I Am Officially Moving to Tumblr

•May 8, 2008 • 1 Comment

This will be the last post I make to my WordPress blog.  I am moving everything over to Tumblr, which is a content-management system that better accommodates my style.

My new URL is seanbest.ca.  My new RSS feed is here.

I would be grateful if you would update your bookmarks and feedreaders, and with a little luck I will never have to move platforms again…

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You’ll Never Be Alone Again

•March 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

What follows is an excerpt from an email exchange that I had with my friend Rob, who shares a similar interest in the perverse intersection of technology and social relations. As Rob correctly observes,

One of the big questions that web 2.0 fails to answer is, who wants to be so connected and why? Why are our blackberries always on? Are we complicit in our own hijacking of sociality? We seem to be–no one is forcing us to sign up to Facebook or Twitter. I think web 2.0 will remain alive only until people interrogate their own assumptions about what they’re getting from this new type of social interaction.

Some argue this is the next step in social interaction, but is it a step forward or backward? Will my facebook or LinkedIN profile supplant my CV or resume?

Our facebook profiles are our CVs, and twitter is but one more means for shameless self-promotion. What else do our friend lists, status updates, and funwalls say about us besides: “This is how fucking awesome I am, this is how many friends I have, here is all the fun shit I’m doing right now, and these are all my cool interests and hobbies.” Or, put otherwise, “My life is the fucking zeitgeist.”

We would do well to recall the sociological notions of the ‘best presentation of self’ and the dramatalogical construction of identity. Thinking critically, all of this self-promotion and “outing” of ourselves is merely a smokescreen for a generation that is profoundly insecure and, by way of compensation, needs to be constantly linked in.

As Debord would say, we’re running hard to keep up with the devalued signs of life. The postmodernists are right when they say that we should dispense with any notions of authenticity, cause the genuine article is a fucking relic. Not only is nothing ‘authentic’ anymore, but the word has now become meaningless. Just try to define it.

As far as I’m concerned, all we can do is save ourselves, one or two loved ones, and a pet. Leave the masses to their Facebook-powered social orgy. Seek whatever blend of freedom keeps you sane. Update your status, but do so with irony.

The Classroom as Spectacle

•March 15, 2008 • 2 Comments

Sensing that the human voice is no longer adequate to deliver a lecture, and desperate to boost their ratings among a youthful demographic, the savviest of professors now rely on Powerpoint to do their classroom bidding. With each passing lecture comes the further maturation of technological proficiency within the pedagogic avant-garde.

Having evolved from monotonous and seemingly endless slideshows composed entirely of text, Powerpoint-lectures now appear naked unless ornately burdened with a curious mixture of transition effects that lack all subtlety and purloined images from the pen of Gary Larson. Still, the evolution is incomplete. Just recently, one brave professor dared to raise the bar that much higher by boldly experimenting with an irrelevant video-clip whose educational purpose shall forever remain unknown.

Watching our professors become awestruck in the presence of an arsenal of high-tech gadgets is akin to watching a babble of wide-eyed children tremble at the sight of the latest offerings from Mattel. In both instances one finds the same fanatical belief that, finally!, everything has changed and now anything is possible. Granted, new possibilities have emerged, most notable among them the potential for an electronic faux pas.

Remember this: In all Powerpoint-dependant lectures—no matter how well scripted—there is that inevitable, awkward moment when the professor, unwittingly captivated by the computerized spectacle of their own creation, confuses the skill of the software with that of their own.

4 x 4 = CAA

•March 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment
this is the best image that you'll never get to see

All That is Solid Melts Into Air

•March 1, 2008 • 1 Comment

What matters most to modern man is no longer pleasure or displeasure, but excitement.
–Nietzsche

The desire for excitement now exists as a societal imperative, establishing the motif for every social interaction, technological innovation, and pharmacological ingestion. In keeping with F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist dream of a world enriched by ‘the beauty of speed’, the artificially-accelerated rhythms of the human body have increased in tandem with the speed of both the motor and the microchip.

The alienation of everyday life is no longer just an economic or bureaucratic phenomenon (as obsolete left-wing ideologies continue to suggest), it now includes the lamentable condition of a social body that, for all intents and purposes, has been ordered to live at a pace dictated by technology. With the diffusion of fibre optics, the speed at which the social lives can only be measured using metrics that defy our all-too-human notions of time and space.

As Marinetti triumphantly announced at the beginning of the twentieth century, “time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.” Oh, how delighted Marinetti would be if he could only see how far we have come to realizing his dream. Alas, unable to escape the rigid confines of mere flesh and blood, he never had the opportunity to revel in a world that now suffers from equal doses of alienation and exhaustion.

The tormented factory worker in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times remains a poignant symbol of contemporary existence. Subjected to the invasive tyrannies of behavioural control and technological servitude, we exist as parodies of all that which is authentically human. The pseudo-religious quest for efficiency has obliterated the traditional separation of home and office. Labour and leisure are indistinguishable; production and consumption one and the same.

The cheerleaders of our brave new world have already welcomed the emergence of the transhuman, a provisional species that bridges the evolutionary gap between the human and the posthuman. The human body has become reliant on an ever-widening array of technologies and is now but one more machine to be mastered. Heidegger and McLuhan were both acutely aware of the extent to which we had become subordinated to the logic of our machines. Neither man would live to see the cellular telephone or the blossoming of the internet, and so their writings could never fully plumb the depths of alienation and exhaustion.

