Gossip, privacy: second thoughts…

February 28, 2007 at 2:27 am | In architecture, ideas, scenes_victoria, social_critique | 2 Comments

Mobile Gossip Annotated

Once again I’m using diigo.com to blog an about an article I read — it’s a nifty feature (and if a reader wants a diigo invite, let me know and I’ll send you one).So, just quickly: I might have an article coming out in the March issue of Focus Magazine (a local Victoria publication), which deals with a public square downtown (Centennial Square). I’m very critical of the square, which I describe as a child of a kind of “suburban thinking” saturated planning — the kind that made the car its number one priority. I try to explain how, in visual terms, the architecture and public space that results from this caters to the automobile, and how it leaves the actual pedestrian literally at a loss (without direction, for only cars on roads matter, and roads have direction — pedestrians, ambling aimlessly, do not fit into the scheme).
I also discuss how automobiles expanded in a curious way our notion(s) of privacy. That is, cars create privacy bubbles around individuals, effectively removing them from the public realm even when these individuals are in public, i.e., in the city. And I also wrote about other “technological” extensions, ones that we grapple with currently: the ubiquitous iPod, which creates a musical privacy bubble for the wearer, or …the cell phone, which allows any individual to drop out of public space and into a virtual private space, lickety-split.But then I read the following article, excerpted below, “Evolution, Alienation and Gossip; The role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st century,” by Kate Fox. And I’m forced to think about cell phones as a two-edged kind of thing — a sword that cuts both ways. It can remove individuals from the public sphere, but it can also connect that individual (obviously!) with other individuals — who happen simply to be somewhere else. From the article:
Gossip is the human equivalent of ‘social grooming’ among primates, which has been shown to stimulate production of endorphins, relieving stress and boosting the immune system. Two-thirds of all human conversation is gossip, because this ‘vocal grooming’ is essential to our social, psychological and physical well-being. Mobiles facilitate gossip. Mobiles have increased and enhanced this vital therapeutic activity, by allowing us to gossip ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ and to text as well as talk. Mobile gossip is an effective and important new stress-buster.
The space-age technology of mobile phones has allowed us to return to the more natural and humane communication patterns of pre-industrial society, when we lived in small, stable communities, and enjoyed frequent ‘grooming talk’ with a tightly integrated social network. In the fast-paced modern world, we had become severely restricted in both the quantity and quality of communication with our social network. Mobile gossip restores our sense of connection and community, and provides an antidote to the pressures and alienation of modern life. Mobiles are a ‘social lifeline’ in a fragmented and isolating world.
Texting is particularly important in maintaining contact with a wide social network – allows us to maintain social bonds even when we do not have the time, energy, inclination or budget for calls or visits. Texting re-creates the brief, frequent, spontaneous ‘connections’ with members of our social network that characterised the small communities of pre-industrial times.
Texting helps teenagers (and some adult males) to overcome awkwardness and inhibitions and to develop social and communication skills – they communicate with more people, and more frequently, than they did before mobiles.
Enjoyment of gossip is also about the thrill of risk-taking, doing something a bit naughty, talking about people’s ‘private’ lives

…’negative gossip’ has clear social benefits in terms of rule-learning and social bonding.

I guess the bottom line is that we’re really in a spot right now where we need to think creatively and differently about what public space and privacy and all those notions of intimacy, home, street, and interpersonal relationships mean, how they’re configured, and how — in configuring — they in turn shape the meanings we give to the above-named terms in the first place.

PS: now that I’m getting the hang of using diigo.com to blog, I think I’ll use it regularly. What a great feature. Note, though: I still “diigo” 99.9% of my bookmarks & annotiations “privately” (i.e., they’re not public), which I guess figures into the privacy/ public sphere discussion, and also marks me as “old school” in a way. It also means that if you follow my links (above: “annotated”) to my diigo account, you won’t see much since the vast majority of my 702 (so far) bookmarked articles are not publicly visible…

Anthropology today…

February 24, 2007 at 2:45 am | In social_critique | Comments Off on Anthropology today…
    Artists want to send a message – Los Angeles Times AnnotatedThe situation this article describes strikes me a totally decadent. And stupid.

    To many passersby, homemade signs asking for money are works of desperation: “Homeless,” “Hungry,” “Disabled,” “Please Help.”But to a Santa Ana couple who run a local gallery, the messages are works of art, and Chela and Joseph Bañuelos are snapping them up at $5 and $10 apiece.

    To gather signs for the “Sidewalk Angel Project,” the couple drive around Santa Ana, jump out of their black Cadillac when they see a homeless person holding a sign and approach cautiously. Many of the homeless are reluctant to talk or part with their signs, which they say have brought them luck.

