It has been a long week, and a touch on the emotionally draining side. I’m wrung out from the horrors of coping with Italian bureaucracy – who knew that ‘incorrectly stapled documents’ could be a potentially insurmountable barrier to a citizenship application? NO FCUKER! – and, honestly, it’s all I can do to pen a few cursory words up-top here to introduce you to this week’s (slighly malodorous, poorly-presented, cut-price) smorgasbord of clicky delights.
AND YET! There are as per usual some gems in here – equally typically, though, they’re all presented in such a way so as to make it really hard for you to work out what’s good and what’s just ‘a bit niche’. Still, this is the Dark Bargain that you make with Web Curios (or at least one of the Dark Bargains – I don’t like to talk about the other one, but trust me that you’ll know when the time comes), so I presume you’ve come to terms with it by now.
Happy Friday to all of you – I hope that the weekend brings at least a bit of respite from all of the things that are happening.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still very, very welcome.
By Lenz Geerk
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD REALLY LIKE TO BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD’S POLITICIANS WILL ONE DAY DEVELOP APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION TO REGULATE THE FCUK OUT OF FACEBOOK BUT WHICH ISN’T THAT CONFIDENT BASED ON CLIPS LIKE THIS, PT.1:
- Pyramid4Ever: There has been a limited amount of good gags and satire about NFTs (that I’ve seen, at least), mainly because anything which involves people punting 4/5/+ figures on increasingly-shonky-looking avatars (Look! Here’s a Lindsay Lohan fursona! Bidding starts at £1500! It’s…really badly drawn!) is pretty far down the line towards self-parody already. Pyramid4Ever did make me laugh, though, mainly as it nails the breathlessly-utopian style (and somewhat nebulous relationship with any conceivable reality) of much of the best (worst) NFTwank. “Welcome to Pyramid NFT, the world-first platform unlocking digital eternal life by turning its members into NFTs. Entirely powered by human energy, Pyramid offers a one-time opportunity to enable your immortal virtual avatar, living 4 ever in the lockchain. Its members will also unlock exclusive access to an ambitious collection of post-reality content & benefits to be released on a regular basis.” Now, you read that and you think ‘yes, haha, how silly!’, but close readers of Curios (oh God, I am writing to myself again, aren’t I?) will remember the various projects featured here this year with similarly grandiose claims, including the one that offered to MAKE AN NFT OUT OF YOUR PERSONALITY FOR POST-MORTEM NON-FUNGIBLE LOLS, and this starts to look more an more on-the-nose.
- The Etsy House: It’s CHRISTMAS! Or at least it is in retail-land and has been since about July, and we’re just starting to catch up with capitalism. In an attempt to get us to spend money we possibly don’t have on domestic tat we don’t need, cutesy eBay (AKA Etsy) has launched this VIRTUAL HOUSE, which lets you walk through a tastefully-appointed home in classic Google StreetView style, with everything on display being clickable and shoppable (from Etsy, obvs) – so you too can replicate the impeccable aesthetic of what appears to be a house from a reality TV show. I understand what they’re attempting to do here, but some light criticism if I may (it’s my newsletterblogtypething, and I absolutely SHALL!) – firstly, in an era of streaming shopping and the daily evolution of on-platform sales on TikTok, Insta et al, this feels a little bit like something from 5 years ago, a bit like the continual (and continually ineffectual) attempts to Make Virtual Art Galleries Happen; secondly, I thought Etsy was all craft and and artisans and stuff, and if that’s the case why in the name of Christ have they used a house that looks almost exactly like the sort of venue where reality TV gets filmed? You can absolutely imagine a dozen or so tanned, veneered people sitting in that garden, flexing tits and pecs and teeth at each other whilst nervously-imagining the brief halcyon period of sponcon deals and nightclub appearances that await them. Still, if you want your Christmas to look like, I don’t know, ‘The Ex on the Beach Xmas Reunion SPECIAL!’ then this might work for you.
- Proxi: I don’t normally feature videogame-type stuff up top here, least of all stuff about real, actual videogames that cost money, but this is so baffling that it’s worth a look. Proxi is a recently-announced title by Will Wright, who’s a proper visionary designer and the person who created Sim City, The Sims (and, less-excitingly, Spore), and which sounds equal parts fascinating, baffling and nonsensical. Proxi is being billed as “a game of self-discovery, a game where we actually uncover the hidden you – your subconscious, your inner ID, and bring it to the surface, bring it to life so you can interact with it, you can play with it, you can learn from it and it can learn about you.” Seemingly the ‘game’ involves building a sort of digital memory palace representation of yourself, your memories and…your personality(?), which you can then let loose in the virtual world to interact with the memories and personalities of other people (on the website there is a reference to ‘finding out who Karl Marx’s best friend was’ which is possibly the most grandiose pull-quote I have ever seen about a videogame). Honestly, this makes VERY little sense at present, but I am including it in part because it sounds fascinating-if-abstract, and the idea of creating some sort of unique…representation of the self? from in-game assets is intriguing (if somewhat daunting – HOW AM I MEANT TO CAPTURE THE MAGNIFICENCE OF ALL THIS IN MERE PIXELS?? Ahem). Oh, and, er, IT WILL ALL BE ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Yes, sadly, amongst all of this slightly-abstract and rather fun-sounding gamechat is also the promise that this will exist…ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Actually, NFT-skepticism aside, there’s something interesting about the idea of keeping a permanent record of such personal digital creations but, well, also I don’t trust anyone screaming about NFTs at the moment and so I am a bit wary. Anyway, this may well disappear forever in a puff of smoke, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as it could be a fascinating project. We said that about Spore, though, and look how that turned out.
