Slow Startups

Remember that time is money.
Benjamin Franklin

If there are two concepts that seem exactly contrary, it’s “Slow” and “Startup”. On the one hand an emphasis on quality, good living, carefully crafted products and relaxation on the other hand a focus on growth, traction and speed. But as we will argue in this post, the two can go hand in hand. Our vision is something like a “craft startup” that can be meaningful and disruptive at the same time. But first, let’s step back into history for a while:

It was Karl Marx who unfolded Franklin’s laconic “Advice to a Young Tradesman” into a theory of money, “Das Kapital”. And not even Hayek was able to argue away the disastrous idea of money being frozen time, when he advocated that economics was much more about negotiating value, instead of trading labour. Two hundred years after Marx, we still accept that taking a rush would stand for efficiency. Of course, you can’t spend a minute of your life twice. Thus, wasted time is irreplaceable, as Arnold Bennett describes in his wonderful “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day”. It is however much more than just a philosophical question, what wasted indeed means.

The startup world is full of time-saving concepts. We have incubators to grow newly founded businesses like mushrooms, accelerators, to speed up everything, from building the product to getting financed, we make our products an MVP, a minimum viable product, not really good, just good enough to see how much traction the startup idea can generate. And we’re doing all this based on the time-saving-philosophies of “Getting Things Done” in a “Four Hour Work-Week” mimicking the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. By the way, the only really successful startup-related business in Germany is named Rocket, and true to their brand name, Rocket is proud to get a business up and running in less than 100 days.

On the other hand, the typical pitch decks presented by startups to potential investors tell a story of world domination by efficiency. Industries have to be disrupted. Nothing less than a revolution has to be delivered by your MVP; a revolution of just-good-enoughness. And one of the best points for convincing investors is that your startup enabling people to perform more tasks in less time or to not even need humans anymore.

”I think people in Europe are generally pessimistic about the future. They have low expectations, they’re not working hard to change things. When you’re a slacker with a pessimistic view of the future, you’re likely to meet those expectations.”

Peter Thiel is right. In Europe, we give our workers more than 25 days of paid vacations. All countries have paid maternity leaves, mandatory employer-funded health care, strict cancellation ruled for employment contracts, and reasonably powerful unions. This is hardly compatible with the glorious frontier, as which Silicon Valley celebrates itself.

But can we think of a startup culture reflecting our values of quality, social responsibility, and lifestyle? How could we slackerish Continentals sustain our businesses against the presumably overwhelming industriousness of founders, who are willing to totally exploit themselves and work 24/7?

“Work hard, play hard” is usually said about people who use drinking to attenuate the unbearable requirements of their work. If you found you own business, this is regarded as tough. The logic why it has to be seems to go like this: If it wouldn’t be incredibly hard, why would anybody still accept the boredom and humiliations of being an employee?

The idea of having to earn something instead of just being given it as a present is the core of the protestant religion. It is an ideology, a dogma, rather than a theory supported by empirical evidence. So maybe it is sufficient to just overcome this notion? Maybe we can just start to work self-determined, at our own speed, according to our own values instead?

This is where our Slow Media concept can translate into the idea of a Slow Startup:

1) Attachment instead of obsolescence

‘Getting things done’ is just the opposite of doing things. This is not just some shallow Zen truth. ‘Getting things done’ expresses explicit contempt for the process of making that leads to planned obsolescence. “If it works, it’s obsolete”, as McLuhan put it. Attachment is a feeling that is formed over time. To feel attached to your work and the products you make is in itself gratifying. Industrialization severed the workers from their product, disenfranchised them; Entfremdung, alienation, is Marx’ term for this. Maybe attachment is the first step to making your startup slower.

2) Craft instead of intellectual property

The value of a Prada bag does not originate in the fact that it is protected intellectual property. In fact, it is easier to buy a pirated copy of most luxury goods than the incommensurably more expensive originals, which are often only available in very few stores in the world. Of course it is necessary to defend your work against fraud and denigration, but this is certainly beyond the idea of guarding some obscure legal titles that draw their value rather from the ability of your lawyers (and the size of your legal’ budget), than from what you really created. Let’s sell our craft, let’s create goods, not commodities. Let’s create things that people would by because they are genuine, not because they fear prosecution.

3) Don’t lock-in your customers

The so called network effect is perhaps the most important reason for startups to do their business in such a rush. The network effect occurs when a company can set their solution as a standard, and then secure exclusive economic utilization. The curse of digital media is that they tend to support winner-takes-it-all games. When one service manages to gain enough advantage to its competition, the market tends to concentrate on this service. When everybody is on Facebook, costs of abstention are unbearably high, and spending your attention to a smaller competitor feels increasingly like a waste of time. If you choose Apple to run your things, there is hardly room for variety anymore. We don’t want to lock our customers in our products. We don’t want to force people to use a product we offer, just because they once decided to buy another product from us without realizing the consequences. We want to collaborate, to be part of an environment, not to pretend to be able to create the whole ecosystem on our own.

4) Be democratic, avoid brand fascism

We want to provide versatile tools, not totalitarian take-overs. We want to respect people’s privacy. We need to process data. We don’t want to take ownership of people’s lives by doing that. Our brand gives you trust that what you bought is worth its price.

