Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: internet
Monday, 07 July 2014 00:00

Internet as Body Focus Response: Has technology changed the way we date?


When I first started to toss around the idea of exploring the stories of the gay male community in Taipei I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was attempting to narrate. How could I tell the varied and diverse stories of these men living, working, and loving in such a large city and focus the narrative enough to make something of the multitude of anecdotes I was hearing? Trying to weave together a thoughtful, honest, and accurate portrait of such a large, diverse community while doing justice all points of view within the group seemed almost too large of a task to take on within a single piece and threatened to kill the project before it even started.


Monday, 31 October 2011 14:41

Microblogs with Macro Reach: Spirituality Online In China

Sina Weibo is big in China right now. Essentially a microblogging service, it has elements of Facebook and Twitter, both of which (along with YouTube) are banned on the Mainland. With over 400 million users1, Sina Weibo is definitely a hit, and is likely to remain so as long as it does not become a vehicle for dissent and upset or threaten the government. Like all social media, Sina Weibo is overflowing with minutiae. Triumphs and tragedies, love and loathing, it is there for all to see. I enjoyed reading one of my Chinese namesakes wax lyrical about his newly rounded eyes (via eyelid cosmetic surgery). Body modification aside, the communication possibilities that Sina Weibo has generated are proving attractive to many in China, including those in the religious and spiritual spheres.

As I have written before, religion is a constantly evolving and fascinating phenomenon2, even in China where regulations continue to be more restrictive than in other countries in the region3. Here I will profile some of the various characters taking advantage of the enormous opportunity to promote their personalities, organisations and messages through Sina Weibo.

Taiwan’s Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) is a large Buddhist organisation that uses its Sina Weibo account4 to share quotations of spiritual inspiration and considered reflection - “What is self?” and “Success is a beautiful result, failure is a beautiful experience” are two recent thought provoking and decidedly non-menacing examples.

Xing Yun (星云) is a monk who fled China decades ago and has built a massive international Buddhist organisation based at Foguangshan (佛光山) in southern Taiwan. On Sina Weibo he has garnered an impressive 327,593 followers5. Like Dharma Drum Mountain, Xing Yun reaches out to his followers with a stream of short and poignant pieces of Buddhist wisdom. For many years Xing Yun and the late founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, Sheng-yen (聖嚴), would have dreamed about having such direct access to Buddhists in the land of their birth. Sina Weibo now gives them unprecedented reach. However, it is in the less orthodox bloggers that we can find even more innovative examples.

Terry Hu (胡茵夢) is a Taiwanese movie star turned author6. Her works are spiritual in nature, and include a translation of the biography of the 20th century Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. Currently promoting her autobiography, Hu is tapping into her network of Sina Weibo followers to drum up publicity by holding competitions. Those who forward details of her book onto three friends have the opportunity to win more books and the writers of the five most outstanding comments will also win a book. Several hundred bloggers have participated in this marketing ploy.

Another Taiwanese author writing and translating in the ‘body, mind, spirit’ genre (身心靈) is Tiffany Chang (張德芬)7 . Prior to her career as a spiritual figure, Chang was a news anchor on Taiwan’s TTV channel. Aside from writing her own books (Meeting the Unknown Self) and translating popular foreign authors, such as Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), Chang has produced a short series of videos where she reviews books8 and has assisted Taipei’s Huan-ting zen in Taiwan and China. Demonstrating considerable web savvy, Chang operates a China-based body, mind, spirit website called ‘Inner Space’9. She uses her Sina Weibo account to distribute news of updates on Inner Space to her followers, who number just under 100,000.

Perhaps the most interesting religious figure using Sina Weibo is the young Buddhist monk, Shi Daoxin (釋道心)10. Having accumulated over 189,000 followers, he uses Sina Weibo in a way that some might more associate with a self-absorbed and self-promoting youth. I have never seen a monk demonstrate such fashion sense; Shi Daoxin has a knack for matching his robes with his (often gaudily coloured) glasses. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, scroll down his blog and you will see a fantastic variety of photos.

Shi Daoxin pouting. Shi Daoxin posing wistfully outside a temple. Shi Daoxin rendered as a cartoon. Shi Daoxin meditating. Shi Daoxin meditating next to a naked babe.

The photo of Shi Daoxin meditating behind a penitent-looking female nude is particularly interesting. Apparently the winner of the Virginia Photo Exhibition in the USA, this photo is titled “Mind without obscuration” (心無罣礙) and is re-blogged with a quote from the Heart Sutra: “form is emptiness” (色即是空).

Besides his own manifold images, Shi Daoxin also uses Sina Weibo to disseminate Buddhist teachings, including videos from more established teachers, such as Xing Yun. He has also circulated several of his music videos, including one karaoke-friendly ditty where he sings a Buddhist song while wandering around a temple garden and market. The suitably devout chorus is “Amitabha Buddha, please protect me” (阿彌陀佛,呵護著我). Shi Daoxin has achieved some degree of celebrity, having participated in the TV dating show “The Whole City is Madly in Love” (全城熱戀) and was interviewed on China’s top daytime TV talk show “A Date with Luyu” (魯豫有約).

