Saturday, 5 July 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

The world population explosion, driving up demand for food, clashes with the West's desire to reduce its dependency on the world's major oil producers by growing biofuels. Biofuels seemed to be a brilliant response to declining fossil fuel energy reserves, but are they just adding to the chaos? So it seems according to a leaked World Bank Report which estimates that the drive to biofuels has driven up world food prices by a massive 75%.

Doh! Gotta think of something else! In our rush to address the multiple interlinked crises we are beginning to face by seizing the latest innovation, we usually find it is too good to be true. It's usually only as we alter our behaviour and begin to relax that the true implications of the gear shift become clear. Biofuels is one example, carbon offsetting is another as people and organisations continue to burn through fuel whilst outsourcing their conscience to some corporate-accounting jiggery-pokery.

Still, it's hard. I even felt myself exhale calmly, at last week's New Scientist event, as Ray Hammond hinted that artificial intelligence may soon come to our rescue by solving all of the problems that currently reside in homo sapiens' 'too hard' box. It might, but we can't stop trying to solve our problems in the meantime just because we think that the world's greatest agony aunt might be a few technological iterations away. We are continually challenged with seeking out, adopting and quite often rejecting new technologies, tools, techniques and behaviours as we try to keep the plates spinning until the 'singularity' event, when our computers' intelligence eclipses our own, occurs.

As markets transform themselves in the face of technical, cultural and commercial changes, will their new identities pass the green test? Take the music industry for example. Always one for predicting its own untimely demise, it is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry which has proved itself more than adept at coping with the demise of vinyl, the rise and fall of the CD, the spectre of Napster and the rise of legimate and illegitimate downloads. Its current response is to shift its emphasis away from making the bulk of its money on the music itself and diverting its attention to the huge revenues which can be generated from mammoth tours and festivals, with all of the merchandising and spin-off activities that come with them.

So whilst we all take a greener route to accessing our media, through downloading music or video, those savings get trounced as the entertainment industry ramps up its spend on ever more expensive energy-sapping tours, events and festivals which, the the UK, US and Europe, fill up almost every weekend from Easter to autumn. No doubt there's some convenient carbon offsetting going on... so that's OK.

Festivals. I'm rarely drawn to them. I usually skim across the vast line-ups sprawling over multiple stages and several days and circle those acts I'd like to see. I generally come up with less than a handful... enough to fill a couple of hours really. However, this week saw the line-up revealed for September's "All Tomorrow's Parties" festival. Unusually, I found that I was circling more acts than I was striking out. I'd love to go, but even if I could afford it, how could I justify flying to New York's Catskill Mountains for the weekend.

Where will we look for experiences to rival the live gig/festival experience? Probably to technology again as the avatars we create in our Second Lives become more closely integrated with our most closely-felt perceptions and experiences. In the meantime, I suppose that I'll just have to wait for another opportunity to see Bob Mould, Dinosaur Jr, Tortoise and Mogwai on the same bill. What are the odds?
Here's a useful perspective on this stuff from today's Sunday Times.

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