Sunday, July 15, 2018

Cyberflanerie: Literal, Shoshana Zuboff, Marc Demarest, Andrea Jones, Neil Postman, Colette Fu, Ollie

My review of Claudio Saunt's splendid West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, originally posted here, is now live on Literal.

Global Warming Ate My Life by Shoshana Zuboff
The pivot as antidote to the error of predictability.

Andrea Jones' poetic, charming and informative Between Urban and Wild blog covers bluejays

Marc Demarest on how to know when the computer is coming for you: "The biolectric union between man and silicon"-- as seen in 1997.
> And see the Chasing Emma blog. (I was intrigued to find this since Emma was the editor of Art Magic, a book I found in Francisco I. Madero's personal library. You can view a first edition of Art Magic on High octane stuff in there.) Be sure to click the tab to view the blog in "magazine" format, not "classic." In an earlier post he writes, "Why bother with another thesis on George Eliot, or another humdrum book on Aleister Crowley, when virtually the whole of Victorian occultism lies fallow in the noonday sun?" I say, here, here.
> And his page on Richard Dadd.

Ye Prophet of Yore Neil Postman on "The Surrender of Culture to Technology":

The Sociological Eye on Shutting Down the Internet in Time of War
"The core problem is communication overload; the presence of information technology everywhere results in a situation that one general described as 'we’ve gone from network-enabled, to network-enamoured, to network-encumbered.'"

Soothingly beautiful popups by artist Colette Fu:


> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Sunday, July 08, 2018


As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing. 

Jaron Lanier's 
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.
If you know who Jaron Lanier is you will understand why he, and probably only he, can get away with such a title for a commercially published book, a title that most people today, and that would include writers with books to promote, would consider hoot-out-loud humbug.

But perhaps they would not if they more fully understood the perverse and toxic nature of the machine Lanier terms BUMMER.

BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent

Writes Lanier:
"BUMMER is a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds. To review, phenomena that are statistical and fuzzy are nevertheless real."
And more:
"The more specifically we can draw a line around a problem, the more solvable that problem becomes. Here I have put forward a hypothesis that our problem is not the Internet, smartphones, smart speakers, or the art of algorithms. Instead, the problem that has made the world so dark and crazy lately is the BUMMER machine, and the core of the BUMMER machine is not a technology, exactly, but a style of business plan that spews out perverse incentives and corrupts people."

BUMMER sounds like science fiction. But alas, as Lanier explains, the business plan behind social media, and the use of proprietary algorithms to hook users into addiction and subtly distort and shape interactions among users, is both real and seriously icky. You've probably read or heard something about FaceBook's shenanigans, but in Lanier's Ten Arguments you're getting a far broader, more detailed analysis and argument, in a wierdly charming package, and not from some random TED pundit, but from one of the fathers of the industrial-cultural complex now known as Silicon Valley.

As Jaron Lanier states in his acknowledgements, the title Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is inspired by Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. I, too, consider Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television a personal inspiration and a masterpiece. Call me a pessimist: I doubt that Lanier's book will have any more influence on the general public's social media habits than did Mander's on television watching, which came out in the late 1970s. But perhaps such works may assist you in marshaling your attentional power for your creative endeavors, as they did for me, and for this reason I enthusiastically recommend them to you, dear writerly readers.

Carpe diem.


I have deactivated some social media (FB back in 2015) and essentially abandoned others (Twitter, LinkedIn,, but have not (yet) deleted my few social media accounts.

While I agree with Lanier's argument that social media is BUMMER, perverse and and toxic, and I sincerely wish that I had never signed up for FB and Twitter in the first place, the fact is, I did, and because of that existing online record, I am not ready to hit the delete button. Moreover, I am still digesting some parts of his argument (in particular, I do not accept his hypothesis that the problem is merely what he terms BUMMER).

And by the way, yes, I know, this blog, on the Google platform, blogger, belongs to BUMMER. A better and paid platform is on my to-do list.

As for using Google search-- definitively BUMMER-- I switched to Duckduckgo as my go-to search engine a good while ago.

What's the specific strategy that would be right for you? I would not presume to say.

But what is clear-- and we don't need Mr Lanier to inform us on this simple point-- is that if you want to write anything substantive, and you don't have the abracadabradocity to summon up more than 24 hours in each day, social media can be a lethal time-suck. The years will scroll by, as it were... and funny how that is, though you Tweet #amwriting often enough, you never wrote what you planned to write... What's more, the visibility you can achieve with social media, and the sense of "community," albeit intermediated by proprietary algorithms of a corportation, are Faustian bargains: you will pay in the end, and on many levels.

I always welcome your comments by email. You can write to me here.

P.S. For those who have the inclination and/or sufficient cootie-proofing to handle esoterica, I can also recommend philosopher Jeremy Naydler's splendidly researched and elegantly argued In the Shadow of the Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness-- also just published. You might find it worthwhile to keep in mind, if you read In the Shadow of the Machine, that in his Ten Arguments Jaron Lanier mentions (oh so briefly, blink and you'll miss it) Waldorf schools. (More about that connection here.)

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980): Some Notes by Way of a List of Books, Videos, and More

As I mosey along with my book about borderlands Far West Texas I have become increasingly fascinated by the interweavings of the imaginal realm and the real, that is, how novels, television shows and movies are inspired by and in turn shape our ideas about this place, its people, and its history. (See my previous post, "Thirteen Trailers for Movies with Extra-Astral Texiness.") I have also been pondering the ways in which the digital revolution has transformed the experience of travel itself, conflating, multilayering, and pretzeling time and space. (See my post on "Literary Travel Writing: Notes on Process and the Digital Revolution.") And I've been noodling on technology (see "Notes on Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Railway Journey.")

So no surprise, I have ended up, willy by nilly, crunching through the ouevre of Marshall McLuhan.

For anything to do with media, Marshall McLuhan is your superstar go-to guy. He's wild, brilliant, cryptic until you realize just how very brilliantly inside-out brilliant, and spookily prophetic. His famous saying was, "the medium is the message." His arguably most famous book, however, is titled The Medium is the Massage.

An excellent introduction to his work is this video on the Marshall McLuhan Speaks website. It opens with his cameo in the Woody Allen film, "Annie Hall," then goes to an approximately 20 minute introduction by Tom Wolf.

> Listen in to Terrance McKenna on Marshall McLuhan for another richly interesting, yea verily, psychedelic introduction.

> For an official biography see the  Marshall McLuhan official website. This official webpage includes the head-shaking "McLuhanisms."

Selected works by Marshall McLuhan:

The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man

The Gutenberg Galaxy

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (with an introduction by Tom Wolf)

by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers
The Global Village: Transformations in World Media in the 21st Century

by Marshall McLuhan and Eric McLuhan
Laws of Media and the New Science
Media and Formal Cause

by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore
The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects


Lectures and Panels


On the Global Village and the Tetrad
Lecture at Johns Hopkins University, 1977

This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Message


On the last lecture by Marshall McLuhan's son and collaborator, Eric McLuhan: Media Ecology and the 21st Century

@mmreadsbooks is of notes by McLuhan found by grandson
Andrew as he took inventory of McLuhan's working library
(Hmmm this note reminds me of reading Thundersticks...)

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.