Well that was a fortni…actually, no, fcuk it, I can’t be bothered.
IT’S ALL OVER. I wrote my first Web Curios for Imperica on 8 February 2013, a few short months after binning off a reasonably-good job with an email that, even now, is the single piece of writing that people most remember me for and, in all likelihood, the only one which will outlive me. And now, here we are, for what Editor Paul assures me is the pleasingly-appropriate 300th edition of Web Curios to appear here.
It’s also the last day that the Imperica’s going to be active as a website, which is why Web Curios is stopping (for a bit, maybe longer, who knows?). I am going to do some slightly sentimental stuff now, so if you just want the links then feel free to skip this (but, you know, the least you fcuks can do is indulge me here, right? I mean, 7 years of FREE WEBSPAFF I’ve given you ffs, at least pretend to care, etc etc grumble grumble).
300 Curios, which probably equates to, at a guess, 2,500,000 words (a number that, when I write it down, does seem to sort of indicate I might have something of a problem with the logorrhoea), and roughly 21,000 links and 1,500 artworks featured and far, far too many broken links and typos (my grammar really is better than it sometimes appears, I promise; you try writing this much stream of consciousness and error free, ok?) and UNNECESSARY CAPITALISATIONS and bowdlerised swears (in case you were curious, by the way, it’s to get around firewalls given I know a few of you get this to your work emails). It’s been A LOT.
I know I always say this, but I genuinely don’t look at the subscriber numbers or the open rates or how many people look at it on the website; I would have written this stuff even if it were just for me. We’re all cyborgs now, obviously, and in a way Curios has, for the past 90 months, been an extension of my memory (that might explain the, er, uniquely self-indulgent nature of the house style), and it’s going to be quite weird not having anywhere to put large parts of the inside of my head.
Anyway, to all of you who’ve read this (even those of you – and I am sure there are a few – who absolutely fcking hate my writing style and read it through gritted teeth), thankyou. Thanks for taking the time, fighting with the density and the length and the tone and the cynicism and the bitterness and the ennui. I hope, at the very least, you’ve been able to put some bits of it to good use.
Curios will probably come back in some form at some point – I need to find somewhere to put it, though, and Substack doesn’t really appeal (also, there aren’t that many off-the-shelf mailers that can cope with this sort of thing, turns out). Til then, though, I really do mean it – thankyou for bothering to click the link and open the email.
Most of all, though, thanks to Paul, who has been running Imperica out of his own pocket for nearly 10 years now, over a period where publishing anything independently online has only got harder, particularly when you operate on a budget of what I have always assumed to be roughly no pennies. Paul contacted me when I left H+K and asked if I’d like to write this for him; he even paid me for a while, til we both realised that that was a stupid idea and that he should stop. Over the time I’ve worked with him he has published thousands of articles online by people who might not have otherwise had their voices heard, he’s run events, he’s been supportive of interesting people and projects, and, latterly, through the magazine, he’s given dozens of young aspirant writers their first paid byline. It’s no small feat, particularly when he also has a mysterious dayjob (seriously, man, what the fcuk do you do for a living?), and it’s a shame that financial realities mean it’s no longer feasible to continue. The homogenisation of the web – stylistic, tonal, cultural – is a saddening thing, and Imperica’s demise is part of that sadness.
Anyway, none of you fcuks care about this, so, for the final time, on with the (TOO MANY) links and (TOO MANY) words.
I have been Matt, this has been Web Curios, and you have been…what have you been? What’s the point of you? Go on, fcuk off out of it.
By Luciano Cian
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE YOU ALL TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE AMAZON NUMBERS AND TAKE A SMALL MOMENT TO ONCE AGAIN THINK ABOUT WHAT A COMPLETE, TOTAL AND UTTER FCUKING CNUT MECHABEZOS IS AND YET HOW NONE OF US CAN ACTUALLY AVOID GIVING HIM MONEY ANY MORE:
- Big Tech Loves A Pandemic: Whilst this isn’t surprising in any way – people stuck inside sure love the web, their devices, scrolling endlessly through feeds and occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers whilst sending each other messages about how bored they are of the web, their devices and scrolling endlessly through feeds whilst occasionally opening the door to minimum-wage parcel couriers! – the numbers are quite staggering. LOOK AT THE AMAZON FIGURES! No, seriously, look. Revenue up by a third, per-share earnings up by about 800%…it’s enough to make Jeff Bezos decide to end world hu…oh. And Facebook and Apple, with only POOR OLD ALPHABET (basically Google) flatlining slightly. Oh, and for those of you thinking that this doesn’t take into account the Facebook ad boycott which is SHAKING THE INDUSTRY, please note that the company has publicly stated that it fully expects its Q3 earnings – the period which includes the ad boycott – to match this 10% YOY growth in revenue. Do you ever feel impotent in the face of the relentless march of global capitalism? Well you should. Although spare a thought for Twitter, which despite piling on the users failed to grow its ad revenue (possibly because the product is, comparatively, junk). POOR THE TWITTER! POOR THE JACK!
- Facebook Announces Personal Fundraising On Insta: Yes, anyone and everyone will soon be able to use Insta as their own personal OnlyFans! I mean, that’s not what this explicitly says – the feature will let anyone set up a personal fundraiser for a number of causes, including charities and sick pets and medical bills, much as you already can on Facebook, subject to platform approval and a laundry-list of restrictions and caveats – but at no point does it say anywhere that you can’t monetise your noodz through this, so expect to see a large number of young men and women ‘fundraising for their modelling careers’ in creative and interesting ways on the platform. As an aside, does anyone else find something a bit…off about a platform as large and plutocratic as Facebook setting us all up to grift off each other whilst making vig off the top? No? FFS.
- Facebook Testing Likeless Page Design: This is only being tested, but is surely in the works – it’s being presented as a simplification measure to eliminate the increasingly-otiose overlap between the ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Page functions, but is also the final death-knell of the ‘Like’ as a meaningful metric of anything at all and an acknowledgement that THIS IS AN ADVERTISING PLATFORM FFS. Although it won’t stop moronic people in communications insisting that Pagelikes still matter (gyac love, you work in comms and therefore NOTHING you do matters! God, Matt, self-hatred is such an ugly look ffs).
- Go Live From FB Messenger Rooms: I can’t be bothered to get into the detail of the increasingly overcomplicated relationship between all the different moving parts of the Facebook empire; all you really need to know about this is that it’s now possible to take a mass videochat of upto 50 people and use it as a livestream, effectively meaning anyone at all can create a FASCINATING broadcast experience out of their awkward, stilted multiparty videocalls. There’s an obvious play here for any brands with multiple famouses as ambassadors, say, or making certain elements of conferences, etc, publicly visible. Really interesting and full of potential, although it will also lead to a lot of performative shouty groupchat broadcasts from people who really aren’t as interesting or funny as they think they are (stick to podcasts, lads!!).
