No poetry or magic in being a robot

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Monkey on your back, one of Kal Spelletich's art pieces.
KALTEK.ORG

I felt yesterday like I had been scooped after reading Jennifer Maerz’s post in the Bold Italic, which asked: Is Talking About High Rents So Often Crippling Our City?

She linked to the blog of “robotics genius” Kal Spelletich, who is a friend of mine. We’ve been getting into heated discussions on this very topic for months. Kal makes fantastical interactive machines that do things like spit fire, harness random mechanical motion to produce musical notes on a piano or a violin, or engulf you in an aromatic bundle of fennel, just for an instant. His creations are robots.

I spent a bit of time in his studio, a giant waterfront warehouse in the southeastern part of the city where strange, sharp-edged contraptions hang from the ceilings. I shared stories about the articles I was writing, increasingly on evictions and the dearth of affordable housing in San Francisco. But as we dissected the problem, Kal rejected what he saw as a narrative of desperation that has been formulated in response to the city's affordable housing crisis.

He had his own rant, saying his community’s impulse to make art was being hindered by anxiety-producing discussions over loss of living space. These constant, embittered discussions were not only tiresome but toxic to creativity, he said, and distracting people from actually engaging in their life’s work.

But something about his argument irked me, since the idea that people should bow out gracefully and pursue their creative endeavors someplace else sounded akin to surrender, while the stories I gravitate toward feature individuals who find a way to dig in and stand their ground. And taken as a whole, the greater the exodus of artists and idealists from San Francisco, the more watered-down the city’s cultural soup starts to feel. We debated it endlessly.

Here’s how Kal phrased it on his blog. “We don’t hang and talk about the revolution or our exciting new piece we are working on any more. The wind has been taken out of our sails.  We react to the corporatists and capitalists, we are not proactive. Our dialogue has been taken from us. I feel like we have played right into their hands in more ways than one.”

He concluded it by saying, “The head fuck, stress and wasted energy. ... There is nothing poetic or magic about it. And I do not see any answer for it in the Bay Area.”

I reflected on our discussions again when I read Mayor Ed Lee’s interview in the New York Times a couple weeks ago, in which Lee commented that “tech workers aren’t robots.” In a city bursting at the seams with makers and dreamers with high aspirations, those who possess coding skills are favored, since their work is perceived as having economic potential. Lee seemed very concerned with creating an environment in which they can thrive.

As the mayor told interviewer Willy Staley: “What I learned with tech companies is I gotta give people room to experiment, and also to make what might later on be a mistake. This is the attitude I want to build within San Francisco — give some time to the tech community. At the end of the day, tech workers are not robots: they feel, they think, they have values.”

That philosophy – the idea that people are people, and need room to breathe, experiment, maybe even maybe mess up – actually makes sense as a core value. The problem, as I see it, is that the economic reality of San Francisco makes it such that this recognition is extended exclusively to the tech set, while the same leeway is not granted to other kinds of makers, or to those pursuing a kind of success that can’t be defined strictly in financial terms. At the end of the day, all San Franciscans feel, think, and have values – but only some are receiving support for their work in the form of funding or policies that facilitate their success.

While one class is being encouraged to try, and forgiven when they fail, a different set – the creative or activist types who aren’t doing it for the money – are being sent the message that they must behave like tightrope walkers, or maybe robots, if they want to remain.

There are some signs of creative resistance – a community rallying together in memory of its heroes, some mischievous comic relief, here and there. By tapping into imagination instead of draining it all away with worry, this could prove to be the start of something.

Comments

Tech workers are paid to create. It's not the taxpayers who are footing the bill. In fact the taxpayers gain from all that economic activity generated.

But an experimental artist doesn't generate significant economic activity, and so he either consumes taxpayer dollars, gets a subsidy from someone else, or simply complains a lot like these guys.

San Francisco has more artists than you can shake a stick at. The idea that we don't have enough (how many is that) is a myth.

And many of them make this problem go away at a stroke by living in Oakland where, in any event, many of the live/work spaces are more suitable for low-rent "idealists".

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

By your philosophy, oh sage of art and artists, we would never have had a Vincent van Gogh here in San Francisco. His paintings never sold for more than a pittance in his lifetime and yet are some of the most valued pieces of art in human history. Your lack of a sense of life at the scale of civilization belies your inability to think about anything beyond mere material gain. Many artists that were hailed as geniuses, lauded with awards and showered with cash in their day are completely eclipsed by previous unknowns like van Gogh. Your shortsightedness acts an avatar for the monetary monomania that corrupts our society to its core.
TL;DR
Fuck off and learn some history.

Posted by Ambrose Bierce on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

never achieved any success.

Are you suggesting that we should subsidize 10,000 artists just in case of the off chance that one of them might turn out to be a Picasso or a Rembrandt?

It is precisely because art and art appreciation is such a fickle thing that such large-scale investment is highly unlikely to bear any fruit.

