2019: The year in review – Part 2: Blogging

In some ways 2019 was very successful for SLS; we posted a total of 66 pieces, making it our most productive year since 2010. On closer examination though, it can be seen that practically all these posts addressed UK politics, specifically the Brexit question, and that very few of them were particularly insightful, serving mainly as an outlet for my angst about the increasingly desperate situation rather than providing any useful analysis of it. As the year closes I’m still in a state of post-election paralysis; it may be some time before that passes.

Anyway, here are our ten most-read posts of the year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Questionable things
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. Irresolute
  5. There is no land beyond the Volga
  6. Two Galleries
  7. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  8. Incassable
  9. Won’t you please be my friend?
  10. Maintaining perspective

The demographics post has been a reliable chart-topper since it was published back in 2010, but the rest of the list is a rather inexplicable mix of old and new.

Here are my personal favourites from this year, in chronological order:

And, for completeness, a note of our international appeal. We had visitors from 34 countries; here are the top ten:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. United States
  3. India
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. China
  7. Netherlands
  8. Australia
  9. Japan
  10. Mexico

That’s a little less Euro-centric than in previous years, somewhat ironic given that most of our content in the last twelve months has been about Europe, but perhaps it’s just a sign of the more detached future that the country faces.

Things may change, but we’re still here, looking forward to the next decade with some trepidation, but mostly optimistic that humanity will continue its progressive course, despite any temporary setbacks. A Happy New Year to all our readers, and we’ll see you in 2020.

2019: The year in review – Part 1: Culture

Here’s our look back on our most notable cultural experiences of the year; the full list is, as ever, on our Tumblr.

Film – I’ve started going to the cinema regularly again over the last few months, mainly matinee shows at the multiplex, but a few trips to the arthouse too. I liked Ad Astra, Knives Out, and Rolling Thunder Review, but my favourites were the monochrome Bait, an expressionist tale of class conflict in Cornwall, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s flawed but ultimately beguiling portrait of late-60s California.

Books – I’ve read less than I would have liked this year, mainly because I spent a lot of time obsessing over the news, which, for much of 2019, was not unlike a melodramatic potboiler, though surely one that any editor would have rejected as implausibly plotted. Of the actual fiction that I did get through I thought the best was Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is In Trouble, though I felt it was a bit more predictable than many of the reviews suggested. I enjoyed the poetic memoir of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Little Boy, and caught up with some historical reportage; Vasily Grossman’s notes from the eastern front in WW2, collected in A Writer at War, and Svetlana Alexievich’s anthology of first-hand female accounts of the same conflict, The Unwomanly Face of War, easily one of the most moving works I have ever read.

Music – no big changes in my musical taste this year; here are my top ten albums, in the order I bought them:

  • Get Tragic – Blood Red Shoes
  • Remind Me Tomorrow – Sharon Van Etten
  • Lung Bread For Daddy – Du Blonde
  • Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood
  • Stranger Things – Yuck
  • Joanthology – Joan As Police Woman
  • Any Human Friend – Marika Hackman
  • Dolphine – Mega Bog
  • Life’s An Illusion – The Sorry Kisses
  • No Home Record – Kim Gordon

I probably listened to Joanthology more than anything else, but it is a retrospective; my favourite of the original releases was Lung Bread For Daddy. I didn’t go to as many concerts as usual this year; but the two I did manage were great – Laura Gibson and Marika Hackman.

I’m planning to keep up my weekly cinema trips, at least until the winter is over, and I definitely want to start reading more fiction, though I guess I say that every year. It would do me good to step off the treadmill of trying to keep up with all the news, all the time, and just slow down a little – I did manage that for a while over the summer, but events drew me in again, as we’ll see in part 2 of our annual review, when we look back at the year in blogging.

2018: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

We’ll start with the facts; our top ten posts of the year, by traffic:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. Five Hundred
  5. There is no land beyond the Volga
  6. From Off the Streets of Cleveland
  7. The future is now
  8. Drone on
  9. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  10. On Second Life and addiction

As has been the case for the last few years most of these are from the archive; the demographics piece is perennially popular, but I have no idea why some of the other posts are still getting hits, years after they were published. Three entries from 2018 did make it onto the list, including our look back over our first 500 posts, and what I thought was our best piece of the year, my reflection on the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin. I can’t say that any of our other posts were particularly noteworthy, except perhaps our celebration of Marx’s birthday, or our obituary for Pete Shelley.

