The Null Device

2009/1/5

England's largest Morris dancing body, the Morris Ring, has warned that Morris dancing could be extinct within 20 years. The problem is that young people apparently consider it to be a bit naff for some reason and stay well away from it, and the population of active Morris dancers in England is rapidly aging and dwindling.

Though I wonder whether they just haven't been marketing it in the right way. Take a walk around Hackney or Dalston, and you see hip young men with woodsman beards. (You know they're hip, rather than terminally uncool, because they're typically riding fixed-wheel bicycles, wearing vintage Japanese Nikes or mashing up video on their MacBooks in a dive bar or somesuch.) Meanwhile, folk music is huge among hipsters and bohemian types, with folk-inspired bands like Animal Collective and Fleet Foxes dominating what-they-used-to-call-"indie"-before-it-meant-commercial-rock playlists, bands covering centuries-old ballads, and variously folky festivals like End Of The Road and Green Man doing a roaring trade. The organic, rootsy and, yes, even slightly "naff" aspects of folk traditions are "in". (This is perhaps a reaction against the slickness and polish of commercialised, commodified cool, where the skinny-legged, electro-striped Vince Noir new-wave-indie-glam image has jumped the shark and joined the leather-jacket-and-Ray-Bans 1950s Rock'n'Roll Cool Dude look in the museum of eye-rollingly laughable kitsch; it's only a matter of time before we see breakfast cereal mascots donning the oversized black glasses, thin ties and Chuck Taylors of Indie Cool, but I digress.) Traditional crafts have also made a comeback. All these people writing songs about birds and horses for laptop and ukulele and embroidering their own messenger bags; surely some of them would be interested in Morris dancing, no?

Perhaps the mistake they're making is in expecting them to join existing, traditional Morris troupes (which are damned not by tradition but by the aforementioned aura of stagnancy that hangs over them)? Why not, instead, encourage the formation of new, hip Morris troupes, based in areas like Bethnal Green and New Cross, and advertising their presence at arts nights and ukulele jams? (Apparently the Women's Institute has done something similar and has chapters around Shoreditch and similar areas consisting of subversive riot-grrl crafters who probably wouldn't be seen dead in the more bourgeois environs of their more traditional chapters.) Then again, perhaps even that won't be necessary; if punk rockers can join Masonic lodges en masse, surely it's not too implausible to imagine hipsters joining Morris troupes, with varying degrees of irony.

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San Francisco could soon be the first US city to adopt a London-style congestion charge on cars in central areas. Not sure which areas they mean (I suspect the central grid north of Market St., with its numerous Muni and BART lines, is a likely candidate), but it makes sense (SF proper is compact and easily navigable by foot or public transport, is on a peninsula linked with neighbouring areas only by bridges and tunnels, and has a strong green/progressive culture which could counterbalance the stereotypical American idea of car-as-extension-to-self). Of course, the congestion charge is still on the drawing board, and faces opposition.

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Texan Cyberpunk sci-fi author turned father of the Viridian pro-green design/technology movement turned Belgrade-based design theorist Bruce Sterling gives his annual state-of-the-world address to the Inkwell forum. It's focussed mostly on the economic cataclysm in progress, and it's full of the sorts of apposite powder-dry black humour you'd expect from him:

Do we HAVE to talk about the economy this year? I'm wondering what conceivable event could overshadow the fiscal crisis. Maybe a cozy little nuclear war? An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis.
I'm a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything "financially sound" in my entire adult life. Last year was the first year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people. Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent living-it-up.
If the straights were not "prone to hostility" before that experience, they might well be so after it, because they've got a new host of excellent reasons. The sheer galling come-down of watching the Bottom Line, the Almighty Dollar, revealed as a papier-mache pinata. It's like somebody burned their church.
After indulging in terriblisma for a while, Sterling turns his attention to Dmitry Orlov's prediction of the US disintegrating, and ideas for a "new localism" that might arise in the event of catastrophic collapse:
In any case, after eight glum years of watching Bush and his neocons methodically wreck the Republic, both Kunstler and Robb have gotten really big on American localism -- "resilient" localism. Kunstler has this painterly, small-town-America, Thoreauvian thing going on, kinda locavore voluntary simplicity, with lots of time for... I dunno, group chorale singing. Kunstler seems kinda hung up on the singing effort, somehow... Whereas Robb has a military background and is more into a gated-community, bug-out-bag, militia rapid-response thing.
Certainly neither of these American visions look anything like what happened to Russia. As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive opportunities, so they were the ones getting by.
So the model polity for local urban resilience isn't Russia. I'm inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year national existence.
Meanwhile, Clay Shirky gives his predictions for 2009. Whether or not we're all toast, a lot of the old media, such as newspapers, seem to be:
The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It's like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union - nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.
Why pay for it at all? The steady loss of advertising revenue, accelerated by the recession, has normalised the idea that it's acceptable to move to the web. Even if we have the shallowest recession and advertising comes back as it inevitably does, more of it will go to the web. I think that's it for newspapers. What we saw happen to the Christian Science Monitor [the international paper shifted its daily news operation online] is going to happen three or four dozen times (globally) in the next year. The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press - high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication - is over. But will the New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.
Shirky's not one for terriblisma, so not much about social collapse, cannibalism or killer caravans marauding the post-apocalyptic landscape there. For that, you'll have to read Charlie Brooker's column:
Dim your lights. Here's the highlights reel. The worst recession in 60 years. Broken windows and artless graffiti. Howling winds blowing empty cans past boarded-up shopfronts. Feral children eating sloppy handfuls of decomposed-pigeon-and-baked-bean mulch scraped from the bottom of dustbins in a desperate bid to survive. The pound worth less than the acorn. The City worth less than the pound. Your house worth so little it'll collapse out of shame, crushing you in your bed. Not that you'll die peacefully in your sleep - no, you'll be wide awake with fear, worrying about the situation in the Middle East at the precise moment a chunk of ceiling plaster the size of a flagstone tumbles from on high to flatten your skull like a biscuit under a shoe, sending your brain twizzling out of your earholes like pink-grey toothpaste squeezed from a tube. All those language skills and precious memories splattered over your pillows. It'll ruin the bedclothes. And instead of buying expensive new ones, your grieving, impoverished relatives will have to handwash those bedclothes in cold water for six hours to shift the most upsetting stains before passing them down to your orphaned offspring, who are fated to sleep on them in a disused underground station for the rest of their lives, shivering in the dark as they hear bombs dipped in bird flu dropping on the shattered remains of the desiccated city above.

(via Boing Boing) 2009 bruce sterling business charlie brooker clay shirky economy predictions society terriblisma wd2 0