A Networked Thought

I’ve been enjoying the work of two friends over the last few months, and the other day, sitting in a cafe in Edinburgh, I tried to work out why it was I liked them so much.

The two things in question are Matt Irvine Brown’s modern boogie yus Spotify playlist, and James Bridle’s New Aesthetic Tumblr.

First, you should assume I’m reading way too much into this. They’re just good things, and don’t need justifying with pseudo-intellectual blogging.

With that out the way, I think there’s something about them both that feels new and interesting.

Matt’s playlist is a collection of recent electronica with a decent beat. Every few days Matt comes back to it, adds a few tracks to it, moves a few around, maybe deletes a couple. Because it’s on Spotify you don’t have to download anything to listen to it – it’s all there and instant-on and legal.

At its most clinical, Matt has taken a slice of music and given it a name and a place on the web. Because it’s got a URL we can point at it, share it, and when Matt updates it, everyone’s copy updates with it. As he discovers new music he adds them to the playlist, but adjusts the older tracks to flow better too.

Matt has a good taste and knowledge of music, so it feels like I’m getting to watch over the shoulder of someone I respect as they thumb their way through a record shop, slowly building up the perfect playlist. It’s a bit like a mix tape which is always shipping.

James’ New Aesthetic Tumblr is in a different area entirely, but perhaps has some similarities.

James has coined a thing: a word, a patch of culture, bounded by a thought in his head. We’re watching James work through this thing he’s named, and the act of collecting these examples of the New Aesthetic is his way of working out what it is.

I’m not sure he’s always right, or that I agree with all his choices – but that’s fine because it’s his thought, not mine, and we’re all just watching.

Both of these seem like something new to me: something approaching a networked thought. They’re slow, evolving over months, but in full public view, as they both work through something that’s interesting to them through the act of curation and collection.

The playlist and the Tumblr are just containers for other people’s work, but the thought is in the connections, not the nodes.

I suppose part of my interest in them is a natural extension of the curiosity about the working process of creative individuals. A bit like the way people want to know what software was used to design a website, or what tools an author uses.

By watching the work evolve we might get a better understanding of how they both think and some of that might rub off on us.

And regardless, they’re both just good.