Thursday, July 14, 2011

White Walls, Apartheid (an aside)

American History X (1998); The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)

I often use the word "apartheid" to describe pre-Civil Rights America. I have, in the past, felt a bit uneasy in my appropriation of that word; after all it has a very specific meaning from a country with a very different history from the US. But after attending a screening of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth a couple weeks back, followed by a Q&A with the film's director, Chad Freidrichs, I no longer feel any unease what-so-ever. Apartheid was a uniquely hateful experiment intended to urbanize South Africa without allowing poor black families a place to live in cities. American apartheid was different in the details of its programs, but its intentions were similar enough and its effects just as destructive to the family life of those unlucky enough to have lived within it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

White Walls, The Gold Standard (Part 10)

The Fifth Element (1997); Satellite Photo of Earth at Night (2000)
William Gibson has observed that "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." And indeed, high-technology can be mapped out as the very uneven distribution of urban light seen on the earth's night side, as the overlap of high pollution emissions and GDP, or as telecommunication traffic. All are expressions of modern wealth. Those of us who live in the brightly lit, heavily trafficked spots on the map enjoy a greater portion of the future, but still bear a full portion of the past. If he were still alive to answer Gibson, William Faulkner might have said that the past is very evenly distributed. To understand what hi-tech whiteness means, it is crucial to see not only that it is a prestige color. Like the conspicuous consumption of lighting the night sky, whiteness is a marker of wealth. Blackness is not its opposite number however; the two are equivalents. An actual alternative; a true foil, is one that belongs as completely to the past as whiteness belongs to the future: gold.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

White Walls, Abundance (Part 9)

Apple's whiteness device guru, Jonathan Ive; Weissenhofsiedlung door bell
There is no greater contemporary symbol of modern economies than the smartphone; objects, dollar for dollar, millions of times stronger than the room-filling computers used by those early Cold Warriors to send men to the moon. Vernor Vinge, a reliable and fearless prognosticator, says that no one could have predicted how fast cell phone technology has spread; that already, more that half the population of the planet now has access to a phone. Additionally smartphones are blowing the curve of the already exponentially speeding curve of More's Law. The average shelf life of a new smartphone was 3 years in 2007, now it's just 6-9 months. This is an expression of a purely modern phenomenon: abundance.