My God Is The Sun

Normally around now is when we start posting gloomy pieces about the falling leaves, the lengthening nights, and the looming onset of yet another brutal North European winter (usually shoehorning the change of season into some clumsy metaphor for the dread of mortality), but this year my characteristic summer contentment has persisted well past August for the first time in while, and I’m actually feeling fairly upbeat about the coming months.

This may be because I had a relatively straight-edge summer – I didn’t sign the pledge or anything, but I did largely eschew intoxication in favour of healthy outdoor pursuits. Back in high school they told us that a natural high was sweeter than any drug, and while I probably wouldn’t go that far, I will say that it was different, and it’s certainly left me in a better physical shape than I’ve been for ages. Perhaps it’s this echo of youthful vitality that’s allowing me to face the winter without the gnawing subconscious fear that I won’t see the spring, or it could just be that I spent enough time in the open air to be healed by the fire from above.

Either way, I can feel my natural slothfulness reasserting itself, so I expect I’ll soon be slipping into my default winter mode of minimal exertion and comforting overconsumption, and undoing all the good work I did over the summer. On the positive side this should mean that I have time to devote to more cerebral pursuits, like reading and watching movies, or even blogging, so there might be a little more activity in this space than there has been of late.

Green Typewriters

And we’re back… Slightly longer summer break than usual this year, for various reasons, not all connected to idleness. Mostly connected to idleness though.

But who can blame us for staying away from the internet? What with twitterised death threats, cyber-bullying, extreme porn everywhere, topped off by the NSA snooping on us all, browsing the web these days feels less like strolling around a virtual utopia, and more like dodging the cops in the town’s sleaziest neighbourhood.

It’s hard to believe that only a couple of years ago everyone was saying that social media was going to save the world, and even nominating the internet for the Nobel Peace Prize. One might almost suspect that these scare stories (mostly concerning phenomena which, while obviously serious, have been around for years) were being hyped up by the authorities, and their allies in the old media, to convince us that we should steer clear of any online content that isn’t government-approved.

Anyway, I’m thinking that we should take a tip from the Russians, and start producing SLS on paper, with typewriters. We could hand out hard copies in the street, to anyone who looked vaguely interested. Our productivity and readership couldn’t be any worse than they are now…

Grey Skies

I’ve been pretty lax on the blog front of late, which I had been ascribing to simple idleness, but my new theory is that I’m just being slowed down by having to wade through that damn Higgs Field every day.

Anyway, what’s been happening? Spanish flair did win Euro 2012, as I (almost) predicted, though it triumphed over Italian artistry rather than Teutonic efficiency, the Germans having lost their way in the semi-final. For a while after that game it seemed like they might cave in on the Eurobond question too, but no such luck.

In other news, the reading public have twisted a dagger into the heart of aspiring authors everywhere by enthusiastically embracing a volume of reworked Twilight fan-fic, making it the fastest selling paperback ever in the UK, despite it being, by all accounts, very poorly written, not particularly transgressive, and certainly not psychologically sophisticated.

Discouraged by this turn of events I have abandoned my plans to spend the next few months working on my own literary masterpiece, in favour of my usual summer routine of getting stoned in the park (assuming the rain ever stops), with a suitable soundtrack. There may not be many more posts this month…

Wasted Youth

Today (or actually yesterday, since, in true slacker fashion, I haven’t got round to posting this until after midnight), was the 30th anniversary of the launch of the ZX Spectrum. Unsurprisingly, the internet has been awash with articles by 40-something guys fondly recalling long hours spent honing their programming skills on the iconic machine, and pitying later generations, who may have iPads and Twitter and what have you, but missed out on the character-building experience of wrestling with a rubber keyboard to produce the 8-bit classics that founded the video-game industry.

I have to admit that I was one of those sad cases who spent too much time alone in my bedroom typing code, when I should have been out engaging in healthier youthful pursuits, like smoking, drinking, or committing acts of petty vandalism. It doesn’t seem to have done me any harm in the long term though, as long as you don’t count my ongoing tendency to stay up all night blogging about obsolete computers.

It’s Summertime

Readers may have noticed that we’ve gone into our summer recess a little early this year. This is mainly because I am easily distracted by fair-weather pursuits like getting stoned and lying in the park, but also because I have a couple of other projects on the go at the moment that have seduced me away from the virtual world.

So, in lieu of actually writing a proper post, I’ll link to some topics that I would have covered in more depth in the last couple of weeks if I weren’t such a slacker.