- WhatsApp Pilots What Is Basically Banking In India: There’s something in the longreads that basically touches on a similar point, but it’s stuff like this – the slow, tentacular creep of the Facebook empire into the social and practical infrastructure of the most populous nations in the world – that means we’re not getting rid of it anytime soon. It’s a very smart move, and, leaving aside my personal disdain (no, let’s be clear, visceral hatred) for Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory, a potentially useful service for all the millions of smartphone-enabled people across India who might not otherwise be able to access the sort of credit, insurance and pension services here mooted. Still, try getting rid of Facebook when it’s providing essential financial services infrastructure for half a billion people.
- TikTok Launches ‘Game’ Effects: This is basically the same schtick as you’ve been able to do on Snapchat for a while now – to whit, TikTok will let brands buy interactive ‘effects’, which will enable ‘brands to prompt people on TikTok to use facial expressions, body postures or other motions in order to control and interact with branded elements, and the experience is sound-on. There are over 20 formats that brands can customize for their campaigns, including having users juggle a ball on their eyebrows, match poses in a catch beat and use their heads to control submarines.’ So there. Given the platform’s focus on kinetic action – dancing, physical comedy, etc – this is a perfect fit, and it’s not hard to think of some interesting and potentially quite fun activations you could build around this; sports teams encouraging people to mimic celebrations by star players, new music releases training people on how to do The Dance accompanying the song, and, inevitably, a bunch of attempts to make something from an ad campaign A THING amongst young people (‘Hey kids, why not use our new BRANDED EFFECT to mimic this ‘cool’/’funny’ bit from our TV spot?!’). Not sure if this is entirely open to all yet or whether it’s gated to top advertisers at present, but who cares? Tell your clients and let the ripe stench of ZEITGEIST engulf you all.
- The TikTok Creator Fund: Hugely interesting from a FUTURE OF MEDIA point of view, this – TikTok has announced a $200m fund for creators on the platform, which basically means that it’s going to pay popular people on the platform to make videos like it’s their actual job. If you have kids, it is possibly quite important that they don’t find out about this, lest you lose them forever to complex dance routines performed into the mirror in the hope of turning it into a career. This makes perfect sense, of course, and is the natural extension of platforms like Twitch, etc, paying popular streamers for exclusivity. Click the link and read the first paragraph and do a small boggle at the commitment to expand this to a $1bn fund within three years. Can you imagine a future in which we all earn a living being paid by content platforms to do FUNNY DANCES and share our HOT TAKES to our personal audiences of 50 people, all of us forever caught in a constant and neverending loop of creation and consumption and ad-watching and buying and oh my god I am so, so, so tired.
- TikTok Will Make Its Algo Public: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this step towards radical transparency may not in fact end up being quite as radically transparent as the company wants us to think it is – I mean, there are one or two commercial considerations that might come into play here, not to mention the nagging doubt that anyone knows exactly how their black boxes actually work any more – but it’s quite funny in a ‘kick sand in Facebook’s face’ sort of way; the shade here is real (is a phrase I am suddenly very conscious I am too old to use).
- Snap Launches Brand Profiles: I actually put Snap in a pitch the other week – it felt so retro! (it was the AR tech rather than the ‘social network’ bit, mind, I’m not a moron) (also, we didn’t win, so, well, IN MY FACE) – but, honestly, it feels a bit like yesterday’s news (although the Q2 results suggest that I’m possibly being a bit premature). Still, for those of you interested, “The profile may comprise any of the brand’s augmented-reality Lenses that have been created and saved into an archive or “showcase” and a native store through which users can buy products directly (powered by Shopify). There are also profile elements that are familiar to brand pages on other social media, such as enabling companies to create “highlights” (a collection of favoured content, such as Snaps, Stories and pictures) and Story posts.” Happy? Oh.
- Amazon Opens Livestreaming To Influencers: I joked up there about how the future is all of us dancing like monkeys for each other to earn that sweet, sweet platform cash – of course, the other potential option in a future in which the concept of ‘rewarding labour’ has been largely gutted is ‘we all become one-person QVC channels’, which is exactly what this development from Amazon is pointing towards. It’s basically – look, there’s quite a lot of detail in here that I simply don’t care about but which you’re welcome to click through and learn about – an extension of the Amazon Associates program that lets influencers earn off their recommendations, except with LIVESTREAMING VIDEO!! I have literally no idea who in their right mind would want to watch someone shilling products to them on Amaz…oh, no, hang on, that’s right, QVC actually exists and people actually watch it, and the presenters on there aren’t even shiny-faced internet-famouses. This is the sort of thing that I reckon probably won’t take off in the West but which will end up being violently popular in other markets.
- Twitch Launches Dedicated Sports Streaming Category: For actual sports! The idea is that this will become another channel for sports brands and broadcasters to share content on, with the opportunity to deliver archive material and behind the scenes stuff, as well as live events, on Amazon’s increasingly-monolithic streaming service. Smart, sensible, and the sort of thing which if you have anything to do with sports marketing you should be all over like the sky.
- Medium Becomes More Personalisable: It doesn’t have to be longform anymore! It can be, er, medium-form! Or short! And there are loads of new look and feel templates, and, basically, this feels like Medium once again trying to sell itself as ‘the Blogger you never knew you missed’ (one for the old online publishing heads, there). I’ve never liked Medium – it’s always felt quite smug, and I don’t like the paywalling, and it’s far too full of self-important VC types for my personal liking – and I don’t personally recommend putting your words on a platform that you don’t own, what with their being no guarantee that said platform won’t decide to up and vanish at a moment’s notice (AHEM), but if you’re after a publishing solution then you could, I concede grudgingly, do worse than look here.
- Oatly and Branding and Stuff: An unusually-interesting Twitter thread all about how Oatly – the bafflingly-popular faux-milk slurry – did its rebrand way back when, and how it manages its brand communications, etc, overall. Honestly, this is a good read regardless of whether you know anything about design at all (I really don’t), and is worth a look if only for a glimpse at the old Oatly branding. It’s no exaggeration to say that their previous chocolate oat milk packaging was unpleasantly reminiscent of a cross between 28 Days Later and an explosion in a sewage factory, which makes its current near-ubiquity even more impressive in terms of turnaround.
