Will the early 90’s be lost like tears in the rain?

I saw on Twitter a poignant post recalling the early days of the internet.

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It’s a reference to the death monologue given by the dying android Batty in Bladerunner. Reflecting upon early 90’s and 80’s indie culture, small businesses owned by Gen-X shopkeepers, many of these went under during waves of recession and rent increases. There was no Yelp back then, no local foodie magazines propped up by investors. There might have been a fleeting reference or xeroxed photo in a 50 cent zine, but beyond that this was a undocumented zeitgeist that disappeared before much could be recorded for posterity.

Decades of attention were showered upon Boomers and the 60’s. There were documentaries, retrospective exhibits.  It pains me as a trained archivist that the punk to early 90’s era received comparatively sparse attention. Outside of noxious Newsweek articles about Generation X, where are the archives? Yes, there are musical documentaries and biographies, but outside of those that made it big, where are the digital records?

These days we have an excess of data due to millennials documenting everything with Instagram, Twitter, Yelp. It is impossible now to live and create without leaving a digital trace.

My generation spawned flyers, zines, diy comics, cassette mixed tapes, but how much has survived? If some had been been digitized, have them been tagged? Indexed? None of these records are searchable.

Online you can find thousands of iterations of viral memes from the last two years. It reminds of trying to read one’s social media news feed beyond yesterday. Online blogging platforms only show you posts from the last two weeks. What does this say about our value of history?

Many in my generation prided ourselves on being indie and underground, but much history was buried when bigger businesses took over and everyone went online. To counter historical homogeneity we need proof of the other narratives. Loft living did not begin with dot com tech workers for example, it started with artists living in unheated warehouses, filling giant open spaces with 50’s style kitchen furniture, Xmas lights, art school sculptures, graffiti and yes, code violations. There were cottage industries that sprung up around the late 80’s, early 90’s rave culture. Clothing, diners like Hell’s Kitchen on Haight St. that were as known for its collection of vintage toys hanging from the ceiling as for lack of service and cleanliness. I do not argue these factors (as well as drugs) did not contribute to this vanishing, but I mourn the lack of photos.

When I lived in Santa Cruz there was a small cafe across the street from a comic book store on Water St. The cafe owners were an older, quiet Gen X couple that reminded me of Kim Gordon and Michael Gira. They collected vintage, mid-century modern furniture and coffee mugs. They served Peet’s coffee in French presses. There were large art magazines around and 80’s era experimental art. I loved going there to escape the crowds of students and/or hippies elsewhere, but sadly they did not get enough traffic to survive. This was the other nail in the coffin for these special places, as the post-Reagan economy became more cut-throat, unique businesses had to play a numbers game or fail.

It makes me envious of Europeans, who not only experience businesses lasting a lifetime, but some have lasted over a century. I don’t have the space to explore the effect of this late Capitalist churn on the American culture and social psyche, but we basically have no permanence. Cafes and restaurants I took my son to when he was a toddler no longer exist and that’s just a handful of years. There used to be cafes and restaurants in my hometown that existed for 40-50 years. We’d meet there during holidays, it was a kind of psychic touch stone. A chance to step back into that stream in time. How can one go back ‘home’ when everything is gone?

Photographs help, telling stories help – but when there are no records and you no longer know anyone who remembers these places, what then?

This is what motivates archivists and historians.

Before you Instagram one more acai bowl or tumeric latte – go through your old zines, flyers, photos and digitize them. Upload them, tag them, GPS-tag photos of businesses that used to exist. Date-stamp them with the year, or best estimate. Don’t let these memories be lost like tears in the rain.

Art – Tech – Eco – Culture could save the 21st century

What does Art-Tech-Eco-Culture mean? It represents a convergence of design, political will, mobilization and creativity that just may thwart the most dire climate change predictions.

I haven’t written enough about eco topics lately, but they have weighing on my mind, especially this past year. If you’re like me, it’s been difficult to stay focused in 2017. Each day when I wake up like Dorothy Parker asking “What fresh hell is this?” What keeps me moving forward? Action plans and recognizing where positive changes ARE happening.

