It’s to be expected, really, and not necessarily a bad thing. These gadgets are pretty amazing, after all, and immediate access to all of the world’s culture coming at us through glowing rectangular portals may be the most important cultural influence since the Renaissance.
Not everyone sees it that way, however. There have been almost too many commentaries on our hermetic digital isolation and the surveillance culture we are living in, found in everything from Oneohtrix Point Never’s sickly Vaporwave eccojams, to St. Vincent and the rigid plastic funk of “Digital Witness”, to the conceptual powerhouse that is Holly Herndon’s Platforms.
New Zealand-by-way-of-Hawaii producer Kody Nielson, aka Silicon, is not necessarily so wary, however, quicker to embrace and proclaim his love for the machines that fill his apartment. Personal Computer is a love letter to those consoles and keyboards.
“Never be lonely/ Personal computer/ Someone that’s listening/ Personal computer,” sings Nielson in a soulful falsetto, over square wave basslines of electrofunk, speaking to a laptop’s role as confidante, personal assistant, and sometimes even therapist (although self-diagnosing on the internet is always a bad idea). Nelson’s outlook is not blindly techno-utopian, however, as, in the same song, he sings about closing the curtains: closing off the outside world, surrendering to your own dreams, your own private universe.
“Cellphone” manages to transform the paranoia of surveillance culture into an 8-bit bounce house, while “God Emoji” predicts a future where our networks will take all our pain away, predicting our needs, comparing surfing the net to “flying into the sun”, sailing into the chorus “Don’t want to go out on a Saturday night,” over a Seinfeld bassline.
This sentiment frames the main issue of Personal Computer. Terrabytes have been written about the dangers of isolation, how Netflix is killing live music, how Snapchat is replacing face-time. But let’s take a moment and look at this realistically, shall we?
There are untold dangers of spiraling into full-fledged introversion, never leaving the house, and only interacting with machines from the safe distance of social media. Social skills, like anything, need to be cultivated and exercised, lest they atrophy. The real world provides so many opportunities to be busted out of our comfort zones, to broaden our scope, and learn new things. Sometimes things will get raw and tense, and that can be good, too, if only to practice how to keep your cool when tensions are running high.
All of these things may be true, but it doesn’t make going out to see the one millionth crappy punk show, to drink overpriced watery beer, any less appealing.
Or let us consider the classic example of public transportation, where people love to criticize people’s lack of interaction and technological dependence. But is talking to some potential bigot or drug addict inherently better than having an enlivening conversation with a good friend halfway around the world, just because it’s IRL?
Of course, there are opportunities for miracles and wonder, through sheer serendipity, which you may miss out on, if you never look up the screen. The answer is, of course, to try and strike the balance, to find the best of both worlds.
Personal Computer is a continual reminder of what happens when we do. Although dealing with contemporary and futuristic themes, Nielson creates his networks with outdated, archaic synths and drum machines, that could’ve been on an early disco record or a Commodore 64 advertisement. Nielson records his synthpop meditations with minimal post-production and tweaking, capturing that elusive component in the meanwhile: soul. This is the soundtrack for introverted dance parties, for closing the blinds and getting low down. The music is tight, and the lighting is good. Perhaps you’ve got a friend over, or maybe you’re tele-conferencing with a confidante from the Eastern Block. You’ve got everything you need. You’re happy.
After all, we will go out — when the time is right; when the lure is compelling enough. If it’s not, we have good music and weird movies to watch. You’re going to have to try a little bit harder to get us out of the house.