We received visitors from 47 countries, the same as last year, but down a bit from the global reach we had back in the day; here are the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. China
  5. India
  6. Germany
  7. Belize
  8. Australia
  9. Portugal
  10. France

These are more or less the places we have always been popular, apart from Belize, from where we had an inexplicable surge of traffic for a couple of months in the summer. I’d like to think that there’s a small community of hard-core SLS fans hiding out in the Central American rainforest, but I guess it’s more likely to have been Russian hackers trying to infiltrate WordPress to subvert the US midterm elections or something.

Readers will have noticed that this blog has undergone something of a renaissance in the past few weeks; we’ve posted more pieces in the last month than we managed in the previous eleven. This has been fuelled by anxiety; as we’ve noted a couple of times in the past blogging can be a therapeutic response to situations that are outwith our control. Since there is no indication that the political crisis is going to get any better in the new year, I expect our current purple patch will continue for a while yet.

So, on that sort-of-happy note, I’ll wish you all a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

2018: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Time for our annual run through my cultural highlights of the year – as usual everything is on our Tumblr.

Music – buying records has become my main cultural pursuit over the last few years; I’m fortunate enough to have the resources to purchase anything that catches my fancy, and, since nothing is more than a click away these days, I do get a lot. That said, the stuff I actually end up listening to regularly doesn’t tend to vary that much. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten albums of the year:

  • Floating Features – La Luz
  • Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
  • Goners – Laura Gibson
  • Quit the Curse – Anna Burch
  • Future Me Hates Me – The Beths
  • Paycheck – Pip Blom
  • Fall into the Sun – Swearin’
  • Possible Dust Clouds – Kristin Hersh
  • Clean – Soccer Mommy
  • The Lookout – Laura Veirs

I kept up a fairly regular rhythm of gig-going; my favourite show was Parquet Courts, though La Luz and The Beths were a lot of fun too.

Film – I had a pile of DVDs I wanted to watch this year, but didn’t get around to; I don’t seem to have the time, or perhaps the attention span, to sit through a whole movie very often these days. Of the few I did see, The Love Witch was my favourite. My few cinema trips were mostly social affairs – I saw The Greatest Showman, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, neither of which I would have chosen to go to alone, but both of which I enjoyed unironically. Far and away the best film I saw all year though was one I did go to see of my own volition – Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

Books – I’ve been reading a lot about existential philosophy in the last half of the year, no doubt because I’m getting older, and struggling more with the absurdity of life. Mostly it’s been articles in places like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but also The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus, and de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity. It’s not an area that I was unfamiliar with, though I hadn’t read much of the original material before, but it does seem a lot more relevant now than it did when I was in my 20s. My fiction highlights were completing my annual volume of Proust, The Sweet Cheat Gone (only one more to go for the set), belatedly catching up with Shark and Phone, the sequels to my favourite book of 2013, Will Self’s Umbrella, and taking a rare dive into poetry with one of the Booker Prize nominees, The Long Take, by Robin Robertson. My favourite read of the year though was more existentialism; Simone de Beauvoir’s 1954 novel The Mandarins. Although the questions debated by the characters in the book may seem to be dated – there’s a lot about the Soviet Union – the underlying message, of the responsibility we have to engage in political activity to at least try to change the world, couldn’t be more relevant in today’s troubled times.

Next up: The Year in Blogging.

2017: The Year in Review – Part 2: Culture

While posts on this blog have been a little sparse this year, I have managed to keep our Tumblr up to date, providing a handy list of all my cultural experiences over the last 12 months; here are my personal highlights:

Music – I’ve been steadily buying more records every year since I gave up my fixation with physical objects and started downloading albums back in 2014, so picking out my favourites has been getting harder; this is a fairly arbitrary top ten for 2017, in no particular order:

  • Antisocialites – Alvvays
  • Semper Femina – Laura Marling
  • Life Without Sound – Cloud Nothings
  • The Gold String – Devon Sproule
  • American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
  • Modern Kosmology – Jane Weaver
  • Pleasure – Feist
  • Masseduction – St. Vincent
  • MILANO – Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts
  • Visions Of A Life – Wolf Alice

I managed to go to more concerts than usual this year too; my favourite was probably Cloud Nothings, though the Pixies gig was a fun blast of nostalgia.

Film – most of my cinematic experience this year was watching DVDs of stuff that came out last year; High Rise and The Neon Demon stand out. Of films I saw in an actual cinema easily the best was T2 Trainspotting, perhaps unsurprisingly, since I am exactly the demographic to appreciate it, having aged along with the protagonists, and shared their experience of change and maturity, though rather less dramatically.

