Paul Stankard's handblown glass pieces look impossible to create. In Beauty Beyond Nature, he discusses the craft. Image Source: Paul Stankard via boing boing.
This blog has just passed 2 million hits! Welcome to the 1359th post and the end of the blog's fifth year. Thank you to everyone who has stopped here. Your time is precious and comments are always appreciated. Thank you to every interviewee who has been kind enough to discuss your work. And thank you to other bloggers I have met along the way, who have shown me the value of real-time publishing. These bloggers are all amazing people, intelligent and gifted mavericks (you know who you are), who know what to read on a desert island, and how to walk the line.
This blog was partly inspired by a site called The Strip, and partly by the late Mac Tonnies, whose blog (now in paperback on Amazon here) was published from 2003 until his untimely death in 2009. Tonnies' Posthuman Blues remains a landmark. Sometimes I revisit his blog, and I am still amazed by his ideas and vision, his uncanny ability to pin down the Zeitgeist, to channel the new Millennium's collective unconscious, to decrypt and encrypt a cultural environment of changing symbols, to describe the future.
Blogs remain relevant because some are still independent. Media independence? Political neutrality? What's that? Although media outlets co-opt blogs to make them branded social media products, some blogs remain artistic life statements and authentic testimonies. Readers follow a blogger on a personal journey as he or she tries to make sense of the exploding world of communications. So, Histories of Things to Come is based on a true story.
Sleeping Beauty (March 2011): "A starry night above the world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany. In this all-sky view the bright stars of the Summer Triangle and the Milky Way are visible at left (east). The brightest star on this side is Vega. On the other side bright star Arcturus and constellation Boötes stand above the castle. Toward the north Ursa Major with the prominent figure of Big Dipper is visible above the trees. The spectacular castle nests on the Bavarian Alps was a palace built in the 19th-century, commissioned by King Ludwig II, on a rugged hill near Füssen in southwest Bavaria. The iconic palace was an inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle and later similar structures in the world." Image Source © Babak A. Tafreshi and TWAN.
In May 2010, I wrote this first post on how changes in perspective inspire fear. That post includes a clip from The Innocents (1961), in which an interviewer asks Deborah Kerr's character, "Let me ask you a personal question. Do you have an imagination?" Maybe it comes as no surprise that Truman Capote helped write the screenplay for that film. There is something of him in that question, about how fear arises from even the smallest play on perspectives. And that is why independent blogs and other independent social media sites matter. They broaden perspectives, they keep the possibility alive that data can be free. They deal with information outside groomed algorithmic virtual realities and beyond well-worn virtual highways.
Seasons (December 2007-June 2008):"This all-sky fisheye composite image the daily trail of the sun are shown in three special days: the winter solstice, the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. At the photographer's location in Bursa of Turkey the latitude is about 40 degrees north. As described by the photographer, 'I took the first series of photos on 2007 December 21, only hours before the actual winter solstice. Three months later, it was the vernal equinox. ... Three more months later on June 20th, was the final day for the project, on the day of summer solstice. ... The composite shows all these pictures of the Sun merged into one with the help of Adobe Photoshop.'" Image Source © Tunc Tezel and TWAN.
Baku Analemma (2011-2012): "One full year of solar motion is captured in this multi-exposure analemma image from shore of the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan (See this image in a flash animation that shows how the analemma forms). Analemma is the figure '8' loop that results when one observes the position of the sun at the same time of day over the course of a year ... . For this image the photos are all made during the local noon." Image Source © Tunc Tezel and TWAN.
There is a seductive surge in online dynamics, a collective momentum. If something trends, it feels true, even if it is nonsense. People who get hits become authorities, sometimes entrenching their own ignorance, like the Gilgamesh Amateur. Emotional communities flock around shadowy consensuses and mistake their collective fervour for truth. That mentality marks the start of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism does not begin with the NSA bogeyman. A totalitarian state starts with its people, and the dictator and his henchmen merely step into the vacuum the people create.
In other words, it has never been more essential to record what is going on from an independent perspective, and it has never been more impossible. The bewitched, distracted Millennial mentality cannot find a consensus in historic reality, because it is also enclosed by search engines and social media. Algorithms reinforce the power of blind opinion by steering search results into cul-de-sacs, based on earlier browsing history; search engines guide us away from people with whom we disagree, to the point where we never see them at all. Inside the bubbles thus created, there is ant-heap chaos. You can turn the same facts around many ways and tell a thousand different stories. This was always true, but now the problem is out of control. Inside each solipsistic bubble, there is no true authority, no Pole Star pointing toward true north. Established institutions are collapsing, political and social certainties are fraying and falling apart, and conspiracy theories are everywhere. When it comes to making sense of the Internet, what can you believe? Is what makes sense to you personally really all that exists, or really what occurred? Infinite relativism further lays the groundwork for totalitarianism, not tolerance. When no one can agree on the truth of facts, much less the common good, you can't even establish a meritocracy, let alone - ha! - a decent democracy. As Yeats wrote in The Second Coming (1919): "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Swimming in the Sky (November 2014): "Aurora can appear in most bizarre forms. In this fisheye view of the northern lights, photographed from a small Sami village near Kiruna in Sweden Lapland, the faint green aurora appears like a giant shark swimming in the celestial ocean (almost like the rare deep-see Goblin Shark!)." Image Source © Per-Magnus Hedén and TWAN. Republished by kind permission of the photographer.
This blog has explored the fake Millennial realities which depend on online dynamics surging around emotional and fringe perspectives: crazy politics; generational alienation; the collective unconscious, memory and nostalgia; superstitions, aliens, conspiracy theories and the occult; dreams and night photographs of sleeping cities. At the intersection of the organic world and technology, there is a widening mystery we do not understand. This mystery used to be described symbolically as the bridge between life and death. Now it is evident in other things: Google turning evil; evil turning mainstream; digital narcissisms; sentient technology; procrastination; the thousand yard stare of someone hypnotized by their screen; and blind optimism about the potential unknown.
How do you write the history of the turn of the Millennium under these conditions? Like an analemma in the sky, you start to see patterns if you stare long enough, but the pieces are always shifting. I started this blog while doing graduate work in history. In 2009, I wanted to write a history of the turn of the Millennium. At first, I thought I would write an academic monograph. But sources moved so quickly that a historical snapshot had to be taken day-by-day. Speed and volume of information did not pose the only problems. The other problem was perspective. My model was George Orwell, whose social commentaries and essays transcended the journalistic and political, even when he was being journalistic and political, and who foresaw so much of the Millennium in Nineteen Eighty-Four, based on his experiences with media coverage of the Spanish Civil War. During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell saw historical facts destroyed, erased, molded and remolded. He told Arthur Koestler: "History stopped in 1936." After that, sources were no longer sacrosanct. Before 1936, historians could reinterpret them, but 'facts' were respected, almost like tangible objects. After 1936, sources were willfully changed and altered in the journalistic media, by politicians, and anyone else with power over information. History became a moving target and reality became malleable.
Snow Globe (November 2014): "Like a snow globe, celebrating winter, dancing northern lights are captured in this fisheye view from Lapland." Image Source © Per-Magnus Hedén and TWAN. Republished by kind permission of the photographer.
Nevertheless, while gathering historic Millennial snapshots, some general themes emerged on this blog. One is that people who see the future most clearly violate the bounds of acceptability very quickly; yet the horrors they imagine and and their alienation are nothing compared to future events, which are even worse.
Summer Night in a Garden (September 2014): "The Milky Way in a summer night of a village, captured with a fisheye lens (full dome image)." Image Source © Amir H. Abolfath and TWAN. Republished by kind permission of the photographer.
Other themes: how much of reality we don't see; the lack of control we have over our identities; the acausal parallelism of events; and alternate histories which exist but have almost no witnesses, captured in urbex photographs, or evident in an anti-generational pre-Boomer manifesto that never quite got off the ground, because fake social labels are more powerful than social realities. Fiction becomes fact, fact becomes fiction.
Gorge Stargazing (September 2014): "A fisheye view of the night sky over a small gorge in the Alborz Mountains of Iran. Light of a nearby town appears in yellow-orange on the left." Image Source © Amir H. Abolfath and TWAN. Republished by kind permission of the photographer.
This blog looks at these problems as a day-by-day history of our time, with all its wonders, its sad and amazing moments, which are gone in a blink, but remain in the Millennial moment of change. Irony: this blog has become more a historical source than history.
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