Remind me later is a blog about all aspects of art and technology, focussing in particular on some of the thoughts and questions raised by my visit to Silicon Valley in the Spring and my encounters with art and artists along the way.

It will also be a chance to share news of my experiments as I prototype new work and try out new ideas in response to my visit.

Comments welcome!

Main image: Probably Chelsea by Heather Dewey-Hagborg at the Exploratorium, San Francisco

 


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I chose to stay at the Flamingo Motel because (a) it was cheap, (b) I liked the name, and (c) it had a huge pink neon flamingo sign outside. What’s not to like? But in one of those moments of pure serendipity (or to which some might ascribe the intervention of a Higher Being or two), the Flamingo Motel happens to be located immediately next to not one but two artist studio complexes, and, as if thrown in for good measure, a vast secondhand bookshop.

What could such a Higher Being be trying to tell me?

Of the three serendipities, The School of Visual Philosophy (which I initially thought might be a hairdressing salon) turned out to be the most relevant and thought-provoking in the context of my search for Silicon Valley. I visited to find metalworking, signwriting, printing, painting and many other hands-on activities being served up, all with a side of warmth and community.

Here my rising angst about the intangibility of tech (to which I shall return, and see also blog post 001 – I knew the numbering would come in useful) was at least temporarily assuaged by the sheer physicality and immediacy of the work being done.

Blacksmithing at the School of Visual Philosophy

I watched as co-founder Yori Seeger demonstrated his blacksmithing skills, his arm making a great arc as he wielded a heavy hammer on red hot metal, a fine, primal clanking noise rising above the roar of the flame.

Where is the digital equivalent? Sure you can beat the living daylights out of your digital opponent in any number of games, but instead of describing a great arc to eliminate your great orc, virtual extinction is a mere thumb-twiddle away as you sit in your comfy leather gaming chair. Why would you swap the one for the other?

This visit left me with a lasting impression of the fundamental divide between ourselves and tech, between material and immaterial. In adopting tech, sure we can put on the exoskeleton of VR, but what exactly are we trying to achieve? Are we rejecting, augmenting or replacing the physical reality of our human frame by building the metaverse?

In some ways this all reminds me of the famous Mike Tyson quote (though sadly it was not, as far as I am aware, in the context of such questions): everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.

Next time: Define your terms. What even do we mean by tech?


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I will be honest, my trip to Silicon Valley did not go entirely as expected.

I had thought (perhaps rather naively) that I would be thrown into a cauldron of red hot tech enterprise, with the heat of innovation and creativity scorching my very eyebrows. Metaphorically, of course.

I had assumed that, living in the shadow of the Mountain – Mountain View, home of Google – everyone would be in some sort of technological nirvana, with new and hitherto unheard of gadgets seamlessly integrated into the very fabric of their lives; or at least, into the fabric of their garments. I would be gaining a privileged glimpse into the future.

Instead, everything and everyone was surprisingly – dare I say, disappointingly? – normal. By and large, people were not obsessing over the imminent rise of AI or the deployment of killer dogbots any more than they were back home. And my own area of particular interest – the migration of knowledge from books to the internet – scarcely got a mention. Or maybe I wasn’t looking under the right rocks.

Only the ubiquity of corporate tech giants gave the game away. The football game was played at PayPal Park. The Lick Observatory was indebted to support from Google. Firefox proclaimed its goodness on a monument in downtown San Francisco.

Firefox monument in downtown San Francisco

This relative normality only served to create a heightened sense of disconnect between the frankly scarcely believable scale, complexity and otherness of new tech and the fact that it has all been created, here, by the cumulative efforts of countless human beings using nothing more than digital 1s and 0s.

This is a dissonance that our brains strongly dislike. We are being invited to believe something that appears unbelievable. It is a feeling, a physical, visceral reaction, intuited rather than rationalised.

Or, as Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Which is surely the technological equivalent to Clement Greenberg’s famous dictum: that all profoundly original art looks ugly at first.

I have decided to number these blog posts, as it seemed appropriately tech-y. I doubt I’ll get to 100, but the leading zeroes look nice.


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