Well, thank God all that’s over and done with and we can all move on with our lives.
Briefly, though, on The Football (or more particularly, the bits before and after the football) – WOW does English drinking culture look weird from the outside! Honestly, I watched the Italian 8pm news before the game on Sunday and there was footage of the ‘boisterous’ atmosphere in London and elsewhere (along with the now-iconic shot of the man doing a line of pubgak to a braying crowd – seriously, HE MADE THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS FFS!!) and the general vibe of the voice over was one of naked fear tbh. Noone drinks like we do, is something you learn reasonably quickly when you travel for any significant amount of time. I hope your hangovers have all abated, basically.
As to the rest, enough digital ink has been expended on decrying the racist abuse suffered by Rashford, Saka and Sancho and you probably don’t need to read me adding to it. In terms of the responses, though…The racist Tory government continues to hold up the Online Safety Billas the magical solution which will force platforms to finally start taking the problem seriously – a piece of legislation which is unlikely to pass fully into law much before 2023, which doesn’t define what a ‘harm’ might in fact be, and which contains no mentions of ‘racism’ or ‘racial abuse’ within its 145 pages. The platforms themselves have condemned the content, and sought to claim their own solutions are adequate – Twitter claimed it had “swiftly removed over 1,000 Tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules”, whilst at the same time confirming to Sander Kutwala, Director of British Future, that messages such as “No blacks in the England team – keep our team white” did not in fact constitute such a rule violation. Instagram stated that “No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere…we quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules”; leaked quotes from Facebook staff, however, suggest they are less impressed with their employers’ reaction, with one saying “We get this stream of utter bile every match, and it’s even worse when someone black misses…We really can’t be seen as complicit in this.” Meanwhile, the advertising industry – whose clients’ spending on advertising constitutes the bulk of social media platforms’ income, and who make a tidy percentage on said ad buys – has penned an open letter to Facebook et al calling for action. Whether this will have the same sort of seismic effect as previous advertising initiatives, such as the temporary boycott of social media by large brands following the murder of George Floyd, remains to be seen. Still, it’s clear that with all this concerted action, racism will definitely soon be history!
Anyway, let us never speak of Euro2020 again. Instead, let us dive face-first into this week’s steaming pile of links, freshly culled from the soft underbelly of the web and still all warm and twitching. BLOOD YOURSELF WITH MY INTERNETS FOR THIS IS WEB CURIOS!
By Ana Leovy
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHETHER LAST SUNDAY WAS COCAINE’S ‘DANIELLA WESTBROOK IN HEAD-TO-TOE-BURBERRY’ MOMENT, PT.1:
- We Dwell In Possibility: Technically this is a repeat link (THE HORROR!) but it’s not my fault that Manchester International Festival’s digital interactive thingies all live on the same url despite their rotation. This is the latest in MIF’s series of digital toys, this time called ‘We Dwell in Possibility’ created by Robert Yang, an artist/gamemaker who I’ve also featured in Curios before for his digital explorations of queer culture and masculinity. This is SO MUCH FUN! Playable in-browser, the ‘game’ presents a small garden space which you can seed with flowers and through which small, comfortingly-rounded figures will run and frolic; some of these figures will carry and place objects, which will then become interactive parts of your garden space which will cause the other figures to behave in particular ways; you can move them round, eliminate the ones you don’t like, play to see what cumulative effects you can achieve and, if you play your cards right, get to see what is basically a tiny, many-limbed orgy of tiny people on your screen. Honestly, this is absolutely joyful and if you only click on one link this week I would strongly suggest that you make it this one – I just got 100-odd tiny humunculi dancing around a soundsystem while a couple made what looked like pretty mutually-satisfying agendered love, oblivious to the dancing, and frankly I’m unlikely to achieve anything more impressive with my day (and if you want to read a slightly better description of what this is and why it exists, you can read one here).
- Mighty: I think we can all agree that one of the major problems with The Now is that kids aren’t being exposed to the wonderful world of capitalist endeavour early enough. I mean, fine, they can get a window into the influencer grift and the CREATOR ECONOMY once they get their first phone, but it’s still unlikely that they’ll be jumping into the world of BUSINESS with both feet – and that’s putting YOUR spawn at a disadvantage! How will they know to hustle and duck and weave and ALWAYS BE CLOSING if they’re spending their formative years simply playing rather than focusing on the godly duality of brand and product? Which is where Mighty comes in – effectively ‘dropshipping, for kids!’. The website promises that anyone can set up a business in a few clicks – “We’re on a mission to empower kids through entrepreneurship. Thank you for supporting a young CEO in achieving their dreams! Mighty is a revolutionary entrepreneurship program for children 8 years and older. It’s revolutionary because it is real. Our Mighty CEOs learn to start and grow their own social enterprise, while leveraging business as a force for good.” What this in practice means is that you sign up, pick your shop name, ‘design’ a logo (pick from some clipart), select the products you want to ship and BINGO YOU’RE AN ENTREPRENEUR! Exactly how ‘shipping low-value tat from the other side of the world’ is ‘business as a force for good’ remains to be seen, but I’m sort of darkly impressed by the business model here.
