Daniel Agnew

I will be a little God in my small way.

GIFs as metaphors

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Faulkner

Back in the noughties I used to maintain a Blogger diary and updated it twice a week for the internet to read. What struck me reading it back (now safely offline) is not so much the pretentiousness or negativity but the extraordinary length I went to describe ordinary things.

Like all early bloggers I had no visual content to illuminate my words. And unlike today Little Earthquakes was my exclusive space on the internet. During the beta years, there were no status updates, memes or tweets to keep you entertained throughout the working day.

On reading my old diaries, it’s probably a good thing Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist. As while I’ll love dreamy quotes and literary feels until I die, I was a dreadful twentysomething.

Most people’s diaries are excruciating but there is an unnerving sense I could have done anything and blew it through inertia and self-sabotage. I was a little God in a small way or something like that.

Blogger

Nobody uses Blogger anymore but on re-reading my noughties blog I am surprised at the length and indeed the frequency of my updates. The paragraphs were longer, denser and wonderfully inconsiderate of modern formats that prefer reactionary images and videos.

Essentially I was a frontier blogger repeating what had gone on in the analogue era. And by writing in traditional English (words, sentences and paragraphs) my diaries will probably seem incredibly dated to future generations.

**

Visual means of communicating are already taking precedence with journalism reduced to using pre-existing and irrelevant Gifs as metaphors. Like why compose a 600 word blog when you can upload a 6 second Vine instead? The English language has always been in a state of constant flux and smartphone apps are revolutionising how kids communicate with one another.

Funeral Selfie

Last year’s Selfies at Funerals website was pretty funny and became a media obsession. Almost like the cartoon participants were an anthropological case study from another planet, but Generation Z are going to write the future and it doesn’t have to include words. As the seemingly trivial ‘selfie’ has an emotional resonance amongst teens that even people in their early thirties don’t understand.

Selfies are insanely silly for the most part – a warm, funny and entertaining way to share our feelings and communicate with one another. Witnessing the birth of a visual language is a fascinating experience. Smartphones have created something innately human and more importantly new. This has never happened before and our selfie obsessed culture is like a web born toddler taking its first steps.

IMG-20140315-WA0004

Visual storytelling is what moves people now and even Twitter’s famous 140 character limit is being invaded by images. Historically pictures have always been easier and quicker for people to understand. They get the message across more vividly.

With smartphones replacing words with photos I am already looking out of date. Indeed it is safe to say that anyone over thirty is now irrelevant. Even those who willingly embrace Snapchat and Vine while composing Emoji poetry are culturally obsolete  Emoji symbol

Emoji

Emoji is a visual alphabet from Japan that originated in 1999 because the Japanese language is not suited to short hand messaging. These “picture characters” are commonly misunderstood for emoticons, which is a portmanteau for emotions + icons we use to supplement our text messages and badly written emails (-:

A subtle difference but a profound one as Emoji symbols are replacing words altogether. That’s not to say the sentiments or ideas expressed in this way are any less profound than writing formally.

Digital problems require new solutions and visual shortcuts are inevitable if we spend all our time on smartphones. It’s an economy of scale. Just I’m unlikely to compose my thoughts in a visual alphabet when I’ve been brought up to use words, sentences and paragraphs.

Elephant in the Room

Although despite not taking any selfies or writing in Emoji you have to adapt to survive. Language has always evolved and mutated over time. Fitzgerald did not write like Shakespeare and Snapchat teenagers are unlikely to publish diaries with no Gifs or pictures.

The speed of change is relentless and my noughties blog has dated like an rotary dial telephone in an Apple Store. And you know what? It isn’t even that old. But history is accelerating faster than ever before. Less than a decade can pass and your twenties read like something from a period drama.

Kreuzberg Spring

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Görlitzer Park

Kreuzberg is like a grungy 1980′s throwback, where street art is everywhere and has an uncompromising political agenda. You can smoke in bars, buy drugs on the street and cyclists OWN pedestrians. They stream past you on eco-motorway lanes exclusively reserved for anarchists and ragtag bohemians. Nobody tells you but cyclists rule in SO 36.