    Right, the homeless are reluctant to part with their “totems,” but these brave artist-anthropologists (or should we say colonial conquerers?) march right in and buy them for the price of beads. Anyone else see the irony here?

    “White male, mid-20s. Shook my hand — his hand was very cold.”

    Field notes from the new anthropologists?

    The Santa Ana project generated a mixed reaction from Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, which operates several shelters.”Their heart may be in the right place,” Palmer said. “Some of these people are truly homeless but for many, it’s turned into a business.

    “The truly homeless that we see are mothers and children who want to be invisible,” he said.

    Yes, they don’t want to “pose” for the tourists, they don’t even want their artifacts (signs) to do so.

Broke baroque

February 18, 2007 at 12:22 am | In fashionable_life, ideas, scenes_victoria, social_critique | Comments Off on Broke baroque

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has an exhibition centered on “the Baroque” currently on view. There are a few “old master” paintings (nothing first-rate), some prints & etchings, and then there’s the “Contemporary Baroque” piece of it, featuring the work of a single local artist (not well-known) as well as the (infamously known — and isn’t that all that matters these days?) brothers Chapman, Dinos & Jake.

I wasn’t exactly familiar with their work, but I do know my Goya just a little bit. And the Chapmans, ladies and gents, are no Goyas, even if they take Goya etchings and have their way with ’em. Compared to Goya, the Chapmans are so second rate, ridiculous, derivative, and yes: offensive (the only category they can be successful in), words fail. Well, mine, anyway. So I’ll let Johann Hari do it for me: The art of subverting the Enlightenment, subtitled “The Chapman brothers’ declared aim is an old one, offered by fascists and priests for the past 300 years.”

As Hari points out, there’s something deeply fascistic (in all senses) in much of current “romantic primitivist” art and in the Chapmans’ work in particular:

In the 18th century, a swelling of philosophers, scientists and artists launched the Enlightenment. At its core, they argued that instead of relying on divine revelation, we should closely observe the world around us and base a rational world-view on the empirical evidence we gather. Everything good about our world, such as the miracle of modern medicine, or the birth of human rights movements, comes from this project. The Chapmans’ declared aim is an old one, offered by fascists and priests for the past 300 years: to puncture and destroy it.


Where Goya drew with documentary clarity the agonised victims of war, the Chapmans painted the jeering faces of clowns and puppies over them. “Goya’s the artist who represents the kind of expressionistic struggle of the Enlightenment with the ancien regime,” Jake Chapman explained, “so it’s kind of nice to kick its underbelly.” Goya famously said “the sleep of reason produces monsters”. The Chapmans say the opposite: it is when reason is wide awake that it produces monsters. (Really? Did Hitler scrupulously adhere to fact, evidence and reason-based inferences?).

The Chapmans trashing Goya is a pure expression of postmodernist philosophy. They vandalise and ridicule the fruits of reason – and what do they offer in its place?

At times, they offer up a mythical pure, pristine past, before reason supposedly contaminated the world. Jake Chapman says, for example, we shouldn’t think of the sun through “any kind of enlightenment notion of photon particles being useful”. No: we should, like premodern tribes who died at the age of thirty of diseases they did not understand, “start thinking about the sun as a kind of excessive, catastrophic energy.”

…Oh god, not Bataille again. But yes, Bataille again. It’s sad when grown men can’t think of anything new.

For further reading, see also Franklin at artblog dot net, which includes a long comments section. There’s a lot of discussion there as to whether post-modern “discourse” supports the Chapmans’ tripe, but one of the commentors puts it best when he writes:

…current critical thought, such as it is, has never offered even remotely convincing support of work such as that of the Chapmans, certainly not to me. The fact so many have fallen for this glorified offal has little or nothing to do with convincing arguments for it, since there are none. Of course, some people can be convinced of practically anything, no matter how ludicrous, but that’s a matter of cognitive dysfunction, blindness, folly and/or an overwhelming desire to be “with it” at any cost.

Certainly, one gets the impression that here in Victoria, a curatorial desire to be “with it” underwrites the selection. Alas, there’s too little in the real brain department, I’m afraid. Anyone can go to school and pick up the right code words. It’s trickier to think for yourself, independently, and with discrimination and judgement, though.

Oh, we’re not supposed to be judgemental these days, are we? Well, if you’re a curator and dealing with art, but you’re not judgemental, you may as well be blind.

Of course it’s a money issue, isn’t it? Jerry Saltz nails it in a recent Village Voice article (and he’s also interviewed in the College Art Association bulletin, unfortunately not online): Seeing Dollar Signs, subtitled “Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid?”