- Mr Goxx: This, though, is the acceptable face of crypto. What could be cuter than a hamster who’s trading ETH? NOTHING! To quote the project owner, “Mr. Goxx is a hamster living in a loving and caring environment. Unlike other hamsters, he owns a fully automated high-tech trading office, directly connected to his normal hamster-friendly home (he can enter and leave it whenever he wants). By running in the wheel, Mr. Goxx is able to select certain assets and by entering one of the tunnels, he decides whether to place a buy or sell order, which is then sent over to a real trading platform via API (yes, real money involved).” This is not, it’s fair to say, hugely compelling entertainment, at least not in the conventional sense – at most you’ll get to see a hamster rootling about in its cage while some numbers go up or down, but I love the fact that this is possible. At the time of writing, Mr Goxx is slightly up on his initial stake, suggesting (as we all know deep down) that most trading is literally luck – I do hope all the people in the chat asking questions like ‘when is Mr Goxx minting his own coin?’ are joking, though, as otherwise I feel they’re missing the joke somewhat. I would like to see a brand take this as inspiration and then go BIG on it – why not scale up? Get a cow representing Anchor to trade on the FTSE based on its bowel movements! Get an actual bulldog to make punts on derivatives for Churchill, picking buys based on whichever chew-toy it savages at any given moment! Come on, this is all GOLDEN.
- Plantlife: Yeah, we’re definitely in a slightly odd period where people have decided that new social platforms have a vague chance of succeeding – witness this BRAND NEW app, currently iOS-only, called Plantlife, a social network for plant enthusiasts. Did you get into horticulture over the past 18m? Are you now closer to your plants that any of the ‘colleagues’ you’ve barely seen since March 2020? Are they starting to talk back? Plantlife lets you create a profile for yourself and your plants, post photos and connect with other green-fingered people from around the world to discuss all things horticultural – to connect with other ‘Gardenistas’, as the app would have it (a strong contender for the worst word I have heard all year, so thanks for that, Plantlife!). Interestingly there seems to be an attempt to create some sort of celebrity aura around, er, ‘Plant Coaches’ who the app is seemingly trying to set up as some sort of Peloton-adjacent personality cult leaders – not quite sure that the same sort of devotional obsession is going to spring up around someone who reminds you to water your Gardenias as someone who gives you rock-hard glutes, but what do I know (rhetorical)? Anyway, if you like plants and want to make friends with OTHER people who like plants, then ENJOY!
- Text Files: Oh wow, PROPER internet history, this. Text Files is a repository of old, er, text files, culled from bulletin boards in the VERY early years of the web (we’re talking 80s and early-90s here), covering an incredible range of topics (there’s a lot of sex, obvs, but also phone hacking – phreaking, in the parlance of THE PAST – and religion and UFOs and survivalist stuff and and and and). The age and the breadth of this means that I can’t guarantee that there won’t be some awful stuff in there, but, well, that’s the internet, innit. There’s an interesting general point here about the web and how it has scaled – I wonder whether at the time a non-online observer might have looked at this and thought ‘yes, fine, this is all VERY fringe content being posted by some pretty marginal weirdos, but when this ‘internet’ thing takes off and more normal people start using it then the general tenor of the whole thing will calm down slightly and become a little less swivel-eyed’. HOW NAIVE! Anyway, this is like a time machine into a past which is simultaneously weird and awful and strangely appealing – classic Curios, really.
- Richard Herring Bot: Comedian Richard Herring does a podcast thing where he has a ‘thing’ whereby he has a list of ‘emergency questions’ he asks guests if the chat’s stagnating; Rob Manuel, of B3ta and Fesshole fame, has made a bot which takes that idea and those emergency questions and engages in light conversation with people on Twitter around them. This is in-part moderately funny – a bot asking the world whether anyone has met Brian Blessed is the sort of thing I find gently-amusing, not sure why – but also quite interesting psychologically; people actually reply to the questions, despite knowing full well they are being asked by a bot, which makes the whole thing significantly more engaging and also makes me fascinated as to what what prompts people to have a conversation about the meaning of love with a few lines of code.
- Gucci Burst: A quick break, now, for some BRANDED GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE! You play as, er, a shoe, travelling down a tunnel, trying to avoid stuff for as long as possible by swiping up or down on your phone. That’s literally it – very much the ‘will this do? I can’t be bothered any more’ of modern gamedesign, this, but the visual style is rather lovely with its bold block colours. A pleasing way of passing a couple of minutes while you try and guess how much money whichever agency it was who made this charged Gucci for the privilege.
- Datafruits: An internet radio station! Just like it’s 15 years ago! As far as I can tell this is all programmed by ACTUAL people, and I have been listening to it intermittently this week with growing pleasure – they play some QUITE ODD stuff, but it’s all the better for it, and there’s (I think) a record label attached to it, and basically this is the sort of bedroom-y enterprise I can absolutely get behind (please don’t let it be a front for a major label or something, I would be tremendously upset).
- The Old Web Curios Image Archive: I was fiddling around with somethingin Google this week and came across the photos which are associated with my Google account – there are fcuk all (I don’t really do photography), but, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, there was a whole folder filled with 800+ images which I had used in Curios over a…4 year period back in the day? I honestly have no idea when these are from, but I think probably between about 2013 and 2015/6 judging by some of the themes. This is, I have to say, very weird indeed – when I put the images I don’t really give much (if any – CURATION!!) thought to what they are or how they fit together, but seeing this many in one place really does make clear that there are certain…themes and…styles that I obviously had some sort of affinity with over that period of my life and, er, I’m not sure that these say anything great about me, if I’m totally honest. Mouths and pale, slightly corpselike flesh and obscured faces and what was that Dr Freud? Anyway, have a bit of a wander through a visual representation of my psyche from the mid-teens! Please don’t think less of me.
