1. Januar 2019

OREO-based Binary Encoding-System

From Comics with Problems, an OREO-based binary Encoding-System suitable for any message and surely for „OREREREREREREOOOOO“ or „REREO“ or even „I like Oreos and I find this thingy actually funny and you really actually could encode real actual messages with this binary system how cool is that!“ (via Johannes Tietje auf FB)

The alienating Architecture of J.G. Ballard

Geoff Manaughs musings on the always excellent Bldgblg about the use of architecture in J.G. Ballards scifi-novels ring a bell and he rightly compares the alienating buildings and environments in Ballards text and their impact on the human psyche to the web and social media.

Especially Concrete Island which I'm reading an the moment seems fitting: A man crashes his car down into a traffic island on a huge highway and can't find a way out. He's completely lost in the structure, all his attempts to gain the attention of driving by cars is lost in decontextualization (they see a homeless man, or no one, or just some guy, but never a person in need after an accident). Ballards High-Rise too has a lot to say about the dynamics of the human psyche in overcrowded environments under pressure (like, say, the demands social media attention-economy puts on the individual). This is why I bought a loot of old scifi-pulp of yore (and their covers may have played a part, okay) and keep digging in them for ideas and metaphors of our new glory hallelujah of a digital shitshow.

Something I’ve always loved about the architectural novels of J. G. Ballard—his excellent but under-rated Super-Cannes, the classic High-Rise, even, to an infrastructural extent, Concrete Island and Crash—is their suggestion that Modernism had produced a built environment so psychologically novel that humans did not fully understand how to inhabit it.

Ballard recasts residential towers on the edge of the city, for example, as fundamentally alienating, often inhumanly so, as if those structures’ bewildered new residents are encountering not a thoughtfully designed building but the spatial effects of an algorithm, a code stuck auto-suggesting new floors, supermarkets, and parking lots when any sane designer would long ago have put down the drafting pen.

Ballard’s novels suggest that these buildings should perhaps have come with a user’s guide, even a live-in psychiatrist for helping residents adapt to the otherwise unaccommodating, semi-psychotic emptiness of an un-ornamented Modern interior, a soothing Virgil for all those cavernous lobbies and late-night motorways.

Briefly, I might add that, in today’s age of questioning what it is that algorithms really want—for example, critiquing why social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and, especially, YouTube recommend what they do—we are essentially repeating the same questions Ballard asked about modern urban planning and architectural design. Do we really want these spaces being foisted on us by a design ideology—a cultural algorithm—and, much more interestingly, Ballard asked, are we psychologically prepared for them when they arrive?

Perhaps Ballard’s characters sent reeling by the elevator banks of endless high-rise apartment complexes are not all that different from someone being red-pilled by YouTube autoplay recommendations today: they are both confronting something designed to fulfill the ideological needs of a rationality gone awry. Seen this way, Le Corbusier could be compared to a YouTube engineer too enthralled by the inhuman power of his own design algorithm to ask whether it was recommending the right thing (cf. Patrik Schumacher).

In any case, I mention all this because one fascinating—and real—example of psychiatrists tasked with evaluating a new spatial environment for its effects on human beings comes not from architecture but from the early days of the long-mission nuclear submarine. We might say that, while J. G. Ballard himself remained on land and in the cities, the true Ballardian environment was offshore and heavily militarized, a hermetically sealed psychological experiment prowling the ocean depths.

Papers such as “Human Adjustment to an Exotic Environment: The Nuclear Submarine,” “An Experience in Submarine Psychiatry,” and “Psychiatry and the Nuclear Submarine,” all published in the late 1960s, suggested that humans might well be undone by an encounter with an environment of their own making—perhaps an early foreshadowing of how we will greet the Anthropocene.