As evidenced by my most recent visits here, after hosting a virtual reunion for my '90s computer art collective Mistigris
in 2014 -- the then-extinguished milieu I was jonesing for when I first found my way to Everything -- I wanted to get back on that horse and continue with our old, strange traditions... one of which was the curation of a collection of terrible art every April, in celebration of that fishy fool. For my first Fool's pack of the 21st century, I went all-out, juxtaposing those increditerrible futurist manifesto
s I enraged DMan by posting here with the BOFH
s of my online youth into this, one glorious, incoherent (w)hole. Artpack infofiles aside ("please allow me to sit down and briefly summarize what you've missed over the past 16 years") this was likely my first sustained work of long-form creative writing since parting ways from this site (which also, curiously, occurred 16 years ago):
PEBCAK: Everything's amazing and nobody's happy.
(Of course in 2019 it is awkward launching a screed that literally opens on the quote that catapulted Louis CK
to virality. The culture moves fast these days! Back in 2015 we had no idea, because... you have to admit, while the generalities are woefully predictable, the particulars seemed quite unlikely! Incredibly, no one seems to have annotated his existing bio here with the, let's face it, substantial new developments, so I guess we're all in 2015 over here.*
IN AN ERA where everything wants to be fast and beautiful, we must be brave enough to take a stand for slowness and uglyness. Where things are smooth and pleasant, we must be chunky, choppy, lumpy and contrary. Instead of ease of use, we must insist on inconvenience and frustration. For too long the users have been getting a free ride on the backs on the hardware. Above all else we hate accessibility and responsiveness. Our idealised iPod would be turned inside-out, looking and feeling like a toxic tropical caterpillar, actually sucking music out of your head through little white earplug siphons.
Speed is the enemy, for it takes us there before we are ready to arrive, too irritable in the jarring, abrupt transition to appreciate the wasted miracle, and generally ungratefully unworthy of the future superimposed on our present. A slow process allows the mind to explore alternate avenues and investigate possible outcomes in its own imaginary simulations, ultimately achieving the subconscious conclusion that the goal or objective of the process is extraneous, as the mind has already delivered us there after exhausting all possible permutations.
When we get there we are underwhelmed, but disappointed for a good reason: for our native flesh having triumphed over our broken silicon child.
Any new, well-performing machine can be hobbled and crippled until achieving a virtuous limping degree of only pseudo-function. Invert the screen-saver to only kick in while taking user input, which is only accepted while the Guru Meditation Board is centered. Rig up the Coke machine at the end of the hall to reply to telnet visitors asking how many Cokes are in the machine, but secretly replace the cans of Coca-Cola with angry bees. Smoke banana peels because the tfiles told you to. Wardial pizza parlours and prank them into delivering to each other. Overclock your 386, and make it work at least as well as a 436. Point your webcam at its own stream on the monitor and invite visitors to give you feedback. Refuse to take a side on an issue until Eliza or Racter can decisively come out on top in a debate.
Nothing is as desirable to us as an inexplicable error or glitch producing emergent undesired behavior, an unexpected middle (finger) point between the expectations of the user and the machine's interpretation of the program's actual instructions, this third place a result of a kludgey and poorly-understood (or outright ineffective) mechanism unknown to the user hoped to achieve some tangential outcome, like tapeworm eggs sold as diet pills: Rename FORMAT to TIDY_UP; replace your monitor's "off" switch with a handgun; code your spaghetti! Every optical disc tray is a cupholder. Re-use stale random numbers. Delete data files from your applications until they stop working, then undelete the straw that broke the camel's back. Use a hex-editor to scrawl obscene graffiti in critical sectors and delight at the unpredictable effects!
Make every key a boss key, and why are those key caps still in their original locations, anyway? You did change to the Dvorak layout, didn't you? Use a system font that automatically ROT13s any output. Any change that results in the system beeping is an improvement. See just how long you can protract your machine's boot-up sequence, or if indeed you can forestall its ever completely successfully booting. MS-DOS ain't done until Lotus won't run. By delivering precisely the opposite service as it suggests, no hardware function is more beloved of us than the TURBO button, and the use of the three-finger salute to initiate logins is a source of endless delight.
> I AM THE COOKIE BEAR. GIVE ME A COOKIE.
Make every computing device a trapped puzzle-box of an onion, resisting, attacking and stinging in response to attempts by outsiders to access the most harmless functions, nested and buried beneath obfuscating layers of deceptive interface like a secret presidential underground subway line. Direct it even to defend against use attempts from its creator, to keep you on your toes. After exhausting 106 ID errors, you must embody 107. Every interaction must surprise and dismay you in a new and unexpected way. Your machine feeds on your skin, found in the fan enclosure in great, snowy drifts, but have you recently bled on the sharpness of a circuit board? Pit a worm against a trojan and breed a better malware. Screw no boards, peripherals or cables into place, unless you are entrenching them in the wrong port. Turn your command line into a text adventure with mazes, carry limits, hunger daemons, and darkness. Make merely getting to a terminal window a grand triumph, the high point of your week arrived at only after hours of struggle. Synthesize vi and emacs into a blend featuring the problems of both and the features of neither. To disorient, add shareware nag screens with countdowns to software you have already purchased a license to use. Grind your system to a halt with desktop assistants and search bars. Develop your touch-typing by conducting all your business on a
Beauty is the red stare of a modem's LED continuing to shine after you have unplugged its power source.
The first application for any new technology is to brutalize human flesh; the second is to draw pictures of naked ladies. You were put here on this weird wired world to invert that sequence.
Life's a bitter kind of joke;
let out all the magic smoke.
Watch out for the killer POKE!
Hack until you croak.
Everyone's amazing and nothing's happy.
(Shouts out to our brothers in CDC, l0PHt, the Chaos Computer Club, and of course Concrete and the iLF (imagination liberation front, which is gonna rock you.)
Free the disappeared political prisoners of the 604 detained without charge by Bob Eden and Detective Dennis Thiessen!!! The d0c hasn't been seen since he compromised UTV's newsroom. FREE KEVIN!
That piece got away from me a little bit, and I had to perform some emergency surgery to get it back on track -- to a place of silly stupidity, rather than the dark and pointed conclusion it was leading me to. But I revisited the excised paragraphs six months later in the infofile to the MIST1016 artpack collection:
Despite weeks of preparations, I'm going a little bit crazy putting together and packaging the artpack, having been awake for nearly 24 hours continuously. So we are perhaps best served by my invoking my feverish futurist manifesto in this past April's Fool's Pack. After pages of nonsense advocating for the misuse and abuse of computers so as to breed a tougher computer user, I had to skip to the end as I found myself accidentally coming to a totally unfunny point culminating in its conclusion:
that our electronic technology was initially devised for military pursuits, since computers were rooms full of women using slide rules to calculate artillery strikes, and the IBM men in their three-piece suits knew of several unorthodox applications for a counting machine; that a decade of our best university students pored over mainframes engaging curious optimization puzzles, as though they believed that the army-sponsored contests for the best crop dusting routines weren't in fact employed to more efficiently disperse napalm and Agent Orange among civilian populations.
This bloody original sin truth behind computers and the InterNet compel us toward a single stark conclusion: that the most responsible thing to do with the technology is to misuse it, to misallocate the resources from their intended function, with art the world's greatest misallocation of resources; every CPU cycle not invested into setting children on fire is worthwhile.
Computer art hence isn't just a novelty or a curio, but rather the only moral use of this equipment, ideally tying it up indefinitely for indulgent and frivolous pursuits.
... which brings me around, in a perhaps more justifiable way, to my initial conclusion, that:
The first application for any new technology is to brutalize human flesh and crush the spirit; the second is to draw pictures of naked ladies. We only win if the latter outweighs the former by a significant margin.
Thanks for the 21 years!
October 31, 2015
(I made a CK-ian gaffe myself in the repeated conclusion, but hopefully you can cut me a little bit of slack, inasmuch as the motivating impetus of this piece was to make a work of bad art. I don't actually believe, despite what the western canon of fine art has taught me, that the objectification of women is the one true culmination of society.)
* "we're all in 2015 over here" was admittedly not clear, it was a nod to a write-up's tendency to remain frozen in time unless the author actively comes back around and updates it or someone swings by and leaves a historically frowned-on "by the way, you missed some important details" sub write-up. It's more difficult to fairly represent moving targets and evolving subjects here over time.