In the opening essay of Dark Mountain issue 6, ‘The Focal and the Flask’, Tom Smith discusses the difference between the digital technology-based world we increasingly inhabit, and a human-framed ‘focal’ world, in which cultures are built around the collective focus of a fire. Focal things, he writes:
‘involve real reconnection with people, species and landscapes… entail greater involvement, greater work and knowledge, greater negotiation with others, all often seen as inconveniences in the narrative of modernity.’
To reverse the destiny of our restless, machine-driven world, we need to take up practices that go in another direction entirely – practices like growing vegetables, saving seeds, making and repairing things for ourselves. We need to learn another way of framing our lives and another way of relating to the things within it. If we don’t, our lives will be designed for us, and the direction of travel will be away from the physical and towards the digital; that is to say, away from a relationship with the world around us,and towards a deeper immersion in ‘virtual’ worlds made by and for humans alone.
Yet we can’t ignore, either, the technological changes which, with ever-increasing pace, are spreading their runners under our feet, into our homes, and through the very substance of our thoughts: the ever-present web, the hand-held devices, the apps-for-everything, the coming ‘internet of things.’ At the same time that the machinery of civilisation is colliding with ecological limits to growth – in terms of space, energy, resources and the amount of abuse the Earth will absorb before it responds with violent change of its own – innovations in software, robotics, artificial materials and genetic manipulation are accelerating, altering the fundamental relationship of humans to the world and to themselves. It is happening so fast that it is barely possible to measure it, let alone properly assess its impact.
Where does this leave us?
From its inception, the Dark Mountain Project has sought to find ways to reconnect writing and art with the material, the practical, the focal. We took the decision to publish real books and vinyl albums, and to invest in making them well-crafted objects of beauty. At our Uncivilisation festivals, many people learnt to forage, scythe and use traditional woodcrafting tools.
At the same time, we have never seen the value in an artificial regression from our contemporary technological reality – a pretence that we can simply carve our wooden spoons and not think about the hidden infrastructure of technology supporting the fabric of our lives. Instead, we have tried to draw the best from the past as we think about the future, and we have tried to think about that future outside of the often dualistic and divisive frameworks that are set up around the discussion: romantic versus progressive; technocrat versus ‘Luddite’; doomer versus utopian; future versus past.
The seventh Dark Mountain book will be published next month (to get your copy hot off the press, you might want to consider our subscription options) but we are already turning our minds to book 8, which will be published in October this year. And while some previous Dark Mountain anthologies have had very broad themes, we are looking to do something a little different with this one.
Dark Mountain issue 8 book will contain a more focused selection of writing than we have produced before, which engages with a single idea: the relationship between human beings and the things we make; with our machines and our tools, our technologies and our hands, and the future of all of them. The Greek term technê encompasses all of these ideas, its implications stretching all the way from music to motorcycle maintenance, from ancient philosophy to AI.
Specifically, this time around, we are looking for two kinds of contribution:
* Non-fiction of between 1000 and 6000 words, engaging with issues of the human relationship with technology high and low, with making, craft, art and skill. This might be in the form of analytical essays, personal stories or creative non-fiction. For this book, we are not looking for fiction or poetry. Alongside these essays, we are seeking shorter pieces: designs, blueprints, objects, musical scores, recipes or instruction manuals that embed the book and the reader back into the world of doing. We’d like the philosophical and the practical to sit side by side.
* Visual art which offers new and dynamic ways of looking at technologies low and high, including photography, painting, drawing, objects, graphics, portraits of makers. We will also be looking for submissions for a colour cover. There will be more space for artwork in this issue than we have had in previous books, so photo essays are also welcome. For formats please check our submission guidelines.
The deadline for Dark Mountain issue 8 is Sunday 31st May. Please send all submissions as separate attachments to an email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line BOOK 8 SUBMISSION. We look forward to seeing what you send us.
Image: Three Gorges Dam in China by Edward Burtynsky from the documentary Watermark.