This Ain’t Walden Pond, Mate

Generic blog post about turning shit off.

A ways back, Venkatesh Rao coined the term waldenponding.

The crude caricature is “smash your smart phone and go live in a log cabin to reclaim your attention and your life from being hacked by evil social media platforms.” It is less of a caricature than you might think.

The above is drawn from the long and contrarian essay he wrote about it, AGAINST WALDENPONDING. How contrarian?

as an attitudinal foundation for relating to society and technology, Waldenponding is, I am convinced, a terrible philosophy at both a personal and collective level. It’s a world-and-life negation. A kind of selfish free-riding/tragedy of the commons: not learning to handle your share of the increased attention-management load required to keep the Global Social Computer in the Cloud (GSCITC) running effectively.

Oh yeah. I have recently noted that Venkatesh has muttered darkly about becoming a “post-Twitter being” and has locked his account, so I’m guessing he’s trying out the other side of his hellish joke. You should read the whole thing – it’s unfettered vantablack comedy.

Everybody’s made excellent points, now well-trodden, about offlining as privilege and privilege-signal. And, at the end of the day, I’m a freelance writer, and I can’t go completely offline forever.

What I can do is recognise step-changes in my career and adjust accordingly.

I always encourage everyone to tune the tools at hand until they work for the individual’s specific situation. This is something that’s gotten harder and weirder in the contemporary moment, because monolithic enterprises have grown from the financialised mechanic of making you miserable. To the point where, now, everyone does it. Here’s a whole bit from a newsletter I sent the other week:

I was going to just stick a bunch of photos of my shelves in here, but that felt like cheating, and repeating the point that streaming media doesn’t serve everybody and social media is boring. I went out of town during the week, didn’t check social media once and only listened to downloaded podcasts or music I own separately from services like Apple and Amazon. When I got home, I threw up my Tweetdeck lists on the big screen in the office as usual, and it did not appear that anything had changed in the intervening 24 hours. Except that maybe it becomes clearer that serious testing has informed all media companies that making you angry, sad or confused rrrrrreally brings the clicks home.

“Melbourne dog attack leaves boy with serious facial injuries.” Is this world news suitable for placing into your global Twitter feed, The Guardian? No.  World-class news story there – dog bites somebody.  But it will make people sad and angry, right?  “Megan Rapinoe: Can a pink-haired lesbian be an American hero?” That’s from BBC World News.  And someone has actually thought about that, because it invites Ian Betteridge’s “law” – any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.  So, angry and confused and sad.  All the clicks.  You would kind of hope The Guardian and the BBC would do better – the BBC isn’t even “a business” as is commonly framed, it’s a public-funded national entity, the oldest and largest broadcaster on the planet, and it does not need to show its arse for clicks.

(I wrote all this last night while v tired, and was going to delete it this morning, and then BBC News South East lead out with “two puppies die in fire” so fuck it)

And that’s just the social media-facing corporations. That doesn’t even take individual actors into account. The Global Social Computer in the Cloud — which, as ever, is mostly just people hired to sit in badly lit rooms and slave themselves out for data entry – is just noise. Murky, immiserating noise that demands sorting-braincycles that I can put to better use elsewhere.

I process a lot of stuff, and keep up with a lot of things, and a shift is required to allow for the career step-change. You can’t be dogmatic about anything. Situations tend to be fluid and dynamic, and you need to be able to flow and adjust in response.

I’ve been filling my office with DVDs and Blu-Rays and CDs for reasons.

I’ve killed all social media notifications, moved IG to a folder at the back of my phone where I will quickly forget about it, deleted some of its more egregious news apps (bye, New York Times) and generally turned stuff off. I’m not doing that thing of “making a dumbphone” or greying out the screen. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I am likely to have to appear more present on some services in the immediate future, but I’ll be doing that in as mediated, buffered and time-shifted a way as possible. This is a whole new stage of gone for me, and we’ll see how it goes.

And this whole post has really just been a way to lay it all out in front of me so I can see it properly.

How I Nearly Died

While I’m telling stories, I don’t think I ever told this one.

Four years ago, I woke up and the right side of my body was dead. Couldn’t move it. Couldn’t feel it. My right lung wasn’t working. Vision was weird in my right eye. Confused. I sleep on the right side of the bed. I couldn’t get out of bed. Flopped around like a dying fish. Tried to yell for help for a while. Which would not have immediately done me any good because nobody was home at that precise point. Someone came home ten minutes later. Breathing was becoming interesting at that point, but I managed to make enough sound to summon help.

I was helped out of bed. I was fully aphasic at that point. Two minutes later, I was fine. Very weird. But I thought, shit, I better go to the hospital, right? I was clearly still confused, because it didn’t occur to me to call an ambulance. I packed a bag and went to the hospital under my own steam. Checked in at the counter, gave them a full report of the experience, and sat down to wait to be seen. Sixty seconds later it happened again. It took three people to wrestle me into a wheelchair and transport me into the room. I was conscious but aphasic and the right side of my body was dead. Five minutes later, I was compos mentis enough to understand that I was being conveyed to the Acute Stroke Unit.