If there is one thing that this brief survey shows, it is that each of these bloggers is attempting to make religious ideas relevant to life in contemporary China. Methods vary greatly—orthodox or radical, commercial or benevolent—but the bloggers are linked by the common goal of seeking to share a spiritual message with the widest possible audience. Doing so via Sina Weibo does not necessarily dilute the potency of their messages. Writing on religious innovation in contemporary China, the Cambridge anthropologist Adam Yuet Chau recently wrote that

Modern technologies and other non-traditional elements can often be effortlessly incorporated into the framework of traditional idioms and practices, which in turn reveals the dynamic innovability of the traditions themselves11.

Sina Weibo is an ideal example of this innovability. Even the more ‘traditional’ bloggers discussed here, such as Dharma Drum Mountain and Xing Yun, have made a concerted effort over many decades to revitalise Buddhism so it is more relevant to life in the contemporary world. Microblogs are just another stage in the evolution of this process. Not surprisingly, Shi Daoxin also claims to be a disseminator of modern Buddhist culture and art, albeit in his own unique way. For the time being, Shi Daoxin et al will continue to be able to encourage, inspire, question and interact with their followers through Sina Weibo. And when Sina Weibo loses its lustre or is blocked, then I’m sure they will be among the early adopters of the next web platform, whatever it may be.

(Photo courtesy of www.weibo.com/shidaoxin)

 


 

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8851585/China-fights-to-silence-the-social-network.html

2.http://bit.ly/rC0vpY

3. http://bit.ly/uVZTtH

4. http://weibo.com/ddmbascc

5. http://weibo.com/1861268640

6. http://weibo.com/1243683297

7. http://weibo.com/1759168351

8. http://www.youtube.com/user/BOOKLIFE1313

9. http://www.innerspace.com.cn/f/index

10. http://weibo.com/shidaoxin

11. Adam Yuet Chau. Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Taylor and Francis, 2011, page 20.

 

 


Friday, 28 October 2011 15:26

Internet as Body

The Internet has been lauded and criticized from all sectors of society in recent years, especially in light of the role of social networking and the internet in the Jasmine Revolution and the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement but also in in areas as diverse as anthropology, the music industry and documentary film-making . Recently, in an interview with Renlai, Taiwanese director Wang Molin gave his two cents on the discussion as below:

Young people see an open society, they'll very easily suppose themselves to live in an open society, a freer, more democratic society. What concerns them are issues surrounding their own individual bodily desires, it is the bodily desires that stimulate them. Youth subcultures have become increasingly centered around the individual, this is the inevitable path of capitalism. Individualism should in theory lead to a more rich and multifaceted world, but people of the younger generation seem to think that computers constitute the world, they try to cram the world into a black box, and their bodies start to shrivel, leaving them with less physical energy. In this kind of era, it is impossible to get the youth to identify with society through protest a they lack a "body" or a physicality.

This might lead one to question then the value of medium like the internet, as it takes from us the physicality of our actions, and we enter the semi-real world of Baudrillard's simulation. So this month eRenlai re-examines this notion of 'reality' with a broad range of articles, some of which reinforce this impression, with the internet isolating them from society, giving them the compulsion to spend more than 8 hours a day on online games, and debilitating their social skills, for others it opens up the world, giving a voice to the disenfranchised within society and opening up new opportunities for love; others still suggest that online activity actually reinforces social norms, and as such should not be endowed with such a mystic reputation, that it is in fact the dynamic nature of human society itself and its institutions that are just harnessing a new medium of representation.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the internet has definitely changed the way we live our lives, whether we grew up before the advent of the internet proper, or if we were born digital natives and have grown up as the internet evolved and developed, and as the space requirements of maintaining the technology expanded exponentially.

Illustration by  Peri Shroom



Wednesday, 26 October 2011 18:02

Opening Windows to the World

By Mr Qiu (62/Male/Completely Paralysed), edited by Zhang Xingwen and translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart

I've lain in this bed for 36 years now. When I was 26 years old I had a car accident, which lead to my whole body becoming paralyzed; I went from being the boss of a steelworks to a bedridden patient. It was if my life went from colour to black and white. Thanks to my natural optimism, I wasn't defeated by this attack of destiny, for 28 years I relied on reading newspapers and watching the news on television, to keep myself informed and interested, and I became a kind of scholar of the modern age.

During this period, my contact with the outside world was conducted using a stick controlled by my mouth, with which I operated the phone and the television remote. Although I had heard that computers were an indispensable technological gadget for modern life, as I was paralysed from head to toe, I didn't even have a clear idea of what computers looked like up close, never mind actually using one.

