Not so long ago I worked with a chap about the same age as my younger brother. He had a quick, sharp mind and was quite good at programming computers. What he struggled with, however, was the simple act of drawing a straight line. Of course, I do not mean this literally, I mean it in the sense that his solutions to problems were often ineloquent convolutions designed to highlight playfulness and whim of utility. On the surface, there is no real problem with this, I am after all a champion of imagination, deconstruction, absurdity, parody and lateral thought. For me though, as long as simplicity is the underpinning principle then I believe we might call this innovation. His style was not unlike a web browser adorned with numerous plug ins to achieve every possible outcome but requires constant maintenance. His engineering style was akin to a Jack-of-all-trades.
Jaron Lanier’s half-excellent “You Are Not A Gadget” is successful when it critiques such phenomena as group-think/hive mind and the large scale disempowerment through the homogenisation of diversity and flattening of contours through rigid yet ever bifurcation of defining categories in social networking software paradigms. However it is at points such as when discussing musical genre and alternative paradigms/solutions to the devaluing of creative industries that he starts to falter.
When it comes to music, it reads as though Lanier is too old and too outside of the contemporary to sufficiently judge the state of things. He riffs on how jazz is identifiable according to decade and that so is a lot of pop music up until internet saturation. But then, suddenly, according to Lanier a flattening occurs and his peccadillo, indie music, comes to a creative stasis. He claims that even good friends could not tell the difference between groups over the two decades from the nineties until now. However, I would argue that this is because he has placed himself outside of this context and that he is no longer sensitive the subtleties and creative diversity in his chosen genre. To say that the Arctic Monkeys sound Like Primal Scream who sound like Franz Ferdinand who sound like Blur who sound like the Kaiser Chiefs who sound like Bloc Party all within a frozen temporal quagmire speaks more of the author’s personal and cultural context more than it does of a perceived lack of creativity in indie music.
Following this is a brief encounter with hip hop’s post-digital development where he reveals himself to be not only too old and too outside but just plain too American. To ignore the incredible development of hip hop (a) the world over and (b) as an English speaker, the UK in particular is either lazy or ignorant. While it is permissible to say that the splintering and reincorporation of dance genres from jungle to drum and bass to grime, dubstep and so on has seen a certain degree of flattening, the creative forces required for their composition cannot be underestimated. Taking both rhythmic and melodic ideas to completely new extremes, these genres have not only evolved with developments in digital music making but have caused new tools to be required in order to articulate them.
My second critique follows the first. Laniers chosen position as “outside” the complex mainstream of technological development strikes this writer as somewhat naive. The same can be said for his overly optimistic, overly nostalgic appraisal of alternative technological developments suitable for financial compensation of artists. I have found for one reason or another (usually work!) I am forced to sit on and contribute to and at the very least ponder on “leading edge technologies”. The problem with this is that in my gut, I feel as though a prefer a more analog, more real reality to the digital simulacrum that continues to diversify before me. This irreconcilable paradox is actually a blessing. For it reminds me that falling into the binary trap is ever so inelegant and foolish. Either/Or. Click “like”. Just like death metal: old school versus new school? Which do you choose? I do not choose. I can not choose. I will not choose. For to me, what is most enriching and valuable is not pie in the sky suggestions of utopia that lack the cooperation of my peers. What is nourishing for the soul is to keep these so-called binaries, these contradictions, paradoxes under consideration, in dialog, since if while time passes we are actively and reflexively contemplating these square pegs and round holes, it becomes possible to see the infinite complexity surrounding them, the myriad interrelationships and interdependencies.
And it is through this reflection that we are able to, while offline begin to transform what happens online.