In a 2016 New Yorker article, In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing, author Om Malik wrote that:
we have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.
It’s true. We take so many pictures and we often won’t or don’t get a chance to review them. According to my platform stats, I currently have 1543 pictures in my Instagram feed and 36,837 pictures in my Google Photos storage.
My dad just passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week.
In preparing for the memorial service, I asked Google Photos to make an album of my dad. And Google’s creepy but magical face-searching algorithm compiled all these pictures of my dad snapped on our phones, Sony NEX (the Alpha-series precursor), and even an old Nikon compact something-or-other, from 2006 to last month, drawing from 3 different people’s gigabytes of photo repositories, into a shared album.
Then, getting ready for the memorial service became an hours-long exercise in looking at and talking and reminiscing about all the various moments with my dad captured on various devices over the years.
The act of looking at the photos – and recalling and sharing those occasions featuring my dad – with those around me, allowed us to celebrate a life, even as it allowed us to mourn.
Who knew that I would have Google Photos to thank for what turned out to be a bittersweet – more bitter and sad at this exact moment than sweet – time of remembrance.
A couple of months ago I stumbled upon and became very interested in American hip-hop for the first time in my life. As of the new year, I am still fascinated by the power and effectiveness and often shocking strength (and sometimes just the shock) of the messages arising from songs in the genre.
Over the Christmas break I read Te-Nehisi Coates’ recent book of collected essays, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. It has become one of my favourite books of 2017, and of the last decade. Coates writes clearly and critically about American political and institutional structures that have created, supported and continue to perpetuate racial inequality in the United States. The book stirred and angered me, and Coates taught me many things, things that are still resonating weeks afterwards and that I want and hope will move me to action.
But the one thing I want to note now is the connection between Coates and hip-hop. He writes:
This is where I begin, as a writer: in hip-hop. It was the first music I every really knew, which is to say the first literature I ever knew, which is to say the first place where I consciously developed a sense that words, struggled together, could be – and really should be – beautiful.
It’s just a neat personal occasion for me when different things I’m interested in coalesce or cross paths.
Back in 2011, when I started exploring visual communication and the impact of the image, I was introduced to scholar Lev Manovich, who has written prolifically about digital culture and new media. My particular interest at the time was about the image in digital culture, and how the internet and digital technology have impacted what we know as the photograph. While I read a lot about digital photography, the materiality of the image, and nature of the snapshot, I became obsessively interested in Instagram and the nature of social photography. Thus, my thesis topic in grad school became focused on particular aspects of Instagram. But some of my initial thoughts about the topic were influenced by Manovich’s writing.
Things come full turn. Six years later, it turns out that Dr. Manovich has written an entire book about Instagram.
This past October, WIRED posted a teeny piece entitled, “Prof. Lev Manovich publicly wondering if Instagram is photography.” The post mentioned Dr. Manovich’s book, Instagram and Contemporary Image. He has made the book available on his blog, under a Creative Commons license. The summary of the book reads:
Millions of people around the world today use digital tools and platforms to create and share sophisticated cultural artifacts. This book focuses on one such platform: Instagram. It places Instagram image culture within a rich cultural and historical context, including history of photography, cinema, graphic design, and social media, contemporary design trends, music video, and k-pop. At the same it uses Instagram as a window into the identities of first truly global generation connected by common social media platforms, programming languages, and visual aesthetics. The book demonstrates how humanistic close reading and computational analysis of large datasets can work together by drawing on the work in Manovich’s Cultural Analytics Lab with 16 million Instagram photos shared in 17 large cities worldwide since 2012.
I look forward to reading this newest Instagram study.
Last week, I stumbled upon a playlist on the Tonight Show YouTube channel called “Freestylin’ with Black Thought,” where guests are given three random words on the spot, and then improvise a hip-hop riff on the spot incorporating those words. It happened that the first one I clicked was one of Lin-Manuel Miranda freestyling and I was completely blown away by what he did. He was so quick thinking on his feet, creative and lyrically brilliant.
This little encounter had me looking into Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is famously known as the creator/writer/main star of the Broadway smash hit, Hamilton. I learned that Hamilton is a historical biopic musical about the life of the American Founding Father, the Treasury Secretary…written in rap.
Miranda was inspired to create Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow’s biography about the first Secretary of the Treasury, and the songs of the musical tell a story and capture historical anecdotes through a lyrical musical style I was really unfamiliar with. The words said so much – shared so cleverly in spoken poetry set to a driving rhythm and beat. This was hip-hop!
So I went down a rabbit hole of looking at hip-hop and rap, that is credited to the voice of entire generations, that represents and speaks to race issues more viscerally and directly to a wider audience than any other contemporary music genre.
It turns out our university library has a copy of one of the more acclaimed accounts about hip-hop culture and music by journalist Jeff Chang, which I am reading now.
I’ve never before really given English hip-hop close attention, but I think I’ve found a genre of music that is totally worth crushing upon.