- Telfar TV: Fashion label Telfar is apparently VERY HYPEY right now – this is an interesting bit of marketing from them, which is in part MEDIA EMPIRE stuff and in part a smart way of stopping bots from snapping up new stock for the resale market. Telfar TV is an online stream of…stuff, the gimmick being that it’s like public access cable insofar as anyone can submit video to be featured on the platform. Among the UGC stuff (I have only seen a couple of things and they are…I mean, look, let’s just say there was a STRONG AESTHETIC and if I were more inclined to look at video art then maybe I would have appreciated it more) will be scattered occasional QR codes which act as gateways to buy limited merch drops, in smart, bot-proof style. This is a super-interesting idea, which will almost certainly die a death based on a lack of people submitting content – still, a nice PR stunt if nothing else.
- Brave: Brave is an app which self-describes as ‘by drug users, for drug users’ – it’s a US initiative which is designed to enable drug users to find people to talk to about what they are going through, putting them in touch with others who will understand what they are going through at any given moment. Specifically, the app “connects app users with someone who can send help while using drugs alone. Users set up an overdose plan that puts them in control, detailing how, when, and who is sent for help; supporters activate the plan if an overdose is detected.” Bleak but also practically useful – the idea of peer-to-peer support networks like this is a smart one, I think, regardless of the specific area around which that support is provided.
- AI Monsters: This is a quite remarkable Twitter thread of 3d monster models generated from text prompts by AI. Want to see what a machine imagines when you tell it to create a textured model of a “giant demon devil, its head is a horned skull with burning evil red eyes”? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is very fun (and not actually scary, don’t worry!) and whilst the outputs here all look like something made by a not-particularly-skilled Quake modder, you can quickly get an idea of the sort of amazing results that will be possible in a few years’ time when game designers can spin up a whole world of NPCs with a few well-chosen phrases like this. IMAGINE GTA6, when you will be able to spawn an entire Los Santos full of, say, ‘COVID-denying Tommy Robinson fans’ and gun them all down. Who says the future is colossal and jagged and terrifying?
- Topia: Now that we’re over a year on from The Big Lockdown and we can all look back with a degree of objectivity, what do we think has really changed? Aside, of course, from several generations being slapped in the face with the concept of their own fundamental mortality and fragility, obvs. It’s still slightly hard to gauge the extent to which the shift to online socialising will stick, if at all – the move towards less presenteeism in the workplace looks like it’s thankfully here to stay, but I am not convinced that any non-game experiments in digital socialising really succeeded in a way that will cause them to persist. Which is all by way of long preamble to introducing Topia, which is a free-to-use platform offering all that sort of ‘have an avatar! Wander around a customisable virtual world! Talk to people with videochat and spatial audio! Cowork, share ideas, collaborate, CREATE!’-type stuff that was very much in vogue 12m ago. Whether you need or want this or whether you will get on with the software depends very much on the sort of person, people or team you are – I can’t help but think that appetite for this sort of stuff is necessarily a bit niche, and that until we get to the point whereby the Fortnite generation is all working then most people won’t quite ‘get’ this sort of virtual world interaction – by which point there will be vastly more sophisticated solutions than this for us to play in. Still, if you are the sort of person whose friends or colleagues might actually enjoy running your jellybean-looking avatars around a virtual meadow while you have your morning catch-up meeting then this might be of interest.
- Patera: Have you ever looked at a Word document and thought ‘man, I wished that worked more like Excel!’? No, I can’t for a second imagine that you have – still, if you’re interesting in exploring your appetite for exactly such a thing then you might want to check out Patera, which basically lets you make all the numbers in a document dynamic, supported by Excel-like formulas running somewhere in the background which effectively mean that you can insert figures into documents which will then be live and interactive – so, for example, you could include some financial modelling and allow users to see how results change based on input volumes, for example. It’s easier to understand if you click the website, honest – but if you’re working on documentation which might benefit from the inclusion of live data and a degree of interactivity then take a look.
- Descript: This is not the first software like this I have seen or featured in here, but it’s absolutely the version with the best intro videos – seriously, these are really nicely made, and if you take nothing else from this link it should be ‘how to make a pleasing pitch video for your product that makes the viewer – specifically, me – warm to you’. That said, the product is pretty cool too (and has a free tier) – Descript lets you upload video or audio, creates a transcript of said video or audio using AI, and edit said video or audio by editing the text. So imagine that this paragraph was me talking at you, and you could excise huge swathes of my annoying chat from the recording by just deleting a line here or there – clever, right? Obviously the problem with this is that the transcription is NEVER as good as the pitch vids make out, which makes the whole process significantly-less seamless than they would like you to think, but it’s still VERY COOL and certainly a plausible version of how all this sort of stuff will one day work when the tech catches up with the ambition.
- Graphic Design History Resources: This is such a great resource compiled by Alistair Hall, a lecturer at London Metropolitan University (amongst other things) – to quote, “One of the things I’ve noticed each year…is that students often struggle when it comes to finding useful places to look for inspiration when they search online. If you’re new to design, it can be hard to filter, to work out what you should really be looking at. The problem seems to be the massive gravity of Google Image Search and Pinterest, which exerts a pull that students find hard to escape. Of course, you can find good stuff on both those platforms, but you can also find a lot of bad stuff (and an increasing amount of ‘promoted’ paid for stuff). And you’re more likely to be looking at contemporary work rather than historical – which is a bit like studying Fine Art and only being aware of work by contemporary artists. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to pull together a list of some really great graphic design archives and resources – mainly historical, but some contemporary.” SO INTERESTING, so many great links to so many great archives – honestly, if you have any interest in design and its history and evolution, this is a wonderful resource and timesink.
