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Tag: cities

This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Buildings, Exterior and Interior

I am profoundly uninspired tonight, so here are a couple of visual representations of potential futures:

Artwork by Tomoyuki Yamasaki.

Artwork by Tomoyuki Yamasaki.

Sorry about her extremely practical and appropriate attire.

Artwork by Joris Putteneers.

Artwork by Joris Putteneers.

If you want to read something, my friend Yael Grauer wrote about coping with her guilt about a friend’s suicide by reading their old chat logs.

Reflecting on Dystopian San Francisco Again

One of the reasons I started Exolymph is that I live in the Bay Area. San Francisco is the hottest local metropolis, so I visit occasionally, both for work and pleasure. The city is a parallel mixture of luxe yuppie haven and downtrodden slum:

“He pointed out the animated software ads wrapped around bus shelters and glowing on the sides of buildings. He reminded me that the streets smelled of urine and we were passing homeless people wrapped in rags. Sleeping on the damp sidewalk. Meanwhile, money churned in and out of Silicon Valley’s sister city.”

I’ve written about this before, as have others, so please forgive me for flogging a dead horse. But it never ceases to astound me: in this place of economic and technological abundance, you walk by people subsisting on garbage. Maybe if I’d worked in the city full-time for more than three months, I would be desensitized.

San Francisco as a floating prison colony. Artwork by Silvio Bertonati.

Artwork by Silvio Bertonati.

It’s bizarre how normal it feels to live in a dystopia. That is one of my central premises — a lot of the frightening themes of classic cyberpunk fiction have come true in one way or another, but daily life is still mundane. You and I are side characters or NPCs, not the protagonists, so all the depraved systems aren’t exciting. They’re just exhausting.

And I do feel exhausted. I feel exhausted by the constant deluge of bad news — certainly not the first to say so — and I feel exhausted by the pressure to react to each new development, to perform outrage or heartsickness for a drive-by audience.

I feel exhausted by pointing out, again and again, that while technology does “change the world” just by virtue of existing, sometimes it allocates power in scary ways. The ever-accelerating ~innovation~ will knock some of us down.

There’s no solution here. This is just how the world works. Bad things happen. New media happens. Tech businesses happen. Maybe I’d feel better about it if I were more personally laissez-faire.

Optimism (or Lack Thereof) with Civilization Fiction

I interviewed the mysterious curator behind Civilization Fiction via Tumblr chat (that was a new one). Civilization Fiction is a collection of fascinating images of futuristic cityscapes. The blog’s sidebar admonishes, “The trick is not to mind that we’re all just still-warm worm food.” (Luckily that’s never bothered me.)

From the archive grid.

From the archive grid.

Here’s our Q&A, lightly edited and condensed for readability.

Exolymph: Is this an aesthetic you’ve always been interested in?

Civilization Fiction: I’ve been collecting photos and concept art of skylines and futuristic cities for five years now. When I discovered Tumblr it was a great source of pictures for me, and it was the right platform to share my collection as well. What I’m looking for is the mood and feeling of being slightly lost or lonely in the setting of a huge metropolis.

Exolymph: Your sidebar says, “The trick is not to mind that we’re all just still-warm worm food. Bring back optimistic sci-fi.” Do you view the images you collect as optimistic? What about the economic trend they represent?

Civilization Fiction: They are somewhat optimistic because they show progress, especially in technological and economic regards. I’m not much of a tech person, but I’m interested in new technologies, especially in terms of how people use them. That’s also why I called the blog Civilization Fiction — it’s stressing the life with new technologies.

Artwork by novaillusion, recently posted by Civilization Fiction.

Artwork by novaillusion, recently posted by Civilization Fiction.

Civilization Fiction (continued): The “we’re all just still-warm worm food” line is my way of accepting death as an inevitable consequence of life. It is optimistic in the sense that we’re supposed to live our lives as compassionately as we can, because it’s the only chance we have to be good and nice company for each other. It doesn’t really matter if a Star Trek-like utopia is scientifically plausible when it manages to inspire people to hope and work for a better world.

Exolymph: Do you feel optimistic about the state of the world in general?

Civilization Fiction: I’m afraid not. However, I try to be optimistic and still hope for a brighter future. After all, we only have this world and a single attempt at life, so it would be a shame to waste it and not try to make it a better place.

Exolymph: Can you elaborate on your worries?

Civilization Fiction: While I see a lot of potential in many technologies, I see them also wasted. The internet is a prime example: it can be (and is) used for worldwide communication and education, but as far as I’m aware, most of the data sent is selfies, pornography, and marketing campaigns.

And I expect that when AI technologies are achieved, they won’t first be applied to medical problems, solving world hunger or anything like that, but rather to make a profit at the stock market. That’s just my take on human nature and I really hope the future proves me wrong.

Exolymph: Me too… But I have similar worries.

If you frequent Tumblr, I recommend following Civilization Fiction, and the collection of images is worth perusing regardless.

Empty Ankles + Empty Womb

Trigger warning(s) for blood and grief.

I am standing outside the entrance to the train station, yelling. My voice is so loud that it hurts my throat. I’m howling through the grey air. Is it smog, is it fog, or is it just smoke? Tourists aren’t sure unless they downloaded that one app released by the company that got so much funding. It’s gangbusters. When tourists end up here they wish the app were really gangbusters — I mean they wish that it broke up literal gangs. Tourists don’t come here on purpose very often. There are cooler places to take snapshots of #slumming than an actual not-quite-slum.

My noise has not prompted anyone to call the police. We’re not in a calling-the-police part of town. A few exasperated glares — is it a glare if it only lasts a few seconds, or does that mean it’s just a glance? Pedestrians walk a half-moon around me as they leave the station, keeping their distance.

I’m angry. Oh, it’s easy to be angry.

A guy is sitting on the concrete bench that circles the forlorn-looking landscape installation from the early 2000s. He leans his head on the scraggly little tree behind him. Its base is surrounded by fast-food wrappers. The guy is watching me. I’ve balled up my fists like a cartoon character. He can’t hear my yelling because of the boombox that sits at his feet, plugged into his ankles above bulky sneakers. The rubber coating on the cables looks battered, nicked in places. I know the music is traveling up through his nervous system to the brain and back down again. I’ve felt that. There are ports in my ankles too — to the left and right of the Achilles tendons in the left and right foot, respectively. My ports are empty.

The port is the place where a ship comes to dock. Centuries ago this was a port city, and wooden ships groaned across the ocean, traveling through the nascent networks of global commerce. Water still carries everything — it’s cheaper — but the drone boats unload a couple of cities away from here. We’ve lost our edge. The most important thing is to be the most important market. The most important market is somewhere with jobs.

I am yelling because I had a miscarriage. The reason for my public insanity is matter-of-fact. It was intensely physical, losing the fetus. The pain in my abdomen; crouching in the bathtub, gripping the sides and rocking back and forth. A clump of biomatter too thick to pass down the drain. And now I find that I must express my sorrow violently. There is power in demanding attention. The blood came out of me in private; the grief will be seen. I am mourning the child that wasn’t a child yet.

The man sitting on the bench yanks the cords from his ankles, grabs the boombox, and stands up. He takes a step toward me, dodges commuters, and takes another step. He’s wearing a long-sleeve shirt and bumpy corduroy pants. This is a violation — he is approaching me; breaking the rule that you’re supposed to ignore crazy people. I feel alarm in my stomach, a jump in adrenaline.

“Hey,” he says. “Shut the fuck up.”

“You could hear me through the system?” I jerk my chin at his boombox.

He shrugs and turns abruptly to descend into the train station.

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