By Forrest Kirk
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.1:
- Electric Dreams Festival: Do you remember the start of lockdown all those many months ago, and how excited we all were at the prospect of the arts moving online and the amazing, ingenious examples of authorial creativity which was set to be unleashed by makers the world over? Seems like a long time ago, eh? Still, if you’re hankering from some of that OLD SCHOOL 2020 VIBE, then I urge you to check out the excellent Electric Dreams Festival – it started last week, but runs for another fortnight and is a collection of some excellent (and excellent-sounding) interactive online shows that cover a staggering range of themes and executions. I’ve seen quite a few of these, whether over the past months or previously, and I can vouch for the quality; personal recommendations include casino-come-theatre-come-allegorical-experience ‘The House Never Wins’, and ‘The Believers Are But Brothers’, a super-smart exploration of online radicalisation, but there are so many more things to enjoy here. At a time when theatre is wildly, spectacularly fcuked, if you have any love for the medium and a few quid to spare, splash out on some tickets.
- Vicariously: This is really interesting, and potentially very useful indeed for social media research (or indeed if you just want to snoop on people and you don’t mind the fact that they will know you’re snooping). Vicariously basically resurrects an old Twitter feature whereby you could experience the platform as any other user of your choice, seeing the timeline of their follows rather than your own. Vicariously does exactly that, through some quite clever use of lists, and then lets you go further, mixing two people’s feeds or seeing a feed of the two different users’ mutuals…if you’re interested in mapping chains of influence, this is hugely helpful (if you’re willing to put the reading time in); equally, if you want to experience the very, very weird Twitter that is most politicians’ experience then this is an excellent way to do it. Oh, and if you’re job involves something horrific like ‘creating marketing personas’, this is a really useful additional toy you can use to build up an idea of ‘Savvy Urbanites’ and what their Twitter looks like (kill me now, please). The caveat to all of this, though, is that, due to the fact that this basically involves the creation of lists, people who you’re interested in surveilling are likely to get notifications telling them that they have been added to a list, which may potentially arouse some suspicion (but probably won’t – like fcuk do any politicians know what Twitter lists are imho). Go on, go and spend some time in Kanye’s Twitter shoes.
- Storyline: I imagine we’re all bored of reading coronastories now, right? I’m bored of my own coronastory ffs, I can’t bring myself to care about yours too. Still, this project by Australian broadcaster SBS is a lovely one – they solicited voicemails from people across the country, asking them to leave messages describing how they were coping and what was happening to them as the country retreated into itself, and these are presented in an unusual, slightly-floaty way, letting you move around a ‘canvas’ and explore the different stories as you see fit. There are a few guided routes through the narratives if you fancy them, but otherwise you can just scroll around and listen to the various tales of people’s time spent in the grip of the pandemic. It’s amazing how much more affecting and emotive these are than simple words on a page – I could write some guff here about THE POWER OF VOICE, but, well, I don’t want to. This feels like an art installation coming to a museum near you in 2021, in a good way.
- Above, Below, Beyond: Thanks Paul for sending this my way – it is ACE. Part of an Arts Council project exploring the stories and heritage of the North East of England, this site takes a bunch of audio taken from the region’s mines and makes them available for you to mess with; it’s effectively a synthtoy built from recordings made inside the mineshafts and caves of the area around Durham, letting you create an aural collage from the sounds of spades, shovels, dynamite, the works. It’s a wonderful, glorious cacophonous mess – or at least it is when I used it, cloth-eared, no talent bozo that I am – but even then there’s something sort-of brilliant about the aural soup that results. I love this.
- The At Home Club: I confess that I am including this slightly because it made me laugh quite a lot – but, at the same time, it’s a really nicely-put-together project and the principle behind it is laudable. The site asks the central question ‘how are makers responding to the global pandemic’ – “in the wake of Covid-19, the world has changed in ways that no one could have expected. From months spent in quarantine grew a global movement for justice and equality. Each of us has processed and adapted to the events of the last few months in our own way. In an effort to stay connected and support one another through these unprecedented times, we created At Home: a series of stories documenting the experience”. It presents creators – in the real-world rather than ‘I make videos on TikTok’ sense – from cities around the world, including London, Berlin and SF, and shares the stories of how COVID has affected their practice and, in turn, how their work has reflected the social and cultural environment of the pandemic, and there’s genuinely loads of really interesting stuff in here, nice photography and interesting writing. But, well, I also couldn’t help but snigger quite a lot at the entries headed ‘making candles for self-care’ and ‘activating another wheel of consciousness’. “What did you do during lockdown?” “well, I mainly played videogames and cooked and learned that I can’t bake bread for sh1t and spent a lot of time very, very stoned indeed; how about you?” “oh, I activated another wheel of consciousness”. I know, I have dust where my soul should be.
- Endless Doomscroller: A surprisingly accurate rendition of what it’s like scrolling through Twitter at the moment.
- Restream: This is potentially really useful – fine, it’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about running livestreams across multiple platforms simultaneously, but I remember it being a massive and slightly-unpleasant pain in the ar$e, whereas this service promises to make it SUPER EASY. You can, so the service promises, stream to multiple platforms from one device with nary a care, for FREE – although if you want to include Facebook you’ll need to pony up for the subscription service, so caveat emptor and all that.
- The World Carrot Museum: To the list of ‘superb museums that I love’ (currently at the top of said list – the pencil museum in Keswick, still the high watermark for excellent-yet-crushingly-mundane days out) let me add this one. “The first virtual museum in the world entirely devoted to the history, evolution, science, sociology and art of Carrots. The mission is to educate, inform and amuse visitors through the discovery, collection, preservation, interpretation and exhibition of objects relating to the Carrot. This site provides lots of interesting and useful information about the humble carrot.” As with all sites of this ilk, I am pretty certain that this is created and maintained by a man, an impression reinforced by the section on carrots helping alleviate menstrual pains, which is something I am pretty sure no woman would give much credence to. Still, CARROTS!!
- Their Tube: Such a clever site, and such an interesting (and slightly depressing) project. Built by Tomo Kihara, this site offers you the opportunity to experience YouTube as it would be seen by a variety of different personas – the fruitarian, say, or the lefty, or the conservative, or, er, the conspiracy theorist or climate denier. Each persona has been built up from a clean YouTube profile and seeded by watching a few videos on a particular topic and then following rabbitholes, and if you’re one of the (many, many) people who knows someone who’s gone a bit funny in terms of what they believe over the course of the past few months, this might help understand how (if not why). It’s astonishing to see just how unique each is – obviously the idea of individuals consuming only media that they decide fits with the worldview they wish to believe and support is nothing new, but it’s useful to be reminded the extent to which digital media takes that concept and basically pumps it full of steroids; it’s very easy to imagine how one might start to have one’s worldview coloured when every single video you’re served on YouTube – which means everywhere on the web, remember, thanks to embeds and autoplays – tells you that, I don’t know, the adrenochrome vampires took Maddie (if you don’t know what the word ‘adrenochrome’ refers to then count yourself lucky and DON’T GOOGLE IT).
