2024v13, Monday: Commonplace #6

2024v13, Monday: Commonplace #6
One of the "53 stations of the Tōkaidō", a woodcut series by the wonderful Hiroshige. Photo by Art Institute of Chicago / Unsplash


I guess that last post took a bit more of a bite out of my creative muscles than I thought.

So to keep things ticking over, a scattering of things that caught my eye; and that may, I hope, prove to be food for thought.

The death (again) of the internet as we know it, by Noah Smith: When someone mentions "enshittification", that wonderfully ... um ... expressive word coined by Cory Doctorow for how the internet eats us and then itself under the effect of late-model capitalism, my interest is piqued.

And Noah Smith uses this concept as part of a broader consideration of an evolution (or is it a reversion?) in how the internet is used these days:

Anecdotally, when I meet people in their early to mid 20s, they don’t want to connect over Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook Messenger, like young people did in the 2010s. They just exchange phone numbers, like people did in the 2000s. Everyone is still online all the time, but “online” increasingly means group chats, Discord, and other small-group interactions. As a society, we are re-learning how to center our social lives around a network of people we know in real life, rather than around a performative feed in which we broadcast our actions and thoughts to a bunch of strangers.


And it goes on from there, looking not only at enshittification but also at algorithmic feeds, the "flood the zone with shit" technique and other tactics deployed by certain nations for disinformation purposes, and then of course AI. All worth a look.

This is sparking other thoughts about why it is I write; and, perhaps, why others might too. It's something I've been pondering, and I'll try to get something out within a week or so. No promises, but I'll try.

‘You’re going to call me a Holocaust denier now, are you?’: George Monbiot comes face to face with his local conspiracy theorist, by George Monbiot: Like many people, the workings of conspiracy theories fascinate me. How they're born, how they take root in people's minds and hearts, how they tend to metastasise and multiply, how many "believers" seem to believe in more than one.

George Monbiot, though, has a problem with the term "conspiracy theory" - because, he says, there are some theories out there which sound like conspiracies (and are sometimes portrayed as such by those whose power is threatened by them) but which are, in fact, bang on the money:

I believe that groups of people conspire secretly against our interests to line their pockets, cover their backs or achieve political goals. By this definition I suspect you are, too. We see evidence of these conspiracies every day. We see them in the Horizon scandal, in which the Post Office kept prosecuting innocent operators. We see them in the government’s use of a “VIP” lane for procuring PPE from friends and donors at extortionate prices. We see them in the Windrush scandal, in which people were denied their legal rights and unlawfully deported by the UK government.

Instead, he prefers the term "conspiracy fictions", and naming those who believe in them "conspiracy fantasists". I rather like this, although the latter's a bit harsh. His anger is palpable, albeit not directed so much at the fantasists as the fantasy itself:

An extraordinary aspect of this issue is that there’s so little overlap between conspiracy fantasists and conspiracy theorists. Those who believe unevidenced stories about hidden cabals and secret machinations tend to display no interest in well-documented stories about hidden cabals and secret machinations.

All this is an intro to a fascinating report of a conversation between Monbiot and a neighbour of his in Devon, an artist singled out by anti-racism and other campaigners as harbouring, and spreading, particularly (um) problematic views. A great read. Worth your time.

Pachinko Road, One More Time, by Craig Mod: On a different note, to end with, something more positive and affirming. Craig Mod is a writer, photographer and many things, based in Japan. I've read his stuff for ages - I first wrote about him in 2021, I now discover.

But what I most prize about Craig these days are his walks. Every so often, he goes on a long walk, often but not always in Japan, where he's lived for decades. Before each walk, he asks for subscribers to provide their email addresses. Each day during the walk, he sends an email, with pix and musings. At the end of the walk, he deletes the list of emails. No spam. Just good and thoughtful stuff.

Not all Craig's walks are documented in real time. A walk through the English Lakes on Wainwright's Coast to Coast was a one-shot piece, a truly wonderful and deeply evocative (and deeply empathetic) slice of writing that I would commend to anyone. His Ridgeline blog (from which this comes) is a weekly walking-related affair, and is well worth your time. This is how it ends - and the rest is just as good if not better:

I went for a 300km walk and it was a blast and the conversations with Peter were fabulous and Ella the dog an angel. I realize many Brits are sort of mortified by their own country (as many readily admitted to me), and I get it (hey, I’m technically American), but most (all?) first-world countries today are well-beyond the lily-white. I don’t know what I’m doing. The world burns and I try not to throw out the walking babies with all the frustrating, seemingly-intractable political bathwater. This is special stuff: the rights-of-way, the walking culture, the barren fells, the pentimento walking history of England. No, it ain’t perfect, but if you find yourself in a position to traipse along the dun tones of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, I say go for it. And remember: Walking in and of itself is a way to cultivate precisely all the qualities of person-hood that seem missing from much public discourse — attention, focus, kindness, patience, persistence, tenacity, mental and physical health. And those sandwiches, damn, they’re good. Order a Mod Madness for me, and freak out a few pub owners.

Craig is about to embark on a new walk - or rather an old walk renewed. The new one starts tomorrow, along the old Tōkaidō Road.

Edo period walkers walked the Tōkaidō in about sixteen days, clocking some ten ri on many days, where one ri is about four kilometers. Another way to think about it: One ri is about what the average human can walk in an hour. So I’m looking to walk it at their sixteen day pace. Is this sane? It’ll definitely be a challenge. I won’t be wearing straw waraji sandals though (they blew they a few pair a day; five-sen a piece) — I’ll be bounding ever-forward on a trusty pair of New Balance Fresh Foam X More Trail v3s, the most absolutely Of Our Time stupidly-named shoe you can find. But, the toe box is wide, and damn if those things don’t push you on. Good, luggy Vibram soles, too. Inside, I’ll be replacing whatever joke of an insole they come with, with a SuperFeet Green insert.

Whether you have the slightest interest in walking or not, if good and caring writing floats your boat, you owe it to yourself to sign up. The subscription box is here. Blame me later. But I hope you won't need to.