The container is not the shipping

Safe to say I’m the other side of that infrastructure phase of the last couple of years. Constant exposure to shipping containers and train cars and blah blah blah… they’re all just objects.

Shunt’s The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Own Face put the nail in the coffin. Set on a collection of shipping containers, it staged a sequence of excessive capitalist spectacles probably in order to make you question the system you’re involved in. Except it doesn’t, because it spits you out into a pop-up bar besides the river. It tries to have its cake and eat it. Crumbs everywhere.

Fetishising the boxes doesn’t make the network better legible. It doesn’t make the consequences of zero-sum consumerism any more apparent. The node is not the network.

Day 26 and Day 27

So, Day 26 – Your favourite sweet/candy/food was already covered in Day 11.

Day 26 | Skip

Therefore I skip to Day 27. Your favourite movie scene/character.

Day 27 | Casablanca

The end of Casablanca. Blaine and Renault walking into the fog of the airport together. Futures unknown. beautiful.

Terms we don’t need to define

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I thoroughly enjoyed Laptops and Looms. Brilliant to get outside of my head, outside of London, and thinking about bits of culture and technology that I don’t have a professional excuse to anymore.

But… there’s a thorny thing in the back of my head that I want to get down before I forget to.

We spent a bit of time on two conversations which we’d sort of covered in 2011 and don’t really help people draw anything from them. They helped get us to interesting places, but I think we could have skipped them.

The first is about contacting makers and manufacturers. It’s hard to build a network of trust in an industry you don’t know. Really hard. We talked about making a wiki or something similar collecting the names of people each of us have found to be brilliant… except that’s no more likely to happen this time than when that got suggested last time. Far too much community management for something as informal as Laptops and Looms.

If manufacture isn’t business critical then it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever put the legwork in to really compare a stack of suppliers. You won’t need to. If it is, then talking to people trusted by other people you trust will only be a small part of the dialogue necessary to finding the right people.

I’m one of those people who finds it hard to speak to people who might make you feel stupid. Whether it’s a milliner or a printer or whatever. My self-confidence is fragile and I find that stuff difficult. I have huge sympathy for people in the same situation. I don’t need a new service to solve that, I just need to get better at it… and I might not until I really need to. And that’s okay.

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The second was on the merits of start-ups and start-up culture.

Imagine trying to solve that in twenty minutes of chat. Tip-toing and hand-wringing around the fact that a start-up – like any other kind of operating entity – is merely a mechanism. It is whatever the people running it want it to be, and while it can play a part in the culture that takes its name it doesn’t actually have to.

There’s a place for that kind of discussion, and that place is Medium.

The reason these conversations had room to happen is, basically, I’m not a great moderator. I get caught up in the chat and it’s only perspective that leads me to think ‘Oh, shame we didn’t use that time to talk about x instead.’ I’ve learned I don’t need to hear these conversations again. My inclination would be to have something at the next Laptops and Looms (2017 represent!) that effectively says ‘Folks, we’re not gonna solve this stuff… let’s talk about something else.’

So, to all attendees, sorry. If you got frustrated with that stuff blame me. If you had a lovely time then blame Greg and Russell – they did much more work than I did.

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Norwegian rigour

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I remember, at Improving Reality last year, Russell remarking that the important thing about Timo, Jørn and Einar is that their approach isn’t ‘Aren’t these new technologies and infrastructures scary?’ but ‘Aren’t these new technologies and infrastructures full of possibility?’ It makes for good, compelling work from lovely, smart people.

The Scandos have released a new thing, Satellite Lamps, an investigation into the material of GPS. It’s very good, again. It pokes the bruise from last year’s Brighton Digital Festival, that these networks and systems need to be more legible.

More than that though, it explores the process of making the lamps. There’s an excellent moment the essay leads you too, where the team realise;

We have made something that is beautiful, understandable and exciting.

Right after reading I got round to watching a Peter Saville interview Guy linked to a few days back. He describes the work of most design as;

Finding ways to cleverly articulate someone else’s message.

Which feels textbook, and probably spot on. Of course, he follows that up by talking about how his didn’t do that, but nevermind…

While the Satellite Lamps do cleverly articulate the ‘message’ of GPS, their process of ‘finding ways’ to do that feels like a mission. It’s driven by a desire to not just uncover the effect of a network, but represent it in a meaningful, legible and resonant way.

There are many, many ways they could have settled on presenting this work. Instead they took a stringent, academic route to find the right way of doing it. It’s rigourous. And that’s not something necessarily built in to most of the work I encounter, let alone do.