Moreover, I believe it is commonly thought in the world of artists that great art derives from pain and suffering and deprivation. Well, that is exactly what is being offered to you, but would be sadly missing if you handed each one of you a million dollar home to live in and a ten grand a month stipend to create your "art".

Of course, you show your true colors at the end with your throwaway "fuck off". With all your artistic abilities, can you not channel your hostility, anger and envy in a more cultured manner?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

Let's do some math. 10,000 artists. One becomes van Gogh, sum total of worth of all of their art perhaps in the $10 billion range (800 extant paintings, $12.5 million each). Buy each artist a 1 million dollar home to share with a friend and 25k per year for 20 years to try out making art subsidy so they can work a part time job and still create to their heart't content. Even by your own logic, I win.

Posted by Ambrose Bierce on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

Van gogh's work may be worth 10 billion NOW but they would not have been worth anything like that at the time. Inflation has been massive since then.

Moreover, those who profit from those prices are the billionaires around the world - little or nothing of it accrues to the town of Zundert, Holland, where he came from.

You should stick to art, Ambrose, because your knowledge of maths, science, logic, economics and statistics is sadly lacking.

And hey, your rent is late. It was due on Sunday.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

I see. Well, judging from the fact that you lowered yourself to ad hominem attacks, I see that you ran out of things to say. Speaking of logic, how you were able to deduce my lack of knowledge about science is a feat Betrand Russell himself would have struggled to codify. Speaking of science, have you ever been published in a peer reviewed journal for your own original research? Have you ever discovered something previously unknown to science? I have. As for mathematics, I was simply applying simple deductions based on your assumptions. My arithmetic was flawless, and is based on actual prices of van Gogh paintings at auction, which tend to go for over 10 million to in the low hundred million range. By the way, guess who buys paintings besides billionaires? Art museums! I could continue, but I have some art to make. Come back and play anytime though. I am enjoying it.

Posted by Ambrose Bierce on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

error. By not knowing that his hometown derived no financial benefit from those prices, you committed another.

Your angry outburst there just proves that you know you were busted.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 6:58 am
Posted by Ambrose Bierce on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

The only reason a painting can be 'worth' millions of dollars is because there are people with sufficient disposable income to pay millions of dollars for them.

People like, you know, tech workers.

Posted by RemyMarathe on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

So precise and unfortunate. And it elicited a response that proves your description by equating art with monetary investment.

That's all the mammon worshippers can understand. San Francisco wasn't always like this--all about money, money, money. Oh how far this wonderful city has fallen.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

it wasn't me who introduced the idea of money. It was the authors and their whine about unaffordability.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

No one in the article is asking for financial support for artists.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

Is that you final answer?

They were, of course, it was a central theme and, arguably, the whole point.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

from discussing affordablility. That's my final answer, soulless mammon worshipper.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 6:59 am

And affordable housing doesn't involve any kind of financial support, handout or subsidy?

Is that your final answer?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 7:21 am

You sound very intolerant. Why the hate? San Francisco is world-renowned for its tolerance of differences. What happened to yours?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

“tech workers aren’t robots."---says one parasitic, conservative corporatist politician who works for the venture capitalists/bourgeois elite and who provides corporate welfare to the parasitic and predatory tech companies.

They aren't robots? Then why do they act like robots? Constantly staring at that damn screen in their hand that they are absolutely obsessed with 24/7 as if there is no life beyond that screen and its millions of useless/waste of time apps making money for some other corporatist parasites. The tech robot fools can't even look up to see the world. They hide behind blackened windows so they can't see the world. They don't want to actually SEE the city they have moved to. What pathetic, useless people!....if they can be called "people." They certainly don't act like people. They act they brain-dead automated robots getting corporate welfare and contributing nothing to the city with a complete disregard for the city they landed in.

How many people reading this are also obsessed with these gadgets and on the verge of being evicted? Any time you're on that gadget you're HELPING the very industry that's responsible for causing your eviction. Do you ever think about that? (I use a PC and as little as possible these days).

And I forgot to mention the ubiquitous NSA spying that these gadgets are tools for, even when the gadget is off.

19 Signs You Need To Unplug From Your Smartphone
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/23/signs-you-need-to-unplug_n_4268...

Excerpt from article:

1. You're experiencing blurred vision.
Are your eyes fading out on you? It may be more than a natural regression -- you could be doing it to yourself. According to a 2011 study, all the squinting we do at our screens is taking a serious toll on our eyes. Approximately 90 percent of people who stare at digital devices for more than two hours per day experience complex eye problems, including blurred vision and dry eyes.

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 6:54 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

Did someone push your smartphoneTech Shill-Hack button by talking negatively about the Hallowed and Sacrosanct Tech Industrial Complex receiving corporate welfare from the City & County of San Francisco?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 12:25 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 8:18 am

So when someone doesn't agree with you, it's hate? You must have one fucked up life with that thinking.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 1:28 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:29 am

Well if that WERE the case, then you should have thoroughly enjoyed it even to orgasmic levels. No question.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

The last word you typed is unbecoming for anyone to use. It's hate language and it says more about you and the type of person you are than anything else. But that's what I've come to expect from someone who accuses somebody else of hate. Hypocrite.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 12:33 am

It refers to anyone who is here illegally.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 8:18 am

Because only tech workers have smart phones.

