There's a windchill of -40 degrees here in Chicago right now, part of a massive freeze that has set in across most of the United States. The cold forced my youngest child back into Zoom school for the day and overhearing his teacher beg for them to mute themselves while he laughs and jokes with friends has been a flashback to the time in the pandemic when everyone was doing everything at home. It's been weird and slightly traumatizing, but also sort of pleasant, and mostly has me thinking about our lives then and our lives now.
And maybe it's that, or maybe it's that the shortest day of the year is behind us and now every day gets brighter from here, or maybe it's that 2022 is wrapping up in unexpected—but not wholly awful—ways, or maybe it's a little bit of all of it, but I'm feeling… optimistic?
I know, it's weird.
But, in the spirit of things getting brighter, even if only by a little, I thought I'd share three short things that are contributing to me feeling this way.
It feels like the platforms that have defined and dictated our interactions online for the last 15 years or so have been dealt a real blow for the first time in forever. Twitter, obviously, is on the ropes. The purchase by Elon Musk and every terrible decision he's made since has lead to the first real, sustained exodus off the platform I've ever witnessed. But beyond Twitter, Facebook has been hemorrhaging money, users, and stock value as Mark Zuckerberg pursues his folly in the dead-on-arrival metaverse, and that means every other platform you probably use—remember Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp too—are weakened as well. I'm not quite at a point where I'm willing to say that the era of platforms is fully over, but there's a crack in the armor that up until now has felt impenetrable. And, as someone that came up with DIY punk and will always choose the independent route when possible, that means that right now the possibilities on the internet feel endless for the first time in a long while. Will it last? Who knows, but let's try new things while we can.
"Trying new things" is part of why I've spent much of the fall and the start of this bitter cold winter playing around with generative AI tools. I'm generally pretty cynical about trends in tech, but there is something deeply satisfying about being able to generate an endless number of variations of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in Mad Max: Fury Road. Diving deeply into the world of these various AI bots and experimenting with how to ask things in the right way to get the results you want (nerdier people than me have named this "prompt engineering") has been a learning journey at a time that, for me, has felt very difficult to learn new things. In fact, I'm not just learning to talk to bots: writing code with the help of the chatGPT tool was instrumental in launching this very site a few weeks ago. By talking with the bot, I was able to learn and troubleshoot code in ways that felt like a revelation. Yes, there are a near-endless number of ethical quandaries wrapped up in all these tools, and I totally understand the arguments against them, but also it's been so long that anything on this screen has felt truly surprising to me, and these things generate surprises on the daily, so I'm going to ride it out for a minute.
On the completely opposite side of things, I've become totally obsessed with classic hand-painted signage. When my friend Searah moved her shop this year, she hired a sign painter to do a traditional gold-leafed sign in her window, and watching video of them doing that work lead me down an Instagram rabbit hole of following an ever-increasing number of sign painters. With much of our lives shifting online, it's incredible to follow this thriving community of artists—many young and tattooed and carrying on traditional approaches—as they create things of beauty in the public way. I think it's a harbinger of things to come. In part because of the shift to online school, work, and lives in the last few years, I think there's a renewed appreciation of the things that can't be easily reproduced on a screen. Similar to how vinyl has seen a comeback, I think we're poised to see the return of a lot of long-written-off analog approaches to making things. As excited as I am about changes happening in the digital space, I think the potential for a renaissance of analog arts and production has me more excited than anything.
OK, that's it: three from me. I hope you are warm, I hope you are safe, and I hope the potential of positive change in the new year actually comes to pass.
(And I promise to revert to my normal pessimistic, dour self soon.)
Published December 23, 2022.
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