- The Walkman Archive: You want a website compiling and celebrating the history of the Walkman? YES YOU DO! This is GREAT, featuring photography, links to other Walkman-philic websites, images of the Walkman in films (Baby Driver is the last one cited), articles about the Walkman, links to Walkman enthusiast forums (STILL ACTIVE, god I love niche internet communities so much) and much more besides. It is possibly unlikely that you are sufficiently interested in Walkmen to ever get to the bottom of this site, but I hope that perhaps there is one of you for whom this is like home.
- Enbiggen: My current favourite TikTok account. You will have seen the ‘Jurassic Park with rubber chickens’ video, but every single thing on here is a work of creative and audio and CG genius. So so so so clever.
By Mark Harris
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD REALLY LIKE TO BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD’S POLITICIANS WILL ONE DAY DEVELOP APPROPRIATE LEGISLATION TO REGULATE THE FCUK OUT OF FACEBOOK BUT WHICH ISN’T THAT CONFIDENT BASED ON CLIPS LIKE THIS, PT.2:
- The Faith In Humanity Score: Society seems pretty much divided on the question of ‘how things are going right now’ – half of us subscribe to the Pinker-ish utopianism that suggest that all the stats suggest things are GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME BY EVERY MEASURABLE METRIC and that as such we all ought to just get on enjoying the fruits of late-period capitalism (electronic gewgaws! The web! Soylent!) and quit our whinging, and half of us more inclined to look out the window and then batten down the hatches in preparation for what looks like the coming apocalypse. WHO TO BELIEVE? If you’re struggling to work out whether the general trend is upwards or downwards (Web Curios suggest you might want to trust your emotional inner ear here), though, you may find the Faith In Humanity Score a useful barometer – this is a website which lets visitors simply click up or click down to indicate whether they feel positively about *gestures* all this and the way it’s heading. You can vote once per day – at the time of writing, the counter is pretty heavily skewed towards the positive with a whopping +11,083 score which indicates everything is going JUST SWIMMINGLY! So that’s ok then! Feel free to use this next time someone tries to suggest that things are maybe less than peachy – FIE ON YOU, DOOMSAYERS!
- The Worst Tweet Ever Championship: Of course, you may be motivated to recalibrate your opinion of The World once you’ve read through these. Scriptwriter Mike Benner has this week been running a series of Twitter polls to get a definitive answer to the burning question ‘what’s the worst thing anyone has ever said on Twitter, ever?’ – at the time of writing we’re coming to the end, but this thread takes you through all of the voting and is a wonderful time capsule of the very oddest and most unhinged things that have ever been posted on what users affectionately term ‘the hellsite’. Benner acknowledges that a few of these were probably jokes to start off with (Kevin Smith’s infamous ‘taint’ tweet being the ur-example), but there are enough that were obviously meant sincerely to make this whole thing worth reading, specifically for examples of the very particular style of centrist cringe that Twitter so often embodies. If anything beats the ‘Ruthkanda’ tweet I will eat my hat, but I think my personal favourite might be Keemstar’s ‘Israel and Palestine just need to listen to more John Lennon’ number which, honestly, is perhaps the pinnacle of human thought to this juncture.
- The Miniature Walling Festival: Dry-stone walling isn’t the sort of thing that tends to cop up that often in Web Curios, which is a shame as it’s sort-of fascinating (HOW DO THE STONES STAY IN PLACE???) – the Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland (there is such an organisation, I learned this week) is currently running a contest inviting people to submit photographs of their miniature efforts to build TINY WALLS out of stone, and this is a gallery of submissions to last year’s contest and dear God these are SO CUTE and so incredibly impressive. My personal favourite picture is of Karl, who has inexplicably decided to craft a pair of dry-stone walls to encompass what look like a pair of Madeira cakes – God knows why, but the dedication to the craft here is admirable.
- The Sporting Fashion Guide: This is the catalogue for an exhibition of sporting fashion for women from the 19th and 20th century, published by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in California – if you have ever wanted to see what was considered the height of fashion for female tennis players in the 1880s, say, or for the well-dressed ice-skating woman in the 1870s then this is the collection for YOU. So much wonderful fashion design here, although the main question in my mind as I scrolled through the outfits was ‘how the fcuk did these people still have time to practice the sport in question given the fact that putting one of these costumes on would have taken the best part of 6 hours?’. My personal favourite is the rider on p23 – such a natty check! – but please pick your own (and ideally consider adopting it as daywear).
- Murder She Bet: Given that True Crime podcasts and TikTok have seemingly turned everyone into amateur detectives in 2021, what better way to celebrate that than by introducing an element of light competition into your viewing of murder mystery-based films or TV shows? Murder She Bet is a little website that lets you create competitive games around a shared watching of, say, Murder She Wrote (DO YOU SEE?) – players each sign in, add suspects to the ‘board’ as the show progresses, place bets on who they think the murderer is, and then get rewarded with PRIZES (totally imaginary prizes of fake internet money) at the end. You could, of course, spice this up by using this as a way of playing with actual cash and rinsing your family based on your ability to predict which cardigan-wearing village dweller is in fact a secret eviscerator – I rather like the idea of starting a competitive Midsomer Murders league using this.
- Borogrove: This is a platform for hosting and playing interactive fiction games, made in a variety of languages including Twine and the rest of the popular ones – there are only a few on here at the moment, but it’s worth bookmarking if you’re interested in the medium as it looks like it could become an interesting repository of this sort of work.
