Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombie Popularity

Sears launches Zombie Shopping Department. via Laughing Squid

I was interviewed about The Political Economy of Zombies today and was asked why I thought zombies are so popular now. I suppose I should have been prepared for that question, but it's not something I tried to explain in my essay (or the intro), It didn't even occur to me explain it to myself - I was more concerned with what it meant, not why it was happening - and I think those are two different things. Zombies are grotesque, morbid, and in-and-of -themselves, dull (one might say lifeless). So asking why they are so popular is seems worth thinking about.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2H2K - April 2050 - tuRing

People's Meeting Dome - Kristoffer Tejlgaard and Benny Jepsen
[This is the fourth short story in a series, the 1st story is here, the 2nd is here, the 3rd is here] 
 David was uncrating a crew of carpenteRs when he heard a child laughing behind him. Before he could stop himself, he turned and looked for the little girl his ears were telling him was standing behind him in the yard. By the time he realized that he had once again been chumped by the Cardiff ringtone, he was staring at the empty space where the girl should be. Not only were his ears telling him exactly where she was standing (a bundle of PVC conduit where the water and electric emerged from the cement slab foundation), but the sound of the girl’s laugh allowed him to picture exactly how tall the little girl would be. It creeped him out.

2H2K - April 2050 - Robots are Marxist: An Introduction

First horseless carriage in Vancouver (1899)

"Can't get there from here" is the punch line of an old joke about a driver asking a farmer for directions (my father used to tell it, with great effect, using a thick New England accent). There is, in linguistic circles, a question of whether or not there are certain ideas that can't be conceived of without the language needed to describe them, having been developed in advance. Call it a cognitive chicken-and-egg, can't get there from here, conundrum. As I began thinking about what city life might be like in the year 2050, I found myself wondering how people will speak of robots when everything is a robot. Just as we no longer refer to "horseless carriages," I don't expect anyone to refer to "driverless automobiles" forty years from now. Rather than invent a new word (carbot? cardroid?) or repurpose an old one (automatautobot?) I decided instead that it made more sense to invent a new way of speaking; to have English speakers use tone to change meaning: so a driverless car became a caR, a robotic carpenter became a carpenteR, and an automated operator - like the kind we interact with more and more today - became an operatoR. What ended up happening is that my mind went in an entirely unexpected direction. Instead of thinking about questions of Artificial Intelligence, I found myself wondering about Artificial Labor. The difference is subtle but turned out to be helpful making the leap past the naysaying Yankee.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Robert Kirkman: Zombie Utopian

The Walking Dead as drawn by Robert Kirkman via Wikia

I am vindicated, or at least justified, or perhaps I've just had a bias confirmed. A friend of Felix Salmon's forwarded on this quote from a Rolling Stone interview of Robert Kirkman; the artist who created the original Walking Dead comic book and also writes for the TV series:
Sometimes I think about how life now is not cool. We made a mistake at some point in our history, a hundred years ago, when we were living in houses that we built, growing food that we ate, interacting with our families and living our lives. Looking back on that era, it seems kind of appealing. That's a life that makes sense. Now, we're doing jobs that we don't enjoy to buy stuff that we don't need. I don't mean to sound like Tyler Durden, but it seems like we've screwed things up. There doesn't seem to be any kind of movement to continue evolving how we live, who we are and what our purpose is as human beings. That's unfortunate. So it's fun to look at the world of The Walking Dead and see those things taken away. Is life going to be better? A lot of people think the show is very bleak and depressing. And it is, oftentimes. But I can see where the story is going to go in the next ten years, and I think about it optimistically. Maybe it's going to make us better people by the end of it.
As I explained in my Introduction, there was a lot of material I'd have liked to include in The Political Economy of Zombies, and couldn't. But when I was writing the essay I did make an effort to track down a copy of The Walking Dead, I was curious to read it, had heard good things, but I was upstate staying at a cabin at the time, no comic book stores. I now feel honor bound to buy the book - but even if I didn't, I would. Kirkman sounds like a interesting guy, with an amazing project. "I'm 34 years old. By the time I'm 65, I might actually get pretty far." Kirkman says. "There could be an issue 700 of The Walking Dead that's about people delivering mail. That is exciting to me." - That's exciting to me too. I admire that kind of life-long fidelity to an artistic project, especially a utopian one.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2H2K - March 2050: WildcRaft

Boston Dynamic's "Big Dog"

[This is the third short story in a series, the first story is here; the second is here]
  “What’s it called again?” Little Jo asked.
E.J. had turned away. The back of his t-shirt was printed with the slogan “laboR wants to be FREE.” He wore baggy jean, that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks and heavy boots made of thick leather, or something very much like it. He was using the his heel of his boot to roll the next log out of the tall grass. Once there was enough room on either side to plant his feet, he lifted the –
“It's a ‘godevil’ or a ‘splitting maul,’” he told her, without looking back. He sounded a bit peeved at being interrupted. Jo smiled and made a sound of approval. She had gone off topic, and interrupted his train of thought, she knew what to expect. E.J. would take his time before returning to the subject. Go ahead, she thought, have a good sulk. Her smile widen.

2H2K - March 2050 - Automation & Feminization: An Introduction

Interior of Amazon’s giant "fulfilment centre" (Photo by Ben Roberts) via James Bridle

Besides the trends of population growth and urbanization that have defined modernization - that perhaps are modernization, two other trends have ghosted the swelling of our global population and our cites; automation and feminization. Trends that started very gradually in the later Middle Ages and in the past fifty years have flowered into the promise of Artificial Intelligence and Feminism. That may sound to some like an arbitrary matching as well as a horribly mixed metaphor (to flower is to deliver on the promise of the bud, after all), but I'll argue that it's neither. Automation begins with relieving workers from drudge work. Though we see Hollywood images of oiled, muscle bound slaves, pulling things with ropes, the greater burden of drudge work has always been borne by women. We have both AI and Women's Liberation, and both remain a promise yet to be fulfilled.