- The Human Hotel: “Airbnb is fine, but the main problem with it is that the hosts just aren’t the right sort of people anymore – they just don’t vibe with my creative nature, you know?” If you’ve ever found yourself saying or thinking things like this then a) congratulations, you’re a cnut!; and b) you will love The Human Hotel, a platform which touts itself as “a curated community for like-hearted humans to create and connect”, which, honestly, is the sort of description that makes me quiveringly reach for the flensing knives but your mileage may vary. It’s like every other couchsurfing-type service you’ve ever seen, except also hideously up itself in terms of the ‘quality’ of its hosts who – HERE’S A SURPRISE – all work in art or design and are all the sorts of people who could happily model for *wallpaper or Kinfolk. “For each stay, we design a unique 45 minute meeting experience to share between the host and the guest. It’s an easy, yet powerful, opportunity for you both to get the most out of meeting each other – even when time is short. We call these Curated Meetups.” No, I’m sorry, I can’t read any more of this without getting irrationally angry – still, if you would like to have your week in Copenhagen leavened by a 45m discussion about the true meaning of sans serif fonts with a man called Mads, this is almost certainly the accommodation-finding service for YOU.
- The 2021 Audubon Photography Award Winners: Lovely photographs of lovely birds. It is literally impossible to feel anything other than happy when looking at these (though I feel a responsibility to warn you that at least one of them features some AVIAN DEATH, so, you know, GIRD YOURSELVES).
- Long Trails: I am increasingly dreaming of when this particular period of my life is over and I inevitably have some sort of not-insignificant breakdown and attempt to recover by going on an unconscionably-long walk – I think I might try and just pick a direction and see how long I can keep going for. If you are also compelled by a strange and unknowable desire to cover huge distances on foot, you might appreciate this website which collects information about some of the world’s longest walkable trails. There’s a certain North American bias here, but there are a reasonable number of European routes featured and links to resources and information to help you on your way – honestly, given the opportunity I would happily do all of these (ha! I would die attempting just one of them).
- Ryotaro Suzuki: Mr Suzuki is the newish Japanese ambassador to Iceland. His Twitter account has become a very low-key sensation over the past week, mainly because of its almost unbearable purity – Mr Suzuki is a seemingly very nice, very humble person who is very happy to be in Iceland and very eager to learn about the country, and whose Twitter account is a wonderful mixture of semi-official announcements and very, very mundane chat. I appreciate that posts such as “I took a day off, and went to this barber shop. I was slightly worried about the quality of the service here, but Antonio, the barber, was very professional..” may not strike you as the most compelling content you’ve ever experienced, but tell me that the world wouldn’t be a better place if all ambassadors took this sort of approach. You can’t imagine Mr Suzuki availing himself of diplomatic immunity after a 3-day binge on the Brennivín and raindeer-p1ss mushrooms, is all I’m saying.
- The Sample: I think I am fast-reaching information saturation point with Curios. As the nature of the web has changed over the years, so has my ‘curatorial’ (ha!) approach, going from a daily trawl of 50-odd websites to a situation now where there are also about 100-odd newsletters which I subscribe to and…I don’t know how much more I can physically fit in without suffering some sort of infoanuerism, frankly. Still, if you haven’t quite reached newsletter saturation point, you might be interested in The Sample, a really smart idea which will send you a new sample newsletter from its roster every day through a combination of human selection and algorithmic nous – you can give the system feedback to tell it which newsletters you’ve liked and disliked each day to train it on your tastes, and you can subscribe with one-click to any that you find particularly compelling. If nothing else, this is a really lovely way of getting a fresh voice in your inbox each day – even if you never sub to any of them, the variety here is wonderful and has introduced me to loads of fun ideas in the past week alone – today’s, for example, was a soap opera in newsletter form which I will never sub to but I am very glad exists.
- Weird Spotify: A Twitter account sharing some of the weirder playlists that exist on Spotify, and which doesn’t seem in any way affiliated with the business itself but which I imagine they are pretty happy about in terms of the brand promo it’s doing for them (and the time it will save them when doing their ‘kooky playlists’ ad campaigns). What’s slightly odd is the number of playlists which exist just to make a not-particularly-funny joke – the ones called things like ‘POV you going to make a sandwich’ where the titles of the songs in the playlists tell a grammatically-questionable and very dull story of going to make a sandwich, and which I can’t quite see as being worth the time it took to pull them together (says the man who spends upwards of 20h a week wading through internet crap for a newsletter with a readership which might charitably be estimated as ‘small’ and who therefore is in no position to lecture anyone else about how they choose to spend their lives).
- The Facebook Creator Programme: Facebook’s announcement that it was going to dedicate $1bn over the next 18m in its creator programmes, to directly reward people who make content for its platforms, was sort-of inevitable after Snap and TikTok’s successful forays into the same space – there are as yet minimal details as to how this might in fact work, but the little information there is suggests a mixture of more of the sort of paid partnerships with big names we’ve seen with the people signed up to newsletter platform Bulletin and a bunch of lower-tier rewards for people who perform certain tasks like hitting certain livestreaming milestones, etc. I can’t help but look at this and imagine a future in which we’re all being paid in zuckdollars for logging in each morning and recording daily affirmations to feed the Big Blue Misery Factory’s insatiable desire for content – w4nking for your pennies, Mark? Why I don’t mind if I do!
