Friction

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..

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