- The Furry Archive: The arc of popular online opinion about Furries and the general world of Furry Fandom is a fascinating one – starting out as a punchline, featured on CSI, and then slowly but surely becoming a reasonably-accepted part of online culture with a growing reputation for being inclusive, accepting and perhaps unexpectedly-progressive (aside from the occasional nazi). This is the Internet Archive record of ‘furry’ tagged content, which is a really interesting selection of content (videos, podcasts, photos, convention texts, etc) which chart some of the ways in which furry culture has presented itself over the years. Genuinely curious stuff, and pleasingly light on the yiffing (yes, yes, I know, not all furries want spaff all over their plush coats, but, well, it’s the yiffing that people think of, isn’t it?).
- Earth Eclipsed: Earth Eclipsed is a podcast series which isn’t really a podcast series – in the sense that when I think ‘podcast’ I think ‘two or three university-educated people having poorly-edited conversations that are significantly less funny or interesting than they seem to believe’, whereas this is basically a radio play, being released episodically in podcast form. The setup is a scifi mystery, but I can’t tell you much more than that as there’s only one episode currently available to stream – there looks to be money behind this, though, so I am reasonably confident that it won’t disappear halfway through – the voice acting is…ok (look, I am someone who occasionally listens to the afternoon play on Radio4, so it’s not like my standards are super-high) and the audio production is generally far better than you’d expect from a podcast, and I’m intrigued with what they are trying to do in terms of the pseudo-high-end nature of the product. Worth a look, either for those of you who want some episodic audio scifi in your lives or simply for anyone curious as to what people are trying to do with the medium.
- The Flower Letters: Thanks Rina for sending me this, which is a lovely idea and a really interesting storytelling project. The Flower Letters sells itself thusly: “Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall during a significant event in history? Ever had the pleasure of hearing the first-hand account of someone’s mysterious adventure? Have you ever indulged in the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping (accidentally, of course) on the conversation between two lovers? We have! And there’s definitely nothing more interesting and personal than getting to experience all of the above through a handwritten letter.” You sign up for a 12m story, which gets you 24 letters, delivered monthly, that tell you the story of a love affair or adventure in epistolary correspondence – I can’t vouch for the quality of the stories or the writing, but I adore the fact that this exists and the commitment it takes to produce. Unfortunately it’s a US project and so therefore you have to trust the international postal system to deliver if you’re not an American resident, but this feels like something that could make a perfect present for a friend or loved one who’s of a romantic bent. I would love to see this repurposed for a big fictional property – this feels like the sort of thing that would be a wonderful fandom-rewarding promo for a new series of some 80s-set Netflix series, for example (and yes, I am aware how miserable it is that that is where my brain immediately took this).
- Openmoji: Open source emoji. Thousands of the bstard things! Want a massive variety of emoji covering every single possible emotion that you can conceive of, every animal or food or drink under the sun (I exaggerate for effect, but not that much)? GREAT! HERE YOU ARE!
- The Flickr Foundation: Flickr is an interesting oddity in modern web culture – longstanding and hugely-significant in terms of the way in which we have come to think of images and photography and the visual commons online, but also strangely marginalised in the current digital image ecosystem with the primacy of Insta and Pinterest’s seemingly-unbreakable stranglehold over Google Images. The Flickr Foundation is a new initiative by the company established for the following purpose: “We believe the establishment of a non-profit Flickr Foundation will combine with Flickr to properly preserve and care for the Flickr Commons archive, support Commons members to collaborate in a true 21st-century Commons, and plan for the very long-term health and longevity of the entire Flickr collection. We’re also in the early stages of imagining other educational and curatorial initiatives to highlight and share the power of photography for decades to come.” If you have any interest in the ways in which we preserve photographic culture online in a manner that is both useful and culturally sensitive, or if you’re curious about long-term strategies for better digital archiving and curation, this is worth a look.
- The Submarine Cable Map: Does anyone else find it frankly mind-bending that the internet is in part powered by massive thick fibreoptic cables that sit on the ocean floor being occasionally bothered by odd, eyeless fish with unpleasantly-gelatinous skeletons? No? Just me then, which is perhaps why I found this map of where all the undersea internet and telecommunications infrastructure cabling sits so interesting. I wonder how long it is before there’s an incident of physical digital terrorism, whereby some rogue actor or bellicose state sends a sub down with a big pair of shears and an order to ‘fcuk some sh1t up’?
- American Prison Newspapers: Wonderful social history here, in this archive or newspapers produced by prisoners at US correctional facilities since 1800. These are all PDFs and so a bit clunky to browse, but it’s worth a bit of patience because honestly there is some truly wonderful stuff in here; reviews of prison concerts, chaplain’s letters, correspondence pages from lags in other jails across the county…as a piece of social history tracking the changing nature of the US penal system, this is unparalleled.
- A Wide World Of Sad Songs: Facebook is awful, I know, I know. Still, it does have some uses – such as this EXCELLENT Group, which exists to share sad songs with its members. Not only are these songs INCREDIBLY MISERABLE, they are also often very obscure – I had never heard of the 1929 weepy masterpiece ‘Painting The Clouds With Sunshine’ (lol) before, for example, but am now thrilled that I know of its existence (he says, typing through the tears). If you’re of a miserablist bent and fancy a bit of a tearful singalong, or want to get new gems for your next ‘romantic’ mixtape (DON’T DO IT), then this could be your new ‘happy’ place on the internet. This is a VERY active community, so if you join I’d suggest turning off the alerts unless you want to be pinged at 4am with the news that someone in Jakarta has linked to some classic weepy angklung bangers.