- E.gg: ANOTHER new project from the insanely prolific New Projects people at Facebook – this is waitlisted at the moment, meaning that as far as I know noone’s gotten a good look at it yet, but everything on the website suggests that it’s basically Facebook’s attempt to recreate Geocities for 2020. For those of you who are too young to remember, or whose memories have been irrevocably screwed by the consumption of 15s videos of dancing teenagers, Geocities was an early web platform which enabled anyone to have their own little corner of the internet which they could decorate however they wanted and fill with whatever content they liked – which, in practice, amounted to sparkly text and LOTS OF GIFS; effectively a precursor to the MySpace aesthetic of the new rave era, if you will. There’s a certain irony in the fact that this is exactly the sort of aesthetic that Facebook helped to kill with its standardised page layouts and uniform look-and-feel, but, well, who cares? The promise here is that E.gg will become a place where anyone and everyone can ‘express themselves creatively’, though why they seem to think we all need to do that via the medium of spangly webfonts is a mystery to me. Worth signing up for, though, out of curiosity – and let’s be honest, Facebook’s already got all your data, so what does it matter? As an aside, I am convinced that there’s a really interesting essay to be written about the direct links between the aesthetics of ‘zine culture, the asthetics of Geocities/MySpace and the modern aesthetic of Stories as a medium, but I’m fcuked if I know what it is (one of the many, many reasons I’m not a journalist).
- Defector: I wouldn’t ordinarily bother commenting on the launch of a new US sports website, but the concept behind this is really interesting. Defector has been set up as a collective by a bunch of writers who have been laid off from other sites such as Deadspin and the like; basically a bunch of these writers have gotten together, set up this site as a place to aggregate the stuff they want to write about, and are offering subs at a range of rates to anyone who wants to read their stuff and support them. That’s it – simple, and potentially really effective. Who needs a publisher when you can just effectively combine a bunch of substacks, chuck them up on a cobbled-together frontend and set up subs through existing platforms? This is really interesting, and I genuinely hope it works out – there’s the kernel of a really promising model for a small, self-sufficient media business here, the sort of thing that could work pretty much anywhere, and I would love to see a bunch of the UK’s young writers try something similar. Go on, young writers (he said, patronisingly)!
- AI Myths: There was another pitch I was involved with recently which we didn’t win – I am so good at my job!!! – for one of the worst companies I have seen in a long time (I had said that I wouldn’t work on it had we won, for avoidance of doubt), an AI business which could at best be described as ‘a bit shady’ and at worst as ‘an (alleged) bunch of snake-oil selling conmen engaged in borderline-fraudulent activity’. They were basically guilty of everything that this site – which exists to debunk some of the most commonly propagated myths about AI – talks about, from claims about the power of AI to its objectivity and safety and universal applicability. Can you guess who I’m talking about, out of interest? Go on, try! Anyway, this is a great site which I encourage you to read and then to bookmark and send to anyone who you hear blithely and glibly throwing around the term without the faintest idea of what it actually, practically means; this is a clear and cogent explanation of all the ways in which people tend to misspeak about the sector/concept, and which does rather a good job in particular of outlining the limitations of the technology as it currently stands.
- Smartipresence: OH THIS IS FUN! This is an already-backed Kickstarter, running for another month (so annoyingly you won’t get your hands on the kit for a while, chiz chiz chiz), which will let you build your own little telepresence robot out of cardboard, meaning (basically) that you can let anyone you like manoeuver a little cardboard robot around your home while you videochat with them, allowing them to effectively ‘be’ in your space. Gah, that’s an awful description, hang on, let me try again. You know those weird ‘ipad on wheels’ things that people got a bit excited about a few years back and that were heralded as a new way of remote working, whereby you could ‘see’ through the ipad’s camera whilst moving around the office, going into meeting rooms and all the while being unaware that colleagues had put a dunce’s cap on your digital representative? Well, it’s like that, but very smol and made of cardboard. Honestly, this looks like so much fun and an excellent little engineering-type craft project for a particular type of kid; it’s also the sort of thing that if you use it in a home that has cats will drive your pets absolutely mental, which to my mind is a significant additional bonus.
- Bob Basset: Seeing as we’re all cool with the concept of masks now, why not check out these which are by far and away the most amazing ones I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure whether Bob Basset is the name of the designer or just of the company that makes these, but WOW are they amazing in a sort of fetish/horror sort of way. Tooled leather and metal and glass and piping and oh me oh my. You will very much be the most popular person at Torture Garden should you get yourself one of these, should the ‘rona ever allow that sort of close mixing of bodily fluids with strangers again. In the unlikely event that any long-term readers fancy clubbing together and getting me a ‘thanks for seven years of doing this for no money’ present, I’ll have this one please!
- Vilmari: Interesting business idea, this – it seems to have been around for about a year, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. Vilmari effectively lets you hire out your car for short periods of time, letting you maximise its use and defray its cost at the same time; on the flipside, it offers a potential pool of cars to rent for short journeys on the cheap. Obviously there are all sorts of reasons why this might be less-than-appealing; whilst all users have to prove they are insured, provide verified real names and contact details and generally promise to behave, I can’t say I’m totally convinced that you won’t get your car back covered in vomit, weed crumbs, suspicious baggies and with parts of a person bundled into the boot. Caveat emptor and all that.
- Fawkes: Well done, University of Chicago, for this excellent initiative which effectively lets you cloak your face from image recognition devices in photos with no obvious loss of image quality to the human eye. “At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking. You can then use these “cloaked” photos as you normally would, sharing them on social media, sending them to friends, printing them or displaying them on digital devices, the same way you would any other photo. The difference, however, is that if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.” Only an academic paper at the moment, but I am very glad that this is being researched so successfully.
- Sourceful: This is potentially hugely useful – there’s been a boom in the use of GDocs as a means of creating open resources for all sorts of purposes, from the Coronavirus Tech Handbook to sector-specific guides to various disciplines, and Sourceful acts as a single search engine for such documents. If you want to see whether there are any public resources available offering guidance and community-collated information on any given topic, this is a great place to start.