That was up until I saw a news report on disabled people using a stick held in their mouths to use computers about 8 years ago. I burned with curiosity, so I called the news station and asked for their source, and they referred me to the Assistive Technology Centre. The engineer came to my home and designed a head controlled mouse for me using the stick I normally used to operate the phone and the TV remote control. I felt as he magically transformed it into a little helper that would allow me to use the computer.

When I could use the computer, the way I lived my life changed dramatically! When I could use the computer, the way I lived my life changed completely! As well as the vast and colourful resources and information that you can browse on the internet, what helped me most was that I no longer needed someone to help me flick through the telephone book. I put all the numbers of my friends and family into an Excel worksheet, and I only needed to tap once or twice with the stick in my mouth and I could find their number.

The internet provides a lot of conveniences that able-bodied people might not think of. One example is Google Maps, with the aid of my trusty stick, I can return to my ancestral home in the mountains of Miaoli and revisit my childhood memories, as well as getting a glimpse of what it looks like now. I also discovered blogging, which is so popular these days, I only need my 'little helper' stick, and I am endowed with a voice, with which I shared my story with lots of people, as well as being able to give help and encouragement to people in the same situation as I am in.

The internet helped me to resolve my financial situation too. As I am from a low income household, employing foreign workers to help around the house is necessary but it is also a big financial burden for us. At the end of 2002, the Council of Labour Affairs raised the Employment Stability Fee for employing foreign workers from 600 NT ($20US) to 2000 NT ($66US), which increased this burden even more. I wrote to the Council of Labour Affairs by email explaining my situation but did not receive a satisfactory response. So I wrote to the office of the President, the Executive Yuan, the Association of Spinal Cord Injury in Xinzhu, a disability organization, and finally the Social Welfare Department of the Ministry of the Interior to explain my situation. It was the Social Welfare Department that ended up helping me out. From the 1st July, 2007 the Employment Stability Fee varied according to income, low income households only need to pay 600 NT ($20US) per month and middle income households only 1200 NT ($40US) per month. Although in my letter I had asked that low and middle income households be exempt from the Employment Stability Fee, it was better than nothing. This is a clear-cut example of how the internet has helped me to overcome problems that have a real effect on my quality of life.

From time to time, I have to be hospitalized due to infection. Lying on a hospital bed without the internet is like being in prison, the boredom is worse than the illness. I wish that people who are confined to their beds everywhere could be given the ability to use computers and internet access, opening for them a window to the world, not having just to stare at the ceiling.

(Detail of a drawing by Bendu)


Wednesday, 26 October 2011 16:11

From Porn to Prime: Internet Life

I grew up with a small boxy TV. A Christmas present for my sisters, my brother and me. We even had our own den to watch it in, so my parents could watch their own TV, in their own space. 8 years later there was a new screen in our house. Not our first computer, but our first with a dial up modem and an Internet connection. For me the TV ceased to exist. At the time you needed just that to surf the Internet, time. Pages took so long to load that it was not efficient to spend time there. As quickly as it took for dial up to turn to cable and from cable to broadband, the Internet was my new medium for all things TV used to be. In my late teens, I should be honest and say, it replaced Playboy.

As I’ve grown with the Internet, and as it has grown to an uncountable number of pages and more than a staggering one billion gigabytes of information, I’ve never really taken time to consider what it is to me. It’s easily the most important piece of globe-shrinking technology since the airplane. It brings people, ideas, information (good and bad) together all in one place. And as I reflect on it, its major difference from the TV I grew up with is this: when we sit in front of the TV, it is programmed for us. All of it, the news, the sitcoms, cartoons and of course the advertisements, are all programmed so we don’t have to think about it. Our biggest decision is what to watch, and then let it flood into our minds without thinking too much more about it. Of course you can make a case that there is some good TV out there that makes you think, but if you are going to be honest you have to admit it is of the smallest fraction. With the Internet, every click of the mouse on any given link is your choice. The Internet offers you the power to program yourself, to find things that matter to you and dive deep into them, allowing you to decipher what is good information or bad, to offer your thoughts on these matters and find like-minded people.

Certainly the social media aspect of the Internet has been the boon of the last few years with the mainstream acceptance of all things Facebook, with over 800 million one-time users and 400 million daily users. The Internet is also responsible for the race in hardware and software innovation. One reason technology becomes outdated so quickly is the manufacturing of poor products to encourage the cycle of consumerism. Another is that the Internet doesn’t suffer from that cycle. It allows its users the arena to improve it at every moment. The internet in not being rapidly expanded or funded by the governments, corporations or the military industrial complex which rule our daily lives outside of it. It is just this fact that makes this piece of technology so important to the natural world around us. You can’t argue that humanity is destroying its habitat at a rate never seen before. And here the Internet is helping humanity as well; with more intelligent people getting positive ideas of change to a wider audience each time a user connects to the web.