If we focus on the negative, things can look hopeless…but something positive DID happened this year. The election of Trump re-invigorated and mobilized everyone concerned about the environment, social justice, economic justice, and health. Realizing also how connected these concepts are is no longer an abstract. It has became obvious in memes spread by middle school kids. When 11 year olds are ‘woke’ to these ideas we’re getting somewhere. The shift IS happening.

In the past year with Trump administration attacks on climate science, environmental regulations, groups and concerned citizens have been organizing like never before. Through social media, blogs, and small businesses, interests in ways to save the planet have sky-rocketed. Trends that have been simmering since 2006 have exploded.

It couldn’t come any sooner – In just the past month we’ve had at least 3 devastating hurricanes, unprecedented flooding and out of control wildfires in the west. The warnings Al Gore gave years ago as a nightmarish but distant future, are happening right now.

So, what are these trends I’ve been seeing – in stores, documentaries, book-sales, product sales, on social media, in local legislation, in laws around the world? By themselves they may seem small or inconsequential – but they are driving real changes in industries and policies around the world. Companies are shifting investments and product strategies because of these trends. Citizens are speaking up and demanding new laws.

recycling rates around the world

  • Plastic bag bansMother Nature Network has an interactive map of locales around the world that have banned plastic bags.

bag ban map

  • Rise of Tiny Homes
  • Interest in Minimalism
    • Growth in books and blogs on de-cluttering, simplifying, downsizing.
    • Swap party movement – articles showed up in blogs, on Pinterest – now even Oprah, Women’s Day, Weight Watchers and Good Housekeeping are telling Americans how to host a clothing swap party.
      • The average American throws away 70 lbs. of clothing and accessories each year. Instead – go to swap parties with your bags of clothing, books, accessories, home items. Visit with friends over drinks, snacks. Go home with new treasures. Remainders go to local charities.
  • Sustainable Farming
    • The Netherlands ,the second largest exporter of food in the world, employs techniques using 90% less water:
    • Aquaponics – chemical free, it also uses a fraction of the water used in conventional agriculture.
    • Permaculture – is about working with nature, not against it, to produce ‘permanent agriculture.’
  • Efforts to Reduce Food Waste
  • DIY movement
    • Thanks to YouTube and other forms of social media, it’s become possible to move being consumerism to create for ourselves.
    • Evolving into ‘Do it Together’  Bartering and communal efforts connect people and help share skills.
  • Growth of Veganism
    • This is huge – with animal agriculture accounting for more global warming gasses than the transportation sector. Documentaries have been uncovering these links and how leading environmental groups have been bullied by these industries to keep this quiet.
    • The documentary What the Health which aired on Netflix this year resulted in a spike of people waking up to the enormous impact that animal protein has on causing cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Moving to a plant-based diet will save countries billions of dollars in health care costs.
  • Decades of processed foods affect on Western gut bacteria has lead to an epidemic of immune disorders. This has spurred a movement toward reintroducing probiotics into our diets. (And I’m not talking about sugary, processed yogurt.)
  • Rise of interest in Yoga
    • This has been politically contentious in some Muslim and Christian communities who have decried this as somehow converting people to Hinduism. In truth, Yoga is enormously prevalent across communities in the world, of many religions. Sikh practicioners, for example, are not Hindu. This fear is as weak an argument as thinking that Westerners using ‘Zen’ practices to de-clutter their homes will turn them into Buddhists. Or that the Japanese celebrating Christmas will turn into Christians. It hasn’t happened.
    • In truth, the practice of yoga (and meditation!) across the world, among prison populations, urban schools, veterans suffering from PTSD, or refugees suffering from the traumas of war – has lead to tremendous healing.

 

Techno-diversity: toward an ecology of (social) networks

In debating the brewing “war” between Facebook, Twitter and GooglePlus it dawned on me that these services are really rather different. It would make greater sense for them to focus on and develop their strengths rather than race to homogenize themselves into identically mediocre platforms.