- Alexagate: Another week, another MSCHF drop – this one, though, is perhaps my favourite yet, and the closest to an actual, proper product that really ought to be mass-produced, The Alexa Gate is a piece of kit that you sit on top of your Amazon Domestic Surveillance Device which will block it from hearing anything at all – unless you clap three times to deactivate it, at which point Alexa will work as normal. Three more claps recloaks it, letting you go about your daily business safe in the knowledge that your every word isn’t being communicated back to Mechabezos’ server farms and used to sell your more stuff that you neither want nor need, packed by exploited workers and delivered by the often-marginalised. There’s an article in the longreads about MSCHF which made me dislike them quite a lot (read: I am immensely jealous), but this is great and I applaud (ha!) it.
- Shnap: Visual search and shop – as in, take a photo of something and an app will throw up options to buy it and similar things instantaneously – is one of those innovations that has been bubbling around for years without ever really quite taking off; I presume because that degree of image recognition is actually very hard in the real world, with its imperfect lighting and dirty objects and the like. Still, Shnap is the latest iteration of this tech and if it works anywhere near as well as the website suggests it does (it won’t) it could well be a gamechanging. Interestingly, it also exists as a chrome extension – so you can use it while browsing to instantly search shoppable products from images anywhere online which, if it works, is potentially very useful indeed (for someone with more fashion sense than I have). Worth a look, this, I think.
- Kathe Memorial: Käthe Kollwitz was a German artist working in the late-19th and early-20th Century; this site is a beautifully-designed and built tribute to her work. Honestly, I had never heard of Kollwitz before, but as a way of telling her life story, her place in the European modernist pantheon, it’s superb. Lovely, lovely webwork.
- Vocodes: I know that it’s getting better all the time, but audio deepfakes – at least the ones that I have been able to get my hands on and play with – really aren’t very good, an impression that this site did absolutely nothing to dispel. You can choose from a range of pre-set fakes and put whatever words you want in their mouth, but there’s no way in hell that this would fool anyone apart from someone who’s got very waxy ears indeed. Still, if you ever wanted to listen to a poorly-mimicked David Attenborough say “get the ket in you little sesh gremlins, I’ve got a right thirst for powder” then, well, MERRY FCUKING CHRISTMAS.
- 1 Second Paintings: Abstract art, generated by AI, at the click of a button. Whilst this isn’t entirely successful – you can always tell what the training set was, to my mind, which rather ruins the effect – it’s indisputably true that the majority of the outputs are far, far better than most of the stuff that you see in offices worldwide. Actually, here’s a fcuking GREAT idea – see if you can get the budget for the art buy on the next corporate refurb (presuming we’ll ever go back to an office ever again), trouser the cash and then just do it on the cheap by printing out a bunch of these on reasonably high-stock paper with IKEA framing. Honestly, this is a great idea and I really hope one of you bothers to steal it for once.
- Heritage Photogrammetry: David Fletcher is a very talented graphics person who works in games; in his spare time, he creates these 3d models of heritage landmarks, many in London, using photogrammetry (more on that technique in the longreads). These are rather lovely, and it’s nice to imagine a future in which all major architectural landmarks are available to explore through this sort of tech.
- Magic Sky: Apply vaguely psychedelic effects to the skies in your photos, in a desperate-yet-doomed attempt to make your stuff stand out on the ‘gram (I’m being unnecessarily snarky here, these are quite fun and I imagine would look pretty cool dropped into a Story or two).
- Winning The Internet: When I first started writing this for Imperica, seven and a half long years ago, no fcuker had a newsletter and I felt SPECIAL and DIFFERENT. Now, though, every cnut in the world has one and I am one of several million self-important pr1cks arrogant enough to think that anyone cares what they have to say about anything on a weekly basis. So it goes. This feels like something of a zenith/nadir – the clever people at dataviz bible The Pudding have just launched ‘Winning The Internet’, their very own ‘newsletter of newsletters’ (HA! They know NOTHING!) which analyses the content of (at the time of writing) 86 different newsletters and sends out a digest compiling the most popular links from across that selection each week. The selection they pick from is US-heavy and their selection tends (so far) towards the thinky/takey end of the spectrum rather that ‘weird stuff from the corners of the web’, which is basically my way of saying YOU WILL NEVER REPLACE CURIOS YOU CNUTS (you will, this sh1t is ten a penny these days).
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO THANK EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO HAS MADE SOMETHING FEATURED IN WEB CURIOS OVER THE PAST 7 YEARS (EXCEPT THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE WEIRD TELEDILDONICS STUFF WHICH I HAVE NEVER REALLY ENTIRELY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF), PT.2:
- Trendstastic: A really useful Chrome plugin, this, which does one simple thing – each time you search Google, it will add a Google Trends graph for that search term to the top of the results. That’s it. Still, having had it installed for a fortnight now I can absolutely vouch for the fact that, even if I probably haven’t found it practically useful once, I have found it oddly-interesting about 90% of the time, which is pretty much all one can hope for really.
- Facetracking: Ok, this requires you to be able to do a bit of codewrangling, but if you’re that sort of person then it’s quite fun. This lets you use facetracking to control any simple web program you like – ideally games – that has wasd-type controls. So, for example, if you want to hook up iOS classic Temple Runner to be controlled by the movement of your chin, NOW YOU CAN! God, I really am treating you here as we get to about halfway down the fagend of the final Imperica Curios. You’re going to miss this, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU, YOU FCUKS? Hm, that might be the problem, on reflection.
- Liverpool, A 15-Minute City: This isn’t the most compelling of sites, visually-speaking, but it’s a really interesting project, designed to see whether the concept of the ‘15-minute city’ – that is, an urban environment in which residents can have all of their major needs met (green space, food shopping, employment, etc) within a 15 minute distance of their home. As we adjust to the NEW NORMAL (oh come on, I’ve been really good about not using that phrase over the past few months, I’m entitled to a bit of laziness, surely?), this sort of consideration in urban planning will, one hopes, form the bedrock of civic development over the next few years. I think there’s a lot of potential for ideas that explore this in greater depth, and, for those of you who read Curios solely for concepts that you can take an apply to your dreadful clients, there are opportunities for smart thinking for certain large-scale businesses around retail, property and the like.
- Objection!: Why not try responding to every work email you receive today with images from this Phoenix Wright ‘Objection!’ generator and seeing how long it takes you to get a talking to? Like this!
- This Girl Makes: A project promoting craft and making amongst young women, which seems to have been on hiatus a bit during lockdown but which is A Good Thing and deserves a look, offering “practical workshops and DIY kits, as well as inspirational and informative talks. It cultivates a sense of community that offers skill sharing, confidence building and a sense of empowerment. We provide women and girls with therapeutic, but also constructive opportunities that nurture resilience and offer financial liberation.”
