Writing is an invitation to the reader to participate in an intimate exchange: the product of that exchange, that gift, can be radical. This Edition looks at intimacy – and in particular how our relationships shift and change over time. The pieces gathered here are linked in their examination of the way we learn, and perhaps unlearn, ways of communicating beyond our separate shells.Read More
So Long did not waste her wasting days. We set up her deathbed in the guest bedroom.Read More
I didn’t pick my moment well. We were standing in the middle of the vegetable aisle at Harris Farm, in front of an over-spilling tray of truss tomatoes, shortly after incurring the ire of a short and beefy man in a four-wheel drive whose parking spot I’d inadvertently taken.Read More
Five days before my 96-year-old grandmother passed away, I sat in an empty theatre and watched a matinee screening of Michael Haneke’s film, Amour – a love story centred on the dying days of an elderly woman.Read More
On my chest I have a long, faded scar that begins at the collarbone, runs down between my breasts, and ends just under them with two round, ungracious dents where once drainage tubes were stuck while I, aged eight, underwent open heart surgery.Read More
Stacey and I were writing letters to each other after having met on Livejournal in something like 2005 and we used to send a notebook back and forth to each other. We also wrote emails basically weekly and I think at some point we probably decided that it’d be fun to write a blog together.Read More
I feel like I learnt that the only way to write...is to write. That sounds straightforward and probably unhelpful or obvious, but it was incredibly useful for me to just produce a bunch of stuff. It forced me to be more creative, to explore more, and to use up some 'great ideas' that weren't actually all that great. I also learnt that it’s okay to fail, publicly. That sometimes it’s necessary.Read More
We dreamed Powder Keg up on the train back to New York after the conference.Read More
Mandy Lingard is lying prone in her backyard at 553 The Esplanade, wearing only a g-string. This is her right as a private citizen in a free goddamned country.Read More
You don’t have to be a programmer to create computer-generated poetry. You just need to search around for text-generating software, and then appropriate it for poetry making. If a software developer creates a tool that generates text, and then provides open access to that tool, anyone can then use those tools to experiment with creating computer-generated poetry.Read More
Ever since reading Neuromancer as a teenager, enamoured by the gritty, neon-lit, technological pessimism of cyberpunk, something about this scene has stuck in my mind as being especially disconcerting, and it is only now that I realise the extent to which this peculiar uneasiness has everything to do with the absence of the horse in Gibson’s bleak portrayal of humanity’s future.Read More
An American family, nuclear to the point of glowing, unbox a product they will spend the next four minutes soliloquising. Echo is a small, black cylinder, halfway between a legless Roomba and a tea canister. It can play music and record lists and alert you to important events. It can answer factual questions and make jokes, interactive through Alexa, its vocal component. The family treat this last feature as polite bourgeoisie meeting the new help, and subsequently seem to struggle with nomenclature: ‘Do we address the product as “her”, “Alexa”, or “it”, Echo?’ In the video we see the machine both as a saviour of domestic process, offering cooking measurements and correct spellings, and as a patsy in some off-the-factory-floor hijinks, broadcasting a range of cute, daytime TV jokes, and allowing dad to ambush mum with sexy music. (After this last misadventure, he praises Alexa disconcertingly for her good work, narrow-eyed and clearly very horny.)
My own parents have always adopted new-century technology in small, dramatic instalments. New additions are spaced out by many years, but always settle immediately within their routines. Growing up, we had a rotary phone which they used well into the 2000s before switching suddenly to a cordless. When they first bought an HDD TV recorder in 2008, after two decades of VHS, they could do nothing less than invite the neighbours to come witness its power. Since retiring, my mother reads nothing if it’s not available on Kindle, and my father spends most of his time searching for ever more effective torrenting programs. When I email them with the video for Echo, I’m hoping to glimpse what kind of impact Amazon’s first in-home pseudo-robot would have on their daily lives and, more, on their health. Reminders for my mother’s daily medication and lists for my father’s projects; wake-up messages; email alerts; weather and road condition reports; something new for the neighbours to see.