Well, all I can say after seeing the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria‘s Baroque exhibition is: Good question!

One more update

February 17, 2007 at 2:15 pm | In housekeeping, web | 2 Comments

Hal at Harvard Weblogs kindly set my default setting for comments and pings to “off.” Daryl (see PS to previous entry) was correct when he advised me that the spam flood was coming through trackbacks (pings), hence turning trackback off for the whole blog solved the problem.

You’ll note that this entry and the previous two have open comments (and trackbacks, too). I’m keeping the default at “off,” but from now on, I’ll do regular maintenance on this blog. For eg., every Friday (well, ok, sometimes Saturday), I do “housekeeping” on my computer(s): I run AdAware, C-Cleaner, AVG, and Spybot. That’s for Windows. For Mac there’s Macjanitor and CacheX. From now on, I’ll expand my vigilance to the blog, closing comments and pings every second Friday on the entries I’ve written that month, and so forth. That will mean that at any given time, there won’t be more than two weeks’ worth of entries with open comments or trackbacks (and given my sporadic writing here, that could mean very few entries indeed), which should keep the spammers at bay.

Until further notice

February 16, 2007 at 2:18 am | In web | Comments Off on Until further notice

I thought I had loosened restrictions on comments, but after going into the admin pages more deeply I saw that I still had the restrictions that I set up some days ago — that you have to be logged on to comment.

Now, what’s weird is that in all this time, the spammers have been flooding this blog with comments (which sit in the moderation cue, and which I can “bulk” eliminate/ mark as spam). I don’t understand why they still get through. I even went so far as to close the comments board on each individual entry that got spammed, only to discover that a day or two later, another spam comment would show up in the moderation cue — for the very entry whose comment board I had just locked the day before.

What’s up with that? Perhaps I should eliminate comments altogether? There must be close to 100 spam comments per day, with close to 10% landing on entries whose comments boards are already closed. What a waste of my time…

Update, Feb.16: Daryl Cobranchi (who, I’m delighted to note, has also joined Cavalor Eptith‘s excellent Digital Press Club) just sent me an email, wherein he writes:

They’re most likely trackback spam, which get through even when comments are closed. Try the Spam Karma 2 plugin for WP. Once trained, it’ll stop all types of spam.

Thank you, Daryl — that makes sense. Now I just have to figure out how to get this info to the folks at Harvard’s Berkman Center (where this blog is hosted). It seems I’m limited in installing plug-ins.

I may as well change the settings back to normal, since the ultra restrictions I have now simply keep good comments out, even as the bad bad spammers keep getting through…

And PPS to Cavalor: I received your invitation to join The Digital Press Club, but have been too busy dealing with a whole bunch of potential “terra” changes (really big ones), hence the delay in answering…

Tour of home

February 15, 2007 at 2:04 am | In ideas, social_critique | Comments Off on Tour of home

In Beirut and contradiction: reading the World Press Photo award (in Open Democracy), Mai Ghoussoub discusses a rivetting photograph by Spencer Platt, “Young Lebanese drive through devastated neighborhood of South Beirut, 15 August,” which just placed First in the World Press Photo of the Year contest. (Check out the whole gallery: well worth it.)

To see Platt’s photo, either visit Ghoussoub’s article or the World Press Photo Winners Gallery 2007 — all the images are significantly copyrighted, so I won’t copy & upload Platt’s photo here.

Ghoussoub links the image to voyeurism, noting that Helmut Newton’s photos first sprang to her mind when she saw Platt’s image. That insight lets her conclude that our position as a kind of voyeur is what makes the image work so well. Using an artful “capture” of real life, the viewer “face(s) human suffering and does not isolate tragedy from the ironies of survival,” at which point “the absurdity of being hits us in the face.”

When I saw the photo, my immediate response was slightly more particular, and personal. I thought that the indisputably glamorous-looking blonde in the red sports car’s front passenger seat could be a grown-up version of one of two little girls I knew in the late 70s in Munich. Their Lebanese mother, dark and very stylish, is the daughter of a wealthy, well-connected clan with businesses in Paris and Beirut. She ran then (and still does today) an avant-garde art gallery, where she gave space not just to known artists, but to struggling friends of mine. The girls’ German father, an improbably tall and wispy-thin blonde who nonetheless always managed to fold his lanky frame into his Mini Cooper, died in a car crash not long after I got to know him.

From the time they were born, the girls travelled from Germany to Paris and to Beirut to visit relatives. Their Lebanese family was (is) cosmopolitan, civilized, Francophone, enlightened, …and rich. And that’s the Beirut the girls knew.

