Friday, October 22, 2010

When art and usefulness collide

Bubblegum 4 Breakfast is making a dress inspired by Mondrian.

There are matching cake slices (scroll down) at Home Run Ballerina, along with some other clever cakes.

I'm not sure I'd want to walk in these Alien-inspired high heels designed by Alexander McQueen.

And this DIY billfold at Bag'n-telle is very maker-ish.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Internetly social

I'm a relative newbie on the internet compared to some of my friends, who helped define Eternal September when their comfy in-jokes were overrun with new college students; I am part of the crowd the early AOL brought online, learning about online social interaction in AOL chat rooms and graduating eventually to Usenet. It was a wonderful outlet late at night when my kids were in bed--I could talk to other adults without getting a sitter or even getting dressed up! I didn't even have to be in the same time zone--the conversation would still be going when I got up, and the next day, and next week.

Then the web became the big thing and blogging started, first as individual home pages (I had one on my local ISP, where I even kept the FAQ for a Usenet group), then as individual blogs, then the social platforms like Myspace and Livejournal with their own aggregated feeds and privacy settings. People started treating web pages like news--regular updating, sometimes with long essays about ideas and other times with personal tidbits. Other people were blogging, linking interesting stuff around the net and discussing it in detail, sometimes responding on their own blogs and sometimes in comment sections on the original blogs.

Facebook and Twitter (and a host of other narrow, targeted applications) are creating a different niche and possibly changing the way I define and think about my social groups. Facebook is getting a lot of press right now, because there are two movies in release right now about how Facebook affects lives. One is, of course, a fictionalized version of the creation of Facebook, and the other is a movie about how some people react to Facebook. I haven't seen either, and probably won't see them, but I'm still going to discuss them.

The first movie is The Social Network, a movie that purports to tell a true-ish story about the founders of Facebook. Apparently it's been tweaked quite a bit to present a fairy tale about how a lonely social climber who was rejected by a cute chick unlocked the privileged halls of Harvard to produce the meaningless lifestyle of the popular guy, with fast cars, fancy meals, and women throwing themselves at him to use and objectify. There's been a lot of criticism from feminists about the portrayal of women as paper-thin negative stereotypes, some defensiveness from men that it was an intentional choice to support the point of view of the main character, and good responses from the feminists to the effect that other media (e.g., Mad Men, a television series set in the early 1960s) manage to show that men underestimated women and treated them badly while at the same time showing fully-developed women characters and how they resent the bad treatment.

The second, more interesting, movie is Catfish. In Catfish a young man goes on a treasure hunt for the pretty girl he's been socializing with on Facebook for months, hoping to turn their virtual relationship into a meatspace one. Although it's being advertised as a horror or "twist" movie, The Last Psychiatrist explains it's hardly a surprise when:
The truth is that "Megan" is really "Angela": a middle age, middle America homely housewife with a facebook account. What does it all mean? Cue obligatory "on the internet, no one knows you're a dog."
Violating the social boundaries is a signifier, an important signal that the violator is a potential danger. Or possibly in danger:
Don't be sucked in by the perspective, which in the movie is all theirs. Pretend you're the coroner: two people are reading the other's potentially unreliable online information, and one of them starts driving towards the other. Is that the version you saw in the theater? That's the real plot of the movie, and when you're able to see it like that you see that the true problem of online contact isn't what's posted online but who is reading. If a murderer posts a fake bikini facebook photo, and you show up at his house with suntan oil and a inflated expectations, you're the problem.
So the young man goes off on a road trip, filming all the way. He's trying to tell his own story, but he doesn't seem to realize that he didn't write this one. He didn't hire these supporting cast members, they're all writing their own lines and it's not going the way he planned. This movie is really an exploration of narcissism, and the best part is that it seems to be unintentional.

I don't do Facebook, mostly because I don't like the interface, and a little because I don't like the shenanigans the founder has played with privacy. I don't mind being completely unprivate (I have this blog, for example) but I mind falsely being told I have some control over who sees my stuff by someone who retroactively and without notice or my consent changes the terms of our agreement. But Twitter tempts me, it has a lot of potential. Clive Thompson agrees:
When I see that my friend Misha is "waiting at Genius Bar to send my MacBook to the shop," that's not much information. But when I get such granular updates every day for a month, I know a lot more about her. And when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.

It's like proprioception, your body's ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.
You can use Twitter to get the kind of intimate association sense you have with people you live with, or the co-workers who sit next to you in the office. And that's valuable:
A buddy list isn't just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.
So there are possibilities with Twitter (I think much the same as with Facebook) to improve your social connection to others in a way that more closely approximates how we already do it in meatspace.

That's going to be a good fit for some people, but others (I'm one) enjoy and maybe even prefer the arms-length transaction style of Usenet and blogging. Good thing there are different tools for different kinds of people.