Books – I completed another volume of Proust, The Captive, and filled a slightly embarrassing gap by finally reading some Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. My intake of more recent literature wasn’t great, but I did manage last year’s Booker winner The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, which seemed worthy of the prize, though it did run out of steam towards the end. My favourite fiction of year was another old one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hard-headed yet inspiring treatment of the challenges facing individuals in a communal society. I read rather less history, science and biography than in years past, Patti Smith’s M Train my pick of the latter category.

So that was 2017, insofar as it is possible to sum any year up in a few hundred words. I do regret not posting more this year, especially about politics; right now I feel resolved to do better in the months ahead, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Anyway, I’ll round off by wishing a Happy New Year to anyone who may be reading this, and hoping it finds you healthy and prosperous.

2017: The Year in Review – Part 1: Blogging

So here we are at the end of December, time for our now-traditional annual retrospective.

Any hopes that I may have harboured that our 10th anniversary back in May would inspire a period of reinvigorated creativity were fairly quickly dashed, but we have managed to stagger on after a fashion. It’s a while now since we more or less abandoned our original virtual-world theme, but my plan to reinvent SLS as a home for political and cultural commentary has never really taken off. I could spend the rest of this post listing the many, many topics I could, and should, have covered this year, notably the Brexit shambles and the ongoing nightmare of the Trump administration, but it seems more useful to try to identify what stopped me converting the opinions which I very definitely had about all these developments into written form.

I think the central problem is the tension between my feeling that I need to take some time to consider an issue, and the equally pressing sensation that events are moving at a pace that requires an instant response. I’m not sure to what extent this is the consequence of an actual increase in the volume of information that we are subjected to these days, and how much is due to the inability of my ageing brain to keep up as well as it used to, but the end result has been a state of intellectual paralysis, where I get part-way through formulating a position, before being overwhelmed by a dispiriting realisation that the moment has passed, and I need to start thinking about the next thing.

I have tried to overcome this by limiting my exposure to new, distracting stimuli – I gave up looking at Facebook altogether for a while, though I have subsequently allowed myself strictly rationed access – but, as can be seen from my very poor output this year, it hasn’t really worked. I guess I’ll just have to try to be a bit more selective about what is worth posting about, and not worry so much about being topical.

Anyway, for the record, here are our top ten posts by traffic for the year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. There is no land beyond the Volga
  5. No man is an island
  6. Bastille Day 1989
  7. On Second Life and addiction
  8. Trouble in paradise
  9. All Stars
  10. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

And here are my favourites from the last twelve months:

Finally, our top ten (out of 47) countries for visitors:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. New Zealand
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Spain
  8. India
  9. Norway
  10. Hong Kong

Next up, 2017 in culture.

2016: The Year in Review – Politics, Culture, Blogging

I’m going to compress my review of the past 12 months into one post this year, partly because, in common with everyone else, I’ve been, like, fuck 2016, and want to spend as little time thinking about it as possible, but mainly because my blogging activity has been pretty sparse of late, so there’s not very much to review.

Politics first; if I had any suspicion that I was old, and out of touch, then my fears were more than confirmed by the way I was blindsided by the two big political developments of the year, Brexit and Trump. To be honest I’m still pretty much in denial over both of them; I feel sure that the Founding Fathers must have written something into the Constitution to head off the kind of clusterfuck promised by a manifestly unfit President, and I can’t believe that the Tories, who have always looked after the interests of the national bourgeoisie, will follow through with the economic suicide of leaving the single market. Then again I guess it’s such naivety that stopped me seeing these disasters coming in the first place; that, and my effective retirement from active politics in the last couple of years. Anyway, I think I’ll refrain from making any more political predictions until a bit of time has passed and I’ve got at least some of my bearings back.

Culture is a bit more straightforward; my taste in music, literature and film (as recorded in our Tumblr) is more or less the same as ever, so my favourites are fairly predictable.

Top ten albums, in no particular order:

  • New View – Eleanor Friedberger
  • Welcome the Worms – Bleached
  • Human Performance – Parquet Courts
  • Crab Day – Cate Le Bon
  • Desire’s Magic Theatre – Purson
  • Empire Builder – Laura Gibson
  • Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not – Dinosaur Jr.
  • My Woman – Angel Olsen
  • Undercurrent – Sarah Jarosz
  • Let It Be You – Joan As Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis

Plus lots of other good stuff; if I had to choose one it would probably be Empire Builder.

Favourite books – back in January I read a lot about time, relativity and cosmology, which was a bit of a downer, confirming as it did my view that human existence is insignificant and essentially random, so for the rest of the year I stuck to the comforts of fiction. I managed another volume of Proust, Cities of the Plain, leaving me on course to finish the set before the end of the decade, and a fair mix of other books, old and new, the most enjoyable probably Purity, by Jonathan Franzen, and David Means’ Hystopia.