In the wake of the Ryan Giggs super injunction fiasco, the attorney general for England and Wales has warned Twitter users that they could face legal action if they breach privacy orders. This may sound like an empty threat, since most Tweeters, myself included, are outside the jurisdiction of the English courts, but I suspect that the authorities may try to restore respect for the law by launching some selective prosecutions, especially now that Twitter have shown a willingness to hand over user details without much resistance. (To be fair to Twitter, their TOS have always made it clear that they will rat you out if the Man comes calling). It’s another reason to believe that social media is perhaps not the unstoppable force for change that its most vocal advocates would have us believe.

On a related subject, the BBC have just finished screening All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, a trio of documentaries by Adam Curtis critically examining the effect that computers and their associated ideology have had on popular consciousness. It’s excellent stuff; if you’re quick you might catch it on the iPlayer, otherwise look out for a repeat.

And finally, as we’ve noted before, proof that our municipalities are woefully unprepared for zombie attack.

The holidays are looming, so that might be your lot until July, unless it rains a lot.

Do You Believe in Rapture?

Readers may have noted that I’ve not been posting much recently. This is of course in line with my general slacker ethos, but it’s been even harder than usual to rouse myself to action of late; what with the Rapture forecast for this weekend, blogging seems rather pointless.

I’m not entirely familiar with the finer points of evangelical eschatology, but, as I understand it, Christ himself is going to visit Earth tomorrow, and bodily transport the faithful straight to heaven, while the rest of us are left behind to face the wrath of Satan and his minions.

If this miraculous event does come to pass (the pastor predicting it may not be completely reliable), I wonder if we will actually notice much difference, apart from the sudden disappearance of the most annoying 10% of the population. Humankind is well capable of creating mayhem without Beelzebub’s input, so if the Dark Lord is given untrammelled dominion over the mortal plane he may decide just to sit back and let us go on heading straight to hell in a handcart all by ourselves.

[I couldn’t decide which of two tunes was best to accompany this post; this Sonic Youth track is one of my favourites, but it would be criminal to cover this topic without linking to this classic by Blondie.]

On the unreliability of memory

There is a lot to be said for the traditional summer break of the professional middle classes; decamping from the hot, busy city to a quiet rural retreat, there to enjoy the simple peasant lifestyle. Of course I am referring to that fantasy peasant lifestyle that involves loafing around, consuming copious quantities of artisanal foodstuff and quaffing the local intoxicant, rather than any actual peasant lifestyle of unremitting toil, but it’s nice to imagine that one is getting back in touch with the slower pace of life enjoyed by our forefathers.

I always come back from my summer holiday determined to escape the rat race by finally getting down to writing the classic novel that I am convinced dwells within me. For a couple of weeks I spend my lunchtimes in the coffee shop tapping at my laptop, then life starts to intrude, and my grand projects fade away for another year.

In some ways it’s reassuring that my life is interesting enough that I don’t really have time to devote to literary endeavour, but it’s also a little frustrating to think that with some more application I could produce something a bit more impressive than this blog.

A few times in the last year, most recently just a couple of months ago, I’ve resolved to post less about Second Life, and more about interesting things, like politics, or literature, or music, but every time I seem to have found myself coming back to commenting about the virtual world. I think there’s some avoidance going on on my part; it’s easier to recycle the same old stuff about SL than take a chance on trying something new.

I spent several evenings last week reading my old copies of American Splendor, and thinking that, if Harvey Pekar could get it together to present slices of his life experience to the world back in the 70’s, when self-publishing was a real challenge, I should be able to do something more productive with this space, with which, in theory at least, I could reach a worldwide audience of millions with a couple of clicks of a mouse.

I have over the years posted a few vaguely Pekaresque pieces (mostly tagged “Nostalgia”), but I find it hard to be completely accurate in my recollection. It’s not that I actively make stuff up – the basic facts are all there – but when I try to reconstruct the subjective elements, like the emotions and motivations that were associated with these past events, I can’t help but be aware that my memories will have been extensively edited by my unconscious in the light of my subsequent life experience. I can’t put myself back into the mind of my past self, only the mind of my present self thinking about the past, and I know that means that what seem like solid memories are really projections of my current preoccupations woven out of carefully selected snippets of history.

The drive is to create a narrative, to give meaning to what, on more objective analysis, I would have to admit was an essentially random existence. Like an author foreshadowing significant events in a story, I give weight to certain memories, while suppressing others, to convince myself that my current situation is a point on a consciously planned journey, rather than the culmination of a series of individually insignificant choices that have gradually limited my options in ways I can only vaguely grasp.

