The Null Device
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia's national broadcaster, is in the process of developing a unified visual identity for its properties; and in doing so, has commissioned a new typeface for use across its online properties; it's named OneABC, is a modern sans-serif , and this is what it looks like with a selection of headlines reflecting the Australian zeitgeist circa 2016:
The ABC stresses OneABC's true-blue dinky-di Aussie pedigree and characteristics; it was developed locally, by an outfit named the Australian Type Foundry, and is said to be characteristically Australian in its design:
First was the connection to the land with a coastal and outback feel. The open spaces of a wide brown land played a significant role. A sense of contrast that is simultaneously austere and rich. A true sense of inclusiveness that celebrates diversity and multiculturalism. And finally that special larrikin mentality that does not take itself too seriously.
Which are some fine words, though I'm not sure how they relate to the actual typeface, which looks as if it could have just as easily emerged from Berlin or Amsterdam; I can see a bit of FF DIN and Erik Spiekermann's Meta in its heritage; meanwhile, the distended 'k' resembles earlier versions of Google's Roboto. Perhaps, at a stretch, the rounded tail of the ‘y’ could count as “Australian”, feeling a bit more casual than the sharp angles of more geometric typefaces. As for “special larrikin mentality”, I'm not sure I see it, but that may not be a bad thing: the idea brings to mind some kind of Ken Done-themed Comic Sans, with serifs modelled on Dame Edna's glasses or something.
Could one make OneABC look more distinctly “Australian”, rather than generically modern? Perhaps increasing the x-height to be equal to the height of capitals would embody the spirit of “mateship” and the “fair go” (and prompt the typical accusations from the Liberal Party and the Murdoch press of being subliminal Marxist propaganda, thus keeping with the ABC's reputation). Other than that, short of having boomerang-shaped descenders or other tourist-shop kitsch, I can't think of how one would design an “Australian” typeface.
Late last year, the indie-music world was surprised by the announcement that Lush, one of the better-known lost bands of the 1990s shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop zeitgeist, were reuniting, and were not only planning to play gigs but were working on an EP of new material. On one hand, it made sense; with My Bloody Valentine having played sold-out gigs and finally released the Shoegaze Chinese Democracy, The Jesus and Mary Chain having played successful reunion gigs for a few years and talking about recording again, and Slowdive's expectation-bustingly successful comeback (and, again, an album in the works), if ever the time was right, it is now; though on the other hand, the fact that the end of Lush came after the suicide of their original drummer, Chris Acland, always seemed to rule out a reunion. Yet, after almost two decades, it was officially on the cards. A gig was announced at the Roundhouse in Camden for May; it sold out rapidly, and another was arranged for the following night.
I managed to pick up tickets to one of the May gigs, and have been looking forward to finally seeing Lush play live, even if doing so was from a distance in a large venue. So imagine my surprise when, flicking through upcoming gigs on Songkick just over a week ago, I found a new Lush gig on Monday week at Oslo Hackney, a much smaller venue, and that, even more mysteriously, it was not sold out.
I, of course, grabbed a ticket to this gig. Tonight, I went to it, and I must say it was great. The band went on a little after 20:30 (“No red hair, get over it”, said the now-brunette Miki, before they launched into their first song), and were in fine form, playing tightly and with energy for an hour and a half, doing mostly songs from between Gala and Split, with a cursory nod to their final Britpop-tinged album Lovelife. Above the driving bass lines, propulsive drums and the swirl and crunch of interlocking guitars (each through its own array of pedals), Miki and Emma's voices floated, as melodic and forceful as a quarter-century earlier. Anyway, the audience loved it, applauding rapturously; the band came on not just for the standard scheduled encore (3 songs, including Desire Lines), but for another subsequent unscheduled one.
There was, of course, a merch table, and alongside the usual T-shirts and a zine (Thoughtforms, glossier than the indie fanzines of old but the same concept) containing interviews, there was the new Lush EP, Blind Spot; a flat, oversized card package designed by V23 designer Chris Bigg, containing a semitransparent CD. I bought a copy and listened to it upon getting home, and it is very good indeed. Some are calling it a more mature version of Lush (which it is), though to me, it sounds most like a timeslip; an anomalous artefact from a parallel timeline, which somehow mysteriously appeared in this one. In its home timeline, Lovelife and the foray onto the Britpop bandwagon never happened; instead, Lush kept honing and refining their ethereal/dreampop sound, with Blind Spot, or something very much like it, coming out a few years down the track. That timeline is, of course, a very different world to the one we know.
In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing them again in a month or so, and hoping that this is the start of the second chapter of the Lush story.
A new study (PDF) has shown that revelations on the extent of mass surveillance has created a chilling effect on unpopular opinions, as people with such opinions self-censor their expression to avoid the unsympathetic eye of an omniscient, automated bureaucracy:
For the remainder—and majority—of participants, being primed of government surveillance significantly reduced the likelihood of speaking out in hostile opinion climates. These findings introduce important theoretical and normative consequences. Theoretically, it adds a new layer of chilling effects to the spiral of silence. This is the first study to provide empirical evidence that the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion. Noelle-Neumann (1974) and the scholars who have followed her have relied on an individual’s fear of social isolation as the underlying mechanism to explain silencing effects. But the results from this study suggest there may be an additional mechanism that contributes to this process: one’s fear of isolation from authority or government. Fear of isolation, as traditionally measured, taps an individual’s concern of being alienated from other members of society, but does not address fear of alienation or prosecution from the government. Csikszentmihalyi (1991) argues that social isolation is a minimal concern compared to material sanctions that government is capable of enacting, like losing one’s job or instigating legal consequences. Further research is needed to explore other potential theoretical mechanisms for why individuals fail to disclose minority views now that perceived surveillance has been identified as a moderating agent.Which is all pretty grim news, if one believes in democracy and civil society. A system of enforcing the status quo with the illusion of being sufficiently efficient to render resistance not only useless but probably punishable enough that most well-adjusted individuals will steer clear of it can only suppress the sorts of protest and inquiry that have historically moved progress forward. Had the authorities had this sort of capability at the time of, say, Martin Luther King or the suffragette movement, would enough ordinary people, with jobs and families to support and the opinions of their neighbours to worry about, have risked supporting these dangerous subversives, rather than keeping their heads down and hoping to stay out of it? Of course, for those depending on a manageable democracy and a stable status quo, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
There is one sector of society which seems to be immune to this chilling effect; unfortunately for society, that sector is, predictably, sociopathic jerks, like the ones who fill the hate forums that a handful of trolls succeeded in directing Microsoft's experimental hip-millennial chatbot Tay to, turning it instantly into a neo-Nazi. The sorts of people already known online as sadistic griefers for whom racial epithets are almost punctuation are not going to be deterred by the prospect of being denied employment because of the huge swastikas self-tattooed crudely on their metaphorical foreheads.
So, in the age of mass surveillance (both by the security state in the age of the Long Siege, and increasingly leaking from the secretive spooks to local cops and minor government officials, and by their free-market equivalents: free data-aggregating social networks, online advertising networks and credit rating agencies), we may be facing a psychological retreat from modernity towards the mediaeval mindset; only instead of the omniscient God and His recording angels seeing every sinful thought in our fallible souls and recording it for the final judgment, it is the temporal powers with their intercepts and algorithms, and the judgment is potentially a lot closer. Most sinners will hope that, if they keep their heads down, they can squeeze through purgatory relatively quickly, while a hard core who know they are already damned will raise hell.