When they were still little children, Beirut, including some of the family’s favourite places, was bombed. When the girls came back from that visit, they wanted to know why the swimming pools were gone, the promenades were gone, the houses were gone.

Of course the young women in Platt’s photo aren’t those girls I knew in Munich, but it’s not improbable to imagine that they would be predisposed to drive in an immaculate car (except for what looks like bird shit on the passenger door) through another freshly destroyed swathe of the city, documenting from a point that’s someplace between “tourist” and “native” the destruction of the civilized world.

Their parents’ generation was incapable of explaining or stopping the descent into barbarism then — why should they have any other way of dealing with it today, other than as voyeurs…. In that sense the photo strikes me as indescribably sad.

Super, villian

February 13, 2007 at 9:11 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Super, villian

Another fun quiz, via “Dr.Doom” this time: The Supervillian Personality Quiz. I have no idea who “my” character is, but she has colours to die for…!

Your results:
You are Mystique

Green Goblin
Dr. Doom
Poison Ivy
The Joker
Lex Luthor
Dark Phoenix
Mr. Freeze
Sometimes motherly, sometimes a beautiful companion, but most of the time a deceiving vixen.

Click here to take the Supervillain Personality Quiz

PS: I should add that I’m kind of reeling under things to do, and doing many things.  Hence the sparse postings here, and don’t even get me started on all the emails I owe people.  Maybe I am “Mystique,” mysteriously vanished from the scene, blending that blue skin into the blue sky, disappearing…?

I just now tried changing the settings on “comments.”  Maybe they work again — the spammers have still been getting through, albeit not as vehemently.  How they do it is a mystery.  They must be supervillians.

Hatches too tightly battened down?

February 3, 2007 at 9:39 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Hatches too tightly battened down?

Oops, I’ve been alerted by two readers that they can’t post comments on my blog unless they are logged in. I must have caused/ erected this stumbling block the other day when, in an effort to make it more difficult for spammers to crap all over the place here, I changed the settings.

I’ll change it back — tomorrow, or later, but just not now lest I make the problem worse. Too tired, too distracted to mess with settings now…

Flickr’ing off, a follow-up

February 2, 2007 at 2:17 pm | In media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Flickr’ing off, a follow-up

After reading several additional blog entries (notably Ken Camp and Shelley Powers) about why or why not people may or may not be upset by flickr’s switch to yahoo-only accounts, I want to explain why I’m upset. I don’t care that it’s yahoo — never had an account with them, don’t care. I’m not anti-big corporations on principle, either, for otherwise how could I have gmail accounts? I’m not attached in any way to the silly “old skool” label (I quite agree with Shelley that it’s puerile to address pre-acquisition-by-yahoo flickr members as such).

But: I pay for flickr. I’m a customer, I have a transaction with them. I gave them money, they let me upload my photos. When I buy something, I don’t expect to have to give out a whole lot of personal information. It doesn’t matter that snoops with a 3rd grade education could probably find out everything that yahoo wants me to put into tidy boxes in bite-sized information, for their easy convenience. I know that. But if I’m a paying customer, I don’t expect to have to give that information.

I won’t give that information.

Which brings me to the next point (and bear with me, I’m pressed for time and literally writing this on the fly into the editing box on this blog): I could just lie and give false information, right? I bet that’s what most people are thinking (“Hey, what’s wrong with you? Just give ’em a made-up birthdate and zip code…”). But the terms of service (and don’t forget: I didn’t want this “service”) I’m asked to check as agreeing to state that I shouldn’t lie. So if I do lie, I’m effectively breaching a contract. “No big deal, who cares, everybody does it” — are most people saying that?

Well, what do I say, then, when as a customer I expect TOSs to be respected and I instead get corporate misbehaviour and a cavalier shrug of the shoulders, with perhaps a dismissive, “what’s your problem?, everybody does it” thrown in?

Why should I be put in a position of having to lie in order to maintain a service I paid for?

Never, ever was I put into the position of buying something, with the seller forcing me either to reveal personal information against my will or to lie.
And if I had a free account, I’d still feel the same, except it would be easier just to leave flickr. With a paid account, however, I’ve invested a certain amount of time and trust in uploading more photos, and possibly developing more contacts, including group affiliations.

So this is the model of corporate customer relations for the future: lie or reveal. Handing over your money is no longer good enough. If “greed is good” was the motto of the 80s, maybe “lying is ok, everybody does it” is the de facto reality of the 2000s. Heaven help us. We’re flickr’d.

…And yet & maybe, just maybe I should be just as cynical about the whole thing as yahoo & flickr are: lie through my teeth and stay in the corrupt circus. Trouble is I can’t decide if it’s what they deserve or if that’s cutting off my principled nose to spite my face.

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