What’s it like to envision the ten-thousand-year environmental impact of tossing a plastic bottle into the trash bin, all in the single second it takes to actually toss it? Or the ten-thousand-year history of the fossil fuel being burned to drive to work or iron a shirt? It may be environmentally progressive, but it’s not altogether pleas- ant. Unless we’re living in utter harmony with nature, thinking in ten-thousand-year spans is an invitation to a nightmarish obsession. It’s a potentially burdensome, even paralyzing, state of mind. Each present action becomes a black hole of possibilities and unintended consequences. We must walk through life as if we had traveled into the past, aware that any change we make—even moving an ashtray two inches to the left—could ripple through time and alter the course of history. It’s less of a Long Now than a Short Forever.
This weight on every action—this highly leveraged sense of the moment—hints at another form of present shock that is operating in more ways and places than we may suspect. We’ll call this temporal compression overwinding—the effort to squish really big timescales into much smaller or nonexistent ones. It’s the effort to make the “now” responsible for the sorts of effects that actually take real time to occur—just like overwinding a watch in the hope that it will gather up more potential energy and run longer than it can.
Overwinding happens when hedge funds destroy companies by attempting to leverage derivatives against otherwise productive long-term assets. Yet—as we’ll see—it’s also true when we try to use interest-bearing, long-distance central currencies to revive real-time local economies. A currency designed for long-term storage and in- vestment doesn’t do so well at encouraging transactions and ex- change in the moment. Overwinding also happens when we try to experience the satisfying catharsis of a well-crafted five-act play in the random flash of a reality show. It happens when a weightlifter takes steroids to maximize the efficiency of his workouts by growing his muscles overtime. In these cases it’s the over-winding that leads to stress, mania, depletion, and, ultimately, failure.
That’s all folks. Thanks to Douglas for letting us republish his work here.
Yesterday, you heard from Jack McBrayer in our continuing coverage on the movie Wreck-it Ralph. Well today we have a geekdom favorite, Alan Tudyk! This actor has been in almost every serious geek franchise there is: Transformers, Alphas, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and V. Just check his IMDb profile for the rest, it won’t all fit in here…
I happen to have been lucky enough to catch up with Tudyk to discuss his stellar portrayal of the evil King Candy in Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph on Blu-ray Combo pack which became available earlier this month.
Below you will find about 9 minutes of conversation that we had where we discuss acting, working with other actors such as John C. Reilly, and the mind of King Candy.
In the apocalyptic scenario, we are either to hope for benevolence when our creation overtakes us, or to negotiate with technology now in order to get some of what we want along with what it wants. As I have come to understand technology, however, it wants only whatever we program into it. I am much less concerned with whatever it is technology may be doing to people than what people are choosing to do to one another through technology. Facebook’s reduction of people to predictively modeled profiles and investment banking’s convolution of the marketplace into an algorithmic battleground were not the choices of machines but of humans.
Those who choose to see technology as equal to life end up adopt- ing a “let it rip” approach to its development that ignores the biases of the many systems with which technology has become intertwined. The answer to the problems of technology is always just more technology, a pedal-to-the-metal ethos that is entirely consonant with laissez-
faire capitalism. Ever since the invention of central currency, remember, the requirement of capitalism is to grow. It should not surprise us that in a capitalist society we would conclude that technology also wants to grow and that this growth supports the universe in its inexorable climb toward greater states of complexity.
However, I find myself unable to let go of the sense that human beings are somehow special, and that moment-to-moment human experience contains a certain unquantifiable essence. I still suspect there is something too quirky, too paradoxical, or too interpersonal to be imitated or re-created by machine life. Indeed, in spite of wide- spread confidence that we will crack the human code and replicate cognition within just a couple of decades, biology has a way of foiling even its most committed pursuers. The more we learn about DNA and the closer we come to mapping the entire genome, for example, the more we learn how small a part of the total picture it composes. We are no more determined by the neatly identifiable codons of the double helix than we are by the confused protein soup in which it actually operates. Put the same codons in a different person or species, and you’ll get very different results. Our picture of human cognition is even hazier, with current psychopharmacology taking a shotgun approach to regulating neurotransmitters whose actual functioning we have only begun to understand. At our current level of technological sophistication, to argue that a virtual Second Life simulation will soon become indistinguishable from real life smacks of fantasy and hubris.