- Party Is Such Sweet Sorrow: Taking this week’s coveted ‘the game that closes out the miscellaneous links’ slot is this WONDERFUL point-and-click adventure made by VICE for…reasons (do they still have VC money to burn through? Maybe that’s it), which channels the spirit of classic 90s adventure games along with some honestly fiendish puzzles. You are at a party. There is no visible door or window. How do you get out? Talk to everyone, play with the clock, enjoy the writing and the very tightly-plotted mindtwisters, and don’t be ashamed to google for hints when you get stuck (it is quite hard). If you ever played Maniac Mansion or similar then you’ll find yourself slipping back into that mindset reasonably quickly. More fun than whatever it is that your job is currently requiring of you, GUARANTEED.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Fossil Brains: NOT ACTUALLY A TUMBLR! Still, it feels like one – this is the blog of someone who recreates ancient furnishings in the modern world – so if you’ve ever wanted to read about how exactly you go about recreating a several thousand year old stool using modern tools and techniques (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this will very much be your jam.
- The Museum of Marketing Madness: Examples of the stupid things that result from (adver)marketing(pr) being an actual profession. Mainly US examples, but if you want a selection of terrible copy, bad three-word taglines (my current bete noir is ‘start your impossible’, fyi) and awful graphic design then this will very much satisfy you.
- The Tumblr Sexypedia Wiki: There’s no question that Tumblr is very much THE platform when it comes to ‘people across the web exploring their sexuality, specifically when it comes to weirdly fetishising things that you never necessarily thought worth of fetishism’ – this is a Wiki which neatly proves that, being as it is ‘A crowdsourced project attempting to document, categorize, and explain characters that fall into the archetype of “tumblr sexyman”. “Cringe” is dead here. This wiki comes from a community that loves these characters, often coming from their respective fanbases. We study this phenomenon because it’s fun, to relive and share our experiences as people having fun on the internet.’ So, if you want a pretty exhaustive rundown of all the reasons why people want to bone the main character from ‘Castlevania’, or to read discussions with titles such as ‘literally any fnaf character would be keter’ (WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??? I am honestly too scared to click) then please, enjoy!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Adnan Lotia: Album covers recreated in LEGO. Yes, I know, you have seen this sort of thing a million times before, but Lotia’s work is really impressive and has a pleasing sense of humour. Also, they have done ‘Joyride’ by Roxette which elevates this to God tier in my eyes.
- Rozy.gram: Another virtual influencer, which came across my field of vision this week because its creators claim that the avatar has booked over $1m in sponsorship deals since its creation under a year ago, which, honestly, is an astonishing sum considering how long ago Lil Miquela came out, and how little mainstream traction these things still have. It’s worth taking a look – the tech is getting LOTS better, and while there’s still a significant whiff of ‘uncanny valley’ about the whole thing, these weird CG mannequins are getting better and less-creepy by the day (still a bit creepy, though).
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Notes From The Metaverse: I heard a rumour yesterday that there are conversations happening within Channel 4 about a HOLLYOAKS METAVERSE which, honestly, I don’t actually think is being seriously discussed but which is such a beautiful illustration of where exactly we are on the hypebeast cycle at the moment. This is a series of observations on the current state of discussion around what a metaverse might be, how it might work, what it might look like and how it might intersect with modern media and markets – the central argument here (which I am summarising rather baldly, but which I would encourage you to engage with in full via the essay as, honestly, I am flattening it quite hard) is that the current conception of ‘the metaverse’ as defined by the main actors seeking to make it A Thing is heavily geared to words the commercialisation and commodification of EVERYTHING, and whilst that oughtn’t be a surprise exactly (hi, this is modernity, and have you met capitalism?) it’s worth a brief pause for thought. If the vision we are being sold of a virtual space in which we can embody ourselves in any way we see fit, with the possibility to interact with each other and the things we create in infinitely-elastic ways unfettered by the tedious bonds of ‘physicality’ is one in which the primary draw is (per this interview with Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney) “an expansive, digitized communal space where users can mingle freely with brands and one another in ways that permit self-expression and spark joy”, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether a) that is something that any actual human being would desire (more joy-sparking brand interactions! demanded no human ever!); and b) whether we shouldn’t be asking for something more.
- Regulating the Algorithm: As the fallout from the Facebook stuff continues and the company gets raked over the coals again by the US Senate (a gentle raking, performed by people who don’t really understand the concept of ‘burning’ or ‘fire’, seemingly), so inevitably we’re going to see a lot of chat from people about the need to REGULATE THE PLATFORMS, which, inevitably, also leads to a lot of chat about the need to REGULATE THE ALGORITHMS! Exactly what that might mean in practice is often ill-understood by the people doing the chatting, so it’s instructive to look at what China is currently attempting to do in terms of limiting the power of the private sector internet. This is a truly fascinating overview of the proposed measures the state apparatus is hoping to enact against private tech companies, including those designed to prevent apps from ‘engrossing or addicting their users’ (slight business model issues ahead, lads!) – the article offers a variety of opinions from various tech and China experts as to the likely success of the proposed legislation and the extent to which this sort of stuff will become the blueprint for future attempts to limit the effects of algorithmic manipulation on consumers. It’s worth bearing in mind, of course, that the Chinese proposals only apply to private actors – the state can, of course, use algorithms any damn way it wants.
- Algorithm Magazine: Speaking of algorithms…This is Algorithm, a UK government publication designed to promote and showcase the latest thinking on algorithms and AI and all that jazz. Even if this isn’t usually your thing, I strongly advise you to click the link and if nothing else enjoy the frankly-schizophrenic visual design that’s on display here. How many fonts? ALL THE FONTS? What does ‘digital excellence’ look like? FCUK KNOWS BUT LET’S USE 95 DIFFERENT PAGE LAYOUTS! I feel mean mocking this, but, well, this smacks of being EXACTLY the sort of thing that I would produce were I asked to write a magazine about algoAIstuff by the UK Government and which I knew in my heart of hearts would be read by a grand total of about 200 people, tops.