Posted by RemyMarathe on Dec. 04, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

I hear they have smart phones even in Oakland, nowadays.

Posted by Clyde Townsend on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:25 am

I hear they have smart phones even in Daly City, nowadays.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:41 am

My 92 year old mom has a smart phone

Posted by H Hawthorne Folsom III on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

But the addiction to them is strongest in San Francisco. A friend of mine who lives in the city spends his Summers at his parent's home on the peninsula. After spending this past Summer down there he came back up here and when I saw him he said, "what is going on up here? I've never seen anything like it. Everybody is staring at a screen in their hand." I said to him: You don't see that down on the peninsula? He said: Oh on occasion but nothing like up here. I think it's a city thing and it's spooky. It's like everyone is in this induced trance. No one is talking with anyone. I got on the Muni metro going downtown and the train was silent. Everyone was staring at a screen in their hand (he said). I felt like screaming: Does anyone on this train ever look up? It was as quiet as a library. Some people used to talk on the metro. Not now. I found his comment interesting. It's the same thing I've observed.

I know the tech trolls will say HE's the problem and that all of these gadgets that the sheep are addicted to are the best thing to happen since city sewer systems, but then the trolls are nothing but shills and hacks for the tech industry and corporations. So consider the source.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:02 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:56 am

You sound very intolerant. Why the hate? San Francisco is world-renowned for its tolerance of differences. What happened to yours?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

always disturbed when I see someone in SF practicing intolerance like that.

The only thing we should be intolerant towards is intolerance.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

Child, why do you care so much about what I care about?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:59 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

On the contrary, it is because of my tolerance that I am always disturbed when I see someone in SF practicing intolerance like that and like yourself with your rank intolerance. The only thing we should be intolerant towards is intolerance.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

At that link (19 Signs You Need To Unplug From Your Smartphone), check out:

18. You lose awareness of your surroundings.

After that woman fell into the fountain at that mall because she's glued to that gadget and not watching where she's going, did you see that even after falling in the water, she had to then go pick up that precious gadget. I guess so she could do it all over again either there or somewhere else. What did people do before these gadgets infected their lives? I've never seen anything like this. The absolute addiction to them and of course advertised/pushed-on to the sheep by the corporate media. "You must have this" is the message sent. The inability to put it down, turn if off, not have to frantically check it every-other-minute. A friend of mine said "well there's one positive thing about gadgets and that is you don't have to hear people talking and saying the word "like" every-other-word. I think I'd prefer they stay addicted to their gadget than to hear that."

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

San Francisco is world-renowned for its tolerance of differences. What happened to yours?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

Classic Pot calling Kettle. Project much?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 8:21 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 8:19 am

"He?" How do you know the gender of the person? Or are you always sexists? And when someone disagrees with you it's hate?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 1:34 am

"After that woman fell into the fountain at that mall because she's glued to that gadget and not watching where she's going, did you see that even after falling in the water, she had to then go pick up that precious gadget."

Well the critical question is: Was the phone alright?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

I completely understand what you're saying. I sense your frustration and share it as well. I used to go out to dinner with my friends but increasingly lately have been less interested in doing so because of their smartphone is what they're having their dinner with, and not me. I'm left sitting there looking at the walls. They are more interested in that phone than they are in me. I'm sick of it. They have to check it every few minutes. All they're doing is flipping through sex profiles on a sex app. They have to interrupt the server and make him or her wait before answering a food choice question because my friend is on his smartphone. So the server is standing there waiting. It's embarrassing. I'll be talking with my friend at the dinner table in the restaurant and I can tell s/he doesn't have a clue what I've said because they're staring at that phone and saying, "uh huh, uh huh." I saw a mutual friend of one of my friends and he said the same thing is happening to him. He refuses to go out to dinner with our mutual friend any longer. I'm about ready to leave the restaurant the next time this happens because I'm fed up with it and tell my friend: I'm leaving. Enjoy your dinner with your smartphone since clearly that's more important to you than dinner with me or anything else. Text yourself the next time you want to go to dinner with me.

Posted by Guest Mike on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

and so an inanimate object is actually more interesting than your company?

Your post near sent me to sleep so I think I see the problem here.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 8:21 am

Asshole.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 11:37 pm

That interesting because I say the exact same thing about your posts. Kinda dull. Nearly sends me to sleep. Your posts remind me of reading something from the living dead. At least Mike's attention span is longer than that of 2 sentences. That's about all you can handle.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 11:59 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:57 am

Ever consider taking your own advice, as well as not assuming someone's gender?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

So I went with male.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

Child, you don't follow threads well do you? Attention span problems again? Where you presumed someone's gender and used "his," you were responding to this: Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

Not Mike.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

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