Gutterpunks and hippies congregate in the dirty green epicentre Görlitzer Park, which is like Glastonbury gone breaking bad. Nobody gives a fuck or will spare you any change after dark. Situated a square inch off the Berlin tourist map, I watch the park dwellers from my rented Airbnb window.

BluFor two days I have become a micro-tenant in a five-bedroom flat run by a chain-smoking Latvian architect. She is lovely and my enormous double room is ridiculously cheap, especially when compared to London. There are numerous reasons why creatives take refuge in the area. One of them is space, a space to live, and work freely in place you call home.

And spring is a gorgeous time to explore Kreuzberg despite it not being remotely pretty. Some of most rewarding places to visit are the graffiti strewn neighbourhood parks. Shamefully I take snapshots of ANTI-TURISTA messages on my broken smartphone and walk eastwards along the canal.

East Side Gallery

Across the Spree in the former GDR, the East Side Gallery is a counter-culture tourist trap. No one local goes there, apart from you and your damned curiousness.

Wrought with iron bridges and red brick chimneys, East Berlin’s post-industrial landscape retains many scars, just you can no longer see them.

Back in the western district, I nearly collide with a screaming pensioner in Wiener Straße and I don’t fit in here. My inability to converse overseas has always been a source of unease.

Have you ever feared becoming a Forest Gump tourist, mugged of your freshly stashed euros and unceremoniously knifed by a local gang? Well that’s how I felt when I first arrived in Kreuzberg. Drug dealers are forever loitering outside the station and tall white men with rucksacks are in my experience – easy targets.

Over time you settle down and become more familiar with the local street culture. Keep your wits and you’ll discover a floating giant astronaut, bitcoin restaurant and a pirate shanty town. Not everyone is exclusively young or cool here. It’s a mixed community full of people residing in socialist apartment blocks.

Nothing better illustrates the power of urban change than Mariannenplatz. Once a scene of loneliness and desperation, I find myself listening to blackbirds on cherry blossom trees and feel rejuvenated from travelling. This is why I visit weird and unusual places. Even mundane spring parks get under your skin in Kreuzberg.

Heilpraktiskschule

The trouble is, you think you have time

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Global Warming

What would you do if you were told you only had fourteen years to live? It’s not cancer. It’s far worse than that. Floods haven’t been on the news recently but they aren’t going away and according to scientist James Lovelock climate change is going to unleash environmental devastation and by 2040 southern Europe will be a desert.

With global populations continuing to rise and third world countries developing a taste for red meat, the average British millenial is in a race to the bottom. And if James Lovelock is correct you should party like its £19.99 because you don’t have long left.

“Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

– James Lovelock, March 2008

James Lovelock is convinced climate change is inevitable and ethical living a scam. Recycling, wind turbines, planting nice trees – it’s a complete waste of time, the damage is already done and paying 10p for a shopping bag at Sainsbury’s won’t make a difference.

Ethical living is akin to a smoker quitting on his deathbed, it might make you feel better, but that’s all it will do. And you thought forking out for those solar panels was a good investment. Well your Dad probably thought so. But if you’re reading this you probably don’t even have a flat, let alone flash panels soaking up rays on a double garage.

If recycling pizza leaflets and beer bottles won’t save the planet, then what exactly can we do? Start paying 35p for the plastic bags we stuff underneath the sink? Grow carrots and potatoes in our back gardens and eat less meat?

Wait, statistically you live in an urbanised sprawl and don’t have a garden or any sustainable land. Your everyday survival is entirely reliant on the mass importation of food into corporate supermarkets.

Burgerthons

As a species we are tribal carnivores genetically programmed to eat everything we can. A risky gambit if you live on a small island that imports 40% of its consumed food. If Lovelock is correct and global catastrophe is only 16 years away then enjoy your burgerthon festivals and 2 for 1 pizzas while you still can. You can’t feed yourself on Twitter.