- Lonely Mascots: The Atlantic, celebrating the happysadness of mascots in empty sports stadia, cavorting for an audience of precisely no fans. Although tbh I would imagine that plenty of mascots are quite happy not to have to deal with the drunken groping of several thousand p1ssheads who have all had the ENTIRELY UNIQUE idea that it would be hilarious to molest the man in the big dinosaur costume.
- Suitbusters: This stuff – this is the very pulsing heart of Web Curios, maybe even its soul. Suitbusters is a YouTube channel whose sole purpose and concern is the desecration of suits. A man – it is always a man – with a beard wears a suit in a variety of scenarios, and the suit gets dirty. Sometimes with gunge, sometimes with mud, sometimes with ketchup and various other foodstuffs – but the suit always comes off worse. THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR 8 YEARS. THERE ARE 51,000 SUBSCRIBERS. WHY??? I mean, let’s be clear, we all know why – this is a fetish corner of YouTube, one of those weird bits where the avowedly non-sexual content policy of the site gets circumvented by people whose tastes are so niche that they barely even qualify as sexual; I mean, I never really understood ‘sploshing’ as a thing, but I always assumed that participants were at least nude, but this? HOW DO YOU GET OFF ON THIS? I am not judging, to be clear – whatever floats your boat, especially when it seems as harmless (well, except to the threads) as this – but I am honestly incapable of understanding how one might experience an erotic frisson from watching an unremarkable-looking man wipe mustard on the lapels of a three-piece. God I love the web sometimes.
- Potato News Today: Who wouldn’t want the ability to keep up with all of the world’s spud-facts? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! You may not think that COVID has had an impact on the potato world, but you would be wrong – is there NO part of human life that it hasn’t affected. Damn virus.
- Access Dots: There was a recent iOS update which added a feature whereby if apps access your phone’s camera or microphone, your phone alerts you to the fact; this does the same thing, but for Android devices. If you’re worried that THEY are spying on you, well, you’re probably right, but at least this way you can be certain.
- The iPhone Photography Awards 2020: In previous years I’ve kvetched about phone photography awards being basically a bit of a swizz, what with all the automatic image enhancement jiggerypokery that all phones do these days (my Chinese surveillance device makes it practically impossible for me to take a bad photo, which makes me unaccountably really, really annoyed – I LIKE BEING SH1T AT PHOTOGRAPHY FFS, IT’S MY ‘THING’), but there are enough images in here that show genuine talent in terms of composition, etc, that means I will just shut my mouth and enjoy them. My favourite’s the one by Ekaterina Varzar, but they’re all wonderful.
- The Fuzzies: Three weeks left on this one and it’s super-funded already, so you’re guaranteed to get the goods – The Fuzzies is a really simple, portable game that involves stacking up small, fuzzy, sticky balls until they all topple over. Which now I write it out sounds like the sh1ttest game ever, but I promise you that it looks like wholesome fun for all the family. Also, it reminded me an awful lot of this very old videogame, which is reason enough to recommend it.
- Linkdrop: This is really, really useful, particularly if you’re the sort of internet browser who has a tendency to open 10million tabs and then just sort of get overwhelmed by them and decide to just abandon any attempt at reading the bloody things. Linkdrop lets you collate all your unread tabs into an email that will be sent to you at the time of your choosing, ideally when you have time to read the fcuking things. The added bonus of this is that you can use it to make Web Curios an infinitely-recursive experience which I am sure is what you are all crying out for.
- Audiomass: This is a really, really good in-browser audio-editing tool. Seriously, it’s ace – I haven’t done audio editing since working at the BBC for the first time two decades ago (OH GOD SO MUCH PROMISE AND ALL FOR NAUGHT), but this enabled me to slip right back into it and create a sub-Cassetteboy clip of Boris Johnson promising to fist the nation with only a few minutes of clumsy dragging-and-dropping.
- Hasbro’s YouTube Channel: THERE IS A LIVESTREAM OF THE GI JOE CARTOONS ON 24/7!! If that’s not enough to compel you to click, there is Transformers and My Little Pony and all sorts of other cartoons that you know you are far too old to enjoy without feeling a bit weird but which at the same time will provide the kind of emotional comfort blanket that you know that you increasingly can’t live without and which will go some way (but not quite enough) towards guarding against the increasingly sharp and jagged edges of reality.
- Flight Simulator History: Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the longest-running ‘games’ series in history – if you count ‘a meticulously-recreated realtime flight from London to Sydney’ as worthy of the term ‘game’. There’s a new version out now, apparently, with ULTRA-REALISTIC CLOUDS and quite possibly some spanking new tannoy announcements, but if you prefer your simulations slightly more blocky you might well like this site which offers the opportunity to play seemingly full versions of not one but FOUR past versions of Flight Simulator, specifically the ones from 1982/4/8/9. Being simulators, these are…quite hard; I spent 10m yesterday trying to do anything other than take off and then crash again immediately with no success whatsoever, but you may be a more committed pilot than I. Going back to 1982 is quite the thing – 40 years really is a lifetime in videogames.
- Six Cats Under: This is gorgeous and whimsical and lovely, and you MUST play it. The premise is simple; you’re the ghost of an old lady, who must try and get the cats that she lived with to leave the house that she’s vacated. You do this by making things happen with your GHOSTLY PRESENCE – make clocks chime, apples fall off shelves, that sort of thing – but the joy here is in the animation and the way the puzzles stack to create lovely consequences. It’s not easy – you’ll need to do a lot of clicking around – but there are guides online if you get stuck, and it’s worth playing all the way through to enjoy the little gags and vignettes scattered throughout. Absolutely charming.
- 5d Chess: Finally this week, this is a proper game which costs money, but I defy you to read the description and not be a little bit intrigued as to how ‘chess plus multidimensional time travel’ works as a game. Honestly, read the reviews, it is mind-melting – for less then a tenner, this will make you feel very, very stupid indeed (if you’re anything like me; if it doesn’t make you feel stupid, please keep it to yourself you disgusting genii).
By Paul Heyer
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Maori Sakai: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a beauty – Maori Sakai is an artist who creates beautiful, hand-drawn animated gifs, like sketchbook elements come to life. I know this is an unspeakably-twee comparison, but do you remember how on early seasons of Bake Off they had these illustrations of what the cakes were meant to look like when they were being described at the beginning? Well they look like those. A bit.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- The Story Seed: I love this project; such a lovely idea. “Each week, three people are selected to write a ‘seed’ in less than 100 words, inspired by one image. In other words, three people are asked to interpret the story within the frame. Who are the characters? Where is the story set? What is the bigger picture? The image is then shared three times on Seed’s Instagram and website, captioned with the different interpretations, alongside crediting the three writers and the photographer.” The quality of the writing accompanying the images is…variable, but it’s always interesting to see the ways in which different imaginations take a single image.
