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.

Pool’s re-opened

We’re not the only metaversally-orientated blog that’s woken from a coma recently; after a gap of nearly three years the legendary Alphaville Herald has started updating again, with Peter Ludlow back at the helm. (Presumably he has time on his hands after leaving his last job just before getting fired for sexual harassment).

Ludlow, through his alter-ego Urizenus Sklar, has proclaimed a new mission statement for the publication, promising to extend his characteristically overwrought analysis from the virtual realm to real life, specifically contemporary US politics, on the somewhat shaky grounds that “Real Life has become a virtual world”.

So far the fruits of this project are limited to amusing but fairly pointless trolling of an obscure white-supremacist, but presumably it will move on to consider the whole Trump phenomenon, which, representing as it does the griefing of the entire body politic, should be right up Ludlow’s street.

Anti-Social

There’s a passage early in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting where protagonist Renton decides to kick his heroin habit, which he manages, though not without some difficulty (and a trip to the Worst Toilet in Scotland). Afterwards he finds that his friend Sick Boy has come off the smack too, just to piss off Renton by showing how easily he could do it.

In a similar spirit, I resolved last month to quit Facebook, just to prove to myself that I could. Rather to my surprise it’s been pretty painless; after a couple of days the urge to click the familiar blue icon on my phone more or less completely faded. I was a bit worried that, divorced from my carefully curated timeline, I might fall out of touch with world events and popular culture, but it turns out that looking at the BBC news a couple of times a day and listening to the radio are just as effective in this regard as compulsively checking the latest minor updates every few minutes, so I don’t feel that I’ve lost anything terribly valuable.

What have I actually gained though? A gratifying glow of smugness when I sit on the train and look at all the sheeple hypnotised by their corporate overlords of course, and probably something intangible, like a deeper connection with the natural world around me or the like. I can’t say that I’ve done anything particularly constructive with the hour or two a day freed up by this change in habit, but I guess regaining the ability to just do nothing for periods of time is actually quite valuable.

In the story Renton eventually relapses, and his subsequent detox is exponentially more horrifying than the first, so I suppose that I shouldn’t get too complacent after just a few weeks of abstinence. I need to find some other diversional activity – perhaps I’ll take up blogging again…

Information overload

Today is apparently the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web (again), which seems like a good excuse to reflect on the future of our own little contribution to the medium, namely this blog.

One of the many statistics that I’ve seen bandied about today is that, of the billion or so web pages in existence, around 75% are inactive. I’m not sure exactly what the definition of “inactive” is in this context, but I’d have to admit that SLS, with our relaxed update schedule, must be at least flirting with it.

Why is this? It’s not as if I’ve become any less opinionated in the last couple of years, and there’s certainly no shortage of subjects to comment upon. If anything that’s the problem; the sheer deluge of information, handily delivered at all hours of the day, means I never have time to stop and write about anything before I’m distracted by the next item on the timeline. Even when I do pause long enough to start to formulate some thoughts on a subject, I tend to be discouraged by the feeling that someone else will undoubtedly have already expressed them, and probably more eloquently, a suspicion that I can usually confirm with a couple of clicks.

Would it really matter if this blog slipped into a permanent limbo? To the world, I guess not, but I would feel more than a twinge of regret. I enjoy reading our old posts, and it would seem like a shame to give up just when we are closing in on our tenth birthday.

So what’s to be done? I have to drop back to a slower pace of news acquisition; perhaps I should start reading actual papers again, instead of addictively clicking on a Facebook feed. I could get rid of my smartphone and attempt to wean myself off of the need to be constantly connected. I might even try just hanging out with my friends and talking about stuff, like we used to do back in the old days.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve tasted the sweet drug that is the modern internet, and I’m not about to give it up. I’ll just have to try harder not to be so passive…

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…

Summer torpor

So here we are at the end of August; another month past, another month where I’ve mentally composed posts on all sorts of interesting subjects, but not quite got around to writing them down. Pieces on politics, comparing and contrasting the Trump surge and Corbyn-mania, or weighing up Bernie‘s chances of upsetting Hillary. Articles on the interface of psychology and technology, referencing the APA paper on violence and video games, or considering what the Ashley Madison hack reveals about online identity. General philosophical musing on the nature of time, and how an instant can seem endless while weeks pass in a flash.

Alas, all this will be lost, unless I get my act together and start posting before I forget it all, a turn of events, which, in light of my recent history, seems highly unlikely. I guess the world might just get by without my thoughts on these matters, but I’d regret not saving them for posterity, so I’ll try to make September a little more fruitful.

Making up time

Today is going to be one second longer than usual, and I feel I should use the extra time to catch up on my blogging duties. There are two obvious stories that we really should have covered in the past month, but, for one reason and another, never got round to. The first one is the tale of Rachel Dolezal, which is right up our street, concerning as it does issues of social identity and personal reinvention, which we’ve considered many times in the context of virtual worlds. The second, and I think rather more important, is the unfolding situation in Greece, which looks set to come to a head with the referendum this weekend, and is likely to have knock-on effects across the continent, not least on the ongoing debate on EU membership in this country.

So, plenty of work to do. I’ll get right on to it tomorrow…

Total eclipse of the blog

I did manage to catch a glimpse of the partial solar eclipse last week, as the thick grey cloud that habitually blankets the sky at this time of year briefly parted. Though my view of it only lasted a few seconds it was quite impressive, a reminder of the eternal procession of the celestial host.

Except of course it’s not eternal. In about six billion years, the sun, the moon and the earth will all be gone, along with every trace of humanity and its works.

When you think about cosmic time scales like that, a month between blog posts doesn’t seem so bad…