5) Algorithm ethics

Be aware of value judgements. Just because you decide that a feature of your product seams logic they way you do it, doesn’t mean it is necessarily the only way it could work. Everything that is designed contains value judgments, arbitrary decisions made by the designer. Let’s make our decisions visible, let’s make our motives transparent. Let’s show the levers and set screws that govern the behavior of our product. Let’s invite people to hack our tools. Only what gets hacked eventually gets secure.

6) Accept no slavery

It is hard to imagine that any citizen of the 21st century would willingly accept others to be enslaved. Apparently, however, most gadgets are manufactured by sweatshops under unacceptable conditions. And lots of startups deeply depend on these global “bads”. Whole industries have offshored their manufacturing. Instead of valuing the production, the product itself gets commoditized. The manufacturer is just a random fab that was able to get the tender because it would undercut the competition. Let’s keep our product clean and bright, let’s not contaminate our work with the exhaust of those black satanic mills.

7) Be slow

“Those who live by disruption will die by disruption.” Our answer will be: “Go, disrupt yourself, while we are building something valuable.”

Ages of Life

[Original German blog post]

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.1. Cor 13

Daniel 2,31-36 aus der Merian-Bibel
You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel interprets Nebukadnezar’s vision. The colossal statue symbolizes the course of history, starting with a ‘golden age’, the paradise, deteriorating epoch after epoch. Until the messianic event – the world revolution – which stands at the end of this ‘historic materialism’.

.והיית אך שמח Devarim 16,15


Hours, days, or weeks repeating, that is a useful illusion. In reality we live through each moment of our life only once; thereafter it has passed. What we experience as relatively homogenous over certain time spans in our lives, is ourselves. We have the impression of uniformity, because we are one person, indeed more or less the same every day.

Over longer time periods, our person however changes, and in fact not continuously, but at specific points in our life very rapidly, while it appears almost constant over years or decades. It is a not completely arbitrary conclusion, to divide our life into sections: childhood, youth, adulthood, senility – or something similar.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) has written a remarkable book on the life’s ages, their ethical and pedagogical meaning, Lebensalter, Ihre ethische und pädagogische Bedeutung (as is the original German titel). On some thoughts therein I want to further dwell here.

Every section of age is based on specific needs, faculties, and motivations. The necessity to satisfy these needs, to develop the faculties according to one’s age, and to follow one’s motivations, entails the appropriate ethics -what is good and important for children, is hardly by itself the right thing for adults.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, as Qohelet says. This concept of targeted, progressing life is typical for our Judeo-Christian Weltbild; death is the point, where life is completed, and where every goal has to be reached – in opposite to cyclical systems of rebirth, our occidential life spans an arc.

A central aspect in progressing from one age to the next, are crises, even dramatic discontinuities, through which we (should) live, when we e.g. change from the age of the mature adult into senility; things that went seamlessly as an adult, we have to learn to let go, to give room for others; if we manage to get old in dignity depends not least if we are able to make that step, or if we try to perpetuate our youthfulness, long lost in reality, into eternity, as a fop like Thomas Mann’s protagonist Aschenbach in Death in Venice. These crises constitute how we devide our lives into ages, as mentioned above.

Each of the ages has a correspondent way to comprehend the world. This comprehension corresponds also with a certain way to express ourselves in language. Children experience the world in a sort of mystical way, all the enchanted, that for adults lies at the edge of kitsch, is experienced as real part of the personal world. For children, metaphors are not paraphrasing of reality, but reality itself.

Here we leave Guardini, who mentioned the idea of rhetorical figures just marginally in his context of ages. We move back two hundred fifty years to Naples, where Giambattista Vico had published his philosophical magnum opus Sciencia Nuova, the New Science in 1725.
Vico had been pondering on history for many years, in particular on Greek and Roman antiquity, and he had studied the literature of those times intensively. There he recognized a fact, that went totally unnoticed before: The “high cultures” he investigated, were not homogenous over time, but they appeared to him as a temporal hierarchy, a coming of ages, maturing, and decaying –Corso and Ricorso. Each of these epochs, so Vico deduced, brings specific properties of culture and society to the people living in it, that we could compare with Guardini’s ages of life.

Especially one thing came to Vico’s attention: Every epoch had specific tropes, that shaped its literature and presumably also the whole thinking of its time. From this observation he unfolded an original system. The earliest literature of some culture expresses a mystic way of comprehending the world – everything is incorporated by metaphors. In these times, people belief in gods steering fate directly, until they finally get replaced by heroes. Now it is men, that define destiny, however supernaturally advanced and legendary figures. Metonymy is the figure of speech in the age of the heroes. Finally comes the actually historic epoch, the Polis or republic, with real humans as acting subjects. Legal texts and political speeches now make the most part of literature. Metaphors or figurative meaning hardly have room here. Irony is the trope of the age of the humans. After that decline comes – empire and dictatorship, worshiping heroes again, and at last decay into the mystic epoch of the Völkerwanderung, the early medieval age.