Describing Echo as a household drone, whose agency or autonomy could alleviate domestic burden, is being generous. On paper it’s a fairly underwhelming product: a wall-tethered wifi speaker, with the illusion of a personality. Echo can access music from your library, playing it back to you but reportedly failing at higher volumes. Echo can record memos, lists, and other intimate information, but stores this in the cloud, where it sits, unable to be retracted. Echo can, via Alexa, answer your questions and tell you jokes, but uses Bing (Bing!) to do so, with no option to change providers (Bing!). The only feature that could be confused for a dynamic process is that, even without you needing to ask, Echo is very likely taking the initiative of beaming to Amazon HQ every single potential retail preference uttered within earshot, including the music your parents listen to when they go crazy on each other.
Echo is a sort of retail Big Brother, a tool for cornering more thoroughly the domestic market in which Amazon is already so present. This reflects distinctly Amazon’s technological ambitions. In recent years, Amazon has exposed its hardcoded chubby for tech, and drones in particular, to the world. It announced the concept of Amazon Prime Air in 2013, a method of short-haul, high-speed deliveries via GPS-synched quad-rotor drones. More recently, it began employing semi-autonomous stevedore bots across warehouse floors in an attempt to hedge human workers’ attempts to tackle the 400 orders made each second in the lead-up to Christmas. These are strong little rovers that can hoist and navigate many hundreds of pounds. They’re also as yet unable to perform their jobs without initial human instruction. The Prime Air fleet will only offer service within ten miles of certain US distribution centres and are, for the time being, indefinitely grounded. They’ll only begin if, and it’s a big if, Amazon can hurdle the Federal Aviation Administration’s restrictions on commercial drones. (Government bodies, including those in Australia, tend to legislate drone use in the same way my father would watch me play video games as a kid: allowing them in limited use, unsure of their purpose and suspecting deeply that they’re evil.)
Like Echo, these ventures can offer only a fraction of what they seem to promise and, like Echo, they function as Amazon’s placeholders, probing into what they believe the future will require and, more importantly, letting us know their place within it. And how right they are in thinking this is the way many of us predict, and probably want, our futures to look. Despite its flimsiness as a product, there is something that draws us to the idea of Echo. The manner in which Amazon’s smiley TV family engage with it foretells how we will interact with private, personality-driven technologies into the future: caught somewhere between indifferent slave-owners, and enthusiasts genuinely excited for the potential of technology; conscious but unconcerned about the secrets it is privy to.
When I send the video to my parents, I know that neither of them need anything from Echo, and require even less from Alexa, but I also know that one day, maybe soon, this will change. Echo won’t be handicapped for long. Soon Alexa, or one of her distant children, will know us well, will be able to read our moods and respond with ever-increasing complexity. She will, god-willing, evolve past Bing. At some point too she will have the potential to engage with my parents in ways that no other human can. She will be able to read them and offer small, incommunicable respites. There will be devices in our homes whose systems succeed when our own fail, capable of firing electricity into our chests when our hearts give out in the night, administering sedatives and balancing insulin. If technology is destined to save us as we’ve dreamed for most of the last century, it’s hard to think that it won’t be in this way: through the accumulation of small responses to things that, until now, we’ve never been able to get right. Caring for the elderly when it is beyond our ability to do so; comforting parents when they’re beyond remembering our names; lifting our fathers, sore and bent, into bed; monitoring our mothers as they walk by the river in the early mornings; counting their footsteps, counting the beats of their hearts.
The first time I saw Dale, he was pulling algae off the lake. A thick skin of green and brown, creasing and folding on top of the water.Read More
Are we living a nightmare? Consider rising tides, mass surveillance, an elected government that doesn’t believe in climate change.Read More
Orla had been doing well in the session up until the point where the young Thai masseuse who called herself Rabbit asked her to sit up and cross her legs.Read More
In March 2014, Tony Abbott announced that the Federal Government of Australia would be spending $3 billion on Triton surveillance drones.Read More
Coming soon: Editions, the new section curated by Emily StewartRead More
Mr Bishop’s face was the colour of raw meat and his hair, which he tried to comb across his head, resembled the fluff of newborn chickens.Read More
The ferris wheel behind her had been there for decades, and stood there now as a famous monument to the unfortunate part of the island. The part of the island where children were dumped.Read More
I think it’s an important point to mention because the fates of writers and editors are always twinned.Read More