- Itsme!: “Meet friends, as your avatar!” burbles this app, which lets you do a lot of standard chat stuff but with the gimmick that rather than using your own face you instead use a Pixar-ish avatar of yourself derived from a photo and which is intended to ensure that the people on the app are choosing to talk to you for you rather than because of the fact they’re enamoured with, I don’t know, your charmingly retrousse nose. There’s also an interesting openness to chat discovery – you can approach anyone on the app to talk, which obviously raises all sorts of red flags given that the mere fact that you’re all presenting as cartoon characters doesn’t automatically make everyone on the platform a friendly, Pixar-ish character underneath the CG veneer. Still, if you’re for some reason super-keen on having slightly-crap conversations with strangers whilst presenting as a memoji of yourself this will be PERFECT for you.
- Kevin B Parry: Parry’s TikTok bio describes him as a ‘stop-motion animator and video wizard’ and he’s not wrong – some of the stuff he does with edits here is MAGIC, and yet another example of how stuff you see on TikTok created on someone’s mobile is SO much better than 99% of crap being churned out by brands. Parry’s particular schtick is the ‘how did he do that?’ edit, seeing him turn into bananas or balloons or any number of things with some truly seamless videowork.
- Lightograph; This is a tricky one to assess; Lightograph is pitching itself as ‘a revolutionary new digital image format’, which effectively seems to let its creator make digital photographs with shifting lightsources – so effectively you could have an image of an individual or landscape in which the light source is manipulable, so you could shift it from left to right, say, to change the illumination of the subject’s features, or over a landscape to change the time of day. Except, well, the resulting effects just look a bit like cinemagraphs and we have had those for AGES, and the website’s slightly-obfuscatory copy means that it’s not in any way clear how Jeremy Cowart actually makes these things and whether there’s anything smart happening here beyond some photoshop and gif-creation. Oh, and he’s selling NFTs which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that this isn’t some sort of grift. Still, it’s interesting to speculate (and I am sorry Mr Cowart if I have inadvertently slagged off the future of photography – consider the embarrassment I’ll feel in the future for having misjudged you its own punishment).
- Streetonomics: A website offering street name analysis of a variety of cities (London, Paris, Vienna, New York), letting you see overlays showing detail about the time the streets were named, the gender of their name, the countries said names are linked to, etc. A really interesting way of gaining a picture of the patchwork of a city’s past – I found the London stuff particularly interesting, but the cities they have picked are all interesting given their international and mercantile past.
- Uitsloot: A wonderful environmental art / science project from the Netherlands, in which Gijs Schalkx attempts to create a vehicle that is truly environmentally-friendly, made from locally sourced materials and locally-sourced fuel – which, in this case, means a motorbike powered by methane collected from local bogs, and which in its most successful incarnation to date can travel about 12km. This is INGENIOUS, but equally a perfect illustration of exactly how hard (read: impossible) it is to create transit methods that don’t place a huge tax on the environment in terms of resource extraction and fuel usage. Still, LOOK AT THE METHANE-POWERED BIKE! The photos of Mr Schalkx on his vehicle (go to the ‘info’ section and click ‘Slootmotor’) are joyous.
- Bored Humans: A selection of links to various AI (not necessarily actually AI) experiments, from imaginary pizza to AI-generated song lyrics to all sorts of things inbetween. None of these will be remotely novel to you regular Curios readers who have long-since become jaded at the sight of imagined human faces or songs created by machine, but it’s a useful overview of the sorts of things that are actually now pretty easy to knock up and which you might want to steal for your next campaign with that client who wants to be really innovative but at the same time wants said innovation to be of a sort that’s actually no longer new or interesting any more (literally the WORST clients – “can we have something entirely novel, please? And can you also give us three examples of where other brands have done this successfully in the past?” NO YOU CANNOT YOU ARE MORONS AND I WISH DEATH ON YOU ahem sorry).
- Cafecito: Honestly, this sounds awful but perhaps some of you who are less violently-antisocial than I am might find less horror here. Cafecito offers an opportunity for people around the world to be paired up for 25m virtual coffee meetings – you sign up, you write some stuff about what you’re into and what your GOALS are (first red flag – WHY MUST I HAVE GOALS?? FFS just let me float directionlessly through life until the sweet release of death claims me, do not demand that my floating be in any way directed!) and this service pairs you with someone else who you might be ‘compatible’ with (whatever that means) for a chat. A ‘chat’. WHAT ARE YOU MEANT TO GET OUT OF A 25 MINUTE VIRTUAL ‘CHAT’ WITH A PERFECT STRANGER? Even better, each ‘chat’ starts out with an ‘icebreaker’ and dear God no please this is not fcuking improv class. Can someone turn this into a piece of performance, please? I think it has more potential as the setup for a piece of comedy than it does as a useful service.
- Space Jam NFTs: Included almost-solely because the combination of Daffy Duck and NFTs feels to me like the perfect-encapsulation of the utter stupidity of all of this.
- Restaurant Bot: A potentially-perfect Twitter account, which does nothing other than post the name and address of restaurants from around the world, along with some images of the venue and the food they serve. Recent picks include a pizza joint in Vanuatu, a fish restaurant in Glastonbury (the US Glastonbury, not the hippy one) and a Bosnian outpost of whatever their equivalent of Perfect Fried Chicken is. Amazing.
