Posts Tagged ‘tim flannery’
During the David Tennant years of Doctor Who when planets or the TARDIS needed to be rendered invisible they were placed a second out of sync. The Australian technology market is a second out of sync. We’re a secondary market, hardware goes on sale weeks or months after it’s become available in America and the major European countries. The rights for digital versions of books, music and television and film are caught up in byzantine trade protection agreements from the analogue era meant to protect Australian producers and retailers from being wiped out by cheap imports of physical goods. And our experience can be coarse, many of the services and apps that build upon basic services – Outside.in for aggregating local news, for example – aren’t available here yet while they’re being incubated by venture capitalists and developing a business model to sustain their expansion into new territories.
In America for 16 years, first in New York and then Los Angeles, I researched and wrote about technology. The big F Future. Telerobotics, mathematics, engineering. Apart from buying the first Sony Walkman I could get my hands on in 1980 I’ve been a late adopter. I’m guided by William Gibson’s perspective. He told a reviewer that he wasn’t a seer: “I think I’m more of an interpreter of technologies, an amateur anthropologist. I’m a sort of Victorian weekend naturalist of technology.’
When I returned to Australia in 2002 I didn’t return to journalism. The media market was already in a downturn and my interests are too technical and arcane. I couldn’t find in them pitches for 500 word articles about the next hit consumer electronics device. The mainstream media in Australia is caught on the forward march of innovation started during the Industrial Revolution. I was at the Apple store in Sydney one day earlier this year, looking at printers I think. It was the day that the iPad went on sale in America. A local television news crew stood outside with an iPad they’d had flown in and asked people if they’d be buying one when they went on sale in Australia in a few months time.
Being completely out of the loop has its advantages though. I became atemporal. I started reading for interest again rather than to forage for morsels that might might be worked up into magazine articles. I’ve been interested in palaeontology since I was a child and it now seemed that we might be in a new geological era, the Anthropocene, where the human impact on natural systems since the Industrial Revolution has become so great that we’re driving changes in the natural world.
“Who knows what might result if more people knew they were in the midst of creating and leaving behind an unprecedented impact – one that can be measured geologically?” wrote the Friends of the Pleistocene. “Maybe humans could learn something from this change – if not about our impact, then at least about ourselves within a much longer geologic story.”
And I started reading about Australian history, starting way, way back before any human habitation, with Tim Flannery’s book The Future Eaters, and then from the time Europeans colonised Australia in the late 18th century, through exhibitions at the State Library of New South Wales. When I was a child in the middle of the twentieth century we were taught only the glories of the British Empire, and it was clear that Australia wasn’t considered one of them. Tim Flannery quoted Charles Darwin’s impressions of Australia when he visited in 1836:
“The rapid prosperity and future prospects of this colony are to me, not understanding these subjects, very puzzling. The two main exports are wool and whale oil, and to both of these productions there is a limit … Pasture everywhere so thin that settlers have already pushed far into the interior: moreover the country further inland becomes extremely poor. Agriculture, on account of the droughts, can never succeed on an extended scale: therefore, so far as I can see, Australia must ultimately depend upon being the centre of commerce for the southern hemisphere, and perhaps on her future manufactories. Possessing coal, she always has the moving power at hand. From the hospitable country extending along the coast, and from her English extraction, she is sure to be a maritime nation. I formerly imagined that Australia would rise to be as grand and powerful a country as North America, but now it appears to me that such future grandeur is rather problematical.”
I became a journalist in Australia during the punk rock era, writing about music for a few years before moving onto architecture, design and technology. At that time I didn’t have a frame of reference for the popular music the bands were inspired by, I focused on the way their own interests, in art, literature, philosophy, urbanism, science, architecture, film, theatre, dance and theology, were feeding into their music as they were developing their own musical styles.
I was in thrall to the Walkman. I had an inkling that it had the potential to change our experience of music in as profound a way as Gutenberg’s printing technologies had changed our experience of books, making them private, portable experiences. And Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner and William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer defined the world I was living in.
I had a detached “Victorian weekend naturalist’s” view of the music scene in the punk rock era in Australia. I was able to formulate my impressions after hearing William Gibson read from his novel All Tomorrow’s Parties at my neighbourhood bookstore in Los Angeles in 1999. In his novel the world as we know it would end as the millennium turned but no-one would notice he said. His mythology and metaphors are dense and open to many interpretations but what gradually became apparent early in the 21st century was that the Industrial Revolution’s model of mining fossil fuels and creating masses of products in massive factories in remote locations was unsustainable. Humanity was at a crossroads. One path kept going in the same direction, amping up innovation, suggesting that the answer to our environmental problems is genetic engineering of foodstuffs, geoengineering specific changes in the earth’s weather patterns, and modifying how we make things in factories, tweaking the system to make the whole process less toxic. The other path is gradually feeling for a pre-industrial society of villages within cities that are self-sustaining, growing their own food and sharing and bartering goods and services and creating a more humble, integrated connection with the natural world.
When I thought back to the punk rock era in Australia I thought about how it was a time between times, of the analogue era fading and the digital era yet to settle in. The punk rock bands were able to use that to their advantage. Somehow the notion took hold around the world at roughly the same time that musicians could record and press their own vinyl records and sell them at their shows and in independent record stores at home and internationally. It wasn’t a sustainable business model. These musicians had the instincts of todays digital social networks and none of the tools. They had to manufacture and export records and deal with complex financial negotiations that were difficult and costly at the time: currency translation and wiring money between countries, import and export duties and taxes. The most popular musicians were taken up by traditional record companies and the most successful independent labels made distribution deals with them.
The international record companies defined music as whatever they were recording and selling: “unsigned” artists didn’t inhabit the same universe. At the beginning the musicians of the punk rock era felt that the commercial, industrial record business had little to do with them, that the music being sold didn’t reflect their interests or their world. In the 1970‘s there were some commercially successful Australian musicians who used the names of American towns in their songs. Robert Forster of the Go Betweens says it’s hard to imagine now how strange it was, at the time, that the Saints and the Go Betweens would refer to Brisbane in their songs.
The announcement of Apple’s Ping social media service embedded within iTunes gave me the sensation of dejavu. At the time that we’re moving from a world of manufactured, branded media and products – collaborative consumption, the sharing and bartering and trading of services is gaining ground – Apple is behaving like a 1970’s record company. It defines music as what’s sold within iTunes. It classifies music according to sales categories. I don’t want to “follow your favourite artists with a click and become part of their inner circle”. Or “Get in on the action with artist photos and status updates. Even add comments to join the conversation”. I can already do that through Twitter. I can go to Last.fm to hear music that isn’t available for sale through iTunes in my territory.
I’m waiting this round out. I figure I’ll migrate to an open, non-commercial platform at some stage. I want I simpler things from Apple. Full composer and musician credits when I download songs. I want to be able to buy, through my Kindle iPhone app, a book that might only appeal to 10, maybe a hundred max, readers in Australia that’s “not available to customers in Australia”. I don’t want to be told by Kindle app to go to the Australian store and buy something else. I don’t want to buy the Apple TV service and stream what local broadcasters have decided everyone should watch. I want to be able to stream a season 8 of a television series that was broadcast in England a year ago and hasn’t been programmed here. If Ethan Iverson’s blog refers to pioneer jazz musicians I want my music player find samples of the music in the Smithsonian Museum’s online catalogue and queue them up for me to listen to while I’m reading his story.