The Plastocene

The Graduate is a great film, with an enduring effect on our culture. But one scene in the film called out a phenomenon that will have an even more enduring effect on our planet: “Just one word

In the first global analysis of plastic production and use, the true weight of the world’s most flexible material has been brought to light. By 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. Of that, 6.3 billion is waste, with just nine per cent of it recycled. The majority, 79 per cent, is piled-up in landfills.

To put this staggering quantity in perspective, 8.3 billion metric tons is the same weight as 80 million blue whales, or 822,000 Eiffel Towers, or one billion elephants. The research was conducted by the University of Georgia, the University of California and others and is published in the journal Science Advances.

The scene in question:

Now, do you think you could stop buying plastic bottles? Like right away? Today? What does half-life mean? And… scene.

The iPhone 5

Some of the many problems with the new iPhone 5 were formally aired in this important exchange between makers and end users of the product.

People Staring at Computers


Interesting confluence of media, technology and art in this Wired article:

In “Thoughts on total openness of information,” Dan Paluska brainstorms about the possibility of posting all your “personal” information online, asking what the repercussions would be. What if people could see every bank transaction you made? Or read every email you wrote? I started answering these questions for myself with “keytweeter,” a yearlong performance starting in June 2009. Keytweeter was a custom keylogger that tweeted every 140 characters I typed. Over that year, I learned a lot about myself and what “privacy” means. I learned that every conversation belongs to all the parties involved, so I put disclaimers in my emails. I learned that I was more honest, with myself and with others, when I knew everyone could see what I was saying.

After keytweeter, I started working on a project with Wafaa Bilal called “3rdi.” He told me he wanted to implant a camera on the back of his head that would upload a geotagged image to the internet every minute, as an exploration of “photography without a photographer.” So I worked with Wafaa to create a system that made this possible. As a professor at NYU, he had some trouble while at school due to privacy concerns. They came to a compromise where he would keep the camera on, but covered. This performance also lasted a year, over the course of 2011.

After working with text for “keytweeter,” I started exploring visual equivalents. One experiment, “scrapscreen,” made a scrapbook from your screen over the course of a day: every mouse movement “tore away” that part of the screen and saved it to a continually overlapping image. Another experiment, called “Important Things,” captures every click as a 32×32 pixel icon in a massive grid.

Later that year I worked with interactive artist Theo Watson on an extension of “Important Things,” called “Happy Things,” which took a screenshot every time you smiled, and uploaded it to the web. We got pictures from all around the world, with people smiling at everything, from cat memes to the Wikipedia article for Nicholas Cage.

Sometimes this kind of work is associated with “human-computer interaction,” but this term makes it sound like we’re interacting with computers, when in fact, most of the time, we’re interacting with each other. I like to think of it as “computer-mediated interaction.”

In mid-May, 2011, I took a timelapse using my laptop’s webcam to get a feeling for how I looked at the computer. After a few days of recording, I watched the video.

Jobs and the Mac


Green Boy came in last night before a game a ping pong. “Have you heard?”

I had not, and so he broke the news. He had just written an essay on the Steve Jobs last month for school, on someone you admire, and I could tell he was quite moved by the passing, though not enough to spare me any quarter at all in our ping pong match. But it was moving, refreshing in a way, to see him effected by this stranger’s passing. I see where today many millions feel the same. It’s a strange sort of collective response to individual experience. Here’s mine.

Just after Mrs. G and I tied the knot, as two writers with no money looking to quit our jobs and pursue something (else) absolutely foolhardy, one of the first things we did was to buy the Powerbook 165C, along with the Stylewriter II printer, which together cost an even fortune. Unbelievable. But our two other friends with laptops at that point swore by them, and so we dove in. I was oddly proud of the thing, though even then it really couldn’t do much. But I was getting it because of what I was convinced I could do. Hmm.

But on our subsequent move to New England to begin mostly unrelated though closely held literary pursuits, that thing was indispensable. A year later we moved to Europe with not a single thought of a backup or that the the pB would let us down in any way. And it didn’t. Always a Cadillac, in the kleenex sense of the word. I didn’t even know it was dual voltage and fretted needlessly over frying it. But never fear. Someone had thought of that. And if it wasn’t Jobs, it was somebody he saw at least once a month. I could go into the kids’ music/play room right now, pull the 165 out of its dusty bag under a desk and boot it up, and I’m sure it would turn on immediately. Offering (begging?) me the opportunity to contribute some further hewing to my oeuvre.

A couple of years later we upgraded with one of the limited edition graphite iBooks,which frankly looks hilarious but works like a charm. I could dig that one out and fire it up, as well. And it would work. Maybe that’s the point; I’ve kept these machines (not the printers) not because I still use them, but I’ve never really even thought of getting rid of them, which is maybe a nostalgic angle on sustainability, but… they still work and could if they were called into the ‘hot zone’ of my fiction haze. With a modem, I could even write this damn blog on ’em! Sure, we have MBpros and all now, desktops and fancy monitors. But the pattern was set back then with that use and, frankly, dependability of those machines not to let me down – even and especially if I didn’t (quite) know what I was doing (yet). I put five novels and a few plays into those things and gotten more than my share of joy/misery back out. And looking for more.

I can get as eye-rolly as anyone about their marketing techniques and Jobs’ amazing ability to create in us the need for something we did not know we needed. And I still don’t know what the iPad is for. BUT, the catch is that these tools – and they are only tools – are all quite amazing, and feel like they were developed by someone who loved them and loved to use them. As opposed to some entity that seemed to loathe the end-user (not mentiPoning any nCames). Of that, we can know Jobs was innocent. But I know his tools transformed my work life (carbons?) in ways that even I have seen change, and that were quite unimagined just a few decades previous. And for that I say Merci and R.I.P.