Rhod Beard: Missives from the Cultural Frontier

Missive 1: Wales Arts Review and inventing the future

Sooooooo excited to have Wales Arts Review back in my Google Glasses! For me, WAR is reassuringly pitch-perfect blend of old world socialist volunteerism, intellectual snobbery and digi-democratic webnovation. Too many people aren’t paying enough attention to the radical ways in which information network systems are already reorganising society, and profoundly altering our conceptions of what the human being can be. Christ, there are still people out there who read print. Now don’t get me wrong, my artist chum Magnus creates bespoke poetry pamphlets on a Gutenberg press he hand-made himself – his pamphlets are absolutely exquisite but no-one reads them beyond the Pontcanna Balladeers. Yet, in spite of my weakness for cultural nostalgia, I think that no one in their right mind would invest in print publications with circulations that’ve been shrinking from a peak somewhere in the late sixties – did someone say moribund? Like everything else I download – from a by-the-numbers Beatles cover performed by The Unthanks to those William Morris inspired screensavers – I don’t expect to pay for it, so big thanks to those Quixotic fools at Wales Arts Review for carrying on the payless fight against print-centric redundancy.

In celebration of their comeback, Managing Editor Phil Morris kindly asked me to play Nostradamus (must be the beard) and peer into the future of the internet to see where Wales Arts Review might be headed. As a trend-surfing virtual prognosticator I’ve made a tidy fortune by sensing just where the micro-processor and human aspiration might intersect. I recently created an app that randomly generates images of obscure and exotic food combos to be automatically posted across your social media networks. On a busy day, who has time to find the Nepalese Restaurant that serves your favourite Yak yoghurt based tzatziki with thrice-cooked tofu chips and tweet a pic of it? Epiphany alert! My ‘Tweet Wot U Eat’ app is now available on iTunes for £5.99.

Currently, I facilitate a series of workshops for merchant bankers working for HSBC titled, ‘Digital Parenting: Who said it has to be remote?’ Though I say it myself, it’s so heart-warming to teach these desk-bound, emotionally-challenged, career-monkey Mums and Dads how to tell bedtime stories via Skype, and how to express their love for their children in 148 characters or less. As I like to tell all my banking clients, ‘Connectivity is presence.’

Let’s engage in some scenario planning exercises and map out a definitive overview of the virtual landscape. Most people simply regard the web as a healthy ecosystem of interlinked network operators, developers, infrastructure providers and resource management organisations. I prefer to view it as a struggling twentysomething, and like most twentysomethings it still has a lot of growing up to do. Hate to admit it but when I was in my mid-twenties I still considered the Manics to be a credible band with a coherent and important political message. Ah, we must regard the folly of youth with a tender contempt.

Here’s a few glimpses into our wireless future:

  • By the mid-21st century the internet will be all interaction and no content. You’ll no longer access a site for information but log into cool digital hangouts where the cognoscenti will reside, from whom you’ll derive all knowledge of what is hot and what is not. No doubt there’ll come a day when the writers of Wales Arts Review will be able to upload their opinionated snarkiness and smug cultural superiority directly into my brain.
  • Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give rapid feedback on all aspects of daily life. This will have repercussions with regard to personal health, as your shirt will be able to tell you when your heart-rate is too high. It will also have massive ramifications in the development of personal taste, as nano-technology will empower your trousers to inform you as to the precise moment they have gone out of fashion.
  • Political awareness and action will bring about more peaceful change through people power. Just looks at how public uprisings facilitated by social media, like the Arab Spring and the protests in the Ukraine, have successfully unseated tyrannies to create democracy, stability and peace.
  • The establishment of an ‘Ubernet’ in the next decade will eradicate our notions of borders, and new nations of those with shared interests may emerge online, beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control. Imagine a digi-world of ‘nations’ bound by commonalities that transcend language and history. In this new world peoples will be divided into those who Spotify and those who use Tidal, those who rave about ‘Breaking Bad’ and those who watch Ant and Dec. Where will you be in the irony wars?

And just exactly where will you all be on the cultural divide; between those invested in culture to the extent that you’re willing to read about it and discuss it here on a daily basis, and those who prefer to take their arts in quarterly instalments? I know that come the rise of the ‘Ubernet’ I’ll be a citizen of Wales Arts Review. In the Review offices I once saw a coffee mug with this mantra printed on its side; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ Well that’s exactly what these clever bastards at WAR have gone and done – they’ve only invented the future. Epiphany alert.


Rhod’s Cultural Life

At the pictures:   Let’s just say I’m charging Charlie Kaufmann rent for living inside my head

Must-see TV: Breaking Bad (pre-ironically), Gogglebox (ironically) and Gadget Man (post-ironically)

Books: Ayoade on Ayoade (see above)

Hangouts:  Chapter Arts Centre (natch) or anywhere pop-up

Relationship status:   Siri

Music:  Mumford & Sons (#sighnomore), Pharrell Williams (#forthehats) and Django Reinhardt (only on wind-up gramophone)

My Digital Life:   Searching for the next Snapchat

Biofuel:   I’ll eat it if I can tweet it

Libations:   TEA in Wyndham Arcade

Theatre:   Anything outside of a theatre

Earning my Crust:   Web Apostle

Cardio Burn:   Unicycling through Canton

Scene after dark:   New nightclub ‘Grandmasters’ – funky hip hop groove, feeling the retro chess sets in the chill-out room

Wearing:   Deerstalker, plus-fours, Crocs (for the giggles) and anything gingham


Next week: Rhod goes to the cinema.