Writing in Newspapers and Magazines

April 2, 2012

I’ve been busy writing lately, and I should probably point to it…

I’m now writing a fortnightly column for the Observer Books section, entitled ‘The New Reading’ and shared with Anna Baddeley of The Omnivore. Long-time readers of this blog are unlikely to be surprised by the content, but it’s good to see that most old-school of literary organs, the broadsheet review section, taking the subject of electronic books to its readers, alongside more traditional content. The first two columns are up now, on Visual Editions’ iPad app and electronic bookmarking, and the third will follow this week-end, on Robin Sloan’s Fish.

I wrote a piece for the Ideas Bank section of WIRED UK’s most recent edition (May 2012). It’s about publishing, leaning heavily on The New Value of Text. You know, this kind of thing…

[…] Books are amenable to interaction analysis, but those interactions are so complex, so embedded in our minds and in our culture, that it seems impossible to separate them from the thing itself. Books are encoded experiences, they are repositories of the experiences we have with them, and they are ultimately souvenirs of themselves, extraordinarily powerful totems of the imagination. They bear the marks of their use in a way few other cultural products do, something which initially set them apart from words trapped behind screens.

The publishing industry has long profited from this unique assemblage of product and meaning. As a result, it has been slow to respond, philosophically and organisationally, to the challenge of new media. […]

[UPDATE: The complete article is now online]

I also wrote about cameraphones for ICON magazine’s mobile phone special issue. I even got a George Clooney quote in.

In August 2006, when the photo-sharing website Flickr launched “geotagging”—allowing its members to place photos on a map of the world to show where they were taken, it was hosting 230 million photos from 4.5 million registered users. By the end of 2011, this had increased to more than 6 billion photos, and over 300 million of them have been placed on the map.

Eric Fischer, a San Francisco-based artist and technologist, has used Flickr’s photographs to create “The Geotagger’s World Atlas”—maps of world cities entirely made out of the locations where photos have been taken—and “Locals and Tourists”—the same maps with the dots coloured based on the origin of the photographer. In both cases, the density of the mappings is such that the contours of the underlying cities are sharply revealed, right down to the edges of parks, squares and intersections. A 1:1 map of the world; the representation as territory.

In 2009, the iPhone overtook everything from cheap point and shoots to high-end DSLRs to become the most popular camera on Flickr, a service biased towards people who take photography a little more seriously than most. And while Flickr took seven and a half years to reach that 6 billion figure, Facebook got to 60 billion in the same time frame, and reckons that it handles over 100 million photo uploads every single day. And almost all of that is because of cameraphones.

Consider the strangeness of that word for a moment. Consider the strangeness of “I’m just going to take a photo of that with my phone”. The mobile electronic eye. “Pics or GTFO”.

The first cameraphones appeared in the mid-to-late 1990s as miniaturisation advanced, but it was the parallel development of sharing technologies that made the technology explode. On June 11, 1997, Philippe Kahn, developer of the first true cameraphone, wirelessly transmitted pictures of his daughter Sophie’s birth from the maternity ward to more than 2,000 people around the world. By 2003, more cameraphones were being sold than stand-alone digital cameras. In 2008, Nokia overtook Kodak to became the world’s largest camera manufacturer.

Now, it is almost inconceivable that an event in the Metropolitan West might go unwitnessed and unrecorded: whether it’s an amusing graffito or an aeroplane bellyflopping into the Hudson river, the cameraphone manages to simultaneously make the everyday spectacular and the spectacular pedestrian. George Clooney, a man who hires his own satellites to scan the earth for evidence of war crimes, recently noted: “Now that every single human being on earth has a camera phone, where are all those UFO pictures? Remember you used to see those pictures. Some guy just happened to have a Polaroid when the UFOs appeared? Either it was all bullshit, or my theory is that the martians have decided, ‘Don’t go down there, man. All those fuckers have cameras now.'”

Much praise needs to go to Andy Gilmore for the incredible illustrations accompanying the ICON article. Lot’s more good stuff in there from Lee Rourke, Matt Jones and the (un)like.

A few more coming soon; I shall try to remember to post. I like writing.

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