As I said before, the Internet allows individuals to program their own content. I feel more and more of its users are, after gaining more confidence in how to navigate it, making better, smarter choices in the programming they are choosing. These better informed decisions, and we can see this already with all of the democracy driven movements around the world, are speeding up our return to sustainable living exponentially. Had this marvelous piece of technology not been available to the people of the world, corporations and governments would have free reign to brainwash a public addicted to the boob tube, and continue it’s agenda of raping our planet of every last resource at all costs.

So in conclusion, I can say not only is the Internet good for a well-informed intelligent population, but also it is possibly the best thing to happen to mother earth since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

(Drawing by Bendu)

 


Monday, 24 October 2011 11:06

Internet and Civil Society in China

Is there a “civil society 公民社会”in China? For more than two decades, Chinese intellectuals have been hotly debating the topic. Some of them stress that the basic differences in political system and traditions between China and the west make the use of such term inadequate, Other try to discern a “Chinese model”, according to which the participation of civic organizations to the consultative mechanisms established by the state ultimately fosters their independence. For these scholars, an “independent” civil society will ultimately be a fruit of the cooptation by the state of certain associations (chambers of commerce, charities, interest groups…), which feel gradually empowered by the tasks that the state entrusts to them.

However, ordinary citizens do not seem content anymore to see their participation limited to the domains and the mechanisms that the state unilaterally allow them to enter into. The meteoric rise of the use and power of Internet can largely be explained by the popular will to trespass the gradual mechanisms of social and political participation that the ruling class tries to enforce.  Online activism is not only about the content it carries: it stresses first and foremost the right of the public to debate any problem it finds relevant, and to do so at any time.

Different forces try to promote or constrain online activism – the state, the market and civic groupings work in fierce competition. Smaller organizations, less visible and which do not need to invest much in personnel and equipment may actually benefit the most of the flexibility of the online tools, fostering grassroots communities that are able to grow and to adapt very rapidly.

The Chinese Internet is not “democracy.” But it is an experimental platform where Chinese citizens aspire to build a model of debate and participation different from the limited version that the government tries to defend and promote. In the years to come, Internet will continue to be the focal point around which the evolution of China’s political, civic and cultural system will be debated and determined. In China, Internet may be already more than a “virtual civil society”: it has become civil society itself.

Read B.V.'s previous article on a similar subject:
Is the Internet the Bedrock of Civil Society in China?

(Drawing by Claire Shen)


Friday, 21 October 2011 16:06

Would Like to Meet Online

By Yoshi (34 / Male / Vagrant), edited by Raining Be, translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres


I have had two experiences of love online. The first was in 2001, just before I graduated from university, I met a girl online. I saw a message she had left on a BBS forum, and thought she seemed interesting, so I made an effort to befriend her. We exchanged messages online, and talked on the phone for about 3 months, and we agreed that we were officially dating. At that time she was studying in Texas, I even went there to visit her. The second time also began on a BBS forum, the girl was a friend of a friend. We kept in touch using Skype, although she refused to show me what she looked like (maybe she thought she wasn't pretty enough), I didn't really care about it at the time, as I think someone's character is the most important thing. This state of affairs continued for quite a while, in the meantime I had gone to study in Britain, until I returned to Taiwan and finally got to meet her.

Although both these online love affairs eventually fizzled out, the experience was not so different from other dating experiences, the feelings were all for real, in the end we still met in person, and there was proper interaction in both cases. These experiences made me realize that the online world and the real world are not parallel to each other, the internet is still just a part of the real world, it is not another dimension. The reason online love is not actually as unreal as one might think is that there are forms of intimate interaction with the internet, like phone sex for example. Phone sex is pretty interesting; it is really just two people getting off by themselves. I think that there is a link between the experience of phone sex and that of real sex, the difference is quantitative not qualitative. What I mean by quantitative is that phone sex relies only on stimulating someone with only their sense of hearing, it is not like real sex where all 5 senses are stimulated, but you are still interacting with the person, so there's no difference in the quality of the experience. It is like the difference between holding hands, kissing, and sex, they are contiguous, there's no defined boundary. In reality, phone sex is more intimate than holding hands, in my experience.

According to research into social psychology, it is easy for people to lose their inhibitions when using the internet, which means that when you are separated from other people by a computer screen, without the physicality of distance, people often feel more confident and secure. An example of this would be people who normally feel or react in an inhibited way, being able to talk to strangers about their private lives. So it is very common for people's speech and behaviour to be very different online compared to the real world.

This difference in mentality is very interesting when it comes to love, if ordinary dating is physical proximity, online these stages can be skipped, hence unique phenomena like phone sex can occur. It's like hitting a proverbial home run, without any actual physical contact. Perhaps, because I'm not so much about materiality when it comes to these things, it was easier for me to adapt. It's not enough, of course, but it allows people to reach a level of intimacy that other people only attain after several months or even several years -- it is something extremely personal, it requires trust, and an intensity of passion. Maybe this is what they refer to when they say it "lowers your inhibitions", the situation is extremely real.

