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Monday, May 11, 2009
The current issue of Blueprint Magazine (issue 279) has a comment piece on the growth in 'self-published architectural criticism' by Tim Abrahams, the magazine's associate editor. Arguing that 'many of these blogs are purely indulgent retrospection', Abrahams cites things magazine as a prime offender in this new era of digital navel-gazing, a self-contained environment of cross-linking and shared gawping at 'visual effluvia, a flotsam and jetsam of jpegs'. 'Inherent in the system is writing in isolation and then linking with other bloggers. In architecture and design, this search for consensus is creating a general attitude of nostalgia, which is pathetic at a time when the future is up for grabs. If you cannot agree on the present what chance do you have about agreeing on the future? Far better, it seems, to concentrate on the past. Not in any critical way of course, but by designating some grainy images as interesting. Probably of a John Carpenter film. Or Poundbury. If the future is frightening, retreat from it.'

Nothing exists in isolation, but we feel it's important to point out that we're not criticism, we're curation, an (ongoing) attempt at navigating the ongoing and potentially endless transfer of analogue information into the digital realm. It's true, a lot of this stuff is giddy-making, some of it is even dull, and we admit to occasionally feeling 'entertained, a bit poorer and none the wiser' on a regular basis. But this website is not a 'slow retreat from the future' - far from it. It's actually the chronicling of the creation of the systems and knowledge and structures that will underpin the future on an ever increasing basis.

things grew out of a fascination with objects, at a time (1994), when there was no virtual realm to speak of, and little hint that it would be not just text, but physical representations, imagery, ephemera and memories that would soon start accumulating at exponential rates. Nonetheless, the point about the web 'becoming a medium for nostalgia' is highly valid, an issue that becomes more and more apparent. The sheer density of ephemera sometimes threatens to overwhelm cultural production, chasing away original thought and turning everything into a visual quotation from something else.

Right now, people want a visual internet; we sense a slight depression in interest in relentless, link-heavy, text-driven weblogs. As striking imagery becomes the dominant mode of communicating ideas - the relentless reel of the tumblelog, for example - texts are too easy to disregard unread. Our traffic spikes on the rare occasions when ffffound finds some image from our archives (I, II, III), or when we lead with a slice of grainy jpeg nostalgia. Otherwise, it seems that stats are down, month on month, sliced and diced by the exponential growth in competition, or, more likely, by the gradual realisation that any more information, imagery, links or comments is not automatically good, but just so much noise that can easily be filtered out.

*

A case in point. This set of scans of the Big Book of Cattle Brands is a fascinating object, a collection of the unique brands that marked one cattle herd from another. To look at these scans is not a negative nostalgic experience. True, it serves little functional purpose, save for historians of the era or those interested in the etymology of brands and brand culture. We can't simply ignore such a thing. All collections, be they real or virtual, convey a message about the collectors and viewers. The hunger for ephemera, in all its forms, is surely indicative of a broader cultural shift. That shift is what things was created to discover.

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