When the world feels as overwhelming as it has in recent years, it can be hard to fully disengage. Aleks Krotoski discovers the value of retreat, both on and offline.
We take a trip to the the Highlands of Scotland, visiting a tiny, powerless bothy on the Inschriach Estate. Writer Dan Richards found that this isolated retreat allowed him to process a traumatic near-death experience when nothing else helped.
Artist Laurel Schwulst invites us into the 'Firefly Sanctuary' in Brooklyn, New York. It's her apartment, so it's a personal sanctuary, but it's also a sanctuary for strangers. She shares it online via an appropriately relaxing lo-fi website. It's a sanctuary in a URL.
Author and memoirist Katherine May defined her own personal retreat from the world as, 'wintering'. A series of difficult life events pushed her into retreat from the world. At first, she felt overwhelmed by the feeling of the world continuing without her, until she learned to surrender to her own personal 'winter' and saw the value in disconnecting for a while.
In East Lothian, a twice-weekly trip to the Macmerry Men's Shed provides a consistent, revitalising sense of retreat. The largely elderly members derive enormous benefits from being seen and seeing others, and their visits allow them to escape from their day-to-day lives and worries, if only for a few hours at a time.
Producer: Victoria McArthur
Presenter: Aleks Krotoski
Researcher: Emily Esson
Online and offline, our world is a hugely complex tangle of modern creations and the legacy of the past. As we build upon the shoulders of times gone by, we are in a constant process of assessing what is still useful, what needs to be adapted and what no longer serves us.
Aleks looks at the process of salvaging value from the world around us, looking at the pleasure and pain of sifting through the past, the pressures to preserve, how value can evolve over time, the allure of creating from scratch in the face of complex legacy systems and structures, and how treasure is often in the eye of the beholder.
Michael Feathers is a software architect and author of Working Effectively with Legacy Code. Over the years, he advised many different companies on the strategic reuse and modernisation of their legacy code and systems. He is currently the Chief Architect for Globant, a global organisation helping companies transform their businesses.
Dr James Hunter is a maritime archeologist and curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum. He is also an avid diver. James has excavated sixteenth century Spanish galleons, wrecks from the US civil war and many vessels sunk in World wars.
Kate Macdonald is the director of Handheld Press, which republishes texts from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. She has a particular interest in uncovering works that explore lives lived by women, LGBTQ+ and people with physical impairments.
Founder of the urban planning consultancy Zvidsky Agency in Ukraine, Alexander Shevchenko has a background in civil engineering and spatial and urban planning. Since 2022, he has set up the non-governmental organisation Restart Ukraine, which supports Ukrainian municipalities with recovery from the impact of 2014 and 2022 conflicts and with tackling urban regeneration fit for modern society’s needs.
Ever had that gnawing feeling that there’s some unfinished business you have an itch to resolve? Maybe it’s a friendship you’ve let drift or a task at work left incomplete. Maybe it’s that sense of having too many tabs open at once on your computer. Our hyper-connected modern lives facilitate multi-tasking and the expansion of our social circles, and it could be argued a by-product of this is that we have more unfinished business than we had in the past. In this episode of the Digital Human, Aleks Krotoski asks how might we adapt to this - and whether it always a bad thing.
Producer: Lynsey Moyes
In recent months anxiety around what algorithms will do to the arts has become a hot topic. Art, Literature, Music, all are being generated by AI systems. Even we explored what these algorithms may do to how art is created - just one episode ago.
But, we missed something. Algorithms are not just changing how we create art, they’ve been curating everything we see and hear online for years. But they don't explain why. How have these bits of code reshaped our relationship with culture?
In this episode Aleks discovers the very different values and meanings in what a human, or an algorithm chooses to present to us. Unpacks the anxiety of what our raw data tells us about our desires, compared to what we believe about ourselves. Finds out how gaming the algorithm to succeed may result in creative stagnation, and a narrowed view of the world. But also how some algorithms could break us free of the boxes we have been slotted into, if things could be done a little differently.
Art has, since time immemorial, been viewed as something quintessentially human. Many utopian visions of a technological future are based on the idea that machines will automate all the mundane, monotonous tasks of life, allowing humanity to fully indulge itself in creative expression. Certainly, artists would not be made obsolete by number crunching machines.
But in the past few years, AI Art Generators, specifically Text-to-Art Generators such as MidJourney and Dall-E, have taken the world by storm. Users simply write a prompt, and the Algorithm takes knowledge amassed from images all over the internet, to create beautiful images. A mermaid basking on the shore of Loch, on a moonlit night, in the style of Van Gogh? Done. Cubist Unicorn? Have four. With a little practice, anything you want you can get with the right text?
But what does this mean for human artists? We’ve already seen push back from artists worried about their livelihoods, existential worries about human creativity and self-expression, and concerns about the moral and legal issues around masses of artwork being used without consent in order to train AI Generators.
In this episode, Aleks explores why art is so core to some people’s existence, why these Generators have such wide appeal, uncovers the story of a pioneer who grappled with the place of human and machine in art making for decades, and finds out why wonky AI may offer the most opportunity for human imagination to bloom.