- Ross McSweeney: Hand-made kinetic wooden sculptures. I could watch these videos all day, SO SOOTHING.
- Men in Gilets: Drawings of men in gilets. These are, artistically, far, far better than they need to be, and the sort of things which I could imagine being ironically displayed in exactly the sort of restaurant or pub that is frequented by the selfsame begileted men. I have one specific colleague who I hope reads this and feels very, very seen.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG (AND WHICH BY THE WAY THIS WEEK IS A PARTICULARLY STRONG SELECTION EVEN IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF)!:
- Social Darwinism and Disease: Subtitled ‘From AIDS to COVID-19’, this is a superb essay which starts by looking back at the story of evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, and his attempt to prove the (since debunked) theory that the AIDS virus was first propagated amongst humans as a result of organ harvesting of chimpanzees in pursuit of a polio vaccine; it goes on to look at how Hamilton’s theories and writings were in many respects Trojan Horses for his other unsavoury, racist beliefs about eugenics and the like, and how his work effectively advocated for the systematic winnowing out of the ‘weak and undesirable’, masquerading as concern for the potential Malthusian side-effects of improvements in disease control in the developing world. The article goes on to draw parallels between this and the laissez-faire reactions to COVID advocated by notable right-wingers worldwide (ring any bells); honestly, this is SUCH a good piece of writing, packed with erudition, and worth showing to anyone who believes that wearing a mask is somehow an attack on one’s liberties and freedoms. It’s quite possible that they’re focusing their conspiracising in the wrong place.
- Show Me How To Say No: As Elon Musk burbles on nonsensically about how his embryonic Neuralink technology will be able to mess with our brains in exciting and fun and emotion-inducing ways, a useful corrector in Nautilus magazine which looks at some of the actual science behind the way in which attraction, love and the like actually work (insofar as we’re able to determine this; of all the black boxes we are so obsessed with, the brain continues to be one of the more inscrutable). The piece examines current cutting-edge therapies designed to help patients get over (personal, romantic) trauma, and argues that there is benefit in exploring neuropharmacological routes to therapy in specific areas relating to romantic attachment; I don’t know if I like this, but it’s certainly fascinating.
- Everything I Googled In a Week: Caity Weaver is a Style reporter at the NYT; this GDoc is her record of all the things that she looked up on Google or Wikipedia over a one-week period, in part annotated with explanations as to what she was looking for, along with anecdotes and memories that each search and resultant piece(s) of information threw up. This is quite, quite wonderful, both just in terms of being properly interesting but also as an exploration of the way Google works with our brains; the sort of cyborg-y augmentation that we now all have access to, and how that works to make connections and unearth memories and develop thoughts and throughlines and theories that couldn’t possibly have existed without the semi-serendipitous magic of The Algo. I would read this every week without fail; honestly, in the unlikely event that anyone who’s in any way important at a newspaper ever sees this, this is such a superb idea for a weekly column, rotating between contributors (you can have that for free).
- Virtual Hajj: Pilgrims around the world are this year having to find alternative ways of completing the journey to Mecca – this article takes a (largely factual) look at some of the means that are being deployed, and the people building virtual pilgrimage experiences for the faithful to express their devotion safely in the time of COVID. To be honest, I’m including it mainly for this line, which in a particularly Gibsonian year is SUCH a Gibsonian concept: “The iUmrah.World app lets users find and pay for proxies in Saudi Arabia who under Islamic law can complete umrah on their behalf, said founder and Chief Executive Ahmed Alhaddad. The proxies live stream their journeys and the tasks they complete in Mecca to iUmrah customers.”
- The Bangladesh Economy Runs on Facebook: Or, “Why you can’t escape Facebook and Zuckerberg’s Not Going Anywhere Yet”. It’s always slightly annoying to me that people in the US and UK forget that Facebook’s main markets are no longer these territories – far more important to the company are the millions of people in second-world markets, for whom Facebook provides the base-level infrastructure for things like e-commerce that simply didn’t exist before it arrived and which might not still exist without it. This article (from the increasingly-essential ‘Rest of World’ magazine, which has been consistently excellent since launching and you really ought to sub to) looks at the specific case of how essential Facebook is (Pages, Groups, streaming, Messenger, the whole package) to individual small businesses in Bangladesh; there’s some vague noise in there about the potential threat posed by Amazon to Facebook’s dominance in markets such as these, but I’m not 100% certain than Amazon can compete with the hugely personal presence that Facebook affords, which I get the feeling might be culturally significant. Fascinating (even if you don’t do advermarketingpr for a living).
- Digital Currency in Brazil: Another ‘Rest of World’ piece, this time looking at how digital currency Mumbuca is being used in Brazil to support local economies at a district / neighbourhood level, and how it’s effectively being deployed as a trial run for a degree of Universal Basic Income for the poorest in society. I get the impression that there are probably a few more counterarguments to this than the piece makes clear, but it’s hard to read this and not think that it sounds like a system worth investigating.
- Photogrammetry in Journalism: An NYT piece which explores how 3d models of interiors could be used for improved storytelling. This is basically your next Snowfall trend; no bad thing, as the article demonstrates. There’s a LOT you can do with this sort of stuff, and it’s worth reading if you’ve any interest (professional or otherwise) in how you can tell better stories set in a defined physical space.
- MSCHF: As regular readers will know, I’ve had something of a crush on MSCHF since I first became aware of their work a couple of years ago (ish), not least because their job literally just seems to be ‘let’s come up with ideas for stuff that the internet will like, some of which we will sell for actual cashmoney’. I have always wondered, though, how they subsist, and how the whole thing works, and, well, where some of the money has come from. This piece explains some of that – it’s a bit of a hagiography, though in fairness their performance (at least in hype terms) has earned it, and doesn’t seem to ask the questions that spring immediately to mind. Like, for example, HOW THE HELL DID YOU RAISE VC MONEY FOR THIS?!?! Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that this stuff is not easy, and there’s no way in hell I would have been able to come up with 99% of the stuff they’ve done – but I’ve also got no idea how you manage to go into a VC (I’ve met and worked with VCs – they are…not sentimental, in the main) with a pitch that basically amounts to ‘yeah, we’ll just make cool hypey stuff and sell some of it’ and give them the 10x exit erection that they so crave. What I’m basically saying here is that there’s a whiff of ‘someone else’s money from the outset’ about this. Does that make me bitter and jealous? It does, doesn’t it? FFS.
