Media companies build brands by associating themselves with hot cultural trends. Because these trends are fickle, media companies can’t do much more than observe which way the crowd is moving and race to get in front of it.
In contrast, technology firms build strong brands by creating technology that is objectively superior to other products on the market — for everyone. Google didn’t become the dominant search engine through strategic partnerships or savvy marketing. It did it by having better search results than its competitors. And while younger users switched to Google more quickly, Google has been gradually winning older users for its search engine as well.
The division here is problematic - Google owns YouTube (the web’s leading space for web video), Amazon’s retail empire continues to expand with both media content and technology like the Kindle, etc. More interesting is the intentional division by Lee to insist media companies are chasing trends while tech companies that create the best products will inherently rise to the top. This plays up the “up-by-their-bootstraps” narrative tech companies love, but doesn’t show the ongoing historical trends of technological development for traditional media or the importance of desirable content on new technological platforms.
“Because privacy is a fundamentally social phenomenon, conflict over how much privacy one may have or how private or public something should be is rather inevitable. When discrepancies regarding privacy translate into active social conflict, the role of the relative distribution of power across individuals becomes readily apparent. In terms of social accessibility, the distribution of power plays a crucial role in the ways people understand and try to manage others’ demands for their attention. This balance of power largely accounts for whose agenda will prevail at any given time.”—
- Christena Nippert-Eng, Islands of Privacy (2010)
With the semester over, I’ve been catching up on a lot of outside reading. The issues Nippert-Eng (a social psychologist) brings up, particularly in the Cell Phones and Email chapter of her book, are also useful for understanding the relationships between people, the Internet and privacy. It’s important to think about privacy, not as a state of being, but as a descriptor of relationships. If the giving or withholding of attention/information/action constitutes the boundaries of privacy, understanding the power relationships between people, objects and networks takes on new meaning.
“This involves heavy use of what I have taken to calling the Wired ‘we’, a magical pronoun that captures the entire range of behaviours and attitudes towards electronic gadgets or digital media in order to allow a writer to make a universal point about these technologies.”—
Tiso’s point about the use of ‘we’ in tech writing is an important one. Even as Internet access improves, the casual ‘we’ universalizes something that is far from universal, not to mention it assumes everyone understands and uses media technology in the same way.
I have a lingering Web 1.0 nostalgia for (or more likely utopian dream of) an online experience where everyone owns their own websites, the best services are open-source and these online interactions happen in shared and easily-integrated spaces but just this isn’t how things work.
Instead, we see growing app-ification of the online experience - where users are increasingly restrained within walled gardens (like Google and Facebook) within which use is limited to patterns dictated by the architecture of the sites themselves.
But Internet pessimism is often overstated. A nostalgic and utopian view of the Web fails to recognize the extreme digital divide which has actually been shrinking. These free online services offer lower barriers of entry for new online users. Their “freeness” is contingent upon your information being sold back to you in the form of advertising dollars. Here’s a graph of Internet users as percentage of population:
More people are online and this is particularly increasing globally. These services offer these users a free way to participate online. Not everyone can pay subscriptions to boutique online service providers, even if that relationship would be better for all parties involved. Not everyone can host their own blog, email and photos - services that Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Tumblr, etc. are happy to do as long as they’re profitable.
This Google Reader kerfuffle is just that because it reveals to Google users what we already know - its not running a charity and its services are not directly aimed at creating a better, more open and idealistic Internet experience, but serving the company’s strategic goals.
This should not be surprising and outside of user backlash there are few repercussions for the elimination of these services.
The film follows a mysterious character Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) who is transported throughout Paris as he participates in a series of situations/events/scenes as an actor playing a participant in each of the events. In an exchange with his employer, Oscar emphasizes his love of performance while lamenting the shrinking size of the cameras. For me, this can be read two ways: that the stage for his performances are shrinking or that the stage has become ubiquitous. Therefore, Oscar’s weariness may be due to the lack of opportunities for real acting.
But there’s a second option, and this is where Habermas comes in - his weariness is from a perpetual state of performance - that the division between private (non-acting) and public (acting) spaces has eroded to a point where Oscar is always acting. This plays with the audiences suspencion of disbelief by winkingly acknowledging it is a movie about an actor (Oscar) portraying people in “real life” is portrayed by an actor (Lavant) as you watch the film in real “real life.”
The notion of an actor literally acting as exciting, bizarre and often mundane everyday people forces you to acknowledge that existence is a participation in the public sphere and that the portrayal of even private moments in a public manner (such as seeing them in a movie) makes those exchanges public also.
Solutions for slow broadband Internet in the U.S.? Unlikely.
Susan Crawford, former Obama Administration technology advisory, ICANN board member, and network neutrality advocate, has an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times offering steps she suggests are needed to increase broadband Internet access - specifically high-capacity fiber networks - for people living in the United States. She argues a relatively ineffective Federal Communications Commission along with political pressure from and oligopoly of network-owning corporations (Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner and Verizon control almost all broadband Internet access in the U.S.) have obstructed innovation and expansion of faster Web access for Americans.
Here are her three primary suggestions:
First, [the Federal government] must remove barriers to investment in local fiber networks … in nearly 20 states, laws sponsored by incumbent network operators have raised barriers for cities wanting to foster competitive networks.
Second, the F.C.C. must make reasonably priced high-speed access available to everyone. In the 20th century, we made a commitment to provide universal telephone service to every American and to subsidize that utility service for our poor and rural neighbors. […] We need to make sure that subsidies are available for competitive companies willing to extend world-class service to more Americans.
Finally, the F.C.C. must foster more competition by changing the rules that keep the status quo in place. There is a raft of regulations and processes at the F.C.C. that incumbents wield to maintain their market power, including rules about access to programming and to telephone poles that favor existing providers.
While many of these recommendations are also spelled out in FCC’s National Broadband Plan, I have my doubts about these changes happening, particularly about the possibilities of Crawford’s second and third points.
Today’s discussions of broadband expansion can be best illustrated by understanding how FCC’s relatively hands-off approach has led to a two-sided debate. On one side you have network providers whose incentive is to maximize profits by providing adequate access and speed while making minimal expensive infrastructure investments (network/fiber upgrades.) The other is largely composed of web content and technology companies (Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft, etc.) whose popularity and success depends on fast, reliable and affordable access to the Internet.
So for Crawford’s suggestions to even occur, we will need to see either A.) a newly empowered and enthusiastic FCC willing impose regulations or access requirements on current network providers or B.) intervention of web/tech companies to disrupt the currently uncompetitive Internet market and encourage existing providers to get better and cheaper or for users to have more options. As Crawford notes in her article, we’re beginning to see some movement with Google’s building of a fiber network for Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, until we see movement on either of these fronts, U.S. broadband speeds will remain slow.
“Curiosity builds on itself — each new thing you learn about has all sorts of different parts and connections, which you then want to learn more about. Pretty soon you’re interested in more and more and more, until almost everything seems interesting. And when that’s the case, learning becomes really easy — you want to learn about almost everything, since it all seems really interesting. I’m convinced that the people we call smart are just people who somehow got a head start on this process. I fell like the only thing I’ve really done is followed my curiosity wherever it led, even if that meant crazy things like leaving school or not taking a “real” job.”—Aaron Swartz to Ronaldo Lemos
Last night I finished reading Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction classic Dune. Below are some of my thoughts on the book:
In many ways, Dune is a book about resistance. Resistance against economic cartels, political coups, arranged relationships, cultural and religious traditions and planetary occupation - Paul-Muad’Dib, Lady Jessica, Stilgar and many others continually meet and push-back against these obstacles. I’m still on the fence about whether the influence of Paul and Kynes as outsiders to Fremen life operate as adopters of the desert culture who help the people with their long-sought goal of making Arrakis livable or whether their influence is a form of cultural and interplanetary imperialism. For the moment, I think I side with the former based on the results of these interactions - at the conclusion ofDune (I haven’t read the sequals) their actions further the explicit goals of the Fremen - to give control of Arrakis (and the invaluable spice it produces) to the people that live there.
Reading Dune today must be different than in 1965. Reading the book in 2012, its themes of insurgency, resistance and control of geographic resources strongly echo recent political and economic events in the Middle East. It’s impossible not to read the spice Melange as petroleum oil - a limited resource essential to the economic stability and power of larger, powerful and influential groups. The Fremen jihad against imperial (literally) outsiders evokes a cultural and historical cache including the mujaheddin resistance to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, as well as the more recent insurgencies U.S. troops continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Herbert had no way of knowing the political and economic future, but his book continues to offer an useful comment them through Paul’s conflicted views on the tenuous balance between emancipatory resistance and the uncontrolled mob.
Why do so many sci-fi stories involved interplanetary interactions where each planet has it’s own government? In many cases (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) planets are governed by one planetary group or body and participate in one or many larger interstellar government structures (think the Federation, Old Republic, Empire.) In many ways Herbert exposes this trope with his portrayal of the Fremen resistance, but its hard to imagine any planet with a large population being effectively governed on the planetary level in a way that doesn’t reduce to harsh authoritarianism.
“This isn’t some standard polemic about “those stupid walled-garden networks are bad!” I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.”—Anil Dash from "The Web we Lost"
“The three-legged chow that walks on my street every day doesn’t know the number three or have any sense that anything is wrong with her at all (and as I write, the dog is sixteen and still fit). It’s not that a dog accepts the cards it’s been dealt; it’s not aware that there are cards. James Thurber called the desire for this condition ‘the Dog Wish,’ the ‘strange and involved compulsion to be as happy and carefree as a dog.’ This is a dog’s blessing, a dim-wittedness one can envy.”—John Homans, from What’s a Dog For? - as excerpted by Maria Popova
The point of all this is that it is not the existence of knowledge but the convergence and cross-pollination of knowledge that drives progress.
Now, the challenge with the internet is that it’s a medium increasingly well-tailored for helping us find more of what we know we’re looking for, but increasingly poorly suited to helping us discover what we don’t yet know exists and thus don’t yet care to be interested in.
This creates a kind of “filter bubble” - to use internet activist Eli Pariser’s term - that only deepens our existing interests rather than broadening our intellectual horizons and filling our mental libraries with precisely the kind of diverse pieces that we can then combine into new ideas.
This long essay from 2010 by preeminant William Faulkner Noel Polk reflecting on the past, his relationship with his home state of Mississippi and his father is stellar.
My war, finally, then, certainly: it of course always had been, it and all its afterglow, and I never feel that it is mine more bitterly, and bemusedly too, than when I travel and meet people who type me because I am a Mississippian. I’m bemused because I know better; bitter because I know our accusers have so often had ample reason to think of all Mississippians that way, given how often we shoot ourselves in our social and cultural and political feet; and over the years when candidates for jobs came to my campus for interviews and were still surprised that we had sidewalks and McDonald’s and Porsches and BMWs, and reported, with some shock, how many of their friends and family had questioned their intelligence, not to say sanity, by presuming to seek employment in savage, redneck, racist Mississippi. It was my war, my history, most galling of all in my recognition that I was going to be tarred with it no matter what I said or did or was or tried to be: I was redneck, racist, ignoramus.
No one can deny we’ve had a long run. You were one of the original 13 colonies, and while I was started more than 50 years later at the intersection of some of your railroads, we’ve been inseparable ever since. Sure, I got burned when you tried to secede with the confederacy, but those things happen and I was happy to start over again while taking in many seeking refuge after that messy ordeal.
From there we grew together, you and I, through dark times and prosperity, through depressions and growth. But after World War 2, I started noticing something was wrong. More of my people started moving from me to you. At first I thought this was normal and fair - people move after all! When we added interstates across both of us, I had some complaints, but surely it would just be a better way to have your people and mine enjoy both of us more, but sadly that hasn’t been the case.
In the 70s when MARTA was created and later when the airport began to boom, I looked to you for support, and instead was spurned. I had become a refuge for people treated with disdain and sometimes violence with you, but I continued to be happy to take them in. While we had our differences, I was shocked to find you actively working against the initiatives and investment that I needed to grow. You were proud to brag about the economic growth I brought to you, and I thought I was happy to share, but it seemed like the seeds of discontent were planted and at times I felt we were going in two different directions.
It turns out those feelings were correct. Even though we’ve shared so much (1996 Olympics!?) - whenever I try to improve myself, I’m now met with resistance from you. When I try to improve my transportation - I’m blocked. I hoped that we could get on the same page, but it appears that you’re only happy to use me - letting people work at the business I’ve brought in, only to send that money and opportunity out to your suburbs, while leaving many of the people in me underrepresented and sometimes in dire need.
I hoped we could come to an understanding - to realize that our fates and futures are linked, but it may be better if we go our own ways - you can keep being a largely agrarian state, sure the suburbanites will be jobless without me, but they didn’t want to help me, so why should I care if I stop helping them. I’ll continue to be a huge city full of culture, but I will only become more hollow and more neglected than before. It seems like that’s what you’ve always wanted, so even though It’s the worse thing for both of us, it seems like our only option.
If you decide you want to work together, if it seems like you realize how much I help you, and how much you help me, maybe we’ll be able to work things out, but until then I think this is best for both of us.
Don’t call, I won’t answer and if you see me hanging out with other states, please don’t interrupt us. Maybe they will be more interested in supporting me than you have ever been.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, so I thought I’d make a list of some of my favorites and maybe a little bit about why I like each one.
Jordan, Jesse, Go! -Hosted by Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris, this is one of the few free-form podcasts that is actually listenable. Full of obscure pop-culture references and running jokes, it’s a lot of fun.
Risk! -Created by Kevin Allison (comedian from The State), Risk! features celebrities and everyday people sharing crazy, scary and sometimes unbelievable stories. It’s a lesson in both the craft of storytelling and the weirdness of the human experