What I Read This Week - 8th April

A long week, apparently full of emptiness, photographs and manufactured nostalgia: - The Berenstain Bears and the Tyranny of Timeliness (Rob Goodman at the Millions)

When we reward timeliness with the limited currency of our attention, we put ourselves in a tightly circumscribed place in which our intake of information is left up to the whims of the news cycle. And abdicating decisions about what we know to an abstraction like “the news cycle” is a lot like abdicating political decisions to an abstraction like “the market.”

- Why this huge Chinese mall is empty (Kaid Benfield at the Atlantic Cities)

The mall has 7,100,000 square feet (163 acres) of leasable floor space and 9,600,000 square feet (220 acres) of total space. Wikipedia reports that "the mall has seven zones modeled on international cities, nations and regions, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California." It has a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, another of the bell tower of St. Mark’s in Venice, and a 1.3-mile canal with gondolas.

- Cities are surprisingly menacing when you remove all the people (John Metcalfe at the Atlantic Cities)

Lucie & Simon[...]have used a digital scalpel and a special filter to excise the human flesh from city landscapes. They leave just enough evidence of our species' presence – a lone woman in a blood-red coat in Madison Square Garden, for example, or a hoisted flag in Tiananmen Square – to make the mysterious, mass disappearance as eerie as possible.

More on emptiness. A theme?

- Umwelt (xkcd)

Not much to read here; I just really like this.

- Shoot Hip or Die (Matt Pearce at The New Inquiry)

The cosmic significance of Hipsta/gram is not physical. It ages digital photos for distribution in a digital world. But nothing really gets older online; the only aging of things here comes from the erosive force of changing human sensibilities. The black of that North Face jacket looks just as black, but the point of wearing it has faded a little. Here there is only the appearance of getting older because everything else has gotten much newer. The pixels do not outwardly become worn. They are like grains of sand. If one is destroyed, it’s too small for us to know it’s been annihilated. And there is so much sand.

I've written about my own tendency to (over)use my mobile phone as a camera (or is it my tendency to use my camera as a mobile phone?). I like some of the things that Pearce has to say about the way apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic "manufacture decay", transform the smartphone into a kind of nostalgia machine. I'm not even sure I entirely agree with everything in this piece but it's beautifully presented and highly relevant, and worth giving some thought and time to.

- The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Nathan Jurgenson at Cyborgology)

the momentary popularity of the Hipstamatic-style photo serves to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past. In fact, the phrase “nostalgia for the present” is borrowed from the great philosopher of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, who states that “we draw back from our immersion in the here and now [...] and grasp it as a kind of thing.”

Glad I finally got round to reading this - it's been on my to-read list for a while now, and interesting to juxtapose with Matt Pearce's piece above.

- Los Angeles, 1860-1886 (The Retronaut)

I don't know LA very well. I didn't grow up very far away, but it struck me then (as it still strikes me) as an impenetrable place, a place that resisted being loved. "I think Californian scenery is the most loathsome on earth, - a cross between Coney Island and the Riviera," Wodehouse wrote while living and working in Hollywood; I remember bridling when I first read that letter, but on reflection, I'm hard on it too, and I can't see why anyone else shouldn't have the right to be. Anyhow the thing that's interesting about seeing these photos is that absent from them is the very thing I always think of as being essential to the identity of Los Angeles: the traffic, the freeways throttling the city. I've always felt it was populated not by humans but their vehicles; I couldn't imagine it any other way, in the way that I can imagine London or New York or even San Francisco in the pre-car era.