However, you have to invest a lot more energy into love online than you would normally when you are dating someone in real life, with the exclusion of students and successful entrepreneurs, I doubt there are many people with the time to keep something like that going. The fact that it relies on voice and language means that if you are not a good talker, or you are clumsy with language, this kind of love affair is probably not for you, you have to be very sensitive to words and tone. The two girls I dated online had nice voices, and that was the main attraction really.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011 16:39

A Virtual Game that I Play for Real!

By Ni Ming, edited by Chen Yujun(Raining), translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres

I don't think I would survive without online games. I've enjoyed playing all kinds of computer games since I was little. In first year of university, all the guys in my class were playing ‘World of Warcraft’, so I decided to start playing it too. At one point I was playing for 8-10 hours a day, which would normally give me a headache and make me feel a little queasy because of the 3D gameplay. I had to sprint to the toilet all of a sudden.

The world of online games is like a microcosm of society. One needs to invest a lot of time and money in it. There are even people who arrange to go online every day at a certain time like punching a time-clock. As each team is made up of different characters with different classes, someone will be in charge of inflicting as much DPS (Damage per second) as possible, others heal, and others still tank, so if you are missing a team member it is impossible to continue with a quest. For the most part I undertake quests, play PvP (player vs player), or purely wandering around inside this other dimension made up of a fusion of technology and beauty. At times, when playing instances with randomly selected strangers as team members, I would be on the verge of tears from the pressure, although I also had good experiences. As the more challenging parts of the game need cooperation and communication between team members, if you make a mistake it can lead to the death of the whole team, so when you make a mistake it is hard to avoid feeling frustrated, that you have let everyone else down.

However, not everyone's attitude to the online game is the same, not everyone takes it as seriously as others. As well as this, due to controls set in place by the CCP on the mainland, if mainlanders want to play the latest version of World of Warcraft they have to find a way to use the servers for Taiwan and Hong-Kong, which means the servers are overburdened. Differences in culture, habits, and ways of talking inevitably cause friction between players. For example, one time when our team were in the middle of a game, one member of the team suddenly stopped responding, I was stunned, after a quite a long while someone said, "He runs a store, he's with a customer...". Everyone commits a lot of time and money to play, but this guy just abandoned the game without even a word to his team members! It leaves you speechless. As well as this kind of thing, there are quite a lot of strongly worded political arguments conducted between Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese players, which destroy the experience of the game for many people, leading some of the game's older devotees to stop playing altogether. Although the simulated world of the game is not so far from the real world in terms of how people interact, in the game gender is not important except in appearance, it all depends on the skill and style of the player, this makes the game's reality different from real life. Although it is not easy to tell a player's real gender, in the world of the game, girls often play male characters and male players often play as pretty girls, which is pretty interesting (although because male players are the majority, when people come across a female character they will often assume that the player is male).

On the whole, the current World of Warcraft is very diverse, although this diversity comes hand and hand with the problems mentioned above. People still organize player get-togethers, arrange to meet in the real world and make friends but the game lacks the sense of community that it once had. This is also true of the internet in general, due to changes in society, it has become less and less safe, and it is impossible to go back to simpler times. My experience of online gaming has influenced my value system, because it is real experience, even if it occurs in a simulated world, it is still an extension of the real world.

 


Wednesday, 19 October 2011 00:00

Privacy, Intimacy and Teleportation

Jose Ramon Duran, PhD student at National Taiwan University talks about the hazards and the future of the internet.


Friday, 28 January 2011 16:00

eRenlai and life's unexpected troubles

Translated by Jason Chen

People hate running into unexpected trouble. It catches us off guard and makes us feel helpless. Hackers are the greatest threat to websites and, being an administrator of the eRenlai website, my most feared type of unexpected trouble.

We are now 10 years in to the 21st century. The internet has been in rapid development since the end of the 20th century, evolving from a simple channel of communication to something that has become inseparable to everyday life. On the internet people learn new information, express their opinions and voices, create interpersonal networks and activity centres, share their everyday life experiences and so on. Through web-based texts, sounds and videos, we have developed a new kind of life and alternative social circles: the different experiences available in this new sphere have become important elements for many of us.

eRenlai is a new life for Renlai. This website allows us to share more of our stories, videos, sounds and relevant information with our readers. We can also get feedback from our readers and use this as the basis for improving our magazine. This is why we really treasure eRenlai; we are always thinking about how to make it better and to encourage more feedback from our readers.

Despite our best intentions, unexpected trouble has hit eRenlai. One day we were suddenly unable to upload pictures to our website because the folder path was gone and some functions of the website were lost. We were shocked and had no idea about what was happening. Not only were we in panic mode, we were also worried that the website - which we put so much time and effort into building - was going to go bust. Luckily the situation didn’t get worse and at least all the already-uploaded articles were still there.