I was there three days.

On the first day, I was told I’d had a massive stroke.

On the second day, they told me it was a trans-ischemic attack, which was explained to me as an early warning for a stroke.

On the third day, they told me they had no idea what the hell had happened to me, because there was no trace of stroke or TIA and you can’t cure a stroke by standing up, and so they named it a Miscellaneous Neurological Event and sent me home.

Now, fifteen years previously, I’d had what they believed to have been a high blood pressure event (although it turned out at least one visiting doctor thought it was a brain tumour and had told my partner to call him if I was still alive in the morning) that rendered me mostly unconscious for some six weeks. So, yeah, this wasn’t the first time I nearly died. This one did give some clarity. It’s not high blood pressure, it’s “massively fluctuating” blood pressure, in tandem with acute hypertensive stress and some physiological fluke wherein the pressure surge or drop happens across a cluster of nerves that control or affect a bunch of stuff in the right side of my body. Basically, if my stress reaches a certain point, it trips an Off Button.

“You’re young to have hypertensive stress this bad,” said the consultant.

“Hi, I’ve been a freelance writer for twenty-five years,” I said.

I’ve had a few brushes with it since. And, frankly, the last couple of weeks haven’t been great. Anything that smells of threat or crisis, the numb patches start appearing and I get vertigo and blurred vision. But, so far, I haven’t needed to be back at the hospital for more than a day, so we live in home that we have the procedures to calm it until it’s fully understood.

I remain a source of frustration to doctors, because they can’t figure out how the mechanism works. Until they do, all I can do is carry the meds that’ll save me if I can get to them, and try to avoid stress.

Hi, I’m a freelance writer and producer who works in television and comics. How do we think that’s working out?

So that’s how I nearly died, that time. Hopefully the next one will be nearly too.

My Kevin Smith Story

I had drinks with a screenwriter earlier today, and the subject of Kevin Smith came up, so I told him my Kevin Smith story. It occurred to me on the train home that I’ve never told this in public before, so here it is.

I don’t know Kevin Smith. Never met him, spoke to him, or communicated with him. I was given to understand, many many many years ago, that he was a bit pissed off with an offhand comment I made in an interview one time. So that’s the context.

This is all, as I say, many years ago. This guy emails me and says, my best friend’s in the hospital and it doesn’t look like he’s going to come out again. And he loves all Kevin Smith’s stuff. He works in comics like you, and you guys all know each other, so is there a way to, I dunno, get a letter from Kevin Smith for my friend, or a phone call, or a signed something, I dunno?

I don’t know Kevin Smith. I did meet Joe Quesada about five years previous, and I don’t know him as such at that point, and I don’t have a relationship with him, but I do have an email address for him, and I know he knows Kevin Smith. So I send the email to Joe and say, I know we don’t really know each other, but would you be okay with forwarding this to Kevin Smith?

A few months later, I get an email saying, I’m the guy whose best friend was in the hospital. And here’s what happened.

Joe, who had no reason to read any email from me, saw the email and with huge kindness forwarded the email to Kevin Smith. Kevin Smith has no reason to read an email with my name on it either.

Kevin Smith stands up, makes some calls, gets on a plane, flies all the way across America and goes to the hospital and spends an entire day with the guy’s best friend.

I still don’t know Kevin Smith, and have never spoken to him, but here’s what I know about Kevin Smith. He stands the fuck up.

And that’s my Kevin Smith story.

The Polite Landscape

I was thinking about cave lions.  These were British lions that were the size of a car, that haunted Britain ten thousand years ago.   And by haunted, I mean the myth of the British lion extends into Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden.  And by myth I mean the persistent story of a wild British countryside.  Lions and brown bears, aurochs and lynxes and wolves.  The brown bear vanished in the Dark Ages, and the wolf was going while Shakespeare was writing As You Like It.  The Tarpan horse was gone before people started walking the Ridgeway.  The Neolithic enclosure was permanently altering the landscape millennia before the Enclosures Act. This is why people talk about rewilding, and why, in A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE, Martin Shaw talks about having to go halfway up Mount bloody Snowdon to find “wilderness.”  It’s a small island, heavily managed for many thousands of years, and nature long ago became a story we tell ourselves while we tramp down footpaths and national trails on the powdered bones of giant lions.  

(originally written 16 October 2014, recovered from morning.computer)

Heart Of The Island

Yesterday I had a meeting at the British Library.  I was expecting a sit-down in a side office.  Instead, I was conveyed down into the guts of the building.  

It has several sub-basement levels, not all of which are accessible on all the lift shafts. The ceilings are ribboned with conveyor belts, which transport materials from all over the building to the reading and listening rooms in the public library.  The red trays on the conveyor travel at about a mile an hour — it can take forty-five minutes to transport any one requested article — because some of the Library’s materials are too fragile to survive any faster movement.  

In a sealed room sits a signed recording of James Joyce reading from ULYSSES, preserved in conditions approaching that of Mars.

