Of Concrete, Aggregators & Simon Ogden's Stupid RobotsTuesday, March 06, 2012
Aggregate is a 15th century borrowing from Latin. It descends from “aggregare” (“to add to”), a Latin verb made up of the prefix “ad-” (which means “to,” and which usually changes to “ag-” before a “g”) and “greg-” or “grex” (meaning “flock”). “Greg-” also gave us “congregate,” “gregarious,” and “segregate.”
“Aggregate” is commonly employed in the phrase “in the aggregate,” which means “considered as a whole” (as in the sentence “In the aggregate, the student’s various achievements were sufficiently impressive to merit a scholarship”). “Aggregate” also has some specialized senses. For example, it is used for a mass of minerals formed into a rock and for a material, such as sand or gravel, used to form concrete, mortar, or plaster.
|Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman - Rodney Graham by Alex W-H|
It is interesting to me to know (and I was taught this in the 9th grade by Brother Hubert Koeppen) that the Romans invented concrete. In many respects the present age, the 21st century, which I would call the age of the photon, was made possible by the Roman use of concrete to build bridges and aqueducts. Bridges and aqueducts brought communities together in what really may have been the beginning of the age of communication. It seems that memory of concrete was forgotten with the fall of Rome but the knowledge came back a few centuries later.
Our most famous Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson, whose major structures are all made from concrete, would be the first to tell you that a structure of pure cement would collapse. It is the gravel/stone aggregate which the cement binds together, and the ability of this mixture to solidify/cook under water is what makes concrete such a great building material. In other words the lowly gravel has made the creation of Gothic cathedrals, which have soared in a human offering to the glory of God, such a rich element in the history of earthly art and architecture.
Until recently aggregate was a word used in English just as something that is added to a mixture. In Spanish we not only use it every day such as in agregar una cucharita de sal al estofado (add a teaspoon of salt to the stew) but it has other surprising meanings. An agregado cultural is a cultural attaché at an embassy. And agregado militar we know is a euphemism for a spy!
But of late I have come to understand what Simon Ogden (his Twitter handle @ogdengnash says “I know a little about the arts of theatre & cocktail construction.”) meant when a couple of years ago he said to me with distaste, “Aggregators are stupid robots.”
|Mel Ferrer & Audrey Hepburn by Bert Stern|
Allan Fotheringham & daughter Francesca by Alex W-H
Aggregators, web pages that compile data from other sources were quite rampant some years ago in most large cities. In Vancouver we had VancouverIAM which brought together blogs, news, ads, etc about Vancouver all into one web page.
Some at the time would have thought that it was far better to read local news there and save the money and effort of reading a hard copy newspaper or going to a newspaper website where the news could be found in much too much detail.
I have been wondering why these aggregators (such a foul sounding word and yes, Simon Odgen I now understand about those stupid robots) seem to have disappeared.
It is possible that facebook is an aggregator of sorts. Facebook is now a very large compilation of pictures of aphorisms. It is an aggregator of aphorisms and the sight of them, more and more as days go by, repulses me. Do I need someone to tell me, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” followed by a legion of “I likes”? Would these people utter this stuff in person?
A second aspect of facebook as an aggregator is its contribution of populous art. What makes some of this art (it can be quite good) problematic is that it is sometimes posted with no attribution. Since ignorance of art is so widespread some viewing this art might think that it is the work of the person posting it.
A third facebook aggregator function is to post videos of films, jazz, rock, etc.
I must clarify a point here that what bothers me about these music postings is that they are rarely submitted with a personal explanation as to why we should click on them.
At the end of the day what bothers me the most is that these facebook posters are not manufacturing/making/creating anything. As my grandmother used to say, “saludando con sombrero ajeno,” or greeting you with someone else’s hat. It is so simple to cut and paste. It is even simpler to click an “I like” without committing to an opinion as to why you agree. And of course there can rarely be any dissent because we are all part of a happy family where we can cease the horrors of Darfur, Syria and Nigeria by the on-line signing of a letter.
Any Roman could tell you. It is not enough to throw in little pebbles (or aggregates) to the mix. You need cement as a binder. And to make cement someone has to crush lime, bake it, etc. That takes effort. How can “I like” that?
My two examples here of photographs from other photographers that have inspired me to take for other publications, the Globe&Mail and Vancouver Magazine are based on my belief that inspiration does not have to be all plagiarism if the photographer, in this case me, adds (aggregates) something of himself to the mix.