We urgently called the system maintenance engineer and he undertook some chaotic investigations. The definite cause of the website’s problems was apparent - eRenlai was hacked. Our first reaction were that “Why? How could this ever happen to us?”. Like all unexpected trouble, everyone wants to know “the reason”. However, finding out “the reason” after something has already happened does not necessarily help the situation and can even delay the time available to solve the problem. Trying not to panic or fly into a rage, we asked the system maintenance engineer to urgently fix some functions of the website for us so we could at least keep it running. However, we knew that even if eRenlai is restored the nightmare wouldn’t just stop there. Not only do the website functions have to be fixed, we have to so improve security and change everyone’s username and password to prevent something similar from happening again in the future. A week after eRenali was hacked, all the staff in eRenlai were still reeling from this turmoil.

Although this unexpected trouble only happened on the internet and it didn’t cause any physical harm to me, the lesson it taught me was tougher than if it had. When expected troubles come, one can only face them, accept them, try and solve them and then let them go. Just as someone should carry on with his or her life regardless of whatever may have happened, a website should not stop running because it comes across moments of anger or sadness. For eRenlai to get back running and become a bigger and more secure website is a responsibility we owe to our dedicated readers. When such unexpected trouble arises we should learn to look forward as this is the only way we can turn such an adversity into an opportunity!

Photo: C. Chuang

 


Tuesday, 29 June 2010 20:54

Josh Homme and the rise of manufactured mystique

I have watched two seemingly distinct phenomenon over the last 15 years with considerable interest: the growth of the internet from a niche tool of academics and geeks to a brobdignagian digital life form; and Josh Homme’s transition from cult desert guitarist to supergroup-worthy rock god.  As people around the world now begin to ponder the long-term influence of the internet on society, I believe that analysis of Josh Homme’s career and can help shed some light on this evolution, in particular with regard to the mystique of artists.

Fifteen years ago, I was a curious high school student, who, among other teenage pursuits, was discovering the world of rock and roll.  Having dipped my toes into grunge, g-funk and somewhat mystifyingly, grindcore, I was trying to find my way in the mid-90s alternative music market.  In 1995 I bought a heavy metal compilation that featured One Inch Man[i] by Kyuss, a short-lived rock band from Palm Springs California featuring the then 22 year-old Josh Homme on guitar.  I was instantly transfixed.  This bass heavy track rode a groove that got my head bobbing while at the same had heavy enough riffs to make me feel tough.  Vicarious toughness through music was important to me at that age.  As my funds permitted, I bought all four Kyuss albums and listened to them endlessly.  In fact, 15 years later I still listen to Kyuss quite frequently.  They were that good.

In an odd turn events, only one week after discovering Kyuss, I read in Hot Metal magazine that they had just recently broken up.  At this stage I was still about 18 months away from using the internet.  Information on Kyuss was almost non-existent.  I found a band profile in a second hand copy of Hot Metal from a few years prior but other than that, nothing.  Apart from albums in record stores, an underground band that died in 1995 had little chance of maintaining any sort of profile.  With that being the case, to me Kyuss was nothing more than a well-orchestrated collection of highly listenable sounds.

 

In late 1996 I graduated from high school, eager to enjoy a summer of parties and cricket.  As events transpired, the only guy I knew who had internet access was having a party and I was invited. Sambucca and Southern Comfort were drunk up on the roof, girls were kissed and garden furniture was broken. I even have hazy memories of watching the clip for Wannabe by the Spice Girls. Wiiiild times, let me tell you my friend.  Early in the night I managed to get in a session on the internet – something to me that up until that stage was nothing more than a nebulous idea that media pundits liked to talk about – either as some whiz-bang medium of the future or as a dangerous forum for disseminating The Terrorist Handbook.  None of these options took my fancy.  For me, the internet was there to find out about Kyuss.

I discovered a website lovingly put together by a Kyuss devotee and printed off some fan-made guitar tablature.  At this party I also saw Kyuss film clips for the first time.  The band was a strange looking bunch, swaggering around the California desert belting out psychedelic metal riffs.  In the Green Machine filmclip, Josh Homme cut a very unfashionable figure – shorts and boots worn together have never been very rock and roll[ii].

Three months later I was enrolled at university and the internet was suddenly at my finger tips.  None of my lecturers had worked out how to use the internet as an educational tool and most of the content on it was made by amateurs.  In spite of this, the internet was a revelation to me (like it is to most) and I spent many an hour using Hotbot to scour the neighbourhoods of Geocities, as one did on the Information Superhighway in 1997.

Over the next two years I eagerly checked Kyuss fan sites, hoping for news on upcoming projects.  Occasionally there was a tidbit – Homme and his mates were jamming in the desert, the singer had a new band, the bass player had opened a pet store in Palm Springs, the old drummer was playing with Fu Manchu and so on.  But these stories were rare, and there appeared to be no system for digitally disseminating them.  It was more or less gossip or info culled from Californian street press and then uploaded on to fan sites.  And there were only a handful of these sites on the whole World Wide Web where I needed to look to find out anything, most of which were not much more than digital versions of zines.