Does it matter that my thoughts about the past may not entirely correspond with reality? Human memory is not a simple recording device; it is a dynamic psychological tool that allows us to adapt to the present and anticipate the future by utilising our processed experience. Excessive verisimilitude in our recollections can get in the way of efficient functioning, and a little mnemonic creativity is essential to our continued sanity.

One way to conceptualise the self is to see it as, at any given moment, the sum of the biographical memories that seem relevant to our present circumstances, the story we tell ourselves about who we are. We take the continuity of our self as a given, but our memory of who we were yesterday is under the control of our present selves, and we may distort it to preserve the illusion of stable identity. Of course we can observe that other people seem more or less the same from day to day, which may reassure us that we don’t change much either, but there is always the suspicion that the unconscious is our own personal Ministry of Truth.

Anyway, the conclusion that I draw from all this is that the past is gone and probably wasn’t how I remembered it anyhow, the future is uncertain and will take care of itself, and the best thing to do is just live in the now. I guess that’s why I never manage to get anything done. Maybe I should give up on the literary pretensions, and start writing self-help books instead.

iPhone therefore I am

I finally succumbed to temptation and bought myself an Apple iPhone as an early Christmas present. I had been wanting to get a 3G phone for ages, but I didn’t want to sell out my open-source principles by going for a model with a proprietary OS (even if OS X is really just BSD with a custom GUI). Unfortunately the Google G1, when it finally arrived, turned out to be rubbish, and the Blackberry Storm wasn’t much better, so there was nothing for it but to swallow my pride and lock myself into the Apple universe.

I don’t feel too bad though, since it’s an undeniably smart bit of kit. I’m glad that I’m old enough to remember a time when there were no such things as mobile phones, let alone mobile phones with internet access and GPS, so I can fully appreciate just what an amazing piece of technology the iPhone is. I have all the accumulated knowledge of the human race right here in my pocket, and, even better, it can tell me where the nearest pizza restaurant is. Kids today take this sort of thing for granted, so I don’t know what it will take to impress them when they are in their forties – some kind of time-travel functionality probably, so that they can flash back to laugh at us old timers with our phone-boxes and rotary dials.

It’s some way off being perfect though. I had thought that getting a 3G phone would mean I could update this blog more frequently, using the WordPress iPhone app, but the virtual keyboard is much too fiddly for my fat fingers, making typing anything more than a few lines a chore, and the lack of a cut and paste function means that if I want to include hyperlinks I have to revert to good old pen and paper to note the address. Still, it’s good for random browsing during quiet moments, which, in theory at least, means I should come across more things to blog about, even if, like now, I have to go back to my desktop to actually write it up.

Having mobile internet access will probably mean that I spend less time in Second Life though. At the moment most of my visits occur when I have turned on my desktop on the pretext of looking at the weather forecast or some such thing, before logging into the grid for a quick run around, which usually turns into a multi-hour virtual realathon. Now I can get the same information with a couple of taps on my phone there is no way that I’ll be motivated to get off the couch in the evenings.

October surprise

I’ve had a good October on the blog; posting regularly, and traffic way up. Now I’m off on vacation for a while, so it’ll probably be back to my usual slacker pace when I return.

Elevate me later

There was a brief period in the early 1990’s when I felt that I was just ahead of the curve, culture-wise. My habitual approach to life – a mix of unfocussed ambition, vague dissatisfaction and general underachievement – was given a label, and for a while it seemed as if I was where it was at. I was a slacker, part of what might have become a movement if it had got its act together. Once it was identified though, slacking started to become hard work. It wasn’t enough any more to spend your free time getting stoned, reading comic books and listening to Pavement records; you had to consciously cultivate some sort of lifestyle. Ultimately it all became commodified, just like every other strand of youth culture. There wasn’t much resistance to this process, which was inevitable I suppose, since the essence of slackerdom (for me anyhow) is that feeling that there is something wrong with your life, or the scene, or the government or something, but you can’t quite be bothered to find out exactly what it is, let alone do something about it. Or maybe that’s not it. Whatever.

Anyway, I was thinking about this while doing some half-hearted research into the whole social-networking phenomenon, and more specifically into Facebook. I knew that this wasn’t exactly bleeding-edge stuff, but I didn’t realise quite how lame and dated any post on the subject would look until I saw that even the Daily Telegraph had already printed dozens of articles about it.

I suppose I can take some comfort from the knowledge that this blog is proof that I haven’t sold out that underachieving slacker ethos.