Beamspun 1.7 "Pink": 2nd May 2021
Beamspun is a regularish newsletter/mailout about narrative, tech and magic for a better world. Published on a Sunday around the full moon, expect thoughts and links on anything from renewable power to ritual energy.
Pink Moon edition
Local sunrise / publish time: 0431 UTC (-13m)
"...and the sky's the limit."
With these simple words, Jean-Luc Picard wrapped up the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For followers like me, it was - as with the culmination of any long-arced narrative - a moment of sadness. They ushered in the last ever fadeout, leaving me suddenly free from all the characters and stories which had held our hands for years. At the end of a good tale, it is hard to tell if the fictional world's inhabitants are any more or less important than the spectators, when it comes to the sheer existence of the story's power. The watched and the watcher are bound up in the same illusion.
Staring up at the pale, bright blue sky today, the closing line comes back to me. I gently wonder to myself if the sky has a limit, or where I would stop if I found myself floating up and up. What would the sky be the limit of - some sense of presence and grounding? The oxygen that feeds us and the plants it help grow? Time itself? Does it make sense to end a Star Trek - set largely and deeply away from gravitational globes - with such a paradox as 'the sky', or does it, in fact, make the ultimate fourth-wall nod to the viewer who inherently ties the entire show's premise back down to earth, just by sitting there?
I was thinking about this because whenever I look around these days, stories are the most important and ubiquitous thing I see. Visions of the future, explanations of the present, and forensic archaeology acting to rediscover and reinterpret where we've come from. The technology and the patterns we employ every day - from the apps we install to the hours we go shopping - are woven around us, coccooning us in their default desires. We know them off by heart, to the point that we no longer think about them, and we dream of something different just because we are human. Our routines started out as someone else's dream, once upon a time.
Beamspun is just another of these dreams. There are links here to tech, but it's not about the efficiency of solar panels or a set of protected trees, not really. Most of all, it's a wayfinder, a pebble thrown into the far reaches of wherever.
We forget that we're wrapped up in so many stories already, and we lose track of who the scriptwriters are. We suffer the same fate of any fan of a long-running narrative - a fear that by ending the current story and our familiar routines, we will no longer have anywhere to go, or anyone to tell us how to feel. And yet, for change to happen, something must always be coming to an end, all the time.
Beamspun and solarpunk are not, I would argue, about hammering out practical solutions. They exist because we know the sky is an illusion, and that something beyond the sky is ready and waiting for us, even if the gravity of the stories we're already in makes it difficult to leave them.
They are unknown paths to unknown places, but we can still follow them.
futures: Attempting to re-structure the stories which we embed into our own cores, the Moral Imaginations project is a fantastic endeavour, and the summary of the first year hits home so powerfully. "...we have stopped perceiving the full spectrum of who we are, what a good human life is made up of, and the magic and possibility of a human life and the world that surrounds us." Go read it now.
lost: I've also dug out Paul Watson's post on the "post-apocalyptic pastoral" from last year, which has some important ideas and links in it. Perhaps he is right, and we have reached a point where imagining something different is hard - maybe even impossible among the capitalist ability to infiltrate and capture change. Or perhaps we are riding an intensely strong capitalist paradigm which is waiting to burn out (literally) before we're able to re-invigorate our need to dream again. I get this sense that the true creatives will be the ones who have managed to successfuly detach themselves from the comfort of modern living first.
perspective: Space10's run-down of going 'beyond human-centred design' is also really resonating with me at the moment. "We know we’re on the right track if our design has the potential to last us a long time." What if objects were designed not to sell, but to exist appropriately and in line with all the squidgy, fleshy, messy bits of the world. To carry out a job, but be as temporary as life and as sustainable as a forest. To embody intergenerational contracts. To recognise humility and silence in people?
underneath: A long-read it's going to take me a few run-throughs to get the most from, Nora Bateson asks What is 'Submerging'? Or, what comes before where we are now? What were the conditions that led to something emerging? "...in a meadow each organism is wrapped into life in many ways, not just one, many. Some of which are in the songs of love in meadows, or the fertile youth of blooming flowers. It is tempting to separate the ecology of meadows from the ecology of ideas… but that again is just a perception."
architecture: This is an incredible house 3D-printed from earth, from Mario Cucinella Architects, and 3D-printing company Wasp. I find it fascinating how alternative materials and processes end up looking as only they can, and am fascinated by what our mass-produced structures encapsulate.
energy: Return to Now covers a scheme to bring the "Hans-Free" cycle-powered electricity to rural areas. Dynamos feel more 'punk' than solar panels to me - a bit of wire and magnetic field, and you're good to go. Sources of rotation are pretty generic and in that sense, there's not much difference (ha) between a bike, a waterfall, and a nuclear power station - something spins round. As lockdowns continue around the world, wouldn't it be great to see a demand for exercise turn into a supply of cheap, localised power?
connection: I have this theory that the internet encourages us to increasingly live in the world of symbols - including words and language. So could AI help humans to understand whales? And if so, would humans be more likely to sympathise with them? Or control them? Is it a good thing to 'hook into' other species' symbols in that way?
- data: For the data geeks - No Tech Magazine have published a quick chart showing uptime for their solar-powered website. Data is feedback is good.
- gaming: Find seeds, water them, and grow flowers to move through a tower in Flowers for Time, an 8-bit retro game you can play right in your browser.
gaming_2: And more generally, PC Gamer looks at whether games can bring a more solarpunk sense of positivism to the world, and talks to Phoebe Shalloway. I haven't played Shalloway’s Even in Arcadia yet but it's definitely on the up-next list. There are some really interesting other games linked to in the article as well.
resources: And finally, this is the largest list of open-source sustainable tech I've seen yet. Everything from energy generation, to storage, efficiency, and datasets. Well worth a bookmark.
Image from Solare
It looks like the so-old-it's-retro service offered by Feedburner is being closed down, or at least tidied up, in July. This means I'll have to find a new service for delivering Beamspun via email - which is probably a good thing, to be fair.
I've started some initial digging into possible replacements, but any further options for sensible, sustainable mailing list services are welcome - especially if they play nicely with blogging services.
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And if you're interested, I'm also documenting my own 'everyday solarpunk adventures' over at the 6suns blog.