Discover more from Scenes with Simon
Running My 1st Half Marathon alongside The Passing of the Dragon
Also: the RWA Trend, Sad YouTube, and the new James Blake album
Last week I finished my 1st half marathon at a respectable 2:06! It was glorious and I’m thoroughly hooked.
Besides the health benefits and the joy from the exercise, there’s another reason why I’m enjoying it and I think it’s also because of a multi-level trend playing out.
A few weeks ago I was back in Williamsburg in New York City on a Saturday morning waiting outside a coffee shop. To my surprise, a handful of running clubs came by with at least 20+ in each group. When I lived there in 2021, I usually got out early on Saturday mornings to go walk around the city and I never saw these groups. Polling around, uncertain that I wasn’t just Baader-Meinhof-ing myself and noticing it because I started running, friends corroborated it. Running had become more popular. While it’s been on multi-decade increase in popularity worldwide, it peaked in recent years during the pandemic.
Like many, getting cabin fever from staring at one’s walls and too many zoom meetups, I also wanted to do anything else besides being stuck inside. Thus, I began walking. And I kept walking. I walked all through Cape Town, and then when I moved to New York City, throughout the boroughs. Walking became a refuge from complexity of not just the change of my personal life, but also what felt like increasing chaos of a post-pandemic, peak-web, permaweird world.
It was simple. Put one foot in front of the other and choose one of the following to go along with it: 1) enjoy a podcast/audiobook, 2) music, 3) think about something you’ve been meaning to digest, or 4) merely take in the world around you, discovering the asphalt, trees, rivers, shops, and people. Then, upping the pace, you add running into the mix to also get your heart rate going.
And so, I kept going, eventually filling 6/7 days of the week with a walk or a run.
I’m not going to say that my desire for walking and running is universal. I don’t have enough stats to back that up, but I think people in general are deploying various coping strategies post-2020 and post-peak-web: whether it’s plants, remote work, running, travel, and other touch grass activities.
Part of why I enjoy running is that it feels substantially simpler than what I normally engage with in the rest of my life. With running, for the most part, what you put in, you will get out. Yes, there are things that are complicated, like fixing poor running form, wearing the wrong shoes, understanding nutrition and hydration for long runs, but generally: the more you run, the body will joyfully respond in turn. If you do too much of it too quickly, your body will also tell you to slow down.
It’s the opposite to my primary world - creativity - where what you put in does not always give you commensurate returns. You can spend years deeply invested in a project, believing it your best work, only to have it flop and not resonate with a wider audience. You can also produce something over the weekend, publish it, and have it unexpectedly go viral. There’s a certain inherent complexity to creativity that makes it unpredictable. It’s a part of its allure and its struggle.
This sentiment was so beautifully encapsulated in Ken Liu’s () new short story, The Passing of the Dragon.
It’s a story about an artist that has a transcendental experience, captures it through their art, and then has to contend with the world not seeing what she meant to share.
I’ve often talked about this essential ambivalence in art: is it communicative or not? On the one hand, artists have something to say in their art. I’m not just babbling into the void when I write a story. There’s an intent to articulate something about the world, about human nature, about what it’s like to be a consciousness in the universe. But on the other hand, readers (and audiences) don’t engage with a piece of art (solely, or even primarily) to discern that “something” that motivated the artist to create the art in the first place. (Btw, the idea that art can be boiled down to a statement is why so many people despise “literary analysis” as practiced in badly taught literature classes.) The aesthetic experience they have is an act of re-creation, in which the artwork is merely a departure point for the reader’s own journey of self-discovery.
This is the inherent complexity of creating. With all that I create (from my art to novels), there’s a story to tell and a part of my job is to disambiguate the meaning so that others can share in the conversation. But, the inherent struggle is that the babbling I do through a medium that isn’t flapping our lips at each other, carries more risk. This is echoed in one of my favourite quotes from Ken.
Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.
And so, when I run, the one foot in front of the other is the simplified binary language between myself and my body. This foundation helps me to tackle the grander confusion, chaos, and poor translations of life, elsewhere. On a walk, after all, many a world problem had been solved, a new story unearthed, or a dragon witnessed.