Yet we are supposed to believe. Resistance to the logic and inevitability of the singularity is cast as quasi-religious.
Forget candy for Easter this year – be sure to pick up Sugar Rush for Easter! Sugar Rush of course is the video game world of our favorite brat racer in the movie Wreck-it Ralph. Seriously, what kid (or adult) would not want this movie for Easter? Well as part of our continuing coverage of Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph on Blu-ray Combo pack earlier this month, I had a chance to interview a few of our favorite actors from the movie. The first one up is Jack McBrayer. If you don’t know Jack from this movie, then you might know him from a few other hits – such as 30 Rock, Conan, Phineas and Ferb, or Wander Over Yonder.
Below you will find about 5 minutes of conversation that we had where we discuss Southern accents (he is from Georgia) and his experiences as Fix-it Felix in the Wreck-it Ralph world.
They matter less for the solutions they come up with or the accusations they make than for the underlying need driving them all: to make sense of the world in the present tense. When there is no linear time, how is a person supposed to figure out what’s going on? There’s no story, no narrative to explain why things are the way they are. Previously distinct causes and effects collapse into one another. There’s no time between doing something and seeing the result; instead, the results begin accumulating and influencing us before we’ve even completed an action. And there’s so much information coming in at once, from so many different sources, that there’s simply no way to trace the plot over time. Without the possibility of a throughline, we’re left to make sense of things the way a character comes to great recognitions on a postnarrative TV show like Lost or The Wire: by making connections.
While we may blame the Internet for the ease with which con- spiracy theories proliferate, the net is really much more culpable for the way it connects everything to almost everything else. The hypertext link, as we used to call it, allows any fact or idea to become intimately connected with any other. New content online no longer requires new stories or information, just new ways of linking things to other things. Or as the social networks might put it to you, “Jane is now friends with Tom.” The connection has been made; the picture is getting more complete.
It’s as if we are slowly connecting everyone to everyone else and everything else. Of course, once everyone is connected to everyone and everything else, nothing matters anymore. If everyone in the world is your Facebook friend, then why have any Facebook friends at all? We’re back where we started. The ultimate complexity is just another entropy. Or as Cheryl put it, “Everything is everything.”
Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now By Douglas Rushkoff
This quest for digital omniscience, though understandable, is self-defeating. Most of the information we get at lightning speed is so temporal as to be stale by the time it reaches us. We scramble over the buttons of the car radio in an effort to get to the right station at the right minute-after-the-hour for the traffic report. Yet the report itself warns us to avoid jams that have long since been cleared, while telling us nothing about the one in which we’re currently stuck—one they’ll find out about only if we ourselves call it in to their special number. The irony is that while we’re busily trying to keep up with all this information, the information is trying and failing to keep up with us.
Meanwhile, the extraordinary measures we take to stay abreast of each minuscule change to the data stream end up magnifying the relative importance of these blips to the real scheme of things. Investors trade, politicians respond, and friends judge based on the micromovements of virtual needles. By dividing our attention be- tween our digital extensions, we sacrifice our connection to the truer present in which we are living. The tension between the faux present of digital bombardment and the true now of a coherently living human generates the second kind of present shock, what we’re calling digiphrenia—digi for “digital,” and phrenia for “dissordered condition of mental activity.”
This doesn’t mean we should ignore this digitally mediated reality altogether. For just as we found healthier responses to the fall of narrative than panic and rage, there are ways to engage with digital information that don’t necessarily dissect our consciousness into discrete bits right along with it. Instead of succumbing to the schizophrenic cacophony of divided attention and temporal disconnection, we can program our machines to conform to the pace of our operations, be they our personal rhythms or the cycles of our organizations and business sectors. Computers don’t suffer present shock, people do. For we are the only ones living in time.
If the clockwork universe equated the human body with the mechanics of the clock, the digital universe now equates human consciousness with the processing of the computer. We joke that things don’t compute, that we need a reboot, or that our memory has been wiped. In nature, our activities were regulated by the turning of the Earth. While the central clock tower may have coordinated human activity from above, in a digital network this control is distributed—or at least it seems that way. We each have our own computer or device onto which we install our choice of software (if we’re lucky), and then use or respond to it individually. The extent to which our devices are conforming to external direction and synchronization, for the most part remains a mystery to us, and the effect feels less like top-down coordination than personalized, decentralized programs.
The analog clock imitated the circularity of the day, but digital timekeeping has no arms, no circles, no moving parts. It is a number, stationary in time. It just is. The tribal community lived in the totality of circular time; the farmers of God’s universe understood be- fore and after; workers of the clockwork universe lived by the tick; and we creatures of the digital era must relate to the pulse. Digital time does not flow; it flicks. Like any binary, discrete decision, it is either here or there. In contrast to our experience of the passing of time, digital time is always in the now, or in no time. It is still. Poised.
I remember when I was just ten years old, how I used to stare at my first digital clock. It had no LED, but rather worked a bit like a train terminal’s board, with a new number flipping down into place every minute. I would wait and count, trying and failing to anticipate the click of the next number flipping down—each time being surprised by its suddenness in a micromoment of present shock. My dad’s old alarm clock required him to wind it up each night, and then to twirl a second winder for the alarm. Over the course of the day, the potential energy he wound into the device slowly expressed itself in the kinetic energy of the motion of the arms and bell hammer. My digital clock just sat there, interrupting itself each minute only to sit there again. Its entire account of the minute 7:43 was the same. Digital time is not some portion of the circular day; it is an independent duration.
In the digital universe, our personal history and its sense of narrative is succeeded by our social networking profile—a snapshot of the current moment. The information itself—our social graph of friends and likes—is a product being sold to market researchers in order to better predict and guide our futures. Using past data to steer the future, however, ends up negating the present. The futile quest for omniscience we looked at earlier in this chapter encourages us, particularly businesses, to seek ever more fresh and up-to-the-minute samples, as if this will render the present coherent to us. But we are really just chasing after what has already happened and ignoring whatever is going on now. Similarly, as individuals, our efforts to keep up with the latest Tweet or update do not connect us to the present moment, but ensure that we are remaining focused on what just happened somewhere else. We guide ourselves and our businesses as if steering a car by watching a slide show in the rear- view mirror. This is the disjointed, misapplied effort of digiphrenia.
Yet instead of literally coming to our senses, we change our value system to support the premises under which we are operating, abstracting our experience one step further from terra firma. The physical production of the factory worker gives way to the mental production of the computer user. Instead of measuring progress in acres of terri- tory or the height of skyscrapers, we do it in terabytes of data, whose value is dependent on increasingly smaller units of time-stamped freshness.
Time itself becomes just another form of information—another commodity—to be processed.
Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always on. It’s not a mere speeding up, however much our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.
It’s why the world’s leading search engine is evolving into a live, customized, and predictive flow of data branded “Google Now”; why email is giving way to txting, and why blogs are being super- seded by Twitter feeds. It’s why kids in school can no longer engage in linear arguments; why narrative structure collapsed into reality TV; and why we can’t engage in meaningful dialogue about last month’s books and music, much less long-term global issues. It’s why an economy once based on long-term investment and interest- bearing currency can no longer provide capital to those who plan to put it to work for future rewards. It’s why so many long for a “singularity” or a 2012 apocalypse to end linear time altogether, and throw us into a posthistoric eternal present—no matter the cost to human agency or civilization itself.
But it’s also how we find out what’s happening on the streets of Iran before CNN can assemble a camera crew. It’s what enables an unsatisfied but upwardly mobile executive to quit his job and move with his family to Vermont to make kayaks—which he thought he’d get to do only once he retired. It’s how millions of young people can choose to embody a new activism based in patient consensus instead of contentious debate. It’s what enables companies like H&M or Zara to fabricate clothes in real time, based on the instantaneous data coming from scanned tags at checkout counters five thousand miles away. It’s how a president can run for office and win by breaking from the seeming tyranny of the past and its false hope, and tell voters that “we are the thing we have been waiting for.”
Well, the waiting is over. Here we are.
