Back to work

I managed to wangle myself a fairly extended holiday this year, but all things must end, and I’ll be resuming my quotidian routine tomorrow, which, I fully intend, will include my blogging duties.

UK politics has been essentially deep-frozen over the last two weeks; the Brexit debate in Parliament is set to start up again on Wednesday, but with no sign that there has been any significant shift in the number of MPs willing to support the government position. It seems inconceivable that the vote could be put off again, but it was equally inconceivable last time, and it still happened. The appetite for compromise, at Westminster, and in the country as a whole, seems to be shrinking fast, and it looks as if there are only two possible outcomes; no-deal, or a second referendum. Of these the former appears far more likely, since there is so little time left to arrange an alternative. It’s all very disheartening.

Meanwhile, the crisis that has been brewing in the US since the midterm elections seems to be coming to a head, as the government shutdown drags on, and Trump hints at declaring a state of emergency. Such an autocratic move would be blatantly unconstitutional, and I’m fairly sure that the US ruling class isn’t really up for the chaos that would ensue, so I expect that the President will be forced to back down.

Anyway, there should be plenty to write about over the next week or so; perhaps my New Year resolution will make it to the end of the month after all.

Irresolute

I’m not a huge believer in New Year resolutions; experience has taught me that, once you get past about 30, making a serious change to your life takes more effort than simply deciding to do it, and being too ambitious just sets you up for disappointing failure.

However this time last year I did resolve to alter my behaviour, albeit in a fairly trivial way, by giving up looking at Facebook, which had been consuming an inordinate amount of my time for very little reward. I’m pleased to report that I was entirely successful in this endeavour, having maintained my abstinence for the last 12 months. I didn’t take the obvious precaution of deleting the app from my phone, figuring that maintaining some temptation would make the achievement more satisfying, though I have got rid of it today, just in case complacency undermined my forbearance. In celebration I’m allowing myself this one post to crow about it, but I promise that I’ll never mention it again.

Buoyed by this minor act of self-improvement, I’ve been trying to think of a resolution for this year. Unfortunately, very few of my remaining shortcomings, which are legion, lend themselves to so straightforward an answer.

It’s a well-recognised psychological maxim that the best way to stop unwanted behaviour is to substitute some more positive action, but that tends to work best for circumscribed habits like smoking, rather than more nebulous problems like “being a slacker”. I’m leaning towards a target of doing more writing, but I’m sure that my subconscious is making up excuses for my failure already. I guess that I could see how my blogging productivity holds up over the next few weeks before deciding whether to start working on a novel.

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.

Happy holidays

Well, we’re going to take a break from fretting about the state of the world, and lose ourselves for a day or two in a haze of intoxication and gluttony; I’d strongly advise everyone else to do the same. We’ll be back before the end of the month with our review of the year.

The March of time

There were a couple of topics I thought about writing about this month (the sad demise of the NME, and the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal), but hey, here we are on the 31st, and, unsurprisingly, I’m cobbling together a lame piece of filler, just so I can kid myself that I’m still an active blogger, though why I should want to cling on to that identity is a complete mystery, as “blogger” hasn’t been an aspirational career choice since 2005 at the latest, if it ever was, and anyway I don’t have any particular talent in that direction, unless you count the ability to produce long meandering sentences that a decent editor would cut without hesitation, though perhaps the point is moot, since I’m sure any reader unfortunate enough to randomly encounter this composition will have lost the will to continue long before they reach the end.

Five Hundred

Today is Groundhog Day, which seems like a good excuse to revisit a topic we’ve covered four times previously; the centenary marker.

Post #100 appeared in December 2008, about 20 months after SLS started. I was still quite enchanted by Second Life back then, and must have spent a lot of time on the grid, judging by the long pieces I wrote about the things I came across during my wanderings.

Post #200 came at the end of 2009, and was our first “Year in Review” piece, which has gone on to become an annual tradition. I was still writing a lot about SL, though my focus had moved on from simple travelogues to consideration of the politics of the metaverse, and in-depth psychology. The year also saw some fine commentary on SL culture from our erstwhile art correspondent Olivia, which were among the most popular pieces we ever published.

Post #300 came after another 12 months, and prompted me, rather hubristically, to offer my opinions on the art of blogging; I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to judge their lasting value. Second Life was still my most frequent topic, and during this period I penned our most-read post of all time, on SL demographics , but, over the course of 2010, our drift towards more general cultural subjects became increasingly evident.

Our ever-dwindling audience had to wait nearly three years to see post #400, during which time our virtual-world coverage waned almost to zero, replaced by my political and historical musings, along with a possibly excessive amount of personal nostalgia, no doubt reflecting my growing preoccupation with the relentless passage of time.

And now here we are at post #500, our slowest century yet, at over four years. I was never the most productive of bloggers, even during our heyday of 2009/10, but I have to admit that our slowdown over the past half-decade has periodically made me wonder whether it is worth continuing with this project, especially since we have undeniably strayed far from our original mission statement.

Yet I keep going. Partly this is due to my somewhat obsessive attachment to keeping the ten year run of at-least-one-a-month posts unbroken, but mostly it’s because, in my humble opinion, there is still an occasional gem to be found in amongst all the dross.

Onward to post #600 then, which, if current trends hold true, you can expect around 2023…

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.

Lying low

I’ve been consciously avoiding too much engagement with the external world over the last few weeks, for various personal reasons, but even if I was in perfect shape I think staying out of touch might have been a smart move, what with the news streams overflowing with alarming tales of nuclear brinkmanship, nazis running amok, Biblical floods and goodness knows what else to come.

But still, I thought I’d better crawl out of my bunker to write something before midnight, since, in a decade of blogging, I’ve never let a whole calendar month go by without at least one post. I am feeling just about ready to start facing disturbing reality again, so perhaps September might be a little more productive.

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

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.