- YouTube’s Psychic Wounds: Nicholson Baker was very much a feted novelist a few decades back and then, well, he wasn’t; I can’t remember what it was that set the court of public opinion against him, though it might have been some quite creepy sex in a lot of his novels (infamous ‘freeze time for secret w4nks’ extravaganza ‘The Fermata’, I’m looking at YOU!), but I’ve not seen him commissioned by a glossy for years before this piece. Which is a shame, because he’s an excellent writer, and this essay, about the beauty and wonder and horror of YouTube in all its many manifestations, is quite wonderful. Someone should show him TikTok, he will die.
- The 40 Hottest Women In Tech: Brilliant essay by Luke Winkie, who many years ago back on the content farms wrote a piece he knew was skeezy, titled, ‘The 40 Hottest Women in Tech’. The internet reacted predictably, and Luke had quite the time of it; this essay looks back at that from a safe distance, and reflects on what it’s like to be the author of something objectively terrible that everyone hates. It’s funny and honest, and it’s funny(ish) to look back at a particular era of the web when people thought they could still get away with this stuff. It’s also instructive in the context of ‘CANCEL CULTURE’ – Luke was a pariah for a while, but wasn’t in fact ‘cancelled’ at all for writing the rubbish he did, and it’s worth reflecting on next time someone’s screeching about having their ‘freedom of speech’ curtailed; nah mate, it’s just that you’re enjoying other people exercising their freedom of speech and calling you a cnut and telling you your opinions stink.
- The History of Big Mouth Billy Bass: This is so, so much better than it needed to be – an oral history of the world’s favourite (er, only?) singing, plastic, wall-mounted fish. So many great, great lines – the guy from the Soprano nakedly hoping this article’s going to be a passport back to relevance is one, but also this particular detail just slew me for some reason: “My dad had one. He had it engraved. He was so proud of it. He ordered it off a late-night infomercial because he was an insomniac. The engraving said, “Mamoo Booz killed me. Ho ho ho.” Mamoo was his nickname because his brother couldn’t pronounce his name when he was a kid. That was also his stage name when he was a clown, “Mamoo the Clown.” He passed when I was 17 and I had the fish for a while, but I just recently threw it out.” Poetry.
- I Hold A Wolf By The Ears: An extract from the forthcoming collection of the same title, this short story is set against the backdrop of last year’s Bret Kavanaugh hearings in the US, telling the story of a husband and wife and their relationship and…oh, look, just read it, it’s really good.
- Revision is my God: If you’ve read Web Curios for any length of time, it’s probably occurred to you that I don’t really (read: at all) edit my writing – it’s not so much writing as typing (thanks, Truman!), top to bottom and then fired off into the digital ether. It’s always been this way, from school to university and even now at work; I have an aversion to rereading my own prose, at least critically, which is why I have singularly failed to improve or develop as a writer despite a frankly prodigious output (in wordcount at least). This is a wonderful essay by Meaghan O’Connell, in which she writes about the painful beauty of revision and how polishing, reshaping and occasionally amputating chunks of your prose can be as satisfying as the act of writing it in the first place. Maybe one day I’ll learn (I won’t, I am far too lazy and self-satisfied).
- Who Am I Prepared To Kill?: READ THIS PLEASE. An absolutely superb piece of writing, on the danger of binary reductivism in politics and life in general, and on the consequences of a society that has flattened debate and question into a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ either/or. William Davies writes beautifully; this is such a well-argued, well-structured piece of writing which is, to my mind, the smartest summary of what is wrong with how we approach ‘debate’ or the concept of ‘sides’ in the online era.
- Waste Away: An essay about modern Lebanon, and poverty and class and money and development and, well, sh1t. The best piece of writing you will read all year, by Lina Mounser, that features faeces as a central theme (but please don’t let that put you off).
- Lacework: This is part essay, part artwork; on opening the page, you’ll want to minimise the video on the right-hand side of the screen and read the copy; you can then reopen the artwork by clicking ‘maximise’ in the bottom right (or, you know, you can do what you like, I’m not the boss of you, etc etc). Both the essay and the art are beautiful – Lacework “is a project by Everest Pipkin that uses artificial neural networks to reinscribe the videos of MIT’s Moments in Time Dataset. Using algorithms that stretch time and add details to images, Pipkin creates a series of hallucinatory slow-motion vignettes from the videos of everyday actions that form the collection.” The essay describes Pipkin’s experience of watching this seemingly-infinite stream of humanity, possibly the first human ever to pay such close attention to imagery that was collated first and foremost to train machines, and how we should characterise such imagery and…look, just read and watch, this is quite, quite beautiful.
- Feeling Bullish: Last up in the long reads, this is very long but is by quite some way the best piece of the week and possibly the best thing I have read all year. Rebekah Frumkin writes about her Great Uncle Sidney, an American who became a matador and befriended Hemingway. Sidney was also gay, and the essay, which starts as a biography of her (remarkable, charismatic, fascinating) uncle, becomes much more than that, a meditation on queerness and identity and a surprising rereading of Hemingway, and, look, this is the best way you can possibly spend an hour this afternoon other than maybe taking drugs and having sex, so if those aren’t options available to you then please, please read this, it is spectacularly good.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Rob Manuel’s Longwave project has a video! If, per the last link, you are in fact able to take some drugs now, I suggest doing so and settling down in front of this; the music is genuinely great, and the visuals – compiled from all over the place – fit perfectly. Get yourself a beanbag and skin up, go on (it probably won’t go so well with gak, if I’m honest):
- This reminded me quite a lot of the Boo Radleys and other bands of that time / ilk, and the video is pleasingly sunshiney – this is The Magic Gang, with ‘Make Time For Change’:
- Future Islands, now, with ‘For Sure’ – this is a cracking song (and the video is animated, which blew my mind slightly):
- This is ‘Ferris Wheel’ by Sylvan Esso, which reminds me an awful lot of Moloko which is no bad thing at all:
- I’m not generally in the market for Yo Yo Ma – I’m just not really a cello kind of person, turns out – but this track, by Rhiannon Giddens with Ma accompanying, is a brilliant record and I quite want to listen to it all the time. Beautiful, beautiful song – it’s called ‘Build A House’:
- Chuck the resolution on this up to 4k, put it on the biggest screen you can find and ENJOY – oh, and listen to the audio too, the foley work here is astonishingly good. It’s called ‘Transfiguration’:
- Finally this week – and THE LAST EVER VIDEO TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS PARTICULAR INCARNATION OF WEB CURIOS!! – this feels like an appropriate note to end on. When I started doing this here in 2013, I genuinely couldn;t have imagined where we’d be in 2020. And yet, here we are. This is called ‘I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight’, by Shardcore – enjoy, but, most of all, thankyou so, so much for reading this rubbish, if ever you did. I hope to be back doing it again at some point, somewhere. I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH: