Just read Russell Davies’ post which, among many other things, makes a glancing reference to William Gibson’s latest book Zero History.

Truthfully, Davies post is explicitly him throwing some ideas out there trying to jumpstart an article for Wired. But I wanna focus on something that jumped out at me reading it, around his notion of the lack of futureness. Because I think that’s something that Gibson touches on in Zero History, which to me is a book about, as much as a work of fiction can be about anything, authenticity. So maybe not so much a lack of futureness but a lack of interest in futureness.

I mean, just look at the title. If something has no history or more accurately is at the start of its history, (the zeroth index to get all programmery for a sec), it has also no marks of ownership, no credentials, no provenance. To borrow directly from the moment in the book where Milgram is observing a couple of tourists in new clothes, no patination.

So to me the renewed focus on the worn, the old, the analog (i.e.; the cafes with blackboards Davies mentions) is about patination, and leaving our own traces. It’s not that there’s no futureness, it’s that we’re having a reaction to it. Our way of knowing about our world was by our immediate senses. A pair of jeans that were faded and worn indicated that, well, they’d been well worn, and the level of wear and tear and a still pant-like garment indicated that those were some strong jeans. They could hold up. They were good pants. Now y’never know. They were probably bought pre-worn, faded and washed, (again, this to me is 1/2 the point of the novel) bestowing on the wearer a semblance of a) having really good jeans and more importantly b) living a life that was out there getting your jeans all beat to shit.

Same goes for our ‘things’. If you’re upgrading an iPhone every two years, you’re really just cashing in (aside from the utility) on the iPhone cachet of being a good device. There’s nothing there that says you’re a person who really uses the thing in any meaningful way. In fact it’s arguable that most people don’t need half the functionality of the iPhone. Until they get one, at which point they change themselves to be iPhone users… which is the complete flip flop of the other relationship.

And there is no history to an iPhone. Without sitting down and showing someone the apps you’ve installed, the texts you’ve sent, etc, it’s just the same as everyone elses. Usually fairly well preserved and identical aside from the case to every other one. Which is why I told a friend who had a minor crack in the screen of her’s to just leave it as is. It still works, and it shows that she owns the phone, it is a little bit of patination.

So we’re left with things that increasingly show no signs of our passing, from zero to the nth index of our days. A valid response to this is to let them patinate, enjoy the patination. Seek things which age and chip and show signs of our use. That we were fucking here. That someone’s hand was probably scraped and burnt and there were caustic chemicals and high temperatures used to make it. Blackboards with ghosts of yesterdays menus, hand crafted leather goggles with brass fittings, home cast percentile dices cufflinks. Whatever.

It dovetails with the Maker movement nicely too: technology in our time. Not cosmic time. Not tiny tiny computer flip-flop time. OUR time. Our time, which we pass through or make or whatnot. Our time to spend how we choose and which only exists as what we remember. We live in the past as we plan for the future. It’s by looking back on our passage that we can correct, improve, amend, grow a sense of who we are. We don’t exist in the future. Now, we can blindly go in search of strange signifiers of experience (preworn jeans?) or get a nice crisp pair of our own and see what they end up looking like in a year..


Catching up on my reading after vaca, reading Coding Horror :: The Xanadu Dream reminded me it’s time for my yearly re-reading of:

Wired Mags 1995 article..

Truly this, and the book Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software are two of my favorite non-techie non-fiction reads about software.

Jeepers Creepers

In high school we learned about Ypres. Heard of it? (One thing that I’ll say for my small town high school — we got EXCELLENT educations, probably the equivalent of what most people walk away from liberal arts colleges with. Don’t know why we had such a density of fantastic teachers in a little, dry town… but we did and thank god for that) Anyhow, Ypres.

In World War I Ypres stood between the Germans and France. First the allies (just about everyone) took it back from the Germans. Then the Germans used gas. First time. Chlorine and mustard. The third battle ended with half a million dead, a destroyed town, and a couple of miles gained by the allies.

When people talk about WWI and the horror it brought home to the modern world, the shell shocked and disillusioned decade it ushered in, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

Sometime in April of 1918 a British soldier named William Hope Hodgson was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres.

The irony is astounding.

Hodgson, (read about him on Wikipedia), in addition to having been a mate, a sailor, an early proponent of “Physical Culture”, photographer and philatelist was an author of, among other things, spooky stories.

I highly recommend checking out his freely available works. The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, if you can get past the diction, bears reading. Seriously, why isn’t this a movie? He has a firm hand of the uncanny. But all this is beside my point.

Hodgson might be most renowned for 2 works, both of which were influential on H.P. Lovecraft, The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, and through Lovecraft, pretty much every other spooky story writer you’ve ever heard of, movie you’ve seen or show you watched.

I just read The Night Land, and that’s where I find the irony of Hodgson’s death rich. In a nutshell, the story is about a man in the 17th who falls in true love, his love dies, and he has a vision of sorts of the last humans living millions of years in the future in a giant pyramid amidst darkness (sun’s gone out, you see) and strange giant creatures and whatnot. Really crazy stuff. BUT – here’s what I love. It’s not pessimistic. Consistently, the narrator addresses the fact that it might seem weird to us but everything is just the way it is for these far distant humans. They have not problem living in the middle of a blighted earth surrounded by ab-humans and communicating telepathically. That’s just life.

So there’s the irony. This guy, envisioning the millions of years hence lonely heat death of the earth and the last humans thinks “Hey, maybe they won’t find it so bad.” Then he re-ups as a soldier and gets killed in one of the most terrible fronts of WWI. He didn’t even have time to imagine that humans might take care of themselves well before the sun burnt out, or if he did he didn’t set it to paper.

Why am I writing this?: I’m circling in on something. Hodgson was writing fiction, the Night Land and House on the Borderland in particular, that wasn’t afraid to think big. And people read it. I mean, this stuff is out there, and yeah, the Night Land reads like a veiled, vaguely S&M, completely suppressed sexual fantasy (completely chaste, but every word in the second half feels like it’s carrying some kind of late-Victorian tension) as the protagonist and his true love make their way through the darkness, BUT — like Olaf Stapledon he’s thinking OUT and UP. And I think that’s worth thinking about now, where we’re so vested in the immediate, in the span of our own days not the bigger picture.