- The Meme Message: This is so impressive. What were YOU handing in when you were at University? If you were anything like me, the occasional poorly-plagiarised essay typed out between the hours of about 11-4am whilst using up the dregs of last week’s speed – kids today, though, do things differently. Taraneh Azar is ‘a fourth-year journalism and political science combined major at Northeastern University with an emphasis on viral content and online communities’ – this is a project of theirs on memes and meme culture, and they have made A WHOLE FCUKING WEBSITE and there are videos and pop-ups and dear God I am going to have to get rich quickly before the comparison between my ability and that of the coming generation becomes so stark as to render me unemployable. This is interesting, well-written and well-presented, and offers a decent overview of the role of memes and memetics in contemporary youth culture and media. If you’re a strategist-type person, this is the sort of thing that you can usefully lift citations from for WEEKS.
- On The Internet We’re Always Famous: This has done the rounds a bit this week, but if you’ve not read it yet then it’s very much worth your time. Chris Hayes writes in the New Yorker about the way in which the modern internet panopticon and how it has basically transformed everyone into ‘stars’ and ‘stans’, and that the author has ‘come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.’ If any of you remember the piece from about 18m ago by Venkatesh Rao about ‘The Internet of Beefs’ in which everyone is either a ‘mook’ or a ‘knight’, this is an interesting parallel argument.
- How To Deal With Criticism: I am not, it may not surprise you to learn, one for lists of tips and advice, platitudinous bromides detailing how to ‘find your calm’ or that jazz – and yet this, which is literally a list of 10 tips on how to deal with criticism, struck me as very much worth sharing. It’s by Ted Gioia, whose newsletter I have linked to in here before and who really is worth reading on almost anything to do with music, and it is, honestly, really sensible. It’s written for musicians, about criticism of their art, but it contains enough that’s general to make it useful for even those like me whose ears are tinny in the extreme. This in particular is something I probably ought to have tattooed on my arm for future reference: “you pay attention to the criticism, not because it defines you (it doesn’t), but because as a professional you responsibly deal with the consequences of your actions, whether deserved or not.”
- Something Weird is Happening on Facebook: I don’t know if I believe this or not – and even if I do, I don’t know the extent to which it matters, insofar as I still believe that psychogeographic profiling is total magic beans – but it’s an interesting theory. Chris Ladd writes about how it’s entirely possible that the current trend towards open questions on high-engagement junk Facebook pages – you know, the ones that you’re half convinced are designed to trick you into revealing your password security questions – might in fact be a mass-scale attempt to create the same sort of vast datadump of personal information that was used by Cambridge Analytica to (let’s remember, not actually very usefully or effectively) attempt to influence elections around the world. So next time you see a FB post asking what sort of autumnal drink you prefer, know that it might well be a covert operation designed to make you vote Tory in 3 years’ time. Or something.
- Working In VR: Now that Facebook has announced its miserable vision of the future of work (like being in an office…BUT IN VR!!!!), we can all start to look forward to this being part of our quotidian reality. What, though, is it like to experience the tedium of white collar employment in the exciting, futuristic medium of virtual reality? Well fortunately Paul Tomlinson has been working almost exclusively in VR for a few years, and has penned this exhaustive post explaining how it works and why it’s something that he feels positive about. It’s interesting, though personally at no point did I read any of this and think ‘yep, I definitely think that that would make the fundamentally pointless exercise of advising stupid people on their useless ‘communications strategies’ any less painfully awful’ – but maybe the problem’s not really with the kit so much as ME.
- How The El Salvador Bitcoin Experiment Is Going: I don’t want to spoil this for you, but I think it’s safe to say that the jury is still out as to whether it was in fact a good idea for an entire small nation to pivot to crypto overnight.
- Digitising Small Retailers In Indonesia: No, wait, come back! This is interesting, I promise you! Indonesia, as per much of East Asia, is home to a staggering number of small local shops which basically constitute a large part of the local urban economy – these shops are usually one-person concerns, and very much offline. Except, obviously, where there is a massive part of the economy there are also people looking to DISRUPT IT WITH DIGITAL! So to this article, which details some of the startups that are attempting to take a slice of the multimillion-size cornershop (not in any way an exact comparison, but you get what I mean) market in Indonesia via apps which enable the sellers to digitise their supplychains and offer additional digital-only services to customers. I love stuff like this – proper Gibsonian collisions between old world and new technology, all grubby and bitty and human.
- The Tesla Beta Tester Army: Despite Elon’s promises, Tesla doesn’t appear to be significantly closer to the promised reality of FULLY SELF-DRIVING CARS than it was a couple of years ago. Still, that doesn’t stop the Muskian fan army widely proclaiming the vehicles to be on the cusp of practical sentience – this piece in VICE looks at how the Tesla testers, often recruited from the fandom, serve a dual purpose for the company, both as willing guineapigs for its nascent tech and as PR buffers against the online pushback that comes whenever some footage emerges of, I don’t know, one of their cars suddenly deciding that the pavement is in fact another traffic lane and a viable option for overtaking, never mind the pedestrians. Tesla=CULT, remember?
- TikTok vs Science: I love this story – what happens when an ordinarily-niche platform for recruiting participants in behavioural studies research goes moderately viral on TikTok? A lovely little anecdote about the unintended consequences of virality.
- A Pudenda By Any Other Name: Ok, that’s not the article’s actual title, but I prefer mine. A look at why the language that we use for things matters, and why the meaning of words is important – specifically with reference to the way in which certain parts of the female sexual apparatus carry legacy names which say a lot more about attitudes towards female sexuality back when they were named than they do about the thing that they are naming. The question at the heart of this is whether terms such as ‘pudenda’ ought to be retired – to which the obvious answer would seem to be to be ‘why the fcuk not?’, but which obviously are the subject of much debate because a) academia; and b) Twitter.
- The Deepfake Cheerleader: I was really glad to be reminded of this one – remember earlier this year (was it this year? Honestly, time has still not returned to normal; it could literally be any point right now between about 2018 and 2027 as far as I’m concerned) when there was that story about the cheerleader’s mother who’d mounted a deepfake harassment campaign about her daughter’s squadmates? Of course you do! It made headlines around the world, which makes sense when you consider the insane collision between petty smalltown feuding (BEEF IN THE CHEERLEADING SQUAD!), mad parenting and scary tech. Except, of course, the story that did the rounds wasn’t perhaps entirely accurate, and there probably wasn’t a deepfake of anything at all. This is fascinating, not least because it accurately shows that the real danger of deepfakes is not in their ability to fool people (at least not yet) so much as their ability to make people question reality.
- Radicalised Normal: The first of two pieces this week by Clive Martin, this is in The Face and is all about the odd and peculiarly-British nature of the current protest scene across the UK, and the very weird cross-section of society that seems to have congregated nationwide around…well, everything, really. Martin’s an astute observer of the strangeness of Englishness, and it’s quite hard to argue with the general theme of the piece, to whit: “There is a gamut of hysteria in this country that encompasses everything from village hall spiritualists to dressing your children up as Captain Tom, recreating a scene from the Battle of Passchendaele in your front garden, weeping and waving an EU flag in Parliament Square or ripping your shirt off and defending some long-ignored bronze bust of an East India Company trader. You don’t have to grow – or shave – your hair to be a weirdo anymore. Some of the hardest ideologies and maddest schools of thought are there, just waiting for you to come along and pick up a placard.”
- Dan Savage: When I lived in Washington DC two decades ago (fcuk) I first discovered Dan Savage and his ‘Savage Love’ column in the local alternative freesheet in which it was syndicated, and it was amazing – I had never read anyone writing so frankly and humorously and scathingly about sexual practices and mores, and in a way so far removed from what was still a slightly schoolroomish vibe to so much sex writing in the UK. Over the course of the past 20 years, Savage has continued to be a popular voice in sex writing, but, as this interview makes clear, there’s a lot of what he wrote and advised in the past which doesn’t quite vibe with modern sensibilities. Savage isn’t as repentant as it’s clear large swathes of the web and certain elements of the queer community in particular would like him to be – regardless of your position on the specifics, this is a great interview with a complicated subject that does a good job of painting in quite specific strokes the general difficulty (never more keenly felt than now) of reconciling the person you were with the person you are and the person it is acceptable, currently, to be.
- This Town Has Become A Museum: Andres Octavio is a Mexican American emigre’ to Italy, who writes here about the experience of living in a small, dying town which is just about clinging on. A small-but-beautiful essay, and a microcosmic evocation of what I feel living in a part of town full of old people in a city full of old people in a country full of old people.
- What Does Fluffy Think?: I’m sure I have mentioned this on here before, but when I was at university I went through a stage of wasting time whilst avoiding study by trying to find and read the oddest and most-upsettingly-titled academic texts in the library. So it was that I checked out and read Manchester’s only copy of ‘Dearest Pet’, an academic treatise on the history of bestiality and the book which gave me what is still one of my favourite-ever literary quotes (“A man who is renowned as a chicken violator will never get far in life”). This essay by Amia Srinivasan in the London Review of Books is a review of a new tome on the subject by Joanna Bourke, called ‘Loving Animals’ – it is, fine, about the idea of people having sex with animals which is obviously a bit weird and conceptually quite upsetting, but it’s also SO interesting, not only on the ethical questions involved but also because it contains some unexpectedly-hilarious moments. I challenge you not to laugh at the anecdote about the dolphin that tops itself, for example, or about the definition of ‘anolingis’ (it’s not what you think, I promise).
- Balkanisation of the Soul: Finally this week, the second piece by Clive Martin, about THE SESH in your 30s and the balkans and being a ‘grown up’ and modernity and and and. I love this immoderately, and I hope you do too. Read with a cold can of tinned lager for the full effect.
By Anna Weyant
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is called ‘Tomorrow’ by Dlina Volny – the video does that annoying thing where the first two minutes are AN ART FILM (sorry to p1ss all over your artistic chips, but, honestly, I am here for the music), but if you skip to 1:55 or so you will get to the reason I linked this; this is a wonderful 80s-tinged thumper with (to my ear) a distinct Roisin Murphy tone to the vocal, and it’s ACE.
- New one from Wet Leg next – while this isn’t quite the supercatchy banger Chaise Longue was, it’s still a pretty perfect slice of indieguitarpop with a beautifully catchy sound and pleasingly-leftfield lyrics. Also, fair to the band for nailing the visual style of their videos so well so early on – although does anyone own a copy of Buffalo66 on DVD anymore?
- Last up in this week’s selection of videos, this is called ‘Dancer’ by Shortly and I was transfixed by this and I adore the lyrics and the video is beautiful too. A lovely note to end on, I think, and an appropriate juncture to say BYE I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK TAKE CARE AND HAVE FUN AND BE SAFE AND DON’T LET THE BASTRDS GRIND YOU DOWN WHOEVER THOSE BASTRDS MAY BE AND I WILL BE BACK IN SEVEN SHORT DAYS I LOVE YOU BYE!