25 November 2007


After I posted the link to BLDGBLOG last night, Geoff Manaugh came right back today with a long article about shipping container architecture, which also fascinates me. I can very easily imagine a subgenre of architecture-obsessed science fiction, though I pray it will not have a "-punk" label.

Some twenty-five or thirty years ago, I went to my first estate sale. My mother took me to a big house, and we wandered around, looking at the possessions some deceased man's family no longer wished to keep. I had a small amount of cash from my lunch money savings (I went without eating or drinking every single day until I got home, and pocketed the quarters) and a sawbuck my grandmother gave me for my birthday. The kind old widow who was parting with her late husband's worldly goods half-heartedly bargained with me until the arithmetic would allow me to purchase both a banjo and a shortwave radio. She said the old man had only used the radio tune in WWV and reset all the clocks in the house when daylight savings time began or ended. While she explained that, she and my mother rolled their eyes, agreeing that men have strange obsessions when kept in the house for too long.

Later, a drummer I went to high school with also turned out to own a shortwave set. We compared ideas about the best use for such a thing. I mostly tried to find amusing programs or decipher numbers stations. He monkeyed with the controls to make odd noises, and said it was better than the cheap synthesizers available at the time. As the radio I had featured a quarter-inch earphone plug (the same size as an electric guitar) I incorporated it into my musical career.

Every few months, until I moved out of my house suddenly a couple of years ago, I would drag that radio out and try to find proper antenna and ground connections, but there was less and less to be found by way of signals. Mostly religious broadcasts and the BBC was all I found at the last. Anyway, the other justification I came up with for keeping the thing was as a source for samples I could incorporate into musical compositions. There are a lot of web sites where such samples can be found now, so that notion is quashed to the point where I don't even try to look at the handheld radios on display over at Hymall.

Today, someone mentioned The Radio Kitchen on Metafilter. It's run by a man known only as "The Professor" and is a vast treasure of recordings of long-distance radio broadcasts. I also love the pictures of vintage receivers that surround the page.

Bear with me a moment now, because I'm going to try and connect all this stuff into the big concept I see it as fitting into, like a big puzzle. As we, humanity, progress into the future, things change. Technology advances, and radio is forgotten. Notions of living space change, and dwellings evolve from four-bedroom standalone ranch-styles in the suburbs to repurposed shipping containers hanging on the backs of billboards or the rafters of shopping mall parking garages. Notions of personal space and privacy change. Maybe more and more of our belongings will exist only virtually, and "real life" homes will only be places to sleep and have sex, all other activities being open to public scrutiny. We might move away from George Carlin's view of having a place to keep the stuff we accumulate, and toward an existence where the online and offline merge, the division blurring, until we come to view chat sessions and web pages as places in the same sense as the diner on the corner or the mall are places.

It's starting already. Customer service is an automated voice at a toll-free number, advising you to go to the company web site to seek assistance. Large corporations find the need to set policy for employees doing work inside Second Life. We're already in the future William Gibson predicted (and many pooh-pooh'ed in the early 1980's), or well on the way to it. The only questions that remain is how we will all react, and who will successfully adapt.