The plan was to write much sooner. But where has this year gone?
I’m writing from the VCCA — an artist center/residency/colony in Virginia. I arrived as a fellow last Thursday and couldn’t be farther from “reality” if Musk himself had shot me to Mars. But let me say this: Having now been disconnected from social networks and news cycles for ten days, I find myself feeling significantly less insane. Is my heart heavy? Yes. It’s going to be heavy for a long time. But at least I feel sane(r).
That's my studio up there, above, in the photo. Light on, stars bright. Trying to keep my head down and take advantage of the gift of residency time. Eighteen days left.
On a random photography front: The husband of a novelist currently at VCCA happens to run a photography blog called The Strobist. Perhaps you’ve run into it? I had never heard of it, but I lost a few hours yesterday combing through the archives. It’s wonderful and inclusive and you should check it out if you have any interest in lighting.
(Man, Blogspot hasn't aged well. I always wonder what the best options are for folks like The Strobist who have built up so much content on a legacy system that isn't responsive … are Blogspot themes even updatable? What do you do about mobile access? Do you just trudge on?)
Koya Bound had a successful launch party last month at the Leica Salon in Ginza, Tokyo. Many thanks to the impressive number of people who attended. I think we breached 110, a new record for the rather modest salon. Champagne was guzzled, though Dan Rubin and I had nary a drop. By the time our talk was done, it was all gone. So it goes. (My general rule of thumb, anyway, when putting on an event is to avoid the drink.) We made up for it by taking a small chunk of the evening’s book sales and splurging on two beautifully poured glasses of top-shelf Japanese Whiskey at a little speakeasy nearby the salon. Delicious. And better than bubbly, anywho.
Just for you Roden Explorers, we’d like to offer up a slightly discounted Koya Bound. We’ve set aside twenty copies for sale at $10 off retail at this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/1907563/x/59885?secret_perk_token=8d51822b.
We guarantee arrival well in time for the holidays — in fact any orders this week should arrive by next week, most places in the world. All copies are numbered (x/1000) and signed.
(An aside: We didn't intent to use IndieGogo for sales but … it just works. And so we've stuck with it. They take quite the chunk (8%) but — mechanisms for refunds and order status and communication are all pretty smooth. And the page looks decent enough, and we can offer up these secret, limited tiers for special folk like you all. In the end, it's a shame Kickstarter doesn't offer the same service because we'd rather be sending them the sales cut, since they played a big part in getting this book into the world.)
Another fellow with me here at VCCA, Martirene Alcantara, has been producing incredible photographic work. Her "Myths" series is particularly arresting — graphic, geometric, stark. I love it.
Timeline thoughts: In the last ten days I’ve come to realize that I had long since disconnected from the core of Facebook — the Timeline.
I miss none of it and haven’t missed it in what feels like years. For a long while now, the Timeline seemed to have morphed from a playful way to keep up with friends to the worst of our vanities and insane fantasies — a series of thinly aspirational, superficial images and shared articles. (Is this just an issue of who my "friends" are?) People posting snippets of what they want others to think reality is — often reinforced, or doubly-clarified, embarrassingly, through hashtags (#blessed) — but not actually representative of the nuance of any real human life. (Is this too unfair?) The result seems to be a sort of anxiety inducing series of co-delusional loops, to which we all were co-conspirators, co-inducers. Black Mirror — new season — Episode 1. All potatoes, no protein.
I’m well aware that being a techno-pessimist is the lowest-energy-input position to take. (Fish in a barrel.) On the whole I'm optimistic, I swear! Indeed, there are parts of Facebook that are wonderful — Facebook Messenger seems to be the best made messaging client by a long shot. Group chats on Messenger keep me in touch with folks I love. I would miss it immediately were it to disappear tomorrow. And the platform does well in service to event organization — invitations, followup, etc. All “human-scale” things.
But the Timeline, now in hindsight — seeing what it’s capable of at its worst — has maybe always been a well intentioned second-rate actor taking on an impossible role. Superficial at best, caustic at worst.
Few of my truly busy, technologically savvy friends regularly use Facebook Timeline. So who does? Probably our moms. (Hi mom.) But perhaps most terrifyingly, the largest cohort of new Timeline users are those coming online in emergent economies. See my article earlier this year on the Facebook obsessed farmers in Myanmar for some first hand accounts of how seductive the Timeline can be, even for (perhaps especially for) those with no online fluency, touching the internet for the first time. If you think Americans are ripe targets for manipulation ...
Facebook Timeline: An endless sequence of low-grade dopamine hits, bias-reinforcement, half-baked-archetypes, non-realities, churning “news” produced by content farms writing only with an eye to spreadsheets and AdSense, 1.5 billion potential users/readers, the whole system now operating on a decidedly non-human scale, making it impossible to understand its edges or mechanisms. Phew. What a motherfucker of an invention.
(Makes me really wonder how the social networks in China are playing out, and what sort of gambling / addict optimized loops they're stuck in.)
If you're feeling overwhelmed by life, the universe, and everything, I recommend a break from social media. My plan was always to disconnect here at VCCA (it's how I roll at residencies, knowing how much of an online information addict I am). But in light of the last couple of weeks (months? years?), and the corrosive atmosphere everywhere you look, disconnection has never felt healthier. At the very least, deleting all the Buttons of Bullshit from your phone (Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram, Snapchat, etc) is a great first step. Anything to keep you from auto-feeding from the teats of info-vomit.
And the funny thing? Critical news still manages to get through! Emails. Conversations with others. Activism can — and does — happen without the indignation of Twitter giving you panic attacks.
This turned into a long, weird, missive, I know. Mea cupla. Too much time, not enough Bullshit Buttons to distract me. So here's my question to you: Have you really disconnected lately? And if so, what made you reconnect? I'm not sure I'm going back.
Lots of love from the fields of Virginia. And, really, if you think you deserve a break, you probably do. It's OK to step back and regroup.