Hello! And hello especially new subscribers who arrived courtesy of this piece. This is The Purposeful Object a newsletter about the technomodern and the good life by Navneet Alang. This issue of TPO: intimacy during a global pandemic; some streaming recs; some musical ephemera; and finally, a note to paying TPO subscribers, you beautiful people you.
Recently, a friend told me about her daily pandemic ritual. She wakes before 6 every morning, just to get a little quiet to herself before her kids wake up a couple of hours later. To ground her morning routine, she has a zoom call with some friends — but, it’s with the cameras off, and with no-one really talking. It’s just the sound of other lives, piped in to one’s home as ambience.
I like this idea, in no small part because I’ve been thinking about intimacy and sociality these past weeks. The two contrasts of my life have been to sit alone in my dull, small basement apartment with nowhere to go, and to have stay with my parents and brother for weeks at a time with no reprieve. Neither of those two extremes — a privation of human contact and an overload of it — seems like a particularly good way to live.
In the face of such choices, we have all been seeking out balance of our own. It’s interesting, though, that the screen, so often demonized as site of distraction or lionized as mode of connection, is now neither of those things, at least not exactly. Anyone who has had a Zoom happy hour with friends knows that it is both an enormous relief to see the faces of those you love and also nowhere near enough. Social media, group chats, video calls — these are all ways of stitching ourselves into each others’ lives, of remaining in contact in a life pulled in altogether too many directions. Yet, beyond the pandemic, they also feel like a symptom or side effect as much as anything else. Sometimes a Zoom call feels like watching a great food travel show: you’re glad to have done so, but you’re also left hungry at the end and with no real food in your house.
Here’s a non-sequitur, because it is what popped into my mind just now, and I’m going to trust that because it feels right, it is. That same, delightful friend I mentioned: many years ago, she had a few of us over for dinner. We chatted, drank wine, ate cheese, all the things you could do together and in person in the beforetimes. While there, I was a little cheeky toward a mutual friend of ours there, a beautiful, slightly intimidating woman who had a mane of thick, curly hair. At the end of the evening, her and I split a cab home, but on the pretence of trying some rare Californian schnapps she had, I never ended up finishing the trip to my place.
Somehow I spent the next 24 hours or so there. Mostly, I remember the immediacy of it: the texture of the bedsheets, the shy, uncertain morning-after kiss, the taste of the coffee, strong and lukewarm, the hastily cobbled together pasta in the evening, then moonlit strands of hair stuck to a tear-stained face from a sudden eruption of emotion, the sharpness of the winter air that greeted me on my abrupt exit. This is memory, I guess: an idle, vague haze grounded by sharp little anchors of imagery.
Years on, that day still wanders into my thoughts, occasionally as a soft wound of regret… but sometimes, the memory of the sheer bodiliness of it all sort of feels like sustenance, carrying me along in a rush of thought. I mean, it was just a day. But it was all so much, too.
And by contrast: who even remembers what a Zoom call felt like?
Netflix and Wine
Netflix and wine is a TPO feature in which I recommend streaming shows and movies and a drink to pair.
I have only watched one episode of HBO’s Sharp Objects so far, but I can already tell it’s just my jam. Strangely, I think it might be the editing that I like most: the jumping back and forth through time, the subtle camerawork used to ease the viewer into the sombre tone and texture. And okay, fine, just like everyone else, I am in love with Amy Adams. There’s a lot of drinking in the show, but it’s a bit bleak, so I think a cobbled together “vodka martini” — ie cheap vodka and dry vermouth in equal measure on the rocks — would be ideal.
I absolutely blitzed through The Sopranos and even I’m not self-important enough to think there’s something new to say about that show. I do wonder, though, if the joke about the West Wing ruining a generation of American liberals might have an analog in The Sopranos and.... men? When watching this show, drink, uh, poison. But only if you’re a man. ‘Cause if there’s one lesson in this godforsaken show, it’s that masculinity is a curse.
Ephemerally Musical Ephemera
Studiowave.fm pairs a significant speech or lecture with something like “lo-fi chill beats to study to”. I don’t know if I’d ever actually listen to it for an extended period of time, but there’s something charmingly retro about the remix idea. And sometimes, there’s the serendipitous bit of poignancy that arises out of randomness.
Forgotify will play songs on Spotify that have never been played on the service. Mostly, you’ll understand why pretty quickly, but what if… ya’ know? What if you find the one?
The Open AI Jukebox is sort of bananas. It is AI-created music — not entirely, but more in terms of stitching together generically suitable bits and pieces. Or, as they put it, it’s “a neural net that generates music, including rudimentary singing, as raw audio in a variety of genres and artist styles.” It’s spooky.
That’s it for this issue. Just a note: to those of you who pay for this newsletter: thank you! It is so appreciated, especially now that I have lost my primary gig to COVID. For new subscribers, everyone gets the same newsletter; the paid option only exists if you wish to support this newsletter and my work more generally. Did want to mention, though, that some people are paying 4 dollars a month and some people are paying 2.50 a month and the only way to get the lower price is to unsubscribe and resubscribe again. Sorry, that’s the only way it seems to work. Until next time friends…