Following Kyuss riding off into the sun, Josh Homme re-emerged in 1997 with Queens of the Stoneage, dropping the first track on the silly genre-naming compilation Burn One Up: Music for Stoners.  For those in Australia and without the internet, this event would likely have largely gone unnoticed.  When their debut album appeared a year later the only clue that Queens and Kyuss had some sort of connection was the sticker on the CD case – “Featuring ex-members of Kyuss”.  At this stage there was very little promotional material about Homme’s new band, who were dragging themselves around Europe playing small clubs and festival side stages.

Queens of the Stoneage toiled in the musical underground over the next 5 years.  Another album, R[iii], was released in 2000 and despite getting some play on alternative radio stations in Australia, it seemed that most of the band’s followers were all Kyuss fans first, Queens fans second.  Queens were still yet to cross over into the mainstream.  This changed in 2002 when ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and ex-Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan came on board. Queens released Songs for the Deaf[iv] and then became alterna-rock royalty.  For the rest of the decade the band chugged along, releasing albums, enduring personnel problems, all the while maintaining a solid fan base through regular tours and a generally positive critical response.  This success made Homme a bonafide star and brought public attention to his previously underground side projects, such as the Desert Sessions and the Eagles of Death Metal.  While it would appear in the eyes of most critics and many casual listeners that Queens will never top Songs for the Deaf, the band has still managed to somehow straddle the line between commercial acclaim and critical success, all the while producing a distinctive sound.

Of course, over the duration of the 2000s, the internet swelled with more and more folks getting online.  As magazines and newspapers shifted their content into digital format and tried to work out how to keep making a buck, music blogs grew to become the arbiters of trends and memes.  And then there was the explosion in social media (mySpace, facebook, youtube, twitter et al) that, theoretically at least, allowed people across the world to access media with ease that most of them couldn’t conceive of 15 years earlier.  I certainly couldn’t have predicted this digital landscape when I first heard One Inch Man and wondered who Kyuss were and how they could make such transcendent music.

Now I can log onto youtube and watch Kyuss performing live in the Californian desert at one of their legendary ‘generator parties’[v].  Once upon a time I knew that these videos existed but not being familiar with the obscure world of tape trading (what tapes did I have to trade?) these gigs stayed a mystery to me.  As did the performance at the Bizarre Festival in 1995[vi] or the Italian TV gig from around the same time[vii].  For my friends and I, the unattainability of these shows created an aura of mystery.  We certainly weren’t at the shows and had no chance of watching them.  This let our imaginations run wild.  We already had the soundtrack – then we just had to dream of the desert, the drama and the drugs.

Now I can watch all these videos from the comfort of my sofa.  Beyond the initial investment of a laptop, modem and internet access, the world of Kyuss is at my fingertips.  My Taipei apartment couldn’t be further from the shifting sands of California’s Sky Valley but the internet has knocked down that time/space barrier.  That Kyuss’ history has been uploaded is fantastic and in some ways I wish it had happened 15 years ago when my curiosity was at its peak.  But then my appreciation of the band might not have become what it did.  My imagination had to fill in the gaps.

From the few interviews that I was able to read back in the day, I built up an image of Josh Homme.  He came across as chill, and didn’t seem to have the agro that is part and parcel of the metal world.  Then when Queens first started getting press, he claimed to want to create music that makes girls dance, a noble desire in the sweaty dude-filled moshpit that is the world of rock.

Now I can find out almost anything I want about the man.  From Homme’s collection of weird guitars[viii] to the somewhat infamous footage of him loosing his cool at a concert in 2008[ix].  Everything is there, pixellated and ready to download.  Fortunately Homme has maintained his sharp sense of humour and while he has developed something of a rock star attitude, he generally comes across as a likeable guy, someone you could sink a beer or two with.

What does this mean?  Without his ever-growing web presence I think it would be harder for Homme to maintain his career. The music audience has come to expect a steady stream of interviews, live footage and miscellanea to sustain interest in an artist.  Fan-made clips and shaky camera phone recordings augment the glut of professional digital media available, padding out an already large cyber presence.  But by no means has Homme saturated the market.  In the current climate of Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and their ilk he still remains on the fringe, even with Them Crooked Vultures, his latest project where he has reunited with Dave Grohl and rounded out the band with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

TCV hit the ground the running and over a period of months went from nothing more than an intriguing concept flagged on a blog post to headlining venues and festivals around the globe.  Tantalising fans with a well-conceived drip feed of studio footage and live clips, TCV (and their management) cleverly used modern communication channels to drum up interest prior to their album’s release.  In a world where illegal downloads threaten the livelihoods of all those involved with recorded music such an approach is now necessary.

