Editor's Letter

Above the Cloud

Text by Masoud Golsorkhi

Jean-François Lyotard who coined the "elitism for all" phrase that has adorned our cover for nearly a decade, is responsible for reviving the idea of Sublime in recent times. Sublime is an idea taken from Romantic philosophers of the 19th century, which he applied to postmodern culture. He reckoned that our aesthetic sense in modern times is coloured by what these days can be short-handed as Edge. Meaning that objects and ideas we find attractive derive their charisma from being a combination of pleasing and unsettling. Kittens, no. Stuffed kittens, yes. The idea of sublime is most aptly illustrated by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, and is depicted in Shuman Basar's excellent piece. His painting, The Wanderer Above a Sea of Mist (1817), shows a man standing in a mountain landscape looking down at the clouds. Today we are transfixed by another "cloud" that fills us with both wonder and dread.

The Cloud, of the internet variety is the subject of much discussion, attention, investment, hostility and expectation. The idea of remote servers that store all your personal data has been around since internet year dot. More recently, the idea that you can also use a remote processor to do the number crunching and host the applications that you use to do the work has also been made possible by new browser technology. This is the cloud that not only holds everything but soon will do everything too. 

Plato reported that his grumpy old teacher Socrates complained that the new fandangle technology of writing was rotting the mind of young Greeks and diminishing their intellectual capacity. His principle objections seem to have been on two accounts. One, that it took away valuable time to learn it; valuable time that could have been spent thinking. Secondly, that it would have made for flabby and lazy minds because the young, instead of learning long tracts of prose or epic poems, would simply write them down and go back to them any time they needed to refer to their notes instead of recall from memory. With the lazy youngster's reliance on new technology, the need to memorise would soon disappear. The old man had foreseen what would happen with subsequent generations who, in acquiring a mobile phone, would discard long lists of phone numbers that in earlier times would have been committed to memory.

You might recall the editor's letter in the previous issue of Tank in which we waxed lyrically about Instagram and how much we loved it despite or because of its insidious impact on the visual culture. It turns out Mark Zuckerberg loved it even more and justified his love to the tune of $1bn. Now, while we are happy for the 18 or so staff there who are, probably flicking though private jet catalogues, or choosing their new favourite noble causes - we aren't judging and love and continue to use the service - but I have noticed that some of my fears have come to pass. For example, Nick Knight, possibly the best fashion photographer of his generation, soon took to Instagram with rather dire results. At least for the week or so I could bear to follow him. The abundant emission of unconsidered imagery makes the perfect case for the loss versus benefit analysis of Mr. Zuckerberg's latest toy.

The Cloud soaks up as much as you give it and discharges without prejudice. Even if you set aside the notion of THE ONE image as the best conveyor of ideas - which in Mr. Knight's case can be brilliant and original - and even if you ignore all the concerns to do with the importance of consideration, thought and the editing process, and enjoy as you can, with Twitter, the stream of consciousness and instantaneous mind-share, please have some pity for the poor recipient and his ability to absorb and process the deluge.

Artists such as the Canadian Jon Rafman wonder through the internet looking for inspiration and raw materials with the same sense that Byron-types would go for a hike in the Alps in the 19th century, clutching a notepad or easel. Neither rejecting nor embracing the internet as the Promised Land or a place of horror and tyranny. For sure, the Cloud that hangs over promises both. Just as books let us think in different ways (and yes we lost something in the process), walking in the cities and now the countryside is never the same. This summer issue dedicated to the outdoors is mindful that, just as there was nothing natural about Nature, there is little that isn't cultural about Technology. 

But let's not get too gloomy. It was reported recently that nightclub bouncers in the UK are demanding to check Facebook profiles to prevent underage drinking amongst revellers. It is so much simpler to fake one of those than using a good old-fashioned laminator and passport photo. A friend tells me that he is a 25 to 35 year old woman from Serbia, according to Google. Search for something called the Google Ad preference page and see how you fare. I was delighted that Google sees me according to my browsing habits as a man of 65+!! Should I be flattered? "With age comes wisdom"? I am horrified. Maybe I should start browsing online toy stores to bring down my age profile, but then again that might only lead to other problems. I am hoping that even Socrates might find this funny.