In that respect Generation Y doesn’t have much to live for and we’re the lucky ones. It’s your kids and unborn progeny, who are really going to suffer. Generation Z is fittingly apt because according to Lovelock “about 80%” of the world’s population will be wiped out by 2100.

The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time

You see this Buddha meme reposted on social media all the time. It’s probably fake but in the context of a forthcoming global apocalypse it’s worth paying attention to. With a decaying eco-system and billions of new hungry mouths wanting a first world lifestyle, there isn’t much point saving for a mortgage.

As your dream home is either going to be flooded or raided by starving vigilantes looking for something to eat. If Lovelock is correct then you don’t have long left before pale blue dot metamorphoses into a dead planet. If you fancy a career break backpacking around South America, then enjoy the precious time you have left, or hope Lovelock is an alarmist mad scientist with nothing to lose.

If you stay at home and do nothing else, then savour every gourmet burger, chicken fillet and goats cheese salad you eat and pay virtually nothing for the privilege. Generation Z are going to pay that dividend for you.

Time is the longest distance

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Dalston

I love the internet as much as I love geography, it’s an infinite world of endless possibilities and one that allows me to expand my universe. From following violent revolutions in Kiev to going on a date in New York, the internet is a far cry from the banal conversations you have to endure IRL.

Cyberspace is a riotously intelligent place and massively exciting too. Only virtual networks are full of illusions and despite being able to instantaneously chat with someone 4745 miles away, we still have to live and breathe in the physical world. You need money and time to experience life on a big scale and rarely (in my experience) do you get access to both.

Hope is a temporary form of insanity and I usually immerse myself in long deep thoughts when walking through East London housing estates. My rented world of tower blocks, grocery stores and loitering teen gangs.

When I buy groceries at my local co-operative shop, I often find myself dreaming of a new life elsewhere. There is something about half-price pizzas and 30% off non-bio liquitabs that makes me feel inordinately depressed. And that’s before I make eye contact with the service assistants standing behind the till.

Planet Earth

Last spring I was made redundant from an exhausted media company and finally escaped from my desk. After the initial shock of seeing my employer go bust, I received a handsome pay out and experienced what I had always craved – free time and lots of money.

With the virgin bloom of fresh green leaves and daffodils swaying in the mud of Anglican churchyards, I sat in nearby Hoxton cafes searching for a plan. And by sheer chance I found myself embarking upon a transatlantic journey that was foolish, romantic and utterly exhilarating. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.

And on finding myself in an almost identical situation (minus the severance package) I am pining for a new hopeful song. As there is probably someone out there who is perfect for you but because of serendipity you’ll probably never meet or spend enough time together to make it right.

As you can stay within your postcode, or maybe travel a few miles by tube to the West End, or even take a wee trip to Brighton. But you always end up in the same place as before. Back where you first started and where is the fun in that?

Sentimentality can play tricks on you and you must look forward. But on walking through East London on a weekday afternoon, I realise we’re not as close or better connected as I once hoped. We’re the same as we always were, living our everyday lives, thousands of miles apart.

Taking selfies at Borough Market

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Asian tourists are posing together in Borough Market with an oyster, taking pictures while cradling a shell of wonder. I stroll past pheasants hanging on forked hooks and watch queues form outside a roasted hog. Served with cress salad and apple sauce, it’s a ravenous dish for men (and women).

Outside a peroxide blonde takes a selfie with a cigarette jutting out of her ruby lips. Trying to catch her reflection on the Shard, a sharp arrestingly empty device, and one that serves no purpose.

Listening to the industrial hiss of progress creak upstairs, I feel under pressure to constantly upgrade and fight. Even going for lunch is a competition now as workers storm past me with their falafel wraps. You have to adapt to new ideas and respond accordingly.

I explore a few more stalls, agonise over some price boards and settle for a sausage roll for £2.5o.

That’s lunchtime at Borough Market.