If we compare Vico with Guardini, it is obvious to combine the ages of life with the epochs of history – and thus we get an appropriate rhetoric figure for each phase of our lives, too. Children comprehend the world in play. As in mysticism, everything can be “the normal thing”, e.g. a plank, and still something different, say a spacecraft. Children make no difference between fairytale and non-fiction. Adolescence brings hero worship, exaggeration of role models, the projection, the hyperbole. For adults, everything is achievable, scientific, regular. In their dealing with each others, irony helps adults to demonstrate distance to their own positions, “take it with a pinch of salt”. With dwindling power in older age, growing feelings of anxiety, a desire for security, fixation on solid structures, and the longing for strong leadership in a society, that is increasingly sensed as threatening, are the consequences. As a doter we end unable to differentiate reality from fantasy – senile paranoia, depression, or “mystic wisdom”.

Age of Life Epoch Trope
Childhood mysticism metaphor
Youth heros metonymy
Adulthood humans irony
Seniority Ricorso metonymy
Senility decay metaphor

As mentioned frequently before, we can describe our current history as a sequence of turning points in communication culture. First, the Linguistic Turn makes an end with the dark medieval times, with its allegoric thinking, the childhood of our culture. The Iconic Turn lifts us into the age of global mass communication, with irony, not to say cynicism as the leading figuere. and finally we are living through the next turn, the Memetic Turn, falling back into the pictorial. This history of turns I have elaborated on in its own post: Memetic Turn.

***

A world as inexorable sequence of progresses has underlying something sad. That to say, everybody always dies to early. There is probably no agreeable way to part from life. Goals unmet, things that remain unsolved at the end of life, they even appear tragic. Thus the angel of history has with wide open eyes to see “one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet”; progress as sequence of tragedies. Instead however to grieve about our certain end, I recommend now, to read Nachman of Breslov, that great mystic, who taught twohundred years ago, in what today is the Ukraine, as chassidic zaddik; his morale rule: “Mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid” – It is the great commandment to always be happy..

Further readings:
Qohelet – Time and Happiness
Memetic Turn
Walter Benjamin: Über den Begriff der Geschichte IX

Memetic Turn

[Original German Blog Post]

>
“The Hanged” from the Tarot Deck of Charles VI., Paris, early 15th century.

The symbolism of Tarot – similar to that of alchemy – forms a pre-modern memetic system. Tightly knit into other more or less esoteric programs of meaning, like Qabbalah or astrology, its images are at first illustrative – they picture very well, what can be seen on it, at second they bear an arbitrarily assigned symbolic value. The particular with memes as well as with metaphors is there creating a common space of meaning between several human beings, by which these different beings identify with.

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialisation and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us the the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Everything is divisible, thus there cannot be an individual.”

“The meaning of such symbols [of letters] is largely independent from colour: a red or a black “A” mean the same sound. […] Thus the current explosion of colours points to the tending to loose importance of unidimensional codes like the Alphabet.”

“History begins with the invention of writing, not because text keeps the processes, but because it transforms scenes into processes: it creates the historic consciousness.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Writing and Society are tied together in an immediate way. With text, particularly the newspaper which shall become the first real mass media in the 19th century, people are able to get informed homogeneously over large distances. However, it was of course not before the advent of the railroad and telegraph that this would have been of any importance. These are the fundamentals on which for the first time a truly supra regional economy – the national economy could develop. The local community, the village, at the same time decreases in its aspect of being the common destiny, like already been declared by Tönnies.

“Newspaper is the glue of society”, as exclaimed recently by Helmut Heinen, president of Germany’s Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

But some aspects seam to resonate no longer with this proposition, like Daniel Schulz had also replied to in Der Standard by responding to the newspaper man: “Not the paper, but the images of cats are the glue of society!”

Daniel was not correct, although – I am convinced about that – did mean the right thing. Images of cats are not the glue of society but of communities! Thus they are not only to the least extent the glue of society but even more, what I will explicate in the following, they will even corrode society.

These images of cats – in my own community’s case it is more images of fowl, especially of runner ducks – are very special signs, closely related to metaphors, allegories or emblems. Although not fully in the mind of its inventor, it is now common to call this kind of image-signs memes. The meaning of memes is often hermetic, not to be understood outside the community in which they are shared.

Within memes – which are usually hardly iconic but rarely abstract signs – is often concentrated a complete universe of meaning and relationships, by which the members of a community are connected to it. Memes are common spaces of projection of our unconsciousness: “In the darkness of an exteriority I may find, without recognising it as such, my own interiority or the mental.” (C.G. Jung on the allegories in Alchemy).

Memes thereby take the function that in the pre-modernism the metaphor and especially the allegory would have held:

With metaphors things can be made visible, that could not be told explicitly. “Metaphoric imagery broadens the horizon of the thinkable by shattering the boundaries of mental rationality and thus opens essential spaces of possible articulation for speculative thoughts.” writes Jörg Zimmer. By equalising non-identical terms, it makes manifest the connective attributes; metaphors generate identity between the otherwise differentiated. Metaphors, though, express at first those images in the mind of the speaker (“sender”); the receiver of the metaphor will initially not hold the identical image in his mind, but populate the metaphor with his own associations. In the same way, in which the meaning attributed to the metaphor by its sender becomes similar to the meaning, the receiver puts into it, the metaphor generates identity between different persons; metaphors generate communality.

Memes act contagious. You are infected, if you have once identified yourself with.
***

History of Turns

The Linguistic Turn, like described above, was the consequence of a population growing together and becoming increasingly well educated with high literacy and the technological infrastructure of mass transport and mass communication over large distances. With the Linguistic Turn of modernism the ancient communities get dissolved, societies – nations and states form and newspapers, resp. mass media are the glue of these societies. The metonymy removes the metaphor as leading trope in rhetoric: “Berlin declares war to Paris”.

