I was somewhat irritated earlier this month by a threader here who blithely observed that “most of your problems with technology are self-inflicted”. It’s a common response to anyone long enough in the tooth and common sense who points out that a good 90% of all programmed technology is rubbish. However, if you ask electronics experts in the business (or any good software consultant) they will tell you that badly made and designed hardware plus mentally challenged software is something the hitech sector cannot discuss in any kind of rational manner. Denial as a description doesn’t even get close.
The simple truth is that a lot of it suffers from two core problems: first, it offers only a tangential advantage at best; and second, it fucks up on a regular basis. Today I thought I’d demonstrate this with reference to just one day moving around in what is supposed to be one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.
I gave a blood and urine sample to a lab here last Monday morning. As I left, the charming receptionist gave me an ID code and the address of a national site where I’d be able to print off the results late on Wednesday afternoon. I said thank you and fed the code into the site on Thursday morning. It didn’t recognise the code. It didn’t even recognise the lab where I had the test done.
A little later we all (there are five of us at the minute) trooped into the Metro, using tickets dispensed by the machines that always have long queues because nobody understands the navigation therein. The “system” in the Metro these days is that, if you have no digital season ticket and buy a ticket ad hoc, at the other end you can just walk through the barriers “in order to keep people-traffic flowing”. It’s a good idea marred by two regular occurences. First, sometimes the barriers won’t let you walk through at the other end, as such; and second, the barriers delight in trapping people for no reason at regular intervals even if they have a ticket.
What I do a lot of the time is wait at the luggage channel, and when someone comes through, simply hold the door and walk on in the opposite direction. Most Parisians do this at some time or another, and everyone is aware of the problem.
Having all exited illegally (there is no help at hand for those unlucky enough to be imprisoned in the peage) we made for the Pompidou Centre to see a retrospective of Hockney. My girlfriend’s sister had very kindly bought tickets for all of us in advance on her phone app. The joy of this app is that it saves having to queue for a ticket once the bar code displayed by one’s device is laid upon the reception reader.
The tragedy was that first, the app wanted her to sign into its site, but the little wiggly thing just went round and round in a disappointingly anti-clockwise direction; and second, when after ten minutes we got to the code, it didn’t work. So we wound up taking twice as long to get in, by which time I had visible steam coming out of my ears. (Using an app to buy an SNCF ticket two weeks ago, the purchase refused to complete and so I abandoned it and walked to the SNCF shop instead: buying the ticket (with two changes) took me just over 50 seconds. Two days later I discovered my debit card had been blocked…because not completing the online purchase had been viewed as “probable attempted fraud”.)
The standard defence of the hitech industry is that their crap must work most of the time, because otherwise people wouldn’t be using it more and more with every month. It’s self-fulfilling nonsense: people adopt apps and online purchasing generally not because they like it that much, but because increasingly these days, no other option is on offer….and folks under forty do so because they’re either in awe of all things virtual, or have never experienced efficient personal service.
A big problem in all this is the supine consumer attitude that simply accepts sloppy presentation of time and labour-saving service. We have lost the ability to complain, and this plays into the hands of braindead neoliberals desperate to take every opportunity presented of firing human staff. I complain all the time, every day. It drives those with me mad, but I refuse to stop doing it: if everyone followed my lead, genuine structural unemployment would fall by substantial amounts, and infuriating websites designed to fob us off would cease to be.
The fourth floor of the Pompidou is devoted to modern art from 1965 to the present day. It is woefully unrepresentative of genuinely interesting output, and thus confirms (for everyone with confidence in their observation and appreciation skills) just how many scam artists’ works have made it onto gallery walls and other display surfaces over the last half century.
“What is art?” represents one of those questions guaranteed to ensure that even the least pretentious supper party can turn into a battlefield of flying crockery long before coffee is served. For my own part, I have long argued that it is at least in part about an idea, and the technique, genius, application, observation and insight involved in producing it.
Almost all the Pompidou fourth floor exhibits fail every last tenet of that “definition” of art. If it failed one or even two, you could accuse my definition of being wrong. When a work fails all six, even if you feel the definition is far from perfect you would, I suspect, find it impossible to build a case for the representation in question being art.
To me, two canvases side by side painted a blueish off white do not a work of art make. Similarly, six red and white stripes, three green, blue and grey ‘T’ shapes, a mass-produced classroom chair, a nail in a board or twelve bricks with a block of wood on top. They are designs and/or structures offered up in a banal and unremarkable way; if they are art, then every time I dress up to go somewhere special, I am a work of art. Trust me, I’m not.
One person above all who would probably dismiss such tosh as “a loard of ol’ crap” is David Hockney, and believe me it was a relief to escape to the 80 year-old Yorshireman’s retrospective on the Sixth floor. I’ve been a fan of his work for forty-five years, but seeing the complete journey in one place was – while at one and the same time stunning and revisionist – almost an overdose for the brain.
I had for example never seen his early works before. Hockney’s struggle to find a definitive style during that period was evident in the strong resemblance to much of Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes stage. Equally, some of his homoerotic California studies created twenty years later look tired today. But we are talking “some” in a vast cavalcade of media exploration here: having embraced Californian light and dazzling liquid reflection, Hockney went on to examine both Polaroid and digital technologies with a diligence that has produced a unique history of human ways and light images from one intuitive brain’s perspective.
His eclecticism is a big part of the artist’s appeal for me, but that’s just me. I admire purveyors of all art forms who present(ed) a constantly restless thirst for experiment. Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Alan Bennett, Dirk Bogarde, David Bowie, Francis Bacon, Turner, Woody Allen, George Carlin and The Beatles all had this. If you have the time and money, I urge you to see a lifetime of Hockney’s mind in action.
Coming back to Paris after a gap of almost ten years, the most notable thing is the incredible level of property investment that’s pouring into the French capital. Not much of it is for offices (there’s a dearth of foreign capital in the eurozone as a whole) and from what I’ve seen it’s split three ways: renovating ‘sights’ and monuments, new hotels, and residential.
The first two obviously reflect the dependence of Paris on tourism. As the work proceeds, the most common sights in the city are trompe l’oeil facades to disguise the endless building works, and notices asking pedestrians to use the opposite pavements in order to avoid likely decapitation. The French use the verb emprunter (to borrow) when politely asking for pedestrian cooperation, as in “Please borrow the other pavement” which I find oddly endearing. I have fantasies about walking into a bank and asking if I can borrow a pavement: it’s like it might be a unit of currency in step with the capital’s propertised economy. (There’s no such word as propertised, by the way – I just made it up. It’s what people do these days, and the new words always end in ‘ise’. They help to rationalise insanity).
The third area undoubtedly reflects the attempt of the very rich to propertise their ill-gotten financialised gains from the globalised economy, once these gains have been realised by becoming momentarily monetised. It is important to turn electronic money into property, as there are few better media for alchemically transmuting this worthless virtual exchange than physical concrete and plaster.
None of the new hotels and apartments are what you’d call mass-market, or social housing. Antisocial maybe, but not good value in any achievable sense: the prices being asked on spec are, quite frankly, for a small minority, viz, the ubiquitous 3% – assuming three people in a hundred can be ubiquitous. Look, if 48% can be a majority even when it shrinks to 32%, then anything’s possible.
The privileged few continue to create asset bubbles in their search to be somewhere safe when the fudge hits the air-conditioning. But I wonder if anyone among the ruling ENACs is giving any thought at all to how Islamic African migrants with nothing beyond a sense of injustice are going to rub along with the über rich.
They headed for Berlin and got turned back to Greece. They made camp in Calais and got redirected to Paris. They get into Italy and get turned away at the Austrian border. Now that the media are wise to that one, they’re targeting Spain.
It really doesn’t matter any more who ‘they’ are: it can only end in tears, and everyone in possession of a left brain plus five primary senses knows it.