This week’s Variations on a Theme is recycling, as inspired by Sam Worley‘s feature story, “The floating forest,” about the changing world of wastepaper. While a large part of Sam’s story is about China’s steady takeover of the wastepaper business, another part was personal—namely, that he grew up in Manistique, Michigan, where the wastepaper plant Manistique Papers was a major industry in the town. While the story is one about changing tides in business, it’s also a journey through the past, to when newspaper was printed in bulk and factories were thriving.
So we thought it would be a good idea to do a week where we take our own trip down memory lane, remembering/”recycling” some of our favorite Bleader pieces from over the past few years. With all the posting we do on the blog—and the pace at which we publish it—sometimes superb writing gets lost in the deluge.
The piece I’m choosing to include is Kevin Warwick‘s “Death by smartphone: the Pitchfork edition,” which he wrote for Work Versus Life Week, one of my favorite editions of Variations on a Theme. Kevin opened his piece by publicly calling me out for an e-mail I wrote describing how we would cover the Pitchfork Music Festival. At the time, the piece made me angry. A lot of the coverage that Kevin bemoaned was the kind that I also disagreed with, but was necessary for us to do. I felt unfairly vilified for opinions that, at heart, I felt exactly the same way as Kevin did. But in hindsight, I think it’s one of the pieces I’m most proud of publishing. Skepticism about Twitter, live “coverage,” and social media in general risks making you look like a Luddite or a fogy unable to “get with the times.” But it’s also important to step back sometimes and think about just what is the most useful and smartest way to engage with these mediums. And Kevin doesn’t just outright castigate technology or social media; he acknowledges that it’s complicated, just like people are.
I want to make it clear that I don’t hate the wi-fi world. If I did, I would’ve extricated myself from it years ago and found a nice one-bedroom shanty in the middle of the Montana wilderness to make crafts. Instead, I try to navigate it well enough to hashtag a decent, albeit sometimes hurried, critique, or shoot a beautiful, Brannan-filtered photo while still enjoying a set as a live-music fan. (Believe it or not, not everyone who writes about music is a bitter and withdrawn naysayer. We do occasionally like to watch, without interruption, our favorite bands play their instruments.) But how much does the responsibility to inflict my thoughts on a world that may not want them interfere with my casual enjoyment of watching a live performance by an absorbing band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor? The tweeting and Instagramming can wait, I’ll often think to myself, right before I pull my phone out of my back pocket.