There is now an urgent need to revisit the words of Bertrand Russell, who, in his 1932 essay In Praise of Idleness, noted that “there is far too much work done in the world, [and] that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.” Having said this, Russell expressed “a hope that…the leaders of the Y.M.C.A will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”

Perhaps out of a misguided effort to redeem Russell’s life, the call is hereby being made for a loosely concerted effort to reduce the speed of everyday life. Such an effort will require a decidedly subversive strategy of recklessly applied laziness. In the words of Paul Morand, we must find new recruits for “the great secret society of layabouts enjoying the scorn of a world which works too hard.”

Don’t be mistaken, this is not simply a plea for ‘slow cooking’ or an intimate evening with the family spent playing bored games. Rather, it is a diverse campaign that entails nothing less than the wholesale rejection of all that which refuses to operate at human speeds. Let us shake off the cobwebs of neglected relationships and once again feel at home in the here and now. And let us escape from the dictates of efficiency and control, which are simultaneously used to both advance and justify the ongoing colonization of the lifeworld. To this end we must each develop our own idiosyncratic strategies for safeguarding what is properly known as our collective humanity.

To advance such calls for inaction is almost criminal, a tasteless affront to the spirit of our times. To reject the zeitgeist is akin to declaring oneself mentally unsound, and one risks being stampeded by frenzied psychiatrists in their rush to catalogue every manifestation of this new disease. The names of the inordinately lazy will no doubt find their way into countless databases, and threatening emails will be quickly sent to inboxes that—perish the thought—might not be checked for a day or two.

The Luddites were far too easy to destroy. We must prove ourselves to be a more elusive adversary. But first, we sleep.

Everything You Already Knew About the Primary Elections But Wanted Confirmed by an Expert

•February 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

As a student deep in the throes of a Masters degree in Political Science, one would have thought that I would have been enraptured by every triviality that “Super Tuesday” had to offer (of which there was no apparent shortage). After all, what could be more important than the primary elections? Absolutely nothing, if we are to judge by the rabid enthusiasm of Wolf Blitzer.

Alas, I have no stomach for electoral politics, and even less so for the parasitic television coverage and mindless punditry that plagues it. Thus, out of a misguided sense of obligation I decided to indulge my wife and eschew CNN in favour of American Idol, a show where the dreams of the adolescent contestants are fuelled by the very same naïve optimism that powers the race for the presidency.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Super Tuesday:

1. Too much emphasis is placed on the primaries. The overwhelming majority of voters will remain loyal to their chosen party regardless of which candidate wins the nomination. We would do well to remember this. In a political system as polarized as that of the present-day United States, a glorified leadership convention does not an election make.

2. The Republican nomination was a lock over a year ago (if not two). In the spring of 2006 I officially predicted a McCain presidency. I obviously stand by that prediction. Huckabee is a red-herring, do not be distracted by any such nonsense that would attempt to portray him as a ‘regional candidate’ or some such thing. The Republicans have no need for a regional candidate—especially in a region that, by and large, will vote Republican no matter who’s name is on the ballot. A powerful Republican ticket would be McCain-Romney.

3. The Democratic race is far more interesting. I agree that the race is too close to call. I am suspicious of Clinton and her political aspirations. I am also weary of Obama’s lack of experience, which might begin to show as the pressure mounts. Obama may have some momentum behind him, but never underestimate the political savvy of the Clinton team. I refuse to offer any additional insight.

4. See 1, above.

Brad Sucks

•February 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Finding new music that is worth listening to has been getting increasingly difficult. After a brief indy-fueled explosion last year, times got tough, and I found myself stuck in a rotation heavily comprised of The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, and TV on the Radio. By the time the new year rolled around, things were getting rather bleak and, out of desperation, I found myself listening to old Ricky Gervais podcasts during my lonely commutes to work.

But even in the desert, it sometimes rains. In my never-ending quest for all that is cool and not soiled by the dirty hands of emo clowns, I recently stumbled upon the one-man band that is Brad Sucks. And while I generally don’t make a habit of loudly expressing my musical tastes, in this case I am happy to make an exception.

brad turcotteThe man behind Brad Sucks is Brad Turcotte, an Ottawa-based musician and open-source web developer. Turcotte was among the first to embrace the new distribution models offered by the internet by offering his music to the public as either free or low-cost downloads. Not only that, Turcotte also gives away the source material for his songs so that fellow musicians can remix his work. And while Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have taken similar approaches with their music, it is worth mentioning that Turcotte started doing this back in 2002.

So Brad Sucks is obviously doing some interesting things when it comes to the production and distribution of music, and yes, as far as artists go he’s more than a little bit ahead of the digital curve. Yet what makes Brad Sucks so noteworthy is the simple fact that unlike most indy bands, the music sounds incredible from the very moment that it lands upon your virgin ears (as opposed to having to repeatedly struggle through it for three weeks before you finally “get it”).

brad sucks album coverTo date, Brad Sucks has released the ironically titled album, “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” (2003). The album features an eclectic mix of songs that reveal a vast array of musical influences, although I refuse to even attempt to describe just who or what Brad Sucks sounds like since this is something of a fools game. If I told you that you could probably pass the album off as a new release from Beck, would you be impressed?

Do yourself a favour and check out Brad Sucks for yourself. I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed, unless of course you prefer your music to be overpriced and sound like shit (see Gene Simmons). For a sample, click PLAY below: