Tags as locations

Like a surprising number of people I have a pseudo-stalker on Instagram. Not in a creepy way – just someone who likes absolutely everything I post regardless of content, but who I have no other connection with and have had no other contact with. No comments are left, no contact on Twitter or other platforms. Just a consistent heart for every photo or video I post. It’s weird, but also oddly reassuring.

Mine is a young lady, late teens, maybe early 20s, and I followed her back, of course. Mostly it’s mundane stuff but, like the young ladies who run the rabbit accounts our bunnies follow, she occasionally gives an insight into how people are hacking the Instagram system to make it work better for them. Today I came across a fascinating new hack.

Above each photo on Instagram is the name of the poster and, optionally, the location where the photo was taken. This is set by either choosing a location from a database of places, or the user can create a new location if it’s not already there. It’s a messy system with lots of duplicates but it allows for a very granular level of specificity.

This granularity has been taken to a new level by combining it with content tagging. My stalker has started using the location field to describe what she’s doing, naming the location after the activity taking place, even if that act is simply posting a photo which has nothing to do with that location. I posted a photo while I was standing here, and this is what it’s about.

2015-06-21 16.13.04

It brings into question the whole notion of naming places. We name a place as a way of sharing a specific location amongst a community. If everyone knows that a location is called “Sparrow Hill” then we can arrange to meet there and we can tell stories and associate memories with that location which can be shared and merged through the community.

But on a digital platform like Instagram the name of the location is pretty irrelevant as it’s also stored as co-ordinates which enable it to associate photos across the entire network with a place regardless of any shared naming strategies. (Admittedly Instagram doesn’t expose this information to the users, but that’s not the point – they could if they wanted to (and probably do to their advertisers.))

What my stalker is doing, then, is keeping the co-ordinate system for the photo for some reason I can only speculate, but abandoning, or co-opting the naming system for her own arbitrary use, and in doing so polluting the already muddy place-name database. I suspect she’s doing this primarily because the place name is displayed in a prominent place which she doesn’t feel it deserves, but the side effect of using something so historically powerful as The Naming Of Places is deliciously fascinating to me.

Friday

Busy Camera Obscura day with Jenny. We did the following:

  • Planned out some events, specifically the launch of the camera at CoCoMad on the 4th.
  • Met with a lady who’s interested in our Open Call. She was lovely and had the delightful idea of singing to people while inside the camera with them. I want to see this happen.
  • Worked out an electrical wiring strategy with help from Nikki.
  • Walked around the Rag Market looking at fabric to make curtains for the camera with.
  • Fixed the new curtain supports to the camera and designed the curtains.

      And then when Jenny left I made the curtains and roof out of black plastic and duct tape. This will form the inner, black-out section on top of which we’ll put an attractive cloth cover. It’s not quite finished but I achieved the difficult bit!

      Here’s a photo which doesn’t really show you anything because it’s all black plastic. Imagine it with nice material over it.

      IMG_3121

Thursday

Quick one as I’m writing this on Friday and have a busy day ahead.

Went to BOM to set up the camera for someone interested in our open call. The gallery was being hired out so had to build it outside on the pavement, which was actually a bonus as it’s good to test it outdoors.

After that stayed at BOM for a few hours and worked on some stuff.

Managed to break the BOM website by upgrading a plugin. First time in a while plugin incompatibility has done that for me. But couldn’t fix it because I didn’t have FTP access and the guy who set it up was at a music festival. (Now fixed.)

Then I came home.

Wednesday

Dropped the five boxes of comics off at Oxfam in Kings Heath. Looking at them in the car it occurred to me they will probably raise a fair amount of money, which is a nice byproduct of my selfish desire to be rid of them. They’re going to have their comics nerd volunteer look them over tomorrow so should be on sale for the weekend, if you fancy a shufty.

Did some work for Fi’s client, mostly photo processing and a bit of WordPress maintenance.

Drove into town with a car full of plastic boxes and all my cables – USB, ethernet, power, audio, etc – and some other stuff that’s more useful to have at BOM than at home. I now have a 5ft tower of plastic drawers with my stuff in, which can be borrowed by people at BOM if they ask first. The plan is we all have similar personal storage for our stuff, complemented by a communal section which anyone can help themselves to. It’s slowly coming together.