Top films – I only visited an actual cinema once this year, to see The Force Awakens, which was distinctly underwhelming, even in 3D. I have acquired some of the year’s other releases on DVD, though the only one I’ve got round to watching is Hail, Caesar!, so I guess it gets my vote for film of the year. I will try to see High Rise and The Neon Demon before too long.

And so on to blogging. I actually managed to post a bit more this year than last, but traffic is down more than half, and we’re pulling in barely 10% of the hits we used to get in the glory days of 2010. This is partly due (I tell myself) to the general decline of blogging as a medium, but I have to admit that lacklustre content hasn’t helped. As I’ve already noted my political analysis was practically worthless; apart from briefly mentioning the passing of Bowie and Prince, I didn’t really touch upon any cultural issues; and, most embarrassingly, there was a complete absence of anything even vaguely resembling psychological insight into virtual life, which is supposed to be the whole point of this blog. The only post from 2016 that I would highlight is this one about the Chicago Cubs, which does show a little of our characteristic whimsical nostalgia, but overall it was far from a vintage year.

Anyway, for the record, here are our ten most popular posts of the year, all, unsurprisingly, from the archive:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. On Second Life and addiction
  4. Watching the Okhrana
  5. Fly me to the moon
  6. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  7. What’s up
  8. Bastille Day 1989
  9. No man is an island
  10. There is no land beyond the Volga

Our geographical reach has contracted a bit recently, but we still had hits from 63 different countries this year; here are the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. United Kingdom
  4. France
  5. Germany
  6. Italy
  7. Canada
  8. Australia
  9. India
  10. Spain

So that was 2016. I was going to preview next year too, but I’m running out of enthusiasm, so I’ll leave it for another day. In the meantime, I’ll wish a happy and prosperous New Year to all our readers.

2015: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

The less said about this the better probably; a year of infrequent and underwhelming posts, with only a couple of pieces that were anywhere near our past standards. (Even this post is half-baked; I’m not going to get it finished before I go out, but I want to post it tonight, so I’ll have to add the links tomorrow).

It’s not a lack of topics to write about – the Trump Presidential campaign alone should have been enough to keep me in material for months – but rather the opposite that has been the problem; the dizzying mass of immediately available information that is a constant distraction. Countless are the occasions when I’ve spotted the kernel of a promising story, only to be diverted from developing it by the next shiny thing on my timeline.

Anyway, here’s our top ten posts by views over the past twelve months, all from years gone by:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. On Second Life and addiction
  4. All Stars
  5. Watching the Okhrana
  6. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  7. 2010: The year in review
  8. What’s up
  9. Break On Through (To the Other Side)
  10. A Radical Game

Of the posts we did manage this year, there’s only two I would save for posterity; this one about the Battle of Waterloo, and this minor example of our signature nostalgic style.

Our global reach is much the same as last year, 92 countries in total, with perhaps a slightly greater skew towards the Americas and away from Europe. Top ten countries by visitors:

  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. United Kingdom
  4. France
  5. Italy
  6. Germany
  7. Canada
  8. Australia
  9. Portugal
  10. Russia

I’m not sure how to regain my enthusiasm for blogging, or indeed if such a thing is even desirable. I guess the first step would be to break my Facebook habit, which would free up time to engage with more stimulating cultural activities, with the added bonus of forcing me to get my news from a wider range of sources, and to actually think critically about stuff rather than just reading opinions I already agree with.

Politics always has potential; back in the early days of SLS we kicked off a good run by covering Obama’s path to the White House, so I might draw some inspiration from this year’s race, though I’m finding it hard to get excited about what looks to be a foregone conclusion. On this side of the Atlantic the main political event of the year is likely to be the EU referendum, the debate around which will probably turn quite ugly, so there should be plenty to write about that too.

And Second Life? I did renew my premium membership back in October, which prompted me to pay a rare visit to my virtual homestead, to see if it was still there (it is), but I haven’t been back since. I can’t really imagine investing time in it like I did back in the old days, but I might manage a post or two.

So, as ever, we start the new year with the best of intentions; we’ll see how far that takes us…

2015: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Here we are at the end of another year; time for a quick run through what passed for cultural engagement in my life over the last twelve months. (As ever, the full list can be found on our Tumblr.)