One foot in front of the other. To the next run!
Scenes with Simon is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
A Journey Through Sad YouTube
I found this interview fromto be quite wholesome. It’s definitely a surprise for those who remember earlier YouTube, that it had become quite a great place for comments. Both in its capacity to be a time capsule, but also to evoke a sense of connection to other in that moment.
I often find great comments on more emotional tracks. For example, here’s a sweet comment from Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th.
It's that day again. I like to come here to find solace and calm down after a stressful day. The years have been rough, I've lost a lot, people, pets, passions, but at least I am able to say that I found some friends I can share this pain with. Loneliness loves to reside within me for most of the day but there are moments now where I feel heard and understood, even if it's a short interlude from all the chaos. I can make it through, I will see next year's Avril 14th as well.
I wish we could keep more of this part of the internet and toss out the rest of the noise.
Excluding Generative AI From Copyright
As always, really enjoying the discussions around AI, copyright, and remuneration. I’m not convinced we have the right answers yet. We have to keep hearing from everyone: from artists to technologists to IP lawyers. I enjoyed this take from.
It covers the case that I talked about previously: the US copyright office saying that the AI generated parts of the image can’t be copyrighted, even though the picture was modified afterwards.
One of my fears is that we make the entire copyright regime more strict and onerous. If the precedent holds, it adds substantial burden on those wishing to register their copyright to prove it wasn’t AI generated.
If artists want their work to stand up in court, they may need to start carefully documenting their creative process so they can prove that their work was made without AI.
Most importantly, the Copyright Office’s rule could pointlessly discourage artists from using AI in their creative process. If AI-created work can’t be copyrighted, artists will have a financial incentive to stick to older techniques, potentially depriving the world of creative works that can only be created with the latest technology.
There is no good definition either.
One is that there’s no clear definition of artificial intelligence. For example, Photoshop includes a growing number of features that could be characterized as AI-based. Will artists need to disclaim copyright if they use some of these tools? It’s unclear—and could take years of litigation to sort out.
Threading this needle is not going to be easy. As someone in the middle of all of this: being a creator, being a technologist, and being an armchair IP aficionado, I still think that creators are over-indexing on how bad this will be. Audiences are just not going to prefer to read yet-another-AI adventure novel, for example, because media today is ultimately social first. The vision of the mass AI deluge of derivative works might pan out. In the Author’s Guild suit against OpenAI, it mentions that Amazon has started limiting uploads to 3 books a day. This can sound frightening, but it’s not going to make matters harder for the average creator, because it’s not materially changing the harder problem… The true struggle of a modern day creator isn’t to merely make the thing, it’s to make it worth caring about. That has already been the case for a decade or more.
The RWA Trend
There’s been a growing trend in the crypto space, called RWA (Real World Assets). Through a process of custody, real world assets are issued onchain and this allows trading, lending, etc with those assets. This thread, for example, details how people are opening Pokemon booster packs onchain (and actually using verifiable randomness too).
It’s admittedly very hyper-reality. Once the asset has been symbolised, keeping it in custody makes sense. We’re just increasingly trading on simulacra at the end. But hey, there’s definitely usefulness here to allow access to global liquidity. Getting a loan on your tokenized watch, is useful. I think this trend is going to continue in time.
Weekly Zora Mint
I’m introducing a new weekly collectible. There’s been great art on Zora that’s very cheap to collect. It also has protocol rewards built-in. So, if you enjoy the art, and you mint from the URL below, this newsletter will earn additional referral fees. :)
This entire drop from N3XTWAVE is fun. This piece particularly evokes a nostalgia for pixel art era. I’m also still deep into pirate stories, so this resonated. 😅
James Blake - Tell Me
Always find myself in the middle-ground with James Blake. Half his tracks are absolutely incredible and I listen them to death. The new album (ht forfor the reminder) is more of that for me. Tell Me & Asking To Break are incredible. Love it.
That’s it for this week. For those in South Africa, happy Heritage Day! 🇿🇦
To all. Enjoy a sunset.
See you next week!