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHETHER LAST SUNDAY WAS COCAINE’S ‘DANIELLA WESTBROOK IN HEAD-TO-TOE-BURBERRY’ MOMENT, PT.2:
- Dead Startup Toys: MSCHF’s latest project is sadly sold out – their stuff goes in about an hour these days, seemingly – but the website made me laugh enough that this feels worth featuring regardless. The gimmick was that they were selling toys representing some of the biggest scams and failures of startupworld over the last few years – so you could buy a model of that beachgoing icebox which raised all the money on Kickstarter and then turned out to be a massive scam, or (my favourite) the Juicero juicing box which ended up being a £300 machine which did nothing more than squeeze pre-pulped fruit out of plastic bags. I imagine that all of these will be fetching significant money on eBay and other marketplaces as I type, so if you’re interested then seek them out (but be prepared to pay eye-watering sums).
- Camper Guru: I don’t understand camping. I mean, look, it’s fine as far as it goes, and I will happily put up with being in a tent if there is other good stuff going on around said tent (and, realistically, if I can expect to be unsober enough by the time I go to bed that I have forgotten about the fact that I am sleeping in a tent), but the idea of actively choosing to spend time sleeping on the ground and sweating into man-made fibres is largely anathema to me. Still, the older I get the more I find my contemporaries doing things like buying primus stoves and those sort of fold-out chairs which I always used to irrationally resent people for bringing to festivals, so I appreciate that there are others for whom my reticence is simply another sign of my weak moral fibre and who absolutely ADORE the camping life. So here, if that’s you, have this website – it contains loads of stuff about places to go and good campsites and amenities around Europe, and doesn’t immediately look like it’s run by an international gang of criminals who’ll steal your internal organs while you sleep.
- Couchmate: Those of you who’ve been around for a while or who’ve worked in TV will remember the obsession of about 10 years ago with the concept of ‘second screening’ – that everyone would be watching TV whilst at the same time having conversations about said TV on their phones (which, to be fair, did sort-of come true, but in a largely-asynchronous way which isn’t quite what anyone predicted). Couchmate is literally that idea, but off-Twitter and in a specific app instead; as far as I can tell this is tied to US broadcast TV schedules and so will be of little or no use to all those of you reading this outside of North America, but for any Europe-based insomniacs reading this you might find some joy in leaping into chats about, I don’t know, the NBA All Stars games (this is only a fun idea if you have no idea about basketball and make no effort to learn, and instead use the platform as an opportunity to gently troll your interlocutors with questions about why all the players are so tall).
- Salmoncam: Salmon are currently swimming upstream to spawning grounds in Alaska. Want to watch some bears having a really nice time eating them? OF COURSE YOU DO! What’s lovely about this – not for the salmon, obvs, but we’re very much on the side of the mammals here at Web Curios so, well, FCUK THE SALMON – is quite how easy this all is for the bears – it’s effectively the ursine equivalent of directing the Yo! Sushi conveyor belt directly into your mouth and pressing ‘go’.
- In B Flat: I think, if I’m not mistaken, that this is 12 years old, which in online terms is methuselan in the extreme – still, it’s never been in Curios and so is FAIR GAME. In B Flat is a simple webtoy which lets you create a surprisingly-wonderful and great-sounding musical moments through playing and pausing a series of YouTube videos, all recorded in B flat, which layer to make an almost infinite variety of compositions. I don’t care how old this is, it’s wonderful and there’s a very vague idea in the back of my head about how this could be repurposed for a post-TikTok world in case anyone’s interested (don’t all rush at once!).
- Police Squad: Or, more accurately, the YouTube channel of one John Biciclistul which happens, amongst the mountain biking and castle hikes, to have six episodes of classic pre-Naked Gun comedy vehicle Police Squad uploaded in their entirety. These are so so so so good – honestly, if you’re not familiar with Police Squad then give these a go, there’s a reason this is considered classic material.
- Useless Crypto: Older readers may remember a late, lamented brand of cigarettes from the 1980s which were simply called ‘Death’ – I was too young to smoke when they existed, but I was convinced they were the coolest things IN THE WORLD (now of course as I labour yellow of finger and black of lung under the weight of a 25+ year addiction I am aware that that was just marketing and oh God what am I become) – I imagine that this new coin offering is using a similar gimmick to lure people in. Or maybe it is useless and maybe it’s all a joke! IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL ANYMORE!!! To quote the sellers, it is “the first hyper-hyper-deflationary token. This token is so useless, we will do everything in our power to buy it back — just so we can burn it and get rid of it.” So, er, there!
- The Global Music Vault: You know the Global Seed Vault, where the seeds needed to rewild and feed the world when it all goes wrong will be stored in permafrost in perpetuity? Well this is like that, but for music! “Music is part of our heritage and the data is irreplaceable. Today this data – the music – is created, stored and archived on mediums that are inefficient, harmful to the environment, exposed to irreversible risks like fire and technical errors and have a short and limited lifetime. The purpose-built digital medium can last for over 1000 years in the Global Music Vault with guaranteed future accessibility.” The project is at present…quite sketchy about how any of this is in fact going to work, but they seem very committed – will be interesting to keep an eye on how this develops (and, er, what the actual fcuk it is).
- Ransomwhere: Tracking ransomware demands and payments – an interesting research and tracking project attempting to determine the scale of the problem and the value of the illegal market in software-based extortion. The figures are quite dizzying, and make me think I have wasted my life doing jobs I mostly hate for pennies (YOU TOO????).
- The Earth: A small 3d model of the planet, on which you can visualise various data such as current wind or current patterns, or current temperature, or the charrningly-named ‘misery index’ which tracks the degree of economic distress felt by ‘regular’ people worldwide. This is beautiful and, if you flip it to temperature view and spend a bit of time spinning the globe, utterly-terrifying.
- Fightmaker: I have never been able to get into UFC – as someone who finds boxing a bit much, I suppose it was inevitable that the sight of a heavily-tattooed person repeatedly smashing their fist into the face of a prone colleague might prove unappealing. Still, if you’ve got a higher threshold for the crunch of bone-on-bone than I have and enjoy poring over the statistical minutiae of fighter performance, this tool might be of use – you can use it to compare statistical data of any two UFC fighters you care to choose (men-only as far as I can tell) to see whose, I don’t know, knees are harder (is this what matters in fighting? It feels like it does). No idea what you might use this for, but perhaps to add a veneer of analytical respectability to the next time you decide to bet on whether fighter A is going to be picking teeth out of the mat.
- Ephemeral Tattoos: Tatts that last a year rather than your whole life! As someone who’s seen a couple of people go through the unpleasant (and not hugely-effective) process of tattoo removal, I can see the appeal of ink that fades and vanishes – this is a service that currently exists in Brookly NYC and is opening soon in LA, and I would imagine will come to London within 12 months or so. For the right sort of brand launch, this could be quite fun – if nothing else, paying people to get 12m tatts of your logo feels like something people might actually do.
- How Long Is My Data: If you wrote all your data to a series of 3½″ floppy disks, how many shelves would you need? Tell this website the number of megabytes you have, and it will tell you how many shelves. Pointless, fine, but…NO! It is NOT POINTLESS! It is ART! I want to see physical representations of the space it would take to hold all the Facebook profiles in the world on floppy! I want to see installations that take this idea and run with it! Can someone who works for a digital storage brand please do something fun with this? Please?
- Send A Mixtape: This is really very cute indeed. Create a playlist on Spotify (other platforms are available), plug it into this website and it will give you a downloadable, printable template with a QR code on it. Assemble said template (a bit of folding and a bit of glueing) and VWALLAH! You have your very own paper/card cassette tape which you can write on and give to someone as a token, and which when they scan the QR code will take them to the mix you’ve made. I think this is lovely and I would be charmed to receive such a thing – now that QR codes are sort-of a thing, can we make more of them in this sort of way, please? I want clothes with customQRcodes emblazoned on them, jackets with them on the back panel so strangers can scan you and get all your socials in one place, or a link to your manifesto or your portfolio or album…anyway, this is a great concept and a really cute idea, so well done everyone involved.
- Is This A Matrix?: This is fun – take a selection of frames from The Matrix, in any order you like, and compile them into a gif to tell whatever story you want with the images. Obviously the Matrix is a longstanding cultural artefact these days, but I rather like the idea of applying this to any new video property – if you want memetic reach, letting people remix the very fabric of your show like this feels like a good start. Regardless, in this particular iteration it’s possible to make all sorts of fun Matremixes (sorry) so feel free to make one that you feel represents you and your life best.
- Trendy: This is a really interesting tool which lets users see Google search trend, by country, over the past few days – so you can select, say, the United Kingdom, and see what’s trended over the past 24h and then expand that to see how that differs compared to the past week, allowing you to simply get an idea of trend persistence and longevity, and what’s going on in any given country RIGHT NOW. Super-useful, like Twitter trending topics but better because it’s based on a platform that actual real people use rather than just a country’s population of generic media w4nkers.
- Colostle: Such an interesting idea, this – Colostle is a single-player RPG game, currently in development, which sounds really rather cool. “Colostle is a solo RPG rulebook that allows you to play a single player adventure campaign through the impossible and incredible world of the Colostle. Unlike multiplayer tabletop RPGs like DnD or Pathfinder, a solo RPG is one you play on your own. The game book and system, along with a deck of standard playing cards, throws prompts and moments at you, and you must decide how your character reacts while recording your adventures in a journal. Build your story of who your legendary adventurer is, and what they discover out in the Roomlands of the Colostle.” For those of you who like the idea of roleplaying but who don’t necessarily fancy doing it in company, this could be worth keeping an eye on.
- Block: The coin blocks from Mario. Click the block, it is VERY satisfying. No, I won’t tell you what happens if you keep clicking, you’ll have to find out for yourselves.
- Kerntype: An oldschool kerning game – SO satisfying, except when it points out how bad you are at it at which point it becomes utterly infuriating (like all the very best entertainments).
- Plane Food Simulator: CAN YOU GET THE FOOD IN YOUR MOUTH??? Very silly, but mildly diverting – the instructions are horrible, so just know that you have to try and get the food to the mouth-circle you can see onscreen (it will make sense once it loads, promise).
- You Are Now Possessed: A very neat little puzzle game whose central mechanic is that your character is possessed – you need to help them navigate to the guitar in each level, taking into account that at certain points they will be taken over by a MALEFICENT INFLUENCE and move independently of your volition, and you need to plan their movements to take said movements into account. Very smart indeed, and gets properly hard a dozen or so levels in.
- Under A Star Called Sun: Finally this week, a very small pixelart narrative game which reminded me ever so slightly of the film Silent Running and which, like that film, absolutely ruined me. Honestly, I was in floods by the time this finished and it only lasts about 5 minutes – you may be less emotionally-fragile than I currently am, but I defy you not to get a little moist of eye. This is beautiful and sad and a perfectly-formed piece of art.
By Kinga Bartis
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Harry Potter Confessions: To be clear, my posting this link is in no way any sort of acceptance or endorsement of JKR’s more recently-expressed viewpoints. Ok? OK! Instead, it’s here as an illustration of the extent to which I increasingly firmly-believe that the HP universe and its insane popularity has caused actual mental harm to an entire generation of people – I mean, look at the state of this stuff. SO MUCH MATERIAL! This is very much an active Tumblr which is still able to post multiple times a day with people’s obsessional ramblings about how upset they get when people don’t give Snape the credit he deserves – did people in The Old Times display this sort of insane need to analyse the kids’ series of the past? Were there penpal clubs dedicated to dissecting exactly where Lucy from CS Lewis’ Narnia series scores in the Myers Briggs pantheon? WHY IS THE POTTER FANDOM LIKE THIS??? Honestly, I firmly believe that there will be a branch of academia in 50 years dedicated to analysing the deeply-negative effects this has all had on us as a species.
- The Dungeon of Unexplained Phenomena: Not, I don’t think, a Tumblr! Still, given the emptiness of the Circus in recent weeks, you can forgive me for sneaking this one in (and it feels like a Tumblr, which of course is what counts). This is the work of Leigh Alexander, who’s using CLIP and other AI image generation tools to create images of creepy things in suburban settings – so from her prompts such as ‘the spooky locked door in the public library’ or ‘Dashcam photo of a haunting apparition’ come these machine-imagined pictures of unsettling things at the limits of visual plausibility, accompanied by short text by Alexander which offers further context to the computer-created imagery. A lovely collaborative art project between person and machine, and exactly the sort of centaur-y stuff I find fascinating.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Sam Cotton: Sam Cotton is a comedian, actor and animator who creates short sketches based on his animated scribblings over video footage. Which I appreciate makes next to no sense now that I see it written down, so I encourage you to click the link and watch one of his videos and I promise you’ll understand. Very, very funny, in a very Australian way.
- Pacey Films: Apparently the person behind this Insta wasn’t even born when Dawson’s Creek was on TV – still, they are doing an excellent job of stanning it despite their lack of years. This Insta feed posts edits illustrating some of the main themes of the Creek – mainly the Dawson/Joey/Pacey love triangle, and James Van Der Beek’s MASSIVE FACE. I never actually liked or watched Dawson’s Creek, but my girlfriend at the time lived with some people who loved it SO MUCH that they would spontaneously break into the theme tune (I still get hives at the thought) and as a result it still holds a place in my heart (not a nice place, fine, but certainly one of the smaller, more atrophied corners).
- Conception Film Studios: Film posters, but SUPER-DESIGN! Very stylish, but also very much ‘in the style of the cover of that Franz Ferdinand album’ so ymmv.
- Ochre Jelly: LEGO art, but better than you might expect – you might have seen some of these floating around the web before, so it’s worth following the maker if you’re into this sort of thing. The ‘memes in LEGO’ in particular are beautiful.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Three Cheers for Socialism: This is actually from December last year, and is an unusual Curios pick insofar as it’s from Commonweal which is a Catholic magazine (admittedly one compiled by laypeople rather than your actual priests). Don’t let either of those things put you off, though – this is a wonderful piece of writing which neatly lays out the way in which contemporary political discourse in the US consistently misrepresents the idea of ‘socialism’, and how that lack of common understanding (or indeed clarity) of meaning has ruined political discourse for much of the past few decades. For those disinclined to read this because of the US focus, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the current media/political landscape in the UK (or indeed in a significant number of other European countries) with its rhetoric about ‘dangerous marxist movements’ and ‘socialist elites’ – this applies everywhere. Honestly, I was so impressed by this – despite the religious undertones it’s a really superb essay.
- Skip The Intro: Ok, so this one is something of a…challenging read, but it’s worth persevering with. The central premise is basically one of the flattening of context in narrative and the reduction of story to content, and you can probably work out whether you will get on with the piece by reading this extract and seeing how you feel: “any narrative dimension in the final product is strictly speaking vestigial, from an earlier era of narrative art with which the new content only pretends to be continuous. Narrative adorns content in the same way faves adorn a tweet; both function only to maximize “user engagement”, and if either appears to be tailored to the specific affective or aesthetic expectations of the “user”, this is only an appearance.” As an aside, by the way, I read this review of the new Space Jam film yesterday shortly after reading this essay, and it felt like the perfect distillation of what the author is getting at.
- On The Verge of the Hybrid Mind: From a new journal called ‘Morals and Machines’, which will feature papers on the intersection of ethics and artificial intelligence and which looks GREAT, comes this essay looking at some of the questions that arise around the morality of the centaur and the cyborg – how should increased cooperation and hybridisation of the workings of the mind and its computing augmentations be treated, how does this affect our current conceptions of what is ‘good’ or ‘right’, how should we think of agency or privacy or responsibility for entities who are part-person and part-machine? And if you think that these are scifi questions then you’re going to find the next 10 years a constantly-terrifying mess, so it might be worth getting ready.
- The Kids Love Mao: Or, to use the article’s own subheading, “The chairman’s call for struggle and violence against capitalists is winning over a new audience of young people frustrated with long work hours and dwindling opportunities.” This is really interesting, and could equally be illustrated with that anime meme of the kid looking at the butterfly – it feels very much like a significant proportion of the younger Chinese population is suddenly coming to the retaliation that the country that they live in doesn’t in fact seem to conform to the type of communist ideal Mao espoused and that, possibly, they have been sold a fast one.
- Welcome To Simulation City: On digital twins and virtual environments, and how Waymo (and others) are using them to seek to speed up the process of making self-driving cars a reality. I find this sort of modelling absolutely amazing, and would totally be interested in watching a ‘livestream’ from virtual space of cars learning how to drive (although I appreciate that on a certain level this would be horrifying, from the point of view of seeing how the sausage is made).
- Games As Live Events: I featured Rival Peak in Curios when it launched a year or so ago, and I remember at the time thinking it had a lot of potential – this article looks at the company behind it, and its vision to create a series of ‘live AI-supported interactive narrative entertainments’ (that clunky descriptor is mine, not theirs) where viewers/players can watch a narrative play out and, through their interactions with the characters and the world, shape said narrative however they wish, with the visuals reflecting the player-directed choices. In Rival Peak this played out through choices around what activities the characters would do, who they would hang out with, etc, which then led to relationships and fallings-out and all the fun human dramatic grist that we all want – the article describes how this might work for horror, say, or other genres. There is SO much scope here – as ever, there’s no guarantee that the early adopters will win the day, but with a bit of imagination it’s not hard to see how this sort of thing could become very popular indeed.
- Where Are Our Jetpacks?: On the history of jetpack development, and why it is that, despite the repeated promise of television and films from the mid-20th Century, we are not in fact currently able to pop to Tesco with a rocket strapped between our shoulderblades (or at least I’m not). Contains, as always with these things, some fabulous characters, including the wonderfully-laconic Willy Suitor, who for many years was the go-to pilot for the prototypical rocketman-style backpacks and jet belts and other flying contraptions, and some quite jaw-dropping accounts of the risks taken with life and limb. Genuinely astonishing that none of these people died.
- What Does Cool Even Mean?: Or ‘the absence of singular trend signifiers in a fragmented digital world’, or ‘everything’s cool now for 15 people’, or, to quote the article, the rise of “hyperreal individualism. Hyperreal individualism is where the original references are largely illegible or incoherent, but the individual wishes to define themselves and create an identity around their own disparate tastes and styles anyway.” This is a somewhat-confused article, to my mind, but it does do a good job of highlighting the lack of universal trends in youth culture at present (aside, of course, from the assembly of piecemeal personal style from the fragmented landscape of THE NOW), and acts as a decent companion piece to this one by the always-smart people at BBH (I say that not just because they have paid me money on a couple of occasions but also because they have one of the few industry websites worth looking at) about GenZ’s ‘culture of extremes’ and how it’s all about contradiction and HOW MANY DIFFERENT WAYS CAN WE FIND TO REPACKAGE POSTMODERNISM FFS?
- Instagram Has Become Skymall: Or, for the anglos in the audience, the Innovations Catalogue! This article highlights some of the odd things that the author has been advertised of late on the ‘gram, further emphasising the platform’s shift from ‘place to put photos’ to ‘place to be sold to’. Dropshipping really is a curse and we are so, so screwed.
- Digital Nomads Ruin Everything: Oh, ok, fine, that’s not actually the headline but it could well be. This isn’t the first piece about the digital nomad lifestyle I’ve featured in here, and it won’t be the last you read, but it resonated with me because I’ve been to quite a few of the places they mention, albeit a decade ago, and it made me momentarily sad to imagine them being squatted by the sorts of people who are running the aforementioned dropshipping businesses and thereby doubly screwing the planet simply by being alive. The general tenor of the article isn’t that surprising – influxes of people who want a specific lifestyle changing the nature of a formerly-relatively-rural area in ways which benefit neither the environment nor the community which formerly lived there – but post-COVID it hits harder.
- The Contrarevolución Will Be Livestreamed: Antonio Garcia Martinez writes about the current situation in Cuba, how it’s come about and what an Arab Spring might look like in a country in which the web and social media doesn’t quite exist in the way we might expect. “Cuba has no freedom of assembly in practice, and constitutionally has no freedom of speech by private citizens. And yet here we are in a scene that looks straight out any of the countless social-media video blowups that now punctuate our lives online, from the Kavanaugh trial to some act of police brutality. We’ve been inured by it; it’s just part of our daily grind now, though it still manages to keep us all on the rage and dopamine rollercoaster. That line of hands holding up phones, that phalanx of accountability that we’re accustomed to seeing as the front-row seat to, well, everything…that has never really been seen in Cuba at scale.”