Music first. I’m old-fashioned enough to still think of the album as the basic unit of music, and I’ve averaged about one new one a week, mainly stuff I’ve heard on Radio 6. Female, alt-rock, and singer-songwriter seem to be the predominant themes. Here’s my favourite ten, in the order that I bought them:

No Cities To Love – Sleater-Kinney
Play Along – The Sorry Kisses
Sometimes I Sit and Think… – Courtney Barnett
Foil Deer – Speedy Ortiz
Hinterland – LoneLady
Welcome Back To Milk – Du Blonde
My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice
After – Lady Lamb
Divers – Joanna Newsom
Short Movie – Laura Marling

If I had to choose one as the best it would probably be Short Movie, though I think that Welcome Back To Milk is the one that I’ve listened to most.

There’s been a lot of talk this year about how we’re living through some kind of Golden Age of Television, but I must admit that I practically never watch the box these days. The closest I’ve come to seeing a drama series this year is to buy the box set of the first season of Fargo, but I’ve not got round to putting it on yet. Which is a shame, because I’m sure I’d love it, like I love the rest of the Coen brothers’ oeuvre, and it’s likely that I would be entertained by all the other shows that the critics rave about too, but the fact is that I just can’t face committing myself to a lengthy series. My attention span is obviously shot; I blame the internet.

That said, I can at least concentrate for the length of a film, and I have managed to catch a few movies this year, the best of which was the Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice, exactly the sort of rambling stoner mystery that I like watching over and over. I did think about seeing the new Star Wars over the holidays, but in the end I didn’t bother. I guess I will go sometime in the new year, but I’m pretty sure it will be a disappointment.

I’ve been reading a bit more too; if there has been a common thread to my choice of books this year it’s been the subjective experience of time and memory. I finished another volume of Proust, The Guermantes Way, which I felt was the most entertaining of the series so far, though that might just be because I’m familiar now with the characters and the pace of the novel. Other highlights were The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, and this year’s literary sensation City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. The latter was almost as good as the hype, particularly in its depiction of New York City in the mid-70s (an era in which I like to imagine I would have felt right at home), though the plot petered out towards the end.

Looking to the year ahead, I’m sure it will be more of the same; Proustian reverie and drug-imbued diversion set to a suitably stimulating soundtrack. That’s OK though; I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m reasonably comfortable with my taste in entertainment, which, all in all, I don’t think is too shabby…

2014: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

This has been the year that I’ve had to face up to the fact that this blog is all but dead, and I can no longer honestly call myself a blogger. Gone are the days when, on hearing an interesting piece of news, or reading an intriguing article, my mind would immediately start working on a post for this space. I am still occasionally inspired by events to turn out a few lines, but, more often than not, I let the thought slip away. Consequently I’ve managed a mere 20 posts over the last 12 months, including this one. I’m happy with most of the individual pieces, but there are not enough of them to fully record where my head was at this year, which is the whole point of having a personal blog. I’ve completely ignored some momentous events, in my internal and external worlds, and while I have noted my reactions to these in other places, it would have been nice to have them collected here for posterity.

Anyway, on with the review. We do still get a steady stream of traffic, though I suspect a lot of it must be robotic; certainly all the comments we get are spam. Here are our top ten posts for the last year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. On Second Life and addiction
  3. Free Pussy Riot!
  4. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  5. Like Pompeii (or Herculaneum)
  6. Second Life, with graphics, on the iPhone?
  7. Win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me
  8. A Radical Game
  9. What’s up
  10. Bastille Day 1989

All of these are years old. The posts on demographics and addiction have been at the top for a while; they got linked to quite a bit back in the day, which must still be drawing in some hits. I have no idea why the other posts should be more popular than the rest of the stuff in our archive though. I suppose I could study our referral patterns to glean some clues, but that seems significantly more trouble than it would be worth.

Of this year’s posts, these are my favourites:

We still get traffic from all over the world, 95 countries in all, including China, which I’m sure used to block us. Here’s the top 10:

  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Australia
  8. Italy
  9. Mexico
  10. Netherlands

Topic-wise it’s been mainly history, politics, culture and nostalgia. Only one post this year directly concerned Second Life (though another one alluded to it), and my total time spent on the grid has probably added up to a couple of hours at most. Despite this I did renew my premium membership in October, but I can’t for the life of me think why, since my interest in the virtual world is practically nonexistent these days. Perhaps the original spark will reignite.

So what of the future? Every year around this time I resolve to be more productive, and it never happens; maybe it’s time to admit that this project is finished, and to move on to something else. We’ve been going close on eight years now though, and I do look back fondly on my past scribblings. Even this year hasn’t been a complete write-off – I think my New York nostalgia post from July is up there with our best – so I guess I’ll manage to keep plugging away…