Bob Ostertag's work cannot easily be summarized or pigeonholed. He has published more than twenty albums of music, five books, and a feature film. His writings on contemporary politics have been published on every continent and in many languages, beginning with his work as a journalist covering the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s. His books cover a wide range of topics, from labor unions to the history of journalism to estrogen and testosterone. He has performed at music, film, and multimedia festivals around the globe. His radically diverse musical collaborators include the Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, Mike Patton, transgender cabaret icon Justin Vivian Bond, British guitar innovator Fred Frith, EDM DJ Rrose, and many others.

Facebooking the Anthropocene in Raja Ampat by Bob Ostertag

The three essays of Facebooking the Anthropocene in Raja Ampat paint a deeply intimate portrait of the cataclysmic shifts between humans, technology, and the so-called natural world. Amid the breakneck pace of both technological advance and environmental collapse, Bob Ostertag explores how we are changing as fast as the world around us—from how we make music, to how we have sex, to what we do to survive, and who we imagine ourselves to be. And though the environmental crisis terrifies and technology overwhelms, Ostertag finds enough creativity, compassion, and humor in our evolving behavior to keep us laughing and inspired as the world we are building overtakes the world we found.

A true polymath who covered the wars in Central America during the 1980s, recorded dozens of music projects, and published books on startlingly eclectic subjects, Ostertag fuses his travels as a touring musician with his journalist's eye for detail and the long view of a historian. Wander both the physical and the intellectual world with him. Watch Buddhist monks take selfies while meditating and DJs who make millions of dollars pretend to turn knobs in front of crowds of thousands. Shiver with families huddling through the stinging Detroit winter without heat or electricity. Meet Spice Islanders who have never seen flushing toilets yet have gay hookup apps on their phones.

Our best writers have struggled with how to address the catastrophes of our time without looking away. Ostertag succeeds where others have failed, with the moral acuity of Susan Sontag, the technological savvy of Lewis Mumford, and the biting humor of Jonathan Swift.

 

REVIEWS

  • "With deep intelligence and an acute and off-center sensibility, Robert Ostertag gives us a riveting and highly personalized view of globalization, from the soaring skyscapes of Shanghai to the darkened alleys of Yogyakarta."

    РFrances Fox Piven, coauthor of Regulating the Poorand Poor People’s Movements
  • "If you want an insightful, witty panorama of this brave new world we are making, follow Osterlag around it for a year—or read this book."

    – Jeremy Brecher, author of Strike! and Common Preservation
  • "This is global reporting at its best—a pointillistic portrait of the troubles of our time rendered in riotous detail. It reads like a riff, not a sermon."

    – Richard Manning, author of If It Sounds Good, It Is Good
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Preface

"Are Two Dimensions Enough?" was written fourteen years ago and considers the impact of the networked screen on the human imagination. "Facebooking the Anthropocene in Raja Ampat" was written four years ago and is a journal of thoughts written while traveling the world. I completed "Technics Turntables and Civilization" last week, tracing the trajectory of electronic music from the time I showed up playing synthesizers in the 1970s down to the present day, and the metamorphosis of the meaning of live music.

As diverse as these essays may seem, each addresses the nexus of human beings and technology. And, in each case, the method I follow is to simply observe, and listen to, real people living today. I hope I have avoided both speculation about the future and generalizations so broad that they might be bent into a causal edifice of "theory."

Technology is spreading across the world far faster and farther than ever. There are few if any people left outside the sphere of digitally networked screens. The last people to remember life before computers are alive today. I think it is worth our while to listen closely to what they have to say, before they disappear.

Just as there is nowhere outside the digital sphere, there is nowhere beyond the range of the detritus of the industrial system that maintains it. The world we are building is overtaking the world we found. This process is so far along that in some cases the only way to maintain the remnants of the world we found is to us to rebuild them synthetically. (For example, in the first essay you will meet 3D printed synthetic coral.)

We ourselves are also changing, though this is harder for us to see. The speed of technological change is impossible to miss. We cannot avoid it. Many of us now live so completely encased in the world we have built that we don't even notice the changes in the world we found, until they erupt into catastrophes like forest fires and heat waves. But it is easy to miss the changes in ourselves. We imagine ourselves to be holding still while the changing world rushes past.

I am often told that my frankness and honesty about all of this veers into "hopelessness" or "pessimism." But I find no hope in dishonesty. We cannot lie to ourselves and not know that we are doing so. I am more interested in love, inspiration, and humor. And I find them plentiful. Even in these dark and untethered times. Because of these dark and untethered times.

Bob Ostertag

January 2020