As a family, I find I have to consciously make an effort to balance time spent online or engaging in digital activities with that spent outside doing physically active things. This is especially a priority because my partner and I are crazy about information and have a tendency to get lost in our interests on the web, but we are also raising a young son and would like him to learn to value life away from “a device,” as we phrase it.
However, we also need him to acquire digital skills and information savvy that he will most probably be required to use in his future in some (or many) ways.
This summer, we had a great teaching moment. We are planning our first family road trip to Alberta – with destinations including Banff, Calgary and Drumheller, and then returning through the Kootenays and southern BC. Mathieu and I have been through parts of these regions, alone and together, but not for an extended period of time, and not with the little one and most of the rather large region is totally new to us.
To work out the details of our itinerary – the routes, accommodations, definite to-see spots – we planned and set up a Google map. Then, we made a collaborative Google doc where we listed all our “wishlist” items with detailed notes (what is the place, how much does it cost, is it open), which we then plotted on the map. Then we could decide together what we might or might not get to.
It was a really great afternoon with our son. We shared search tips and showed him how to find specific place information on a website, taught him how to add things to a Google maps, and showed him Google docs and collaborative editing.
It was enchanting how magical he found color-coded comments and pop-ups that would appear surprisingly on the page he was working on as we simultaneously added and revised notes to our “draft trip plan.”
Some great items that were added to the list include:
- Drumheller, a fantastic geological region to hike and explore, with a fantastic dinosaur museum
- Fair’s Fair, an INCREDIBLY well-organized used bookstore in Calgary
- Vulcan, a town that housed a Trek Centre and a bust of Leonard Nimoy
- the Badlands, a desert-like region of stark, dry land formations in Alberta worth exploring and hiking
- Waterton Lakes, a gorgeous national park in southern Alberta
- Beanpod, a Canadian chocolate-making shop, out of the Kootenays
- Oso Negro, a specialty coffee roaster in Nelson
On April 17, I flew to Calgary to defend my thesis entitled: The Darkroom Series: Constituting Place Through Camera Phone Photography, before a panel of three professors and an independent observer, also a faculty member.
Towards the end, I did not love the process but I loved the work and the reading and the writing. My thesis supervisor said it was a good sign that I was still enamoured with the topic.
I really loved the support and kindness of the department staff members and my thesis supervisor and one day, I may share more thoughts about that.
But for now, all my being cries: I am GLAD it is done.
While I’ve been pretty quiet at this site, I’ve been talking to people elsewhere on the web. Something that has hit hard at our house recently is the news of the impending acquisition of Rdio by Pandora, a US-focused streaming radio service. I’m reposting a comment I shared on someone’s Medium post about alternatives to Rdio.
I’ve been using Rdio since 2011. At that time, it was the only decent streaming music service available in Canada and got me through a year of grad school. It was instant love for a big name streaming service not (legally) available in Canada before. At home, we’ve since created 38 very personal playlists in Rdio featuring pop, jazz, electronica, Quebecois, kid-friendly and classical tunes and we’ve been completely schooled in Rdio’s UI.
Since then, other services have become available in Canada: Google Music, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and in a very low-key and recent move, Napster (Rhapsody) has “returned”. I’ve tried all the other services since they’ve launched here.
But nothing beats your first love. It would help moving on to another if your first love wasn’t by far the most beautiful. By FAR (ugh, Rhapsody) — on anyplatform! As you noted, I also find the new release presentation and social integration much more functional and pleasant on Rdio than any of the other services.
Apart from transferring all our Rdio playlists, key considerations in our switch are Sonos integration and Android/iOS compatibility. I’m holding out on Apple until they work things out with Sonos. We’re waffling between Spotify (whose personalized Discover Weekly has delivered excellent tracks since they started the service in July), Deezer (which has fantastically discoverable French music from around the world but an awkward UI we are having trouble getting used to [why is Flow so prominent?]) and one vote (*MY HUSBAND) for Google Play Music.
The lesson that struck home again (one would think we would learn from the example of photo storage services that have been acquired/bankrupted/ended) is to hold things lightly in this digital age, as nothing seems to last and so many things shift and drift away.
So sad. I’m not sure we’ll be used to whatever service we choose next, but still, RIP to another web service.
So…. I was derailed from my winter 2015 timeline because of broken ribs, my broken ribs (5 of them, 5!!). Totally out of left field, and about a month of pain and recovery. After that, it was about 3 weeks of getting into the rhythm of a (temporary) new position at my university, and then March came and I got back into writing up data findings.
Now, we’ve set a deadline, quickly approaching, to get this baby done. What this means is barricading myself from my house and my son, for increasing periods of time, to be able to write and organize, write and edit and rewrite, and organize and cut and write some more.
And it’s hard, when the neighbourhood looks like this:
Last year, I didn’t really give up things to try and work on grad studies. I leaped into new experiences and a wonderful Americana road trip and some tinkering with a new camera, and didn’t really FOCUS on getting school work done.
But now I am doing what grad students have done since time immemorial – giving up parts of the fullest, most interesting, selfish life, in order to move forward and make progress in their studies.