The Broken Internet

We all know the internet is screwing with the human mind and spirit.  But even the experts don’t know how to fix it.

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With “Frozen in Time” African violet between . . .

Lanier and Williams:  the experts.  One, like, invented reality and the other invented virtuality.  Or whatever.  Google them, if you give a shit.  The big problem with how the internet and social media are messing with us now is that the people responsible for implementing it are not . . . normal.

Even as scientists or engineers go, what these guys do is ineffable.  And even as I/we can not grasp the essence of what they do, they build the framework – the culture – in which we are all forced to live.  These are truly end times.

Lanier has semi-left Silicon Valley, although he still seems to work for Microsoft in some capacity.  Williams has left and become a philosopher.

Lanier suggests that we quit social media – and Google, as best we can – because that’s the only language – $$ lost eyeballs $$ – that Facebook and Google understand.  They’ll then be forced into a better way of making monstrous profits than monetizing our attention and our clicks ‘n’ likes.

Williams suggests that, among other things, we might want to consider a PBS/NPR version of the internet, a (government?) subsidized branch of the internet in which there would be non-profit search engines and social networks.  Maybe it would work.  Maybe it would suck.  Maybe it should be like C-SPAN?

None of his other notions, other than that we might need a total reboot of the internet (!) or of Facebook (Like!) in order to get them off the economic models that make us addled addicts, stuck with me.

Neither of these guys thrill me.  These books both strike me as too little, too early.

We still don’t know wtf the internet does to us.  We still don’t know wtf it does to young, developing minds.  Perhaps it makes certain that they don’t develop at all.  Or, more likely, that they develop the way Facebook wants them to develop.

I would kill for a Lewis Mumford or a Christopher Lasch right now.

If you’re technically-minded and socially-concerned, read these books.  Maybe.

If you’re really socially-concerned, read other books, blog, and grow African violets.

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The Strange Case of Charles Sheeler

Was photographer and painter Charles Sheeler a fan of the machine age, or did he hate it?

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GOLDEN GATE Charles Sheeler  1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first glance, Sheeler’s work looks like a celebration of all things modern and shiny.  How can that not be the case when you look at something like STEEL CROTON from 1953:

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STEEL CROTON Charles Sheeler 1953, source unknown

Which, btw, was probably a distant influence on my own even more abstract work, STRUCTURE from 2013:

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STRUCTURE Gregory Fedchak 2013  http://www.greggfedchak.com

Wanda Corn pretty much makes the case for the straightforwardness of Sheeler’s art in her book THE GREAT AMERICAN THING:  Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935.  To be honest, I think Corn is correct.  On a gut level, I think Sheeler is in love with all things modern and mechanical.

But . . . then things get darker.  In his VIEW OF NEW YORK from 1931, we are looking out from a very mechanical place, a typesetting shop, and through an open window seeing clouds, clouds of freedom from . . . the mechanical, the technological, the 9 to 5.

1931 Charles Sheeler (American artist, 1883-1965) View of New York, 1931

Karen Lucic talks about Sheeler’s ambiguous feelings about modernity and the changing scene of early and mid-20th century America in her book CHARLES SHEELER AND THE CULT OF THE MACHINE.  Like most people, he felt a tug toward the traditional, and often painted or photographed early American objects and architecture.  Also like most people, he was comfortable with his powerful new cars and the financial rewards of 20th century life.  He could go either way.

Mark Rawlinson, in his CHARLES SHEELER:  Modernism, Precisionism and the Borders of Abstraction, goes all the way to the extreme and makes the argument that Sheeler may  have been a covert critic of the machine age that he lived in.

Little things in his work are “wrong” in that objects/subjects are inaccurately portrayed in terms of lines, shadows, and perspective.  Everything is odd or edgy, “not right” as in a “Twilight Zone” episode.  But it’s subtle.

Look at STEEL CROTON and GOLDEN GATE.  wtf?  It’s so precise, so realistic, and yet . . . so wrong.  Which is, of course, why Rawlinson titles his book ” . . . and the Borders of Abstraction”.

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I know how I feel about technology in my painting, STRUCTURE.  Tech is broken, shadowy, incomplete, weak, sketchy, dangerous, hidden, evil, ironic.

As I write this, my wi-fi has gone out several times, thwarting the saving of my work.  I don’t know why.  Neither does AT&T or Apple.  I live with it.  My work could die at any moment, for no good reason except that I am working with high tech.

I no longer feel wonder toward tech.  I feel a deep sense of alienation.

We aren’t sure exactly how Sheeler felt.  I’m sure he felt good/bad/ambiguous, but, back in that more optimistic time of the 1939 World’s Fair, it’s the good that (mostly) shines through.