I saw twenty-inch vinyl records made for the armed forces by NBC, handled Edison wax cylinders, and met an engineer trying to pull a digital transfer off a 78 made out of gelatin and glass.  Great marches of travelling racks full of music, scripts, radio capture and field recording.  It’s only being there that drives home that they keep everything.  

The cultural breath of the whole country, and every form of culture that enters it — it all goes here.

I didn’t want to leave. It was like living in the heart of perfect Albion for a moment.  

(originally written 28 Oct 2015, recovered from morning.computer)

Stormlight

I took this last week, just before the storm hit, just as the sun was dropping.

I’ve fallen behind on doing much of anything here, due to work and life, and also the iOS app developing a weird bug which meant I had to delete and reload it. Frankly, I’m a bit crispy around the edges, and I’m going to grab four or five days later this month where I don’t have to turn on the phone or open the laptop, and everyone else can just wait a fucking minute.

So, my single reader, I’m sorry there’s been nothing here, but please enjoy this photo of (look up) probably just air pollution

Printernet Notebook, Non-Networked

A little while back, I said to myself:

I’ve been thinking about buying one of those mini-printers that bluetooth to your phone and let you print out little 2-inch x 3-inch Zink photos with sticky backs. So I could just take a photo of something, print it off and stick it in my notebook, with the digital original waiting to be backed off into an external drive later.

In May, what I did was buy myself a Canon Selphy printer. (UK) (US)

It’s a small desktop machine that pumps out archival quality prints. I would have liked a smaller and more portable option, but those Zink prints are basically faxes and will fade out in ten years.

You can equip the Selphy with a credit-card sized paper (which requires a different tray and different print cartridge, which is kind of bullshit, but I was mired in approximately 220 pages of screenwriting and said fuckit).  Putting photos on my website, or on IG, and backing them off into Dropbox or an external drive is fine. But I thought to myself, well, why don’t I just save some images for myself and paste them into the notebook?

This one was absolutely a note to self – a first experiment in infusing weird Mongolian vodka with organic cinnamon sticks. The date means “don’t forget about this!”

Because some things should just be for me, maybe. Or maybe leafing through old notebooks and discovering these will give me pleasure in years to come. Or, perhaps, just wanting to countermand that twitch of — I took a photo, I’ll sling to it to my private Instagram so a couple of hundred people can see/ignore it. Which is fine. But I like putting things back on my own terms, not obeying a twitch. And, I guess, it’s a sign to myself that I am off the social streams, not feeding the services the fruits of every little twitch, and specifically allowing syndication systems to release complete statements into the wild.

Category jotter is for fragments and randoms, and now I’ve connected two fragments up. Previously: Antisocial Network System Printernet

On Pause

WordPress Special Projects got in touch and we’re trying some stuff. Back soon.

On This Return To WordPress

This whole thing can continue to be filed under “Remember when this stuff used to just work?”

Reader, you will have noticed that I’ve swapped out the theme here a couple of times. The first time, it was because a theme update (Meks Typology) fucked itself up in a handful of ways, and because Jetpack updates would fail catastrophically and take the whole website offline, requiring me to FTP into the site and manually delete the Jetpack plugin and the thousands of busted files it would litter into the system. I went to a simple theme called Uncluttered. Jetpack seemed to behave, but the theme was broken and would only display images on the first page of posts. So I went to another simple theme that did not do this. And then the next Jetpack update busted the whole site. So I did some reading. Because I totally have time for all this.

My hosting is what’s called “Managed WordPress.” WordPress works on top of language called PHP. Media Temple’s “Managed WordPress” service sits on PHP that… well, the current version of PHP is 7.2.0. The version of PHP my site sits on is 5.2.1. It’s ten years old.

WordPress has a Site Health tool. This shows me that my copy of WordPress cannot actually write to something like twenty parts of itself. Guess which parts? Most of them seem to end with .php. Background updates don’t work and neither do scheduled events. Why do we care about background updates? “Background updates ensure that WordPress can auto-update if a security update is released for the version you are currently using.” Yyyyyyeah. That.

This would seem to be why shiny new versions of Jetpack arriving into shiny current versions of WordPress hit my hosting and explode.

I asked my hosting company about this. They may or may not update the Managed WordPress PHP install in the future.

You’ve already fallen asleep. At this point in the history of online publishing, we passed the threshold of absurdity a few paragraphs back. Media Temple are a good hosting company. They keep uptime. They don’t gouge me. They’re responsive. But this is what personal publishing appears to be deprecated to.

I’m sure the arcane masters of handrolled Indieweb, who remain incapable of communicating in colloquial English, are having a good laugh at all this.

I like WordPress. I’ve used it for many things for many years. I like the mobile app and the flexibility it gives me in posting from my phone in my preferred formats. But I am starting to regret not trying to make a blot.im instance work for my needs.

I’ve liked being here and doing this. But I may have to shut it off and start again. Or? If it really does require hours a week of deleting exploded files and sacrificing something to Satan every time I click a button? Just shutting it off. I came back to blogging too late, and shit stopped working.