each analytic moment – that, in effect, the act of a reading is also an act of writing, a specific choice to arrange a system of relations in a certain way. In that act of arranging, one also must acknowledge the possibility of an alternative.

It works for so many things: for a kind of phenomenology of Twitter; the logic of the database; understanding how digital has changed the idea of “the collection”; and so on ad infinitum.

I’m wondering, though, if I haven’t reached a kind of limit in my personal embrace of n-1.

I only say this because of a feeling of dislocation lately. For years, I’ve spoken about immersing myself in the web’s ceaseless flow – of the glut of RSS feeds, the rushing stream of Twitter, or the never-ending cluster of tabs. Well-managed, that’s all and fine and good. It just takes a well-tuned ability to focus on what’s important to oneself, and quickly and efficiently cast off what is not.

But I now realize that, at least for someone like myself, that kind of decentred approach in which one is constantly left attempting to constitute a relationship to the sea of information – orienting oneself not only ideologically, but pragmatically in terms of ‘the attention economy’ – can be draining. It can be overwhelming. I’ve recently found myself paralyzed, partly because I’m always seeing so many different sides of things, but also because uttering an opinion – something I have to do to pay the bills – often takes the form of attempting to get all sides of an argument right. I find it leaves me stretched – as if I am writing as a mythical neutral character rather than myself.

It’s as if what I need is a centre – or something like a home.

A home is a space of self-definition, or a way to anchor oneself. It is a metaphor for an outlook, an ideological position, a social grouping, or an identity. It must, lest it descend into dogmatism or rigidity, be a porous concept. And for many, finding such a space specifically online would be unnecessary, because their lives are not lacking that belonging. Mine, however, happens to. And I realized that I was missing a home – a locus from which to speak outward, rather than constantly attempting to find my footing on a sand dune constantly slipping away from itself.

All of this is a very long-winded way to say that Snarkmarket, that bastion of optimism and smarts, is cranking up again, and has expanded beyond its core triumvirate of Tim Carmody, Robin Sloan, and Matt Thompson to include, oh, about 20 or 30 other members of the Snarkmatrix, including me. Already there’s a few fascinating posts up with very cool comment threads. The whole thing feels very retro and very pleasant, and I’ve been finding myself feeling not only more invigorated, but also just a bit calmer: as if what I needed wasn’t more organization, or more self-control, or less distraction – but simply to have a place or community in which I felt like I belonged.

The Future of Reading: Bookfuturism

As Tim says in this introductory post to Bookfuturism, there have been few spaces for people who are: a) interested in the future of reading; b) refuse to engage with either an overly conservative ‘books are the basis of humanity’ rhetoric or a ‘books are obsolete artifacts of the past’ one. This void is what Bookfuturism seeks to fill. As he suggests about this artificial, polemical battle between supporters of musty old books or flashy new screens:

They both LIKE arguing against the other. A more sophisticated point-of-view — which is also not just that of the distinterested critic, or the market watcher, or the tech insider — where is the space for that, really? Where is the community? Bookfuturists refuse to endorse either of these fantasies of “the end of the book” — what Jacques Derrida calls “the end as destruction” or “the end as telos or achievement.” We are trying to map an alternative position that is both more self-critical and more engaged with how technological change is actively affecting our culture.

While I don’t think I yet know enough or am articulate enough to contribute directly to the discussion, I know I’ll be reading and occasionally leaving some of my classically off-topic, rambling comments. What I’m most interested in these days is whether electronic reading will attempt to morph the form of the book for electronic purposes or if, instead, we’ll see that the book remains something attached to models of print and it’s notion of a text contained between two covers with an emphasis on narrative cohesion.

Anyway, exciting stuff! Looking forward to it. The home page of site is here.

Those Who Look in from the Future

We are, it seems, concerned with the future. Somewhere in the background of all this noise, there is the lingering sense that something about our time is special. Not unique, per se; all times are unique. Rather, it seems that we are in the midst of something big and, as the world around us collapses noiselessly, we slip, silently, from one moment in human history to the next.

This is a transitionary era that one day will fade into the gaps between the pages of a history text. As the age of the book gives way to the age of the screen, the early twenty-first century may simply be a blip, a time when the future was born and the past was forgotten, and no-one will remember us and the work we’ve done to build it, to coax it from its tremulous, hidden beginnings into the light. And when we’ve succeeded, when we’ve painfully laid our past to rest – when we’ve written our names on manuscripts no one will remember how to read – metaphors about pages in books… well, they will cease to mean anything at all.

It’s three in the morning, so you’ll have to forgive terribly flowery, diffuse prose (and no, I wasn’t serious about that last line. It was just a gesture to… something). Still – this thought occurred to me yesterday: my favourite bloggers and blogs are those who write about the present from the perspective of the future. Naturally, there’s a bit of metaphor at work there. But you get what I mean, right? A certain sort of resistance to old certainties. A free-wheeling, fearless abandonment of the things we hold dear. My new definition of courage: the self-effacing Twitter-stream that, like the text of identity it produces, evaporates and re-forms, evaporates and re-forms.

Want examples? Well, look at:

  • The way Robin, Matt and Tim write about the fringes and edges of a world about to move into the centre.
  • The way Rex has created a post-everything world in which so much has collapsed into a Bakhtinian, carnivalesque rewriting of the things we knew.
  • The way Matthew writes about game design as if it already had a hundred-year history – and he were merely adding the finishing touches.
  • The way Diana, often beautifully, thinks about what it means to “to live in a liminal state between the screen and the sensory world”.
  • Or the manner in which, I imagine, Kevin Kelly sits in a cool glass fortress, occasionally slipping into his time machine, returning, and then throwing out snippets and crumbs so that, for a moment, we catch a glimpse of what is just ’round the corner.

It’s late and I’m tired and I still have to rewrite an intro to a column. But this seemed like an idea worth putting down. Anyone want to add anything?