If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.
Chapter 1—Narrative Collapse
Computer games offer a healthier, or at least more active, response to the collapse of narrativity confounding much of the rest of popular culture. They also offer us an inkling of how we may avert present shock altogether and instead adopt approaches that successfully re- orient us to the all-at-onceness of life today. Instead of panicking at the death of the story, players become the story and delight in acting it out in real time. The people designing the game can still communicate values if they choose to; they simply need to do it by offering choices instead of making them in advance.
This approach is applicable almost anywhere narrative is fail- ing. In the world of politics, this would mean taking the tack of the Occupiers prototyping new modes of activism—eschewing ends- justify-the-means movements and developing a normative behavior, instead. In retail, the equivalent would mean deemphasizing brand mythologies and focusing instead on what is called brand experience—the actual pathway the customer takes through the real or virtual shopping environment. It’s not about the story you tell your customer; it is about the experience you give him—the choices, immersion, and sense of autonomy. (It also means accepting transparency as a new given, and social media as the new mass communications medium, as we’ll see in chapter 4.) In medicine, it means enlisting patients in their own healing process rather than asking them to do nothing while blindly accepting the magical authority of the doctor and a pharmaceutical industry. Understanding these cultural, political, and market dynamics through the lens of gaming helps us transition from the world of passively accepted narrative to one that invites our ongoing participation.
Games point the way toward new ways of accomplishing what used to be done with stories. They may not be a cure-all, but they can successfully counteract some of the trauma we suffer when our stories come apart. Our disillusionment is offset by a new sense of participation and self-direction.
I have been following the adventures of the apocalyptic ocean traveling world of The Massive since the first issue. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I have always been interested ships and boats, and of course the mysteries of the sea. It was easy to see that when Brain Woods created this near-future world where the rag-tag crew of a ship, searches the seas for their lost sister ship, The Massive, it would be a natural fit.
Of course, anyone who is familiar with graphic novels or comics has heard of Brain Wood. He has worked on his own series DMZ, Anthem, and Mara, as well as Star Wars and Conan The Barbarian for Dark Horse and The X-Men for Marvel. I recently had a chance to catch up with the creator Brian Wood, and talk a little about The Massive and some other stuff.
Sims: It seems that you are one of the hardest working folks in comics. Where do you get all this inspiration?
Wood: I’m a very practical, pragmatic type of writer and I like to map out goals and longterm plans and work towards them. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration, which can make this quite hard and I don’t always love my job. But at the end of the day of course its worth it. But the workload I have going on now is a serious amount of work and is often quite difficult to stay on top of it. I was under contract at DC Comics for a long time, a few years back, and I was fully locked into a couple projects for years, and during that time I generated close to a dozen pitches and treatments and pages of notes for other comics series I’d like to write, or TV shows I’d like to try and get off the ground, so that right there is my inspiration for the next few years. I have all this work sitting there waiting for me.
Sims: I am a huge fan of The Massive. Where did this come from, for you?
Wood: It’s pretty hard for me to nail down precisely where an idea comes from. Generally its mentally pieced together over time, usually from a lot of different places and often subconsciously. In the case of The Massive, I was looking for something similar to my DMZ series, similar in the sense that its an action-driven socially conscious thing set in a speculative future. But I wanted to get away from war and urban environments and from the overt politics in DMZ. So from that I went to environmentalism, end of the world concepts, and my persistent theme of identity and history.
I think something might just be in the air, because The Massive is not alone, in comics or in TV, in dealing with some of this stuff.
Sims: For our readers who have not yet picked up an issue, or were waiting for the Trade Paperback version, how would you describe The Massive?
Wood: It’s and end of the world story that focuses on a small group of environmentalists as they do two things: try to reconcile their individual histories of violence with their lives as activists, and the fact they now have to live in a ruined earth they failed to save. There’s really big aspects to the story, dealing with renegade navy flotillas, a drowned Hong Kong, and a massive (heh) and resurgent shark population, but lost of smaller ones, human dramas about terminal illness, post traumatic stress, and ideological clashes. That’s far from a perfect soundbite, but its a complex story with a lot of moving parts, and more than its share of mysteries.