With the illustrated magazine and in particular with television, the 20th century brings the Iconic Turn – images transmitted by mass media. Going with the merging of the once competing national societies to supranational blocks of NATO, Warsaw Pact or European Community, the visually powerful media deliver an internationally valid repository of images. These technologically mass distributed images are mostly non-metaphoric; they show mainly, what can be seen on it.

The News-at-Six become the nation’s camp fire and the utopia of solidarity between people far above the narrow space of a community seams to become reality.
For the coarse grid of the political and economical contexts of the second half of the 20th century, these mass media are able to supply an audience of millions daily with the little relevant intelligence, necessary for national cohabition: the wood-cut party policy in the parliaments, the interplay of ones owns nation with other states, the crude news of a constantly growing economy, always held in plain language, comprehensible also for “people with moderate education”. Irony is the figure of the Iconic Turn – often however in form of cynicism.
***

Since the 1980s there are visible signs of corruption on mass media, although at first concealed by the enormous success of private television resp. after the fall of the iron wall by the backlog demand of former Soviet sphere of influence.

At once it was no longer so important to read what would have happened on the international theatre on the previous day. The glue of society began to become brittle. And the Web just came handy for this development. No longer getting informed – but arranging yourself the things you take as necessary. Like the famous German social researcher Renate Köcher had realised in horror from the longitudinal surveys of her Institute for Demoscopy at Allensbach: people do not get informed differently now – strictly speaking they would not let themselves get informed at all! Mass media do not get substituted in their function, it is more that they vanish away. And not physically – people still watch television – but in their effect.

Our social graph, the network of our communal relationships supplies us with the things that we would want to know about. This is the filter that before was formed by the editorial teams of the media. We organise our relationships by the Net, like in former times we as the citizen of the state would get oriented by mass media. “The end of the Grand Narrative” by which post-modernism is often described, means history becoming a collection little stories. This is “Atemporality“, where “literature collapses before our eyes“. Mass media’s standard language gives way to the vernacular dialects of Net culture. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

The membership in these new memetic community is not to be compared with the “being born into a community” of pre-modernism. Those are relatively loose structures, partly only temporarily stable and we are rarely exclusively at home in just one of them. These communities are kept together symbolically by Memes.

This Memetic Turn marks the transition into the post-modern age. The dwindling influence of the national structures with at the same time dissolving international political structures leads to also to their medial tools becoming dull.

Thus it becomes clear how the revolutionary movement in Spain is related to the overthrow in Tunisia and Egypt. It is fascinating to see how the seemingly lacking of formulated common goals and any form of constituted organisation swamps the old media, still thinking in terms of society. It is the Hash-Tag that brings people together, the #spanishrevolution-meme as projective space, above which people synchronise on their longing for a different form of living together in a post-social communality, no longer controlled by ineffective party policy.

Further reading:

Modernism is our classical antiquity

>digital<: to finger sth.

[Original German Blog Post]

Arno Schmidt: Zettel’s Traum. The detail shown above read:
(dug from 'dig' & this from
'digital' : to finger sth.

digital (not comparable)
[1] Having to do with digits (fingers or toes); performed with a finger.
[2] Property of representing values as discrete numbers rather than a continuous spectrum.
– digital computer, digital clock
[3] Of or relating to computers or the Computer Age.
(wiktionary.org)

Digitus is Latin for finger or toe. To comprehend the reality means literally to grasp, to catch – the same as in German begreifen – to grasp with your fingers. Of the interesting relation between our hands, the comprehending the world and counting, which form also somehow the base of our digital culture, I was reminded by Arno Schmidt’s bawdy derivation of the word digital.

When Schmidt was composing his first and most voluminous typescript novel “Zettel’s Traum” end of the 1960s, the word digital in German language had exclusively the anatomical meaning, as given under [1] in Wiktionary; I looked this up in several German dictionaries and thesauruses of that time period – nowhere would digital be used in the nowadays predominant way [2] or [3].

In contrary to the English-American sphere. There, digit means a sign for a number after all.
Why do the English count directly with their fingers, while we Germans calculate with the Zahl, from zala, which means a mark, a brand sign? Zahl, Zeichen (sign) and digit, as well as toe and token have the same Indo-European root *deik̑-, but the path of the word into the two languages was different however.
***

A problem of interest to astronomers and theologians likewise, from the late antiquity on, was the determination of Easter in the calenders. The difficulty comes from the seven days of the week, the different lengths of the months and the 365 days of the year not being each other’s multiples. Therefore, the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring varies between March 22nd and April 25th. It was the artistry of the Computus to calculate this date for the future years.

The anglosaxian Benedictine Beda, the Venerable, is the father of our chronology of AD and BC. Like many thinkers following Augustine, Beda assumed that in our world all things would be “ordered in measure and numbers” (Wisdom 11,20 – sed omnia mensura et numero et pondere disposuisti).

To give a calculation for Easter, valid and consistent for the whole world, he had written the henceforth mandatory work on the Computus: De Temporum Ratione, Of the Calculation of the Times.

Right the first chapter deals with “Calculation and Language of the Fingers”. Beda introduces counting and shows, how the denumberable, via counting with the fingers, leads to an alphabet of digits; it becomes digitised. “De Computo vel loquela digitorum” – Computing with Digits.