This manufactured mystique captured the public’s attention but ultimately left me feeling a bit hollow.  Yes, I watched a bunch of youtube clips and got the gist of what was going on.  But of all Homme’s many projects over the last 15 years (he is a truly prolific collaborator) this one left me the least intrigued.  The whole gestation of TCV had been manipulated to the extent that when the band finally entered my world, I didn’t really care.  There was no magic.  Despite the behind the scenes spontaneity that Homme, Jones and Grohl undoubtedly experienced, I felt like the whole product was being force fed to me.  Not that TCV is a bad band – their tunes seem to be more or less worthy given the group’s much heralded genetics – it’s just that they somehow seem to lack that magic that Homme’s earlier recordings have.

As it becomes easier to build up an extensive archive of an artist, where every recording and performance can be downloaded, where every interview and blog post can be scrutinized, artists have become more accessible than ever before.  Fans have almost instant access to the minutiae of their idols.  It is easier for established artists to step away from this trend.  Their fanbase is already established.  But struggling artists seeking to make a name for themselves need to harness the digital media machine to get their ‘product’ out there.  To do this and somehow maintain an aura of mystery seems to me to be a challenge.  With over-exposure it is easy to tire of an artist and move on to the next emerging sound, of which there will be always be a dozen emerging micro-genres to pick and choose from.

Who knows, Homme is an artist who fortunately shows no sign of burning out after two decades of recording.  There will no doubt be much more to come from him.  And sure enough, I’ll be at my keyboard, waiting for news of the next project he has up his sleeve.  I just hope that it blows in like a cloud of sand from the desert rather than appear on my twitter feed as a micro-managed meme.

(Photo by Craig Carper, source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giarc80/3976623459/)


[i] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAXGu81Rk1g - ‘One Inch Man’ from And the Circus Leave Town (Kyuss, 1995)

[ii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc-7FXzbeA0 - ‘Green Machine’ from Blues for the Red Sun (Kyuss, 1992)

[iii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAXPUN2z2CE - ‘Feelgood Hit of the Summer’ from R (Queens of the Stoneage, 2000)

[iv] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s88r_q7oufE - ‘No One Knows’ from Songs for the Deaf (Queens of the Stoneage, 2002)

[v] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPFhyd3fabs - generator party in the Californian desert (Kyuss, c.1993)

[vi] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pMfqZGg-FA ‘Gardenia’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live in 1995 (Kyuss, 1994)

[vii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j4A2iGgQQk ‘Asteroid’ from Welcome to Sky Valley, live on Videomusic (Kyuss, 1994)

[viii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY_O3eo1m1Q ‘Josh Homme’s cathedral pipe guitar’

[ix] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfZm32tpWY8 - ‘Josh Homme (QOTSA) pissed off @ Norwegian Wood’


Saturday, 24 March 2007 18:10

Web 2.0 and the Diversity of World Catholicism

With some 1.1 billion members, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest single religious body. It is also becoming more and more universal. While, in the past, the majority or the clergy and the faithful, were of Western, especially European origin, the transformation occurred during the last fifty years have been astounding. Africa has seen the number of Catholics growing exponentially, and, because of demographic shifts, Latin America and, to a lesser degree, Asia have also increased their share within the Church. It can be safely predicted that the Catholic Church will be less and less a European one. These changes had been well prepared by the second Vatican Council, held at the beginning of the sixties, which opened the Church to the modern world and to the diversity of cultures.
At the sane time, the Church is undergoing a number of crises: in its former strongholds, such as Western Europe, its influence is faltering; in Latin America, the appeal of Protestant fundamentalist cults is growing; in the US and elsewhere the sex abuse scandal has weakened the clergy; new scientific challenges, especially in the bioethics field, oblige the Church to reexamine part of its teachings; women are looking for a more recognized role within the hierarchical structure of the Church; and the dialogue with other religions, especially with Islam, is not only as smooth as could be desired….

The future of the Catholic Church is not of interest for Catholics alone. As one of the biggest and most influential organizations in the world, Catholicism exercises an influence that goes far beyond the number of the faithful. This is very clear in Taiwan. Though the number of Catholics is very modest (a little over 300,000, as far as this can be asserted), the church has been extremely influential and effective in operating institutional and medical facilities, and its cultural reach is not limited to parishes. Its role in organizing and energizing aboriginal communities has been and continue to be important. At the same time, its has not fulfilled the hopes that it cold have in the xsixties when it started to spread around the island. The Church is older and less creative than it was three decades ago. In Taiwan as elsewhere the Catholic church is indeed at the crossroads.

Will we move towards a Web 2.0 model for the Church? However important the clergy might be, the Church is built around the “people of God’ – the faithful. Throughout the voice of ordinary Catholics we can also discern which road the Church has to take. Each day we have to decide anew tot ake on the road rather than standing at the crossroads…

Attached media :
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