- First You Make The Maps: A wonderful visual essay, about the impact of cartography on modern trade, which features SO MANY beautiful maps and takes you through them accompanied by stories of trade and exploration and human endeavour and quite a few fcukups along the way, including a great anecdote about how Columbus “used the values of the medieval Persian geographer known as Alfraganus without realizing the notation was based on the Arabic mile (7,901 feet) rather than the Roman mile (4,856 feet).” OH COLUMBUS!
- Huxley, Burroughs and Scientology: Scientology, I discovered yesterday walking around Rome, is rebranding over here as ‘Dianetics’ – they’re dropping the ‘S’ word with all its negative connotations and instead focusing hard on the SCIENTIFIC METHOD at the heart of it all. The history of the mad cult has always intrigued me, and this piece examines how eminent authors Aldous Huxley and William Burroughs were both significantly more interested in, and close to, the movement than has often been supposed. I’ve long found Burroughs fascinating – his life’s always been more of a draw than his work to be honest – and reading this recontextualised quite a lot of what I thought about the man. It didn’t, though, change my opinion of Scientology as being one of the most incredible scams of the modern era.
- Screen Time Crisis: I found this essay, a perspective on the idea of ‘screen time’ and how much of it we’re all having, each and every day, to be an interesting addition to the (VERY FULL) canon of polemical essays about THE DIGITAL BAD. “Early in this decade, there was a lot of public worry over screen time. Arguments played out in books. Data were cited to show this and that. We’ll likely see it again after blowing those averages out of the water during the pandemic. But what seems to be missing from the discussion is the point. It’s not really about the time spent in front of screens and what that may or may not do to a person. It’s about the time not spent having a screen-mediated experience. Even the time spent doing nothing. It’s not about screen time; it’s about offscreen time. That is not a problem to be solved by programming and technology — by better choices and filters, say — it’s a problem to be solved by will.” There’s been a lot of this over the past year, and we’ll see more of it I think – the benefits of boredom, the joy of feeling time passing rather than killing it – so bank this for some horrible Q3 strategywank, you’ll thank me later.
- Criminalising Kindness: A brilliant essay in Granta, by Lisbeth Zornig Andersen, in which she writes about how her personal efforts to help refugees arriving in Denmark in 2015 led to a series of court cases and judgements that effectively meant that the act of providing aid to refugees was treated as a crime, and one punishable with greater severity than one would be if one were to actively harm said refugees. Chilling less because of the specifics and more because of the clear parallels between this story and every single government or bureaucracy in the world, in which process takes precedence over feeling and small, incremental actions to maintain rigour and order can have cumulatively-horrible consequences.
- Orchid Fever: This is OLD – from 1995, no less – but joyful, and made me laugh out loud more than any other longread in here this week. It’s a profile of John Laroche, orchid…enthusiast, and of the whole market around orchids and the lengths people will go to to get their hands on these most prized of plants. Describing Laroche, the article describes him thusly – try reading this and see if you don’t want to spend 10 minutes in his company: “His passions boil up quickly and end abruptly, like tornadoes. Usually, the end is accompanied by a dramatic pronouncement. When he was in his teens, he went through a tropical-fish phase, and he had sixty fishtanks in his house. He even went skin-diving for the fish himself. Then the end came. He didn’t merely lose interest in collecting fish: he renounced it, as if he had kicked a habit. He declared that he would stop collecting fish forever. He also declared that he would never set foot in the ocean again. That was fifteen years ago. He lives a few miles from the Atlantic, but he has not gone near it since.”
- Unread Messages: An extract from the new Sally Rooney, set to be published in September. I enjoyed this – Rooney’s prose continues to be precise and clean, and her characters perfect ciphers for The Very Real Experience Of Living In The Now, despite the fact that you know very much what you are going to get here if you’ve read any of her other work. I have no problem with an author ploughing a furrow or working a groove when they do so this well, or with such care and attention – as always, there are at least a couple of lines in this that made me pause in admiration of her ability to nail an element of this fcuking world we live in.
- A Cam Girl Stole My Man: Finally in the longreads this week, for the second week in a row I’m including some advice column writing – this is JOYOUS, I promise you. In 2017, a woman wrote into Elle with a problem – her husband had fallen in love with a camgirl and wanted to fly to Romania to be with them. This piece is the followup, recounting what happened to the letter-writer after that – honestly, you will not read a more cheering piece of writing all week, I promise, even if, like me, your heart is nothing but a shrivelled, decaying lump of meat rattling in the yellowing cage of your bony, malnourished torso. This is PERFECT, and will, I promise, have you cheering from the sidelines throughout.
By Thomas Jeppe
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- I get the impression that Sam Fender is probably already quite famous if you’re a different type of person to me – I think I had heard the name before, but this is the first song of his I can remember listening to and frankly it’s superb, not least the lyrics which are worth reading (they’re in the infobox on the YT page, if you care). The song’s called ‘Seventeen Going Under’.
- Finally this week, a song about the football and what happened afterwards. It’s not the best track I’ve ever heard, and you could argue that it’s a bit facile and clunky in parts, but try listening to this and not feeling slightly heartbroken at what it still is to be black and British in 2021. This is called ‘It’s Not Coming Home’ and it’s by Koba Kane. BYE!x