At six I was due to go to Shout About Brum Presents – How To Bring Culture To The Public, an event that I’d snarked at last week and then got pulled up for snarking at, so I thought I’d put my money where my snark was. But in the end I decided not to go. If I was proven right and it was all bollocks then that would be depressing. And if I was proven wrong and it was all awesome then I’d be sucked in and I need to focus on my own stuff right now. Both a positive and a negative result would have been bad for me, so best not go at all.

Ultimately, these things, while potentially misguided and ineffectual, are not a big problem. If they produce a few short term nice things and get a bunch of people working together then that’s a good thing. And if they should stumble upon something amazing then that’s a great thing. I do worry that some people involved will wind up burned out and bitter, like many before them, but maybe people need to go through that process. Only when Birmingham has failed you, and you have failed Birmingham, can you make start to make a real difference.

Am currently mainlining Game of Thrones season 5. It’s the same old Game of Thrones which means it’s like the books only better written and gets to the point.

Tuesday

Today ended with a Skype with mother in New Zealand, hence writing this the morning after as we tend to go on a bit.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 23.54.21

While talking about my, shall we say, difficult weekend I coined the term “cognitive anchors” and Fi snorted with dismissal as she left the room. Sigh.

Before that I was at BOM for a while, working on processing this article about Flusser. It’s quite exciting, actually, hooking into all manner of things I’ve been pondering this last year, particularly the “act of photography” stuff.

Flusser claimed that the content of any given photograph is actually the camera that produced it. He continued with a series of nested apparatuses: The content of the camera is the programming that makes it function; the content of the programming is the photographic industry that produces it; and the content of the photographic industry is the military-industrial complex in which it is situated, and so forth. He viewed photography from a completely technical standpoint. In Flusser’s view, the traditional content of the cultural artifact is completely subsumed by the apparatuses — technical, political, social, and industrial — surrounding, and thereby defining, it.

I’m thinking this opens up a whole load of stuff about the systems that surround photography, from the modes in which we shoot (photo walk, acceptable situations, social codes) to the equipment we use (Nikon vs Canon vs Apple vs Samsung etc) to networks we share on (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). And it get away from the tedious stuff of the photographs themselves. Nice.

Had a catch-up with Young Andy about his plans. He wants to do a festival of films about walking, and also wants me to narrate his third film about Digbeth (Here’s one and two), based on the ill-informed and half-remembered ramblings I do when taking people on walks around that area. Should be fun.

Monday

Feeling much better today, mentally and physically. The back-pain was much less this morning and has all but gone now. Meanwhile the mood has lifted after a day of being proactive about some of the things that were bugging me. Also, Supersonic has finished so I no longer feel weird about not wanting to go.

First job of the day was to drive to Hams Hall, a sprawling industrial estate on the other side of the motorway which long term readers will remember I walked home from back in 2004 on the day John Peel died and this was, I think, my first time back there. I photographed an articulated lorry for Fiona’s client. I then went back to their office and photographed one of the staff on the phone to use on the contact us section of their website. It’s a glamorous life, I tell you. Finding myself a fair distance from home I decided to pop to IKEA, opting for the Coventry branch since it was closer. Driving there was a breeze and this not being some school holiday IKEA was delightful. I got everything I needed and headed home.

The IKEA haul was mostly for their nice A4 cardboard boxes which they do for 80p each. I’d heard back from the National Art Library and they’re interested in my collection of self published comics and zines but space is an issue so they need to make a good case. Initially, though, they needed to know how much material I was donating. It all fits into 14 of those boxes which adds up to 0.31 cubic metres, or 310 litres of paper. Even if they can’t take them, at least I’ve isolated the collection now and can put it somewhere.

I then started looking at everything that wasn’t worthy of the V&A’s space, namely the rest of my comics. I stacked up the pamphlets and gave Danny a ring to see if he’s like them. Sadly he too had been getting rid of stuff so had to decline, but he did tell me that Oxfam bookshops take comics, which hadn’t occurred to me. So I threw them in a box and wrote Oxfam on it, and then moved on to the comics-with-spines.

There are now four big boxes with Oxfam written on them and a whole chunk of empty shelving. I’ve kept the stuff I want to keep and have boxed-up-to-get-rid-of the stuff I was holding on to out of some weird obligation to the medium of comics. There’s a bit more shuffling around to do but soon I’ll have a couple of book cases full of stuff that has no baggage attached to it. Just books.

It’s hard to say how big a relief that is. I started this stuff in 1988 and now, 27 years later, it’s all going to end.

Sunday

The good thing about being a long term depression sufferer is you learn to identify when you’re in the middle of a [metaphor for the unexplainable] which means even if you can’t do anything about it, you know what it is and that it’ll probably pass soon, because it always probably passes soon. Somewhat amusingly advice for a similar situation passed through my streams last week, concerning creative slumps for cartoonists, which is wonderfully universal, at least for creative types.

I find my slumps and various anxieties kick in right after a good, productive spell of work (obviously, how else would I know I was in a slump?). To me, it seems a major slump happens when I have gotten used to what I am doing. The stuff I thought was a bit of a personal breakthrough no longer feel like an achievement, the quality of work that I have been producing that I was satisfied with no longer feels acceptable to settle for. Slumps come when you realize that you can still push further, your work can still improve, but understanding how to do that hasn’t quite happened yet.

In short, a slump, if you don’t let it trip you up, is the beginning of a new cycle of improvement. Stop trying to draw and paint what felt like an achievement two months ago, step out of your comfort zone and embrace the failures you need to make in order to progress.

That feels a lot like what I’ve been going through over the last week, albeit compounded by some Fuckheaded Peter nonsense. So it’s nice to have the idea that I’m on the cusp of something new, even as all my ideas and experiments fall to shit around me. It does make sense, that my utter dismissal of my work is part of the process of doing better work, and I’ve come across it before. Ira Glass’s “you hate your work because you have great taste” comes to mind, and it’s really good.

Anyway, so I’ve spent the weekend in that slump. I’ve also had a really bad back which came on Saturday morning so I think I slept funny and is only just fading now on Sunday night. It’s not the usual neck-and-shoulder, more right in the middle of my back muscles, and it doesn’t help the mood none. Ibuprofen is my friend right now.

Not much more to report other than I tried making some work that turned out shite. My plan is to keep trying to make work until it’s not shite.

Oh, and Fiona has been wonderful all weekend, despite the load I’ve dumped on her. She’s a keeper, that one.

Saturday

So it’s 11pm and should be at Supersonic right now but I’m not. I’ve had a bit of a weird day. I thought I might have been having a very mild panic attack earlier, which was a very weird thing to have in advance of going to an event I’ve been attending for years and where many people I know and like will be.

Alongside this I found myself staring at all the comics and zines in the spare room* (where Fi is now working) wondering what to do with them, but ultimately wanting to be rid of them. Which is a strange urge as I’ve had them sitting around for a couple of decades and they’re not exactly in the way.

As I failed to articulate this, and tried to tie the two things together, Fi pointed out that my life has changed rather dramatically over the last year and maybe this is something to do with that. Of course, she’s right, although that’s didn’t help the funk.

I think I need a clean slate. Nobody’s demanding I maintain a continuity with “old Pete” except me, so there shouldn’t be a problem jettisoning a load of stuff. Except for the job of actually jettisoning the stuff which seems very daunting, so maybe I’ll just box it up and stick it away somewhere.

Changing behaviour is the tough one, because a lot of it doesn’t seem necessary, and might play in to general people-aversion, but I need a mental clean slate too. I need to not be doing things I used to do, just because I used to do them.

In short, I need to focus. And then maybe I can go to my favourite music festival again.

Sheesh. People brains are stoopid.

* In the 1990s I ran a review sheet and mail order distro for self published and underground comics, and therefore have a significant collection of short-run, rare publications.

Friday

Well, I’m supposed to be at Supersonic right now (it being 11pm) but I’m at home feeling far too pooped to be dealing with standing in a front of bands, particularly if I’m going to do it for most of tomorrow and a chunk of Sunday too. It’s a sacrifice but one I feel I need to make.

Part of the poopedness is from attending Bees In A Tin today which was much brainfood. As I said to co-organiser and chum Nikki, it probably only annoyed me 20% of the time which is pretty damn good for a conference. I usually get annoyed 70% and consider 50% a yardstick. Nice.

One relevant-to-the-internet thing of note came in an off-hand comment from Rebecca Taylor answering a question about the difference between doing work for commercial clients and “normal” work. She said that The Rooftop Project – effectively a community garden on a roof – didn’t have a Twitter or Facebook page, implying those are for commercial activities, or at least the commercial side of a project – promotion, PR, etc. As someone who was part of the “let’s see how we can use this stuff people are calling social media for interesting people-centric stuff” who resisted and then gave up in the face of the colonisation by those who would use this stuff for sales, this was fascinating.

It represents a giant nail in the coffin of using the social internet for authentic communication. The well has been poisoned. It’s all over. And, frankly, the writing was on the wall for a long time. I once co-ran a “social internet in the arts” workshop where we explicitly asked organisations to send their curator-style staff. They all sent marketing and sales people, who were lovely because you don’t work in marketing in the arts if you’re a dick, but it wasn’t what we were after. We wanted to help organisations see how this communication tool, this platform, could be used to create and present work to new audiences in new ways. The heads of the organisations just saw it as another way to sell tickets.

A whole bunch of us pushed at this for a few years and, to their credit, the Arts Council supported some interesting initiatives (amongst the usual misfires and hype-chasing), but the inspirational case studies remained, on the whole, exceptions.

The funny thing is the Internet used to be seen as distinct from the real world because it was “virtual”. Now it seems social media is seen as distinct from the real world because it’s rabidly commercial. Even if you’re not explicitly selling something the dominant tone is one of sales, of hype, of controversy and other broadcast tropes.

Do you remember when Twitter was criticised for being full of people talking about what they had for dinner? I miss those days.

Thursday

Whatever else I did today was overshadowed by the Herculean task of booking some train tickets for a job in August so I can put them on an invoice. The fact that I can’t just put in two locations and get not just a consistent price but also an consistent route is an indictment of the most damning kind. And what’s palpably clear is, like mobile phone carriers, “competition” is not helping the customer (which is what we’re supposed to be now). I don’t know exactly who it’s helping but it sure ain’t us.

Case in point. The job in question is over two days in Kirkby, and I assumed I’d be able to get a hotel near there, so I booked two singles from Liverpool, one there and one back the next day, coming to £6.90. But it turns out there aren’t really any hotels in Kirkby so I’m staying in Liverpool itself, which means I need two returns, which will cost £7.50. Now, I can’t simply log in and change my order. I have to get a refund. But they charge £10 for a refund, which means I can’t get one. Which is, of course, probably illegal. So, after checking it wasn’t a premium rate line (there’s another pile of bollocks) I phoned them up and was told, yes, I could get a refund, if I filled in the form he’d email me. This was a Word doc, of course, because the world is still that broken, and I’ll get my refund in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, once I figured out my Liverpool geography, I booked a hotel in minutes on booking.com and it’s all lovely.

Speaking of transport being fucked, I ran some car-based errands today, principally dropping off a load of books at Oxfam, and made the mistake of trying to park in Kings Heath at lunchtime. Later I went out on my bike when the schools kicked out meaning I had to dodge psychotic parents driving tanks. Something is wrong here, but I doubt we’ll see a fix this side of the next decade.

The evening was a lovely start to the Supersonic festival at Town Hall where we were entertained by the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble – 10 musicians playing vintage synthesisers and making a lovely racket. The Moog is one of those sounds that you can’t help smile at, and it was aided by Will Gregory’s enthused banter between tunes, as the ensemble wrestled their cantankerous beasts into order. One might say they came over as a cross between the Modified Toy Orchestra and the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, though they sounded like neither. An absolute delight.