Way Spurr-Chen, Front End Developer on Glitch Art

Hi, I am Way Spurr-Chen, a 26-year-old front-end developer based in Austin, TX. I am from California originally (kind of – I was actually born in Chicago and lived there until I was 7), but my mom was born in Houston. She wanted to move back to Texas to take care of family, and I had heard that Austin was a good city for tech, with a vague notion of just how tech-y it really is. Austin tops a lot of charts right now as the best place to live in the US. People are streaming in constantly, and it is currently in an interesting tension between a burgeoning tech and entertainment scene, and the locals who remember what it was like before all the Californians moved in – a fight to “Keep Austin Weird”, while still taking advantage of the good that lots of people and money can bring.

I sort of fell into front-end development accidentally. I went to an art school for video and film, but I ended up playing a lot of Minecraft, then running a Minecraft server, then teaching myself Java to program plugins for my server, and then teaching myself web development to create a website for my server. The next thing you know I am getting freelance work doing web development and then finally a real full time front-end job.

Away from my full time gig, I run a weekly newsletter called Glitchet, which I have been doing for about three years. The name Glitchet comes from what is known as glitch art. I realized that glitch art is the one true art form (read: extremely sarcastic), and decided that I had to have a way to propagate it (and other types of new media art I enjoy) to more people. I also have a very strong interest in apocalyptic or dystopian news that makes me feel like I am literally inside of the Blade Runner/Minority Report world or veering towards Mad Max. The themes in glitch art are often complementary in that they push back against a world that seems increasingly more polluted with digital corruption: the destruction of technology, reverse-engineering proprietary data formats (which is technically illegal), the fragmentation of self, implicit and explicit criticisms of hyper-capitalism, inequality, and more.

Original picture by: The Panorama Wormwhole

When it comes to creating Glitchet, I do not really consider myself much of a “creator” so much as a “curator”, but that is mostly wordplay. I enjoy getting to pick and choose what is a part of the newsletter. What I create is really an expression of my inner-world aesthetic and worldview, and where it meets the outside world. This is done through the literal happenings in the news, and the conceptual-visual (and sometimes auditory) happenings in digital art.

Glitchet started out just for fun, but now I make a tiny amount of money from my Patreon – someone sent me $2.35 in Bitcoin the other day! I had a vision of accumulating hundreds of thousands of subscribers and being able to quit my day job one day, but that is at least ten or fifty years away. However, it does have tiny perks: I get nice emails, have met friends through it, and have a space to express my feelings about things. The benefits are typically social more than technical. Since putting the newsletter together keeps me abreast of the latest futuristic news, I have a lot to talk about at work and other people tend to see me as someone being on the cutting edge of the horrible, horrible future. It also lets my co-workers who actually read my newsletter get to know me a little better on a personal level.

Original picture by: Potato’s Palace

The themes are typically driven by the news I find. I have a running spread sheet of thousands of articles that I have come across that I think might be Glitchet-worthy, from which I pick a few recent ones that seem to depict a theme that is emerging in reality (or at least the news cycle representation of reality). For instance, the issue coming out on March 5th is about Silicon Valley’s “rest-and-vesters”, people trying to build a city as a start-up, notifications, and eagles tearing drones out of the sky. Hence, it is named “Silly-Con Valley”. I also threw in a piece that complemented them in its contradiction: an article called “how to do nothing”.

People occasionally send me content that they have found or created (which is really cool), and I try to include them, especially if they have created it themselves. Unfortunately, I am pretty bad at email (sorry y’all) and often have a set of articles already ready to go, so it depends on how strongly it fits the theme I am constructing.

Original picture by: /u/Radioactive_Zebra

The artwork I choose is pretty much always selected to be at least tangentially related. Occasionally it is very nicely on the nose, but glitch and new media art is often quite universal, raw, or emotionally applicable to a wide extent which makes reading in a meta-narrative pretty easy. The music selections are usually chosen to either express a sentiment at the content of the articles or the world, or to soothe my readers (and myself) over the contents of the articles when they are particularly intense or overwhelming.

I consider a lot of the music and art choices to be therapeutic or cathartic complements to the content of the articles I pick. It has evolved over time to become very much about figuring out how to handle the reality of the world as it comes. How do you cope with nuclear threat, global warming, bee extinction, cultural collapse, late stage capitalism, and almost-daily mass shootings in the news, all the time? Maybe by seeing it surrounded by artwork that aestheticizes, abstracts, sublimates, obscures, or reconceptualises it or our role in all of it, while listening to angry techno or smooth jazz, depending.

I also sometimes write about my other hobbies. I do not write about them extensively, because I generally try to stay “on topic” in my signoffs (whatever that means), but I will occasionally plug improv shows, side projects, or very vaguely reference some of my more spiritual interests.

Original picture by: Mário João

Glitchet does not take too much time—roughly about four hours per week, probably, including the time it takes me to read articles I find intermittently online. It used to take much more (about 12 or so) before I streamlined my process, built tools, and got the design to something I liked. Over time, my social media feeds also turned into an extremely efficient dystopian news delivery system, which made the work of finding and curating fitting articles much easier.

Right now, I do not have any long-term goals except to keep doing it as long as possible. I have thought on and off a few times about stopping Glitchet because I am not sure it aligns with my core goals at this time, but I think there is value to doing a thing, no matter what it is, regularly for a very long time. It would also be a shame to drop a sizeable audience (~2200 subscribers), and I enjoy seeing the numbers grow passively through word of mouth.

Sign up for Glitchet here!

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