For our very first 5T3A newsletter, we thought it was only fitting that our inaugural contributor be Matt Locke of Storythings and the Public Media Stack. Matt possesses a unique gift for distilling overarching ideas into lucid threads of narrative. He was instrumental in shaping the Knowledge Futures brand and his guidance remains a conceptual anchor for the Commonplace. We think his 5 Things captures the essence of this newsletter: it's replete with insights, musings, and anecdotal diversions that are indicative of his creative mind and that we hope each of you will take in different directions.
- The Commonplace Team
I’m obsessed with formats. You know a format is a good one when it seems simple, but actually is deeper than you think. 5 Things to Think About is a good example of this.
When Catherine and the team at Commonplace asked me to write a 5 Things I started by trawling through my slack and Twitter feeds to see what I’d been sharing lately. Feeds are a kind of automatic writing for the web - they spill out like our unconscious, and we can then pick over them to find patterns and reveal deeper meanings. I guess that makes formats like 5 Things… a kind of therapy. So thank you for being my therapist.
The internet is firmly into its middle age by now — in fact, I’m only a few years younger myself. Like most people in their middle age, the internet likes to think it's still new and exciting, but in reality it has been mainstream for a while, and nothing has really changed for over a decade. There’s more history than future, and a lot of that history is starting to be forgotten. Flash is a good example of this. It’s one of the many examples of tech that was weird yet weirdly democratic, from the heady days of the 90s and 00s web. I spent a lot of time playing Flash games, and then got the chance to commission some wildly ambitious flash games when I was at the public broadcaster Channel 4 around 2007. Then the iPhone happened, and casual gaming went from the anarchic loose networks of flash games to the tidy grids of the App Store. I miss that anarchy.
Silicon Roundabout was originally a joke, then a meme, then it became government policy, then the money came in and it all went wrong. I’m not sure it was the ’nightmare’ that Wired suggests in the headline, but this is a great breakdown of how culture, community, and innovation isn’t something you can just throw money at to make bigger. Not everything scales like software, not least the people and communities you need to build software in the first place.
I mentioned before that I’m obsessed with formats, and this is a great one. Photoworks has been commissioning truly innovative photography projects and festivals in the UK for over 25 years. So how do you extend that into a podcast about photography, a visual medium? Their brilliant answer is to interview leading photographers about images that don’t exist — unseen photographs that were never taken, or are no longer available to view.
Blast Theory have been the most innovative and exciting artist group working with technology and performance for the last few decades. Their work is truly innovative, and deals with lots of really important questions about how technology mediates our experience of reality, and each other. In this interview with Honor Harger from the Singapore ArtScience Museum, they discuss I SPIT DEATH, a project they did last year to commemorate the impact of the 1918 flu vaccine in Philadelphia. I remember seeing the piece last year and finding it a really powerful act of remembrance. Looking at the work again in our COVID world, it feels less like a memory and more like a premonition.
We’ve resisted working with AR and VR at Storythings for quite a while, but we’ve taken on our first AR project this summer. This is partly because AR feels stupid enough as a technology to be interesting. When tech is really white hot and difficult to do, I find it less culturally interesting — the tech defines what is possible, and you end up with work that reflects the normally limited cultural perspectives of the early adopters. When tech gets cheap and stupid, people can start playing with it, and that’s when it gets interesting. AR feels like it’s entering the playful and stupid phase now, as some of the hype has worn off, the tech has become common place, so people are just having fun with it. This app by UniversalEverything is a good example. 5 years ago this would have been a hugely complex installation in a museum or trade show. Now it’s an app that people will end up using for TikTok videos, and that’s why I prefer it. BTW: VR is still a long way from being cheap and stupid.
So, what do you think Dr Freud? Looking through the list, I seem to be thinking a lot about things that don’t exist. Flash games that are decaying on the web; a cultural scene that got smothered by politics and money; a podcast about images that don’t exist; a past pandemic that we failed to learn from; and a technology that creates fun and stupid things that aren’t real.
All these things are disappearing, or were never real in the first place. Maybe I am looking for reassurance in a time of an all too visceral reality: what we’re going through now will pass, and alternate futures are possible. We just need to be cheap and stupid enough to imagine them.