Even though many developments of mechanical calculation from Schickard to Leibnitz – and finally Zuse – took place in Germany, it were Charles Babbage and Ada Byron, who put a Digit Counting Apparatus in the mill of their Analytical Engine. Since then, the word digital appears more and more often in context with calculating machines in England and the US. Since the 1930s (and up to today), digital is used to name the coding of signals by discrete values and numbers in opposite to analogue.
***

The digital world – counted with your fingers, abstract, decomposed into data computed under logical rules. In opposite to that is apparently the reality, comprehendalbe in an analogue way.
There: Plato – here: Aristotele … etc. etc.

“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)

(2) classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.

Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.

Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.

You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.

The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.

This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.

Enhances
“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
Retrieves
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur

Non-Commodity-
writing

(Decay of Copyright)

Reverses
Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Obsolesces
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books
book-fairs

In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:

As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

Qohelet: Time and Happiness

[Original German Blog Post]

Turn! Turn! Turn!
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What is the essence of our life? It is the moment that we live to see. In it we find our expectations of the future as well as our memories of what has passed. Thus our life flows moment after moment through our consciousness. Everything that we experience has its moment in time – and by nature our life span is limited:
“Live is just too short, to mess about with bad things.” is one basic idea of this Slow-Media-Blog.

There is a book in the bible that that deals in general and at the same time in a practical way with this essence and the meaning of the limited life time: Qohelet (in Hebrew קֹהֶלֶת‎, chairman, thus Ecclesiastes in Greek, Preacher in the King James Version and Teacher in the New International Version). Qohelet is among the most interesting contemplations on the essence of time – as the season, as limit to our facilities and particularly on the paradox of the steady flow, that creates the illusion of progressing, of causes and effects, that emerges from the sequence of the events in our imagination. From these conditions of time – limitation, steady flow, pretended progress – Qohelet develops his ethics and is set next to the other time-philosophers of his time – Heraclitus and Parmenides. In our context, we look especially to the question of good life with the right time.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Eccl 3,1). And this says that also the joys and the beautiful things of life have their very hour that will not come again, when it has passed – and it’s a pity, for we shall never have enough of these (The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Eccl 1,8):

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry; (Eccl 8,15). Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Eccl 9,7-10)

***

.הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (Pred 1,2)

Our efforts may not really change the world – but very well we ourselves get changed by our labour. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. (Eccl 10,9). So our pursuit becomes not futile – it changes merily the meaning of our actions in relation to the results. The quest for completion, for the final result as a goal, is meaningless; no item, also no intangible item like scientific knowledge or the creation of a work of art will redeem us, as long as we think, “If we had just achieved this or that, then we made it!”. Despite this bourgeois hope, life does not consist of fulfilment but of action, of labour and toil, of eating and drinking, of loosing and keeping, and so on. Only as long as we live, we can live to see: For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. (Eccl 9,4) So happiness does not mean fulfillment, it is not the purpose of life but being happy is a means to a good life: Simcha, שִׂמְחָה‎, the happy-being is in this concept of jewish philosophy – like with the Hassidic teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov the precondition of morally good life: “Mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid” – it is the great commandment to always be happy.

And this is the core proposition of Qohelet: That our life is too short, to not seek for the beauty in it, for in just the consciousness thereof we are different from the animals: For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast; (Eccl 3, 19) And how dieth the wise man ? as the fool. (Eccl 2,16)
This however requires peace and quiet:

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty. (Eccl 5,2)

Slow Coding

by Regine Heidorn, Bit-Boutique®.

[Read this post in German]

The breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

Code is poetry – the slogan absorbed by WordPress – stands for one of the many movements of digital poetry coming into existence with the arrival of Zuses computers in the mid 1950s. Artificial texts result from the programmatic exchange of words as for example “Substitute each n-th noun of a text by the n-th following noun of a certain dictionary.“ – one of the experiments of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, Working Group for Potential Literature), formed in 1960 in France, who viewed text as a fabric and fathomed the potential of aesthetics of artificial texts under laboratory conditions.

Code is poetry – in regard to the production of programming code requirements are compressing to efficient because dense production of text. Characterized by the least possible number of lines of code and characters in preferably clear nomination of either the elements of the underlying programming language and the author-chosen elements like variables and functions. The less characters and lines of code the less typewriting for the code-genesis. The more meaningful the nomination, the less semantically unambiguous, the easier the maintainability of the code. Various discussions about the structure of an ideal programming language gather around those basics.

The sense of programming is, similar to assembly line production of bulk goods, to split operations into recurring steps. Being the definition of a first criteria for the usage of programming: the operation to be programmed is anticipated as a concept which is the base for estimating expenses. Anticipating too much speed in this stage means running the risk of exploding budgets. That may result in unmanagable projects. Thus revealing another criteria for the usage of programming: the expenses of programming are measured by the defined purpose of a production step or an operation consisting of several such steps. Transformation into programming will be worth the trouble if expenses for the development of a programmed product and the integration into existing operations fall short of the expenses for operations to be substituted.

This approach is based on the assumption that the expenses of programming could be determined in advance. In fact it‘s only infrequently possible to reuse already existing software or script-libraries without verifying their applicability for the specific project-case. Programming processes contain a variety of basic requirements that are subject to permanent technical change: the chosen programming language itself is subject to change as is our everyday language. Some wellknown script-libraries or frameworks may not be maintained anymore, (new) hardware might be incompatible to some well-established programming-habits, the clients‘ usage of outdated hard- and software might prevent the usage of already established innovations in programming, maybe the hard- and software to be programmed for is already patched specifically and thus may avoid further extension. If in the latter case the documentation is incomprehensible or, worse, doesn‘t even exist, expenses are becoming incalculable. Constantly security vulnerabilities are discovered prohibiting the usage of up to then valid script-snippets. Losses in performance evolving from a certain programming-habit might force to switch to a completely new way of programming for projects being more complex.

All those conditions make up for one basic requirement of a programmer: re-reading. Rereading of own programming code for up-to-dateness and compatibility. Rereading the code of others in order to patch it with own extensions. Rereading of programming languages in order to check for the parts needed to realise individual project objectives. Rereading the code to check the criteria for security and compatibility. That‘s why programmers live in constant consciousness that their code on the date being delivered certainly is state-of-the-art but nonetheless already outdated.

“Re-reading, an activity totally against commercial and ideological habits of our society, calling us to ‘throw away‘ history as soon as consumed (…) so that we have to pass on to another story, buying a new book … re-reading is suggested here to begin, because it solely prevents the text from repetition (the ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere).“ (translation into English by Regine Heidorn)

Roland Barthes states in 1981.

Rereading is preventing code from repeating his history: reproduction of incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities. Cementing intricate programming and incomprehensible nomination resulting from not reflecting the use of already existing code. Adopting useless functions for the actual project that might become incalculable reasons for misfunctions. Transporting routines that might not have any function at all because they were solely coded to meet specific requirements of the previous project.

“The ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere“ – this is exactly what‘s happening eg to webdesigners who learned their HTML at the beginning of the 1990s and didn‘t change their habits of code-production. The result are websites based on outdated code and being incompatible to innovations such as mobile internet usage. Superfluous to tell that rereading requires time, same applies for checking the requirements for programming to establish realistic project-budget and schedule.

Code is poetry – on the contrary to prose poetry is dense – few words transport compressed meanings. Meanings also subject to change in programming languages and occasionally producing trivial redundancies. “For the master craftsperson, great code and great poetry are lean and trim, with no excess of words or other unnecessary elements.“ states Matt Ward in Smashing Magazine. Programming is a creative process demanding concentration. Slow coding thus is not a sophisticated postulate of aesthetic polemics but a semantic redundancy, a pleonasm. Which as a rhetoric figure is of ongoing importance because the breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

“So literature collapses before our eyes” –
Non-Commodity Production

Enhances
private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
Retrieves
tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”

Medium:
Print

Reverses
With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
Obsolesces
slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear

McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.

The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.

Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:

“*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)

The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.

Enhances
speed of printing process
Retrieves
oral tradition, the committee

Medium:
Xerox
(could be “digital print as well”)
Reverses
everybody a publisher
Obsolesces
assemly-line book

The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.

The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.

Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.

The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:

1. What does the medium enhance?
2. What does the medium make obsolete?
3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.

Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!

Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.

We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.

A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.

A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.

All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”

Further reading:
Memetic Turn
Modernism is our Classical Antiquity
The End of History – for Creative Professionals
Virtual Broadcasting

Metaphysics, Speculation and Science

[Original German blog post]

The scientist looks through the objective – does this render his research objective?

The occasion for this post is a rather persistently held debate on Twitter, I would like to broaden my own points a bit. These touche only a part of this by and large amusing discussion that spun a much wider arc.

The basic motive of this conversation were the “Two Cultures”, how this complex of sciences vs. humanities is called since the famous text by Ch. P. Snow. I want to pin on two aspects, that I find worth telling in the context of Slow Media: the question of the value of metaphysics for the sciences. The second: my hope, that the publicity of sciences that has been changed so much by the Web and platforms like Wikipedia and Blogs with their comments, a “Third Culture” becomes possible.

This Twitter-discussion’s protagonists assumed the according roles in Snow’s play of the two cultures quickly; me – despite my own career – on the side of the humanities. Finally all would just dissolve in consensus, would not an issue have been risen, that immediately made obvious the deep divide between the two cultures: first, the question if the scepticism of the scientific method is to be used on their own foundations, and second – and this came as a complete surprise for me – by a quote that I twittered to illustrate the first point.

Ehlers: ‘ … But in the end the decision [to accept a new theory] is made using criteria on which both sides agree: the representatives of the older and the younger generations.’
Stichweh: ‘Is that always the case? I don’t know a single opponent of Darwin
who became convinced. They actually did die out, some time in the nineteenth century.’

From Reinhard Breuer, Michael Springer: The truth in science.
Interview with Jürgen Ehlers und Rudolf Stichweh. GENERAL RELATIVITY AND GRAVITATION 41, Nr 9, 2159-2167 (Originally published as Breuer, R., Springer, M. “Die Wahrheit in der Wissenschaft”, Spektrum der
Wissenschaft 7/2001)

Christian Huygens, “the most elegant mathematician of his time”, one of the most prominent figures of the enlightenment, had said in the context of Galileo’s defence: “The world is my country, science my religion.” I found this appropriate for our conversation. After that, the der consensus was not to be restored until the end of the discussion. Even a harsh tone came into the rhetoric and – I have sensed it this way, taking the counter positioning – the “scientist’s party” fell in figueres of “authenticity” (Eigentlichkeit), the images becoming almost geradezu martial. The snappishness by which the equalization of science with religion, deduced from the quote, was fought against, surprised me even more, when I was blamed, to insult the scientific side. In return I found myself as faithful catholic suddenly put on one level with creationists and other esoteric cranks.