London Ziferblat

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Ziferblat Clocks

Having lived in East London for six years, I can’t think of a more vivid and evocative snapshot of millennial life than Ziferblat. In this utopian Shoreditch cafe* everything is free apart from time. De-consuming is the future and there is no better place to start than a reclaimed flat in Old Street.

You can bring your own sandwiches or last night’s pasta, enter the kitchen and drink unlimited cups of tea or coffee. The Russian coffeehouse has a rickety old piano, chess set and bookshelves full of donated literature. It’s a place for sharing just like you do online. Lest we forget it has free Wi-Fi on tap.

Costing only 5p a minute, £3.00 an hour, you receive a miniature clock on arrival and fill your name and time on a card. Essentially it’s a local community centre where people come to chat, make friends and pass away a lazy Sunday IRL.

Ziferblat

With its flowery wallpaper and random assortment of 20th century chairs, Ziferblat is like a romantic cousin of the sixties. Did twentysomethings in the 1960s hanker for bygone eras too? Or did they live in the glorious present like the startup man wired into his Macbook Pro sitting next to me.  

Skinny with a meticulously trimmed beard and slim-fit cream jumper, the angry freelancer clearly means business. I do my best not to disturb him even though I needn’t worry. His headphones are proving so absorbing I barely register a wink of indignation.

The bearded entrepreneur is writing about music’s future on Google Drive, while everyone else is listening to the vinyl crackle of Neil Young. He may look incongruously focused but he captures the essence of Shoreditch’s business drive.

For all its charm and utopian spirit don’t expect to find anything new at this co-working place. It’s the twenty-first century and everything has been done already. What you should be asking is whether Ziferblat is more socially engaging than what has gone on before?

I can spend hours here and unlike in Starbucks you end striking up conversations with people sitting next to you. It’s the living room I cannot afford to have.

Ziferblat Winter

Living in a glorified world of connectivity, the pay-for-your-time movement is an opportunity to join a new world order. We must stop buying things we don’t need. And remember you have a right to be here, but at some point you must leave. Just make sure you stay long enough to have a good time.

*Saveziferblat.com

Ziferblat
388 Old Street,
London,
E1 6JE

Some days I walk

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30th January 2014

On closing my flat door in Hoxton, I go down three flights of ex-council stairs and head towards the Regent’s Canal. I’ve left early for a change and the estate has been rinsed clean. It’s raining again and I will arrive in Farringdon with mucky wet jeans…

Walking in London gives me a sense of freedom and independence. Perhaps it’s a consequence of never learning to drive that I place an enormous faith in my legs to get me everywhere. From tramping along rustic Scottish cliffs as a teenager to commuting alongside millions in Farringdon, I walk in order to survive.

Usually I have white buds in my ears when I leave the flat, they help block out the grey streets around me. Elegiac feels are the perfect companion for a winter stroll but I put them aside for now. I’ve been listening to Harvest Moon by Neil Young on repeat – it has a romantic hazy melancholy that I like.

The old waterway has changed quite significantly since I was last here. A shrill metallic drilling breaks up the silence from across the waterway. They are constructing a new social housing estate to replace the one they flattened last year – a thirty year circle of growth, stagnation and decay.

On my way northwards I pass underneath curved Georgian bridges while listening to the lonely cry of mallards. Creeping gothic ivy spills over from millionaire homes and smoke-shacked barges bellow out charred peat. It’s a good deal romantic on the towpath.

Charging up a leaf soaked hill I arrive opposite an Islington primary school. The canal has gone now and I must get a move on. Streaming with traffic I join an invisible cast of commuters on Upper Street and increase my walking speed. A crush of red buses float past and workers run towards Angel looking for shelter.

Walking away from station towards Farringdon, I spot St Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard looking bleached and sad in the distance. My journey is nearly over now and I’m running out of time. I am fortunate that I can walk to work, as most Londoners coin out small fortunes on public transport. My legs take me everywhere – that’s what they do.

Just on approaching those glass revolving doors on a wet Thursday morning, I sense something is missing from my journey. It’s only taken me thirty minutes and I have everything I need, but deep down walking can only take you so far.

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