Brian Eno and Steven Johnson at the ICA: Raw Notes

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Will tidy up and edit later, but for now, here’s the raw stuff:

eno vs johnson: ica : 4.12.06

eno introduces the long now foundation
this is it’s first manifestation in the uk
he is only non-american

listen to stephen in the context of ‘long now thinking’

his books represent a connection to the deep future

how embarrasing: johsnon starts with the enoquest story.

the ghost map is about the cholera epidemic of the 1850s. informaiton design, detective story.

telling the story as one of urbanism: cities create problems, and solve them.

2.5 million ppl – largest city in the history of the world. falling apart – Elizabethan infrastructure. vast scavenger class of 100k improvising recycling and waste disposal.

miasma theory was the orthodoxy of the time. relatively intuitive seeing how horrible the air quality was.

sense of impending doom: everytime you had an upset stomach, there was a fare chance you and all your family would be dead within 48hrs.

noone had done this before i.e. cram so many people into such a small area. a frontier of density people thought ‘this is not something humans are meant to do’ –

after the solution of the cholera problem moved to a new paradigm: sustainable metropolitan living began to be seen as something that would be possible.

“a crucial week in the invention of modern life as we know it”

johnson outlines the way Snow and Whitehead investigated the water-borne cholera theory that is in book

important to remember this was about scale out of control, cities out of control and people not thinking rationally.

even with limited resources it took just 12 yrs to solve the problem of cholera. the map was key to the solution.

map was a marketing vehicle for his theory, not a ‘theory object’ to help him work it out.

jumping up 1 scale and seeing the broad patterns involved enabled lay-ppl to understand the problem. it resonated with ppl. and thats what helped eliminate cholera.


next yr: 50% of humanity will be city-dwelling
WE still harbour the thought that cities are not our natural state and the megacities we are entering will collapse

Stewart brand argues that our future are in cities as they have a small footprint for the amount of humans they can sustain. (also cf. richard rogers)

another big date coming up – milestone of how many ppl in the world will not have access to clean water (200m?) known, solvable problem. could be solved if there was the motivation.

local level of power is not there – sucked up to the national level, but also not released at the global level (.e.g. USA not signing global treaties) lots of global problems that it’s not in the interest of single nations to solve.

tragedy of the commons.

one thing that happens in SJ’s book is that you keep zooming between the local, short-term level and extrapolating out to more global levels to see the impacts.

lester brown book: ‘plan b’ environmentalist
SJ said it made eno look ‘unusually optimistic’

“world is like USSR in 1988 – everything looks stuck, but within a year it’s all gone.”

like a chrysalis, all the change inside waiting to burst

SJ: ‘what sort of bursting will it be?”

SJ: 1800 3% of humanity was living in cities. the change to us being an urban species. this is the most overwhelmingly most important fact.

demographics/population plateauing, and then imploding in 2056 (?)

people have far fewer kids once they move to cities
‘having a bunch of hands around the farm is useful, having them around a small apartment is not so useful…’

when you move into a city since victorian times, your life expectancy increases.

jane Jacobs: cities became great disease conquerors

‘red states’ in US politics are really states without big cities.

[what about exurbs though? aren’t they red?]

mountain states are now urbanising at a great rate.
this is going to change the electoral map.

i asked a question about exurbs. SJ’s answer about reaching density where ‘city’ nodes appear in exurbs.. e.g. LA has done this.

eno start talking about SL. philip rosedale talked at longnow. said that old cities will be museums for where we will live (in SL) ‘a very long now thought’

SJ starts telling SL anecdotes about ‘lazarus devine’ who bought infinitely thin strips of land and built infinitely thing skyskrapers on that land to extort money out of landowners who’s view he stole – not brekaing any laws, so encouraged the users to start a debate on what the laws of the land should be.

It’s a revival of ‘utopian’ thinking and conversation which has not been seen in the intellectual landscape.

the thought that the internet will replace cities is an old one – george gilder/telecottages etc. didn’t happen. internet drives people to live in cities. the internet enhances cities as the connections multiply.

internet gives the power to create more kinds of f2f encounters.

eno: games point to a new way for humans to find knowledge. you don’t have to take things apart, you just see if you can emulate it. e.g. the sims: gave kids the opportunity to see if they could make a city that work. it makes clear the complex interconnections in systems.

q: very struck with the idea of cities collaborating with each other, not with national governments. global warming is going to effect the big cities (on coasts, or nr rivers) shouldn;t they collaborate on solving it?

SJ: tension operating on climate change -regions are operating on the problem. california is effectively a country when it comes to this – very active and so large as a force equivalent to nations elsewhere.

nations are too big for us to be comfortable with – why we have abstractions such as flags to help. if you can express problems at a(/your) city-scale, then its more affecting/engaging.

q: why are you talking about 1st world cities and SL, when the real 50% becoming urban are in developing countries: e.g. squatter cities / slums

ENO: bob neuwirth: shadow cities – he found that new forms of governance and economies, emergent communities. While I might not choose to live there, perhaps they aren’t dead-ends.

SJ: RN’s book is an interesting counterpoint to Mike Davis (mentioned by questioner) – are cities engines of better living or prisons for those driven off the land? a parallel to the situation in the west in the 17th/18th century. there are reasons for hope and despair.

the questioner responds: is it really parallel?, because, in the 1850’s the rich and poor lived together so necessary to solve the problem. with modern megacities, rich live in enclaves, isolated from these problems.

ENO: the rich city doesn’t have such an impermeable wall over time – takes a long time but these things break down and raise standards throughout.

Q: is the rev. whitehead the real scientist, as he proved himself wrong, whereas Snow went in with preconceived ideas?

SJ: Snow was what you might call ‘a consilient thinker’ – he was looking at things on a number of different scales. he built a theory that worked on the very small and the very large scale at the same time.

Eno: new ideas, new media don’t replace old media. had a very long email friendship with all of the people in the long now foundation. speed of feedback loop is as important as physical prescence. there is a quality of relationship in f2f communication which is not in electronic media. but humans are good at assimilating new things – we just treat it as technology.

SJ: public space, sidewalks, contact with strangers – public sphere (cf jjacobs again). question is does the internet potentially reduce or increase the contacts/converstions between strangers?

q: didn’t choose to write ‘SimCholera’ – you didn’t write a game, you wrote a book. you wrote about the diff between narratives/simualtions in ‘everything bad’ – do you think narrative is holed below the waterline or revived?

SJ: to persuade, there is no better medium than the book. no better way to move people through a linear argument. ‘gosh, ppl really like stories’ – realisation while writing ghost map.

what are the devices that make people think in ways that they don’t necessarily intuitively think in – e.g. the clock of the long now.

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