Sims: Do you have any views on the environment, that you would like to share?
Wood: I think my views are pretty mainstream and ordinary, and in recent years I’ve gained a bit of anxiety when I think about certain specifics, mostly dealing with scarity of resources, water specifically. I take, as someone in his 40s, everything for granted. I’ve never lived during a time of scarce ANYTHING, but in 35 years when my kids are my age, can they say the same? Will they have difficulty finding healthy water? It blows my mind to think about it, but its more than possible. I suspect its pretty likely.
Sims: Can you tell us what is next for The Massive?
Wood: The aforementioned renegade navy flotilla, really a rogue US Navy Battle Group gone pirate. A nod to my recent viking series Northlanders with a story about whale hunters who’ve gone back to traditional methods. A return of our main character Callum Israel’s enemy from his days as a mercenary solider, and a couple twists, one small, and one so big that I dare not even utter the slightest hint, since its an end pivot that will reframe the whole series into something no one will see coming.
Sims: Who is you favorite character (of The Massive or any other works) ?
Wood: I really love my current Massive characters, since they are sort of the perfect “Brian Wood characters”, possessing all the traits that I love to write about, but since they are also almost exclusively all non-American, its something new and interesting for me. I also love the four girls in my New York Four/Five books, I really miss writing them.
Sims: Which do you prefer, your own worlds or others’, like Conan and Star Wars?
Wood: Its sort of an unfair question since always, always its going to me my original work that claims that preference. There’s just no contest.
Sims: What is next for Brian Wood? What are you working on?
Wood: What I have on my plate at the moment is: Star Wars, Conan The Barbarian, and The Massive (for Dark Horse). I’m writing Ultimate X-Men, and well as the upcoming relaunch of the iconic X-Men title, for Marvel. I have a couple possibilities in the television realm, but its early days on those. So all that keeps me plenty busy.
Sims: What are you reading currently?
Wood: I go back and forth between fiction and non-fiction. So much of what I read has to do with what I’m writing, either straight research or just mood material. I finished up a couple books about Ruby Ridge for something I’m developing. Before that I burned through the new Dave Grohl biography, and the recent Junot Diaz. And I re-read some old Star Wars novels for a little inspiration.
Sims: What are you playing?
Wood: Do you think I’m going to talk about playing videogames in a public place where my editors can see it?? BUT, when I do get hold of this fictional thing called free time, I’m strictly a first person shooter and skateboard game kind of guy. if EA ever makes a Skate 4, I’ll lose weeks of my life to it.
Sims: Anything else you would like to add?
Wood: Just the usual: check out my work, specifically The Massive, which I think its a story that rewards the reader over time. It’s the best work I’m capable of right now, and I think will be one of my proudest career moments.
As an added bonus, and as I mentioned in the title, the Intro to the trade paperback (available April 2, 2013) is included here.
Today we get an exclusive look at the variant cover by Richard Williams for Supergirl issue #19, coming out on April 17th. The alternative version of the cover includes everybody’s favorite gap toothed geek crashing Supergirl’s party.
Supergirl #19 Written by MIike Johnson
Art and fold-out cover by Mahmud Asarr
MAD Variant cover by Richard Williams
On sale APRIL 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
GeekDad is happy to welcome a new family friendly geek blog into the neighborhood today! DC Entertainment is launching the DC Comics Fan Family blog (www.dccomicsfanfamily.com). The site will be kid and parent friendly, bringing together DC’s top stars — Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — to provide family-oriented projects, activities, crafts and more fun. It will also include news and contests, like the recently announced nationwide contest with Capstone, Be a Super Hero. Read! in which students in grades 3-6 are encouraged to write about the real heroes in their lives.
According to Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment.
Our fans are parents too and we want to give families the opportunity to create new memories by sharing the DC Comics experience in a fun and family-friendly environment. The DC Comics Fan Family blog is the perfect destination for parents to discover new ways to interact with their favorite Super Heroes – from building a Batman jetpack to cooking a Green Lantern-themed breakfast.
The DC Comics Fan Family blog opens for business today, so head over to www.dccomicsfanfamily.com and give them a warm and geeky welcome!