The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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All the while, it was growing


On Nov 13th, Jason Kottke asked

Why doesn’t anyone talk about bacterial marketing? Or hookworm infestational media?

I wrote

@jkottke viruses make a better metaphor; they need a host’s cellular architecture to replicate their own DNA. Also AIDS put viruses on map.

Just a couple of days later, I became very, very sick.

It turned out I had an infected abscess, around a hematoma in my lower back. I’d been trying since October – and if you remember, I was seeing a lot of doctors in October – to get a physician to take this swelling seriously, to say something other than “Wow, would you look at that?” or “Let’s just wait a few weeks to see if it goes down on its own.” Now it had almost killed me. It’s like my accident had finally found a way to get at my insides.

On Thursday, I was admitted to the hospital (again), to get the infection cleared up. This ultimately required not just dose after dose of antibiotics, but also surgery. Actually, two surgeries so far, and a third tomorrow. It’s not closed yet, for I’ve got a little vacuum pump sucking my incision dry. But no more little hunchback. And no more fevers or explosive bouts of illness. And a good chance I’ll be discharged in time for Thanksgiving.

I’ve had it with hospitals. After this year, I hope I don’t see the inside of one for another ten. I think I’m due a break.

Anyways, I wanted to explain my long Snark-absence. This is my first night with the computer, which also feels pretty good.

Because something has been growing inside me besides just bacteria. (Eww. Where’s this going?)

AN IDEA. I have an idea!

It comes from Joanne McNeil’s name for her Twitter list of wordly nerds who like to think about books and new media: “bookfuturism.”

More to the point — bookfuturists.

I love it because the first word modifies the second as much as the other way around. A futurist (in the original sense) wants to burn down libraries. A bookfuturist wants to put video games in them. (And he wants one of those video games to be Lego Hamlet.)

A bookfuturist, in other words, isn’t someone who purely embraces the new and consigns the old to the rubbish heap. She’s always looking for things that blend her appreciation of the two. (The bookfuturist might be really into steampunk.)

The bookfuturist is deeply different from the two people he might otherwise easily be mistaken for – the technofuturist and the bookservative. Technofuturists and bookservatives HATE each other. Bookfuturists have some affection for each of them, even if they both also drive him nuts.

What do I mean by “technofuturists” and “bookservatives”? Well, I can show you.

Bookservatives talk like this:

Accompanying this plague [of bookstore closings] is a feel-good propaganda campaign that enjoys the collusion of the major media outlets, including such true hi-tech believers as the NY Times and NPR—print and broadcast venues that are themselves cheerily being rendered obsolete by the hi-tech rampage—and that in subtle ways positions the destruction of book culture like so: “books” in and of themselves are nothing, only another technology, like the Walkman or the laptop. What is sacred are the texts and those are being transferred to the Internet where they will attain a new kind of high-tech-assured immortality. Like dead souls leaving their earthly bodies the books are, in effect, going to a better place: the Kindle, the e-book, the web; hi-tech’s version of Paradise…

The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now Der Book. Hi-tech propogandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better-off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle.

Further, we are told that to assign to books a particular value above and beyond their clearly inferior utility as a medium for language is to mark oneself as an irrelevant social throwback. And then, goes the narrative, think of the extraordinary sleekness, efficiency and amplitude of a Kindle, where thousands of texts lie at your fingertips. Which teen or twenty something in their right mind is going to opt for paper over electronic texts? No one of course. That’s just the way of evolution, goes the narrative. Publishers and readers, writers and agents, are well-advised to get with this truth or perish. As to the bookstore, it is like the synagogue under Hitler: the house of a doomed religion. And the paper book is its Torah and gravestone: a thing to burn, or use to pave the road to internet heaven…

The advent of electronic media to first position in the modern chain of Being—a place once occupied by God—and later, after the Enlightenment, by humans—is no mere 9/11 upon our cultural assumptions. It is a catastrophe of holocaustal proportions. And its endgame is the disappearance of not just books but of all things human.

Technofuturists can get nearly as apoplectic, but they’re winning most of the fights these days, so most of them sound like this:

I am utterly perplexed by intelligent and innovative thinkers who believe a connected world is a negative one. How can we lambast new technology, transition and innovation? It’s completely beyond my comprehension.

It is not our fear of information overload that stalls our egos, it’s the fear that we might be missing something. Seeing the spread of social applications online over the past few years I can definitively point to one clear post-internet generational divide.

The new generation, born connected, does not feel the need to consume all the information available at their fingertips. They consume what they want and then affect or change it, they add to it or negate it, they share it and then swiftly move along the path. They rely on their community, their swarm, to filter and share information and in turn they do the same; it’s a communism of content. True ideology at it’s best…

Frank Schirrmacher asks the question “what is important, what is not important, what is important to know?” The answer is clear and for the first time in our existence the internet and technology will allow it: importance is individualism. What is important to me is not important to you, and vice-a-versa. And individualism is the epitome of free will. Free will is not a prediction engine, it’s not an algorithm on Google or Amazon, it’s the ability to share your thoughts and your stories with whomever wants to consume them, and in turn for you to consume theirs. What is import is our ability to discuss and present our views and listen to thoughts of others…

As someone born on the cusp of the digital transition, I can see both sides of the argument but I can definitively assure you that tomorrow is much better than yesterday. I am always on, always connected, always augmenting every single moment of my analog life and yet I am still capable of thinking or contemplating any number of existential questions. My brain works a little differently and the next generation’s brains will work a little differently still. We shouldn’t assume this is a bad thing. I for one hold a tremendous amount of excitement and optimism about how we will create and consume in the future. It’s just the natural evolution of storytelling and information.

I mean = it’s not THAT either, is it?

And yet = there are clear outlets — clear markets — for both of these sentiments and styles. They both LIKE arguing against the other. A more sophisticated point-of-view — which is also not just that of the distinterested critic, or the market watcher, or the tech insider — where is the space for that, really? Where is the community?

There are a lot of us – Joanne’s list is a decent place to start – mostly writing on blogs, on Twitter, trying to figure this out.

Stay tuned, Snarkkinder. I’ve got something cooking on this. Let’s keep thinking about this together.


Yes!!! When you get better we have got to have a bookfuturism symposium at the Koolhaas library in Seattle!

aaaaargh, i hope you feel better soon!

Hope your de-infection process is going better than the diagnosis process did, Tim.

That bookservative quote is mindbogglingly crazy sounding.

An energizing dispatch! I hope it helps speed healing as well as inspire.

“Der Book”? I thought the thing that was so great about organs like Evergreen Review is that they’re supposed to have editors.

Once we accepted the theory that the printing press was an agent of change, we began to forget that the essential part of the formula was the agency.

But not all of us! Bookfuturists, paleofuturists, technotribalists, and hilobrows: what we’re looking for in part, I think, are ways to be in “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” about technology, about books, about the future. Negative technobibliophily! And aware of the plural nature of that for which we search.

Tim Carmody says…

That’s good! I think I’ll put it in the manifesto.

I like ‘hilobrows’ as a plural noun. For some reason I imagine them as Picts—proud, energetic, blue-tattooed 😛

That’s great, Tim—just be sure to leave the ampersand in.

I am covered in blue tattoos. Um, in my mind.

Was thinking as I read this, “nope no one says bug much anymore.” guess “to bug” is physical, and “a bug” is just a code typo.
“Are viruses really alive ? Old rubbish heaps can get retro-trendy, but they are indeed full of bacteria and mites etc.. ”

glad there is an alternative to both of those ..

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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