First law of thermodynamics: What you gain in force you loose in distance. Even though it is tempting to transfer the physical images onto human society, like Francis Bacon had called for, things are not that simple …

After school I had no doubt to choose a scientific education. I studied mathematics and computer sciences. Like many of my fellows I was caught by the joy of data visualisation: it was the time of the “Fractal Geometry of Nature” by Mandelbrot and the invention of the graphic processor. Because of my knowledge in electronic data analysis I got a job in the Institute for Human Ethology in the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft at Andechs.

What was special with the team at this institute was the extraordinary, interdisciplinary mixture: zoologists (mainly ornithologists and primate experts) there were physicians, psychologists, linguists and even art historians. This was due to the research’s objective: human behaviour – from nonverbal communication (where I had landed) to languages, proxemics (behavior in a group) up to the whole repertoire of culture, art, architecture and especially music – the search was for what unifies men, what was universally valid, no matter which culture in the world had been watched, and what would be specific only for some people, evolved through adaptation to different environmental conditions. From the ethological method of comparative behavioural research I have been benefiting up to today – many research projects had been realised by Christiane Tramitz and me since then – although our severance from the Max-Planck-Institute did take place in a rather ungentle way.

In those days, some tropes borrowed from postmodernism and already sunken down to undergraduate seminars had been quite en vogue. Had the humanities’ mainstream in the preceding decade attacked the biologic research of men just as being part of bourgeois defence of power, now every reductionism, characterising the classic scientific method, was dispraised as construct. The arguments of those times had basically been quite harmless and hardly positioned to really disturb the research work – thus different from the class-struggle-rhetoric of the earlier years. As meanwhile graduated statistician I was anyway hardly to be frightened by postmodernism, had I not chosen a discipline dealing with getting and affirming knowledge out of data, afflicted by random or even better: derived from incomplete models.

Some colleagues however where effected in a hard way by this criticism, for this aimed on a pecular aspect of many human biological projects: from their alleged scientific hypothesis they derived ethical norms. Just the sociobiology, examining the behaviour of man under his conspecifics under biologic aspects is extremely prone to take its reductionism (“group”, “clan”, “people”, “culture” etc.) for real objects. I don’t want to go into the problems of postmodern anthropology and ethnology here. Another topic I had – so to say – to learn the hard way: these norms were not to be criticised, how I was told, because they had been obtained by scientific method. To make this clearer: it was a moral framework that could be called Darwinist in a broader sense. Darwinism – this may be stressed here – is not evolutionary thought, but a social teaching deviated from it. In this, a behaviour is morally judged good or bad, to what extent it helps men – individual or in a kin group – to give their genes to a next generation as numerous as possible; brought to its end this is the “nature, the cruel queen” in her realm – I think I do not have to get more explicit; so much for my career in biology

There is no escape from this logic, if you stay in this biological positivism; this is what is called “Dialectic of Enlightenment” since World War II. But their is a chance, not to slide into barbarism with enlightenment, namely by making a step outside.


Euclid’s Elements. By changing some of the axioms, that are pretended evident to our assumption, one does not get to antinomies but to new worlds: the non-euclikic geometry

Meta means behind, beyond, and metaphysics has been another space for thought, into which we may step back to look on the physis, the nature and think ponder on what comes after having watched nature.

Stichweh: ‘If I compare science with art or religion, from outside, then science is
different in the sense that it claims that its statements are true.. […] Niklas Luhmann said that truth is science in a state of exhaustion.’
From Reinhard Breuer, Michael Springer: The truth in science.
Interview with Jürgen Ehlers und Rudolf Stichweh. GENERAL RELATIVITY AND GRAVITATION 41, Nr 9, 2159-2167 (Originally published as Breuer, R., Springer, M. “Die Wahrheit in der Wissenschaft”, Spektrum der
Wissenschaft 7/2001)

Metaphysics, this I have learned yesterday once again, is not rated high. But the question for meaning, for the essence of the unearthed scientific insight cannot be answered within the system itself. The “remaining risk” of civilian use of nuclear energy that its advocates happyly take for all men (no matter if these agree), the question if genetic engineering should be promoted, if climate change is a necessary evil of our civilisation or a crime – all are not scientific questions. Doubts with research were likly placated by politicians. “Discussion without blinkers” was the mantra of the so called Ethikrat in Germany – in plain text: stay away with your boring moral from our science!

“Limitation on cut-out, sharply isolated objects […], by the desire for exactnes aspiring to create laboratory-like conditions – refuses not just temporaryly but in principle the dealing with the totality of society. This enails that the assertions of social research often carry the character of the fruitless, peripheral […]. Unmistakably is there the danger of becominging petitfogging with stuff […]. In the effort to keep to watertight data and by discrediting every question for essence as metaphysics, it is imminent for social research to remain limited to the inessential in the name of the undoubtably correct. Often enough their objects are dictated by their methods, …” Theodor W. Adorno, “Empirische Sozialforschung” in Gesammelte Schriften, 9.2

Speculation is a second metaphysical field closely tied to sciences. Speculation does not mean to get nailed down by the normative power of the presumingly factical. By speculating we look into a “mirror and view puzzling contours”. Just by getting up from immediate experience of the collected data and abstractly think farther, a shift in paradigm can be achieved.

“No difference should exist between an animal totem, the dreams of a visonary and the absolute idea. On the way to modern science men abandon meaning. They replace the idea with the formula, cause by rule and probability.” Theodor W. Adorno, “Dialektik der Aufklärung”.

By denying an external theory discussion in the sciences, science itself becomes dogmatic. I would not go as far as Adorno by accusing the sciences to have become myths in new clothes. But by contemptibly placing metaphysics, speculations and ethic founded on faith on the same level of irrationality as esoteric and idolatry in opposition to science, science wastes the chance to reflect on itself, to keep a critical distance.
***

But indeed there is a lot going on regarding the Two Cultures. On platforms like Wikipedia exponents of both blocks confront each other regularly and have to find consensus, if there effort should not lead to endless edit-wars. The arguments sit well documented and traceable on the discussion page. There is a considerable number of blogging researchers (both sciences and humanities). In the comments the positions can be negotiated in transparent way, like it had never been possible in the past. Opinions not shared can be criticised here; everyone can contribute and cross tie via links. This participating in scientific publicity was exclusively reserved to peer-review in the old days.

The good thing of this publicity: incomprehensible and arcane terminology has bad chances to stand the discussion; bad times to curl up, make your own bed and lie in it. An open system that is by its mere way of publication – available for everyone – invites to participate. I believe that thus a “Third Culture” will evolve – like Snow had hoped in 1959.


The quadrature of the circle: take a step back, out from the flat ring of ratios into the lofty field of real numbers (what metaphor!), the radius is put in relation to circumference easily.

Slow Media and borrowed time

When more than thirty years are told,
As good as dead one is indeed

Goethe, Faust II

“Why Slow Media?” This is certainly one of the questions we get asked most frequently on events and in many conversations. “Why do you ask for more slowness in media?” For me, Hippocrates’ famous aphorism Ὁ μὲν βίος βραχύς ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρά that has been put even more concisely by Seneca, vita brevis, ars longa, is the foundation of Slow Media – if not for all different streams of the Slow Movement.

Life simply is too short to surround oneself with bad things,  to eat bad food or to read bad magazines, websites and books. Especially when approaching the middle years of one’s life and the last deadline (what an apt term!) is moving closer and closer. One of the most intense visualizations of this fact is the “Death of Altötting”, a figure that mows the remaining seconds of remaining time with a scythe.

The key question that has provoked many different answers in intellectual history, is: How to deal with this mismatch of limited life-time and unlimited culture and arts? How to deal with the awareness, that one can enjoy at best a tiny fraction of all books, films, magazines or people? Roughly sketched, there is a quantitative and a qualitative way to handle this dilemma.

The quantitative or Protestant way tries to realize as much as possible from this potential with the help of a strict plan or timetable. Benjamin Franklin’s slogan “time is money” is the clearest expression of this philosophy. It demands to productively exploit every single second of the day and to waste nothing of this precious resource by being lazy or self-indulgent. Thrift is the ideal, towards which the short remaining life should be oriented.

How different does the other way look! It focuses on quality of the borrowed time. Here, the aim is not to squeeze as much activity as possible into limited time – young adults in the U.S., for example, achieve to stuff 10:45 hours media time into just 7:38 hours life-time by parallel use of different media (Franklin surely would applaud this efficiency), but to spend the hours as well as possible. Our Slow Media Manifesto could be summed up in one sentence: Time is too short for bad media.

Collège de France philologist Harald Weinrich recounts all possible facets of this phenomenon in his highly readable book “On Borrowed Time”. One of his key points is the dualism between aged Chronos (Χρόνος), who is approaching death with a high tempo and always youthful Kairos (καιρός) who stands for the wise use of time and opportunity, which can be clearly seen in his most famous depiction:

One of his most peculiar features is his almost completely shaven head. Only on his forehead remains one head of hair. If a terrestrial being wants to catch and hold this agile god, he will have to face him and try to catch his hair. If he misses, than his hand will find no hold on the smooth skull and the right moment has been missed and slipped. [Own translation]

Even for media, there is a right time. Not every slow or fast medium is for everyone, everywhere and always the right one. But in many cases the slow, inspiring and sustainable option is the more convenient choice. And it also gives you the feeling that you have spend your brief time the best possible way.

Paradoxically, this will often be the cheaper option. Just as the flea market purchase of a high quality unused porcelain tea-set from 1957 is much cheaper than buying a nameless industrial product in a Swedish furniture store or faux-antique goods in nostalgia supermarkets, the joy of reading a very well-made book with a patina will be less expensive than the collection of cheap novel editions of newspaper publishers.

Slow Media should not to be misunderstood as a plea for something one could describe with reference to period furniture as period media. Slow Media advocates authentic media, regardless of whether bought at the newsstand (Wired, Intelligent Life, Make, Brand eins) or passed down for generations. Anything else is time wasted.

See original post in German