ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Conceptporn —

It is very important, nay, critical for a weblog writer to not just consider an idea but to coin a nonsense word which makes it sound like they originated the idea, when in fact nobody else might have thought it worthy of calling it a special term. It’s the weekend, so it’s my turn. The term I’m coining is Conceptporn.

To accept the term Conceptporn, you’re probably going to have to accept a specific definition of the term Pornography, which is “Decontextualized presentation of attractive or compelling subjects.” This actually ensnares things like catalogs under pornography, which I do buy into, after a fashion. It’s probably getting into a weird space to say so, but the idea of pornography by itself being this specific destructive process is because of how it can be utilized with regard to human beings as the objects, which is really the case with most anything. Shipping containers aren’t evil; using them to transport human beings illicitly such that you end up suffocating a few, is.

Catalogs are a good example of non-evil pornography. Catalogs present you items devoid and lacking reality; the items are clean when nothing stays clean and the cords are neatly arranged when they never will be. They’re shiny and nothing stays shiny. They’re in an attractive open space or even more likely shown with no other identifying background items, so that you’re focused just on the saleable object itself. I’ve digitized a bunch of examples of this. And nothing about this idea is new; I saw a discussion of this in the same terms in SPY magazine in the late 1980s and Wired has had a column called “Infoporn” since at least 2001. I found a Boston Globe article covering this concept as well, although they won’t let you have access to it without cash.

But Conceptporn! That idea is totally mine! Here’s how it works.

I started noticing some time ago that I would have articles in my feed reading software or in my browser that were open, but which I would not read and which I could not close. I don’t mean because of a software bug, but because I was stuck in some quasi-reading state, where I would see the thing, and it would interest me, and yet I couldn’t just read it; I had to study it carefully, and that time had not arrived, and yet I didn’t want to close the window and read it later because the concept was just too interesting and I knew that the minute my next opportunity would arise, I would want to read it right away. In some cases, these pages have sat there for a week, and because Firefox sometimes memory leaks, it would slow my machine down, with me unable to close the browser, because it had a couple tabs waiting for these sites.

The most recent of these is the Micro Compact Home site, which has photos, tech specs, galleries, news stories and everything else you could imagine you’d want to know about the Compact Home. This is a roughly US$50k home that is very tiny and which is designed for you to have as minimal a footprint on the earth as possible, plus encourage an austere level of living. Just in case you thought, say THX-1138 was a lifestyle choice and not a Science Fiction film. There is no way I’m getting one of these things. I just don’t need it; I have a big house and it’s full of shit and I like this situation. Were I to acquire a second home, say, in Maine or New Hampshire and I’d want to have some small living space there, it’s more likely I’d hire a local contractor to make a cabin and I’d still turn the thing into a two or three-room cabin, and it’d have heating, and hey wait a minute that’s not going to happen either.

In other words, the whole thing is utterly fascinating to me and yet it can only ever exist as a concept; it’s not just incompatible with my current life, it’s incompatible with how I have ever lived. There was never a point that this thing and I would have intersected and it doesn’t look like it ever will. It’s the concept that has grabbed me, and this site presents this concept so compellingly that I’m unable to close the window because I need to understand the concept more. Like that matters.

Websites are utterly perfect for Conceptporn. Between the fact that you can add flash, criss-crossing links, quality photographs and the rest, you can set up an entire other existence laid out in perfect Conceptporn fashion. I’m always stumbling on these pages, and I feel that rush of oh no another one and it sits on the page or in a bookmark and reminds me how much more living I want to do.

Do I ever finally read them? Yes, often I do, but sometimes not for weeks after I first find them. Sometimes I’m enlightened, sometimes I’m not. It’s another crazy thing I can bring up during one of my endless party rants people have been unfortunate enough to sit through over the years, but I don’t know if the people listening are any more or less fascinated than I was, running into the concept without any other context.

So what happens with this term? Well, it either becomes amazingly popular, spreading throughout the online world and used everywhere in a dismissive manner by fat nerds: “Oh, yeah, browsed some Conceptporn on that new USB RAID.” Or it could be used in that fantastic halting phrasing I see newspaper reporters use when that newspaper’s readers are as technologically savvy as a pile of firewood: “This terrible new online trend of ‘Conceptporn’ may ensnare children, experts say, and there is little currently being done to stop it.” Or maybe this is the last you’ll ever hear of it.

But man, what a concept.

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  1. You know what the perfect example of Conceptporn is? Electric cars. Even hybrid cars are somewhat doable at this point, but electric cars … man, wouldn’t that be something? You could drive to and from work every day essentially for free. Okay, so maybe the little bugger wouldn’t win any speed contests, but boy wouldn’t it be nice to both save some money and the environment in one simple gesture?

    These are the things I think as I’m commuting to work in my big ass Avalanche, shouting “move it cocksucker!” to little old ladies who refuse to do more than 10 over the posted speed limit. My wife and I, who live together and work in the same building, have driven to work seperately due to slightly different work schedules for the past five years. Deep down I don’t want to give up that speed, the power, and by god the rush I get as I floor that V8 and unleash my gassy exhaust all over the compact I leave in the dust.

    Conceptporn, the equivalent of, “what a great idea … for everybody else!”

    PS: Is the “Remember personal info?” working for anyone else since the software switch?

  2. David says:

    Since you brought up RAID, the Thecus 5200 [1]. Oh I want one, but the “add a $100AU HDD every six months” programme is working, and I have no need for such a machine. But I covet it anyway. A guy at work got one, and while I listen to his stories politely, inside I’m seething with jealousy.

    Also, upgrade to Firefox 2, go to your Options or Preferences settings, and set it to re-open your tabs from last time. It’s like Session Saver but built in. Memory can leak all it likes, and your persistent session will keep your Conceptporn tabs coming back.

    The down-side is that you almost never accidentally lose Conceptporn. The upside is, that when you do, you have so much open from so long ago that you are forced to accept the fact it’s gone forever.


  3. Kiel says:

    Entire magazines live on the dissemination of Conceptporn —

    “People want to BELIEVE such fictions. Hence, the authenticating ‘science’ in the compound ‘science fiction,’ with its implicit guarantee that this dream might come true, as against the surreal or supernatural events of fantasy and fable.”

    –Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of (Touchstone, 1998)

    How much does the addition of “porn” modify “concept”? You describe accurately the stimulation my brain undergoes reading science fiction — or a Wired article about an innovative-but-extant device or technology. In either case my life fulfilling those descriptions is unlikely. Is conceptporn inherently those instances where concept-intersection is not highly unlikely, but impossible?

    If so I propose these synonyms: exophemera (or science phemera), dreamohol.

    Re: electric cars. The halo effect of enviromarketing has shut people off to certain basic scientific principles, like the conservation of energy, and it’s funny. “My friends are always talking about the electric car. ‘I got the electric car, I wanted to help the environment!’ Yeah! Because electricity comes from MAGIC! When I plug in my coup, that juice is coming from a jellybean field!” –a comedian, 2002

  4. Kiel says:

    Note to self: remember to complete the article before replying to it.