Twitter does something very unique and the kind of data dynamic that results from Twitters model, the way in which data flows in its network, is very different than that of Facebook because Facebook has primarily been a “walled garden.”  With the advent of groups, news pages, fan/business/institutional pages, this has become less so…but the interaction model is still very different than that of Twitter.  Facebook offers its non-person content files a different sense of “place” – something more static that can more easily collect threads of user content.  Twitter is “faster” and far more impermanent. This is not a better or a worse thing, just different.

Google Plus looks to offer a potentially unique blending of the two. Perhaps this is part of what Facebook is upset about….but one of GooglePlus’ strongest draws so far is its superior social filtering features – the intuitive and usable “Circles.”  See, users liked the ability to post within a walled garden…but we wanted to create rooms.  Facebook’s “lists” (among many other privacy features) were labryinthian nightmares.  But Facebook still has a world of content on there that it should develop ways to respect and protect (enabling searchability, the ability to tag and archive content) rather than trying to run after other services going “Me too!” and cursing the ingenuity of others. If Facebook doesn’t want to go the way of Yahoo’s mistreatment of Flickr or Delicious….it should pull its CEOs out of the parties and think hard about the Information Curation questions from the point of view of its Users (not its commercial sponsors).

I think there could be lots to learn from other network models that had advantages, but suffered executive hubris and neglect.  MySpace was a great site for small businesses and musicians.  Why? Let’s think about this…what could they do on MySpace that they could not do on Facebook?  I’ll touch on some of this later in this post, but feel free to chime in.

Tribe.net…..There is a great amount of content on Tribe.net.  What were the drawbacks in terms of Information Architecture….how did Tribe.net not succeed?  I am not talking about funding or policies..I’m talking primary about Information Architectural models. What was it about Tribe.net that made it “free-er” seeming than Facebook? What was off-putting?

And then there’s Livejournal. I could devote an entire post at least to the lessons we can learn from LJ.  There are many great features it has.  There are surely drawbacks as well.

My primary point however is that all of these need not try to be identical to each other. Yes, they could learn a lot from each other…but it is also good to have choice.  I enjoy Twitter in a different way than Facebook or GooglePlus.  If the latter two could evolve to pick up some of the archiving/search/usability features of LiveJournal….or allow for content promotion (while respecting artists’ content-ownership rights) like MySpace or Flickr….or allow for deep levels of cultural content like Tribe.net….We could really enrich the online cultural environment in ways that 1) in two months or two years content won’t be lost and 2) users could retain ownership of (or at least more easily control) their content rather than be merely providing free consumer research and promotional images and copy.

Facebook/Google+ Wish list

I’m enjoying the migration of personal/professional contacts over to GooglePlus this week and will soon document my thoughts regarding its difference from Facebook, but for now, there are features both networks glaringly do not offer.

I wish that Facebook or GooglePlus had social-bookmarking buttons to delicious.com or diigo.com for example, like published news sites offer.  It would be especially helpful if one is checking one’s feed during a time when one does not have the liberty to read an article, but wishes to flag it for later reading.

I also wish that there was a mechanism like the  ‘memories’ function in Livejournal to save (and tag!) memorable posts. That Facebook has been popular for the past 4 years and one still cannot tag, archive, search or export posts like Livejournal is pretty sad. I don’t know how much Google+ will offer in this regard.  I suspect that between these technical limitations and their ‘we own your content’  TOS,  there might be an uptick in people writing in blogs and using Twitter/FB/G+ for merely social chat and link-sharing.

But yes, there is no digital archiving function in these social networks (at least not personal archiving), nor can one backup one’s content. The lack of any real search or backup for all the other kinds of non-person content (fan pages, groups, institutional and business pages) seems a great risk for content management and data preservation. The librarian in me is bothered by this considerably.  Twitter is (in theory) searchable and is also currently backed up by the Library of Congress. So far the only ones we know is crawling and saving data from Facebook is the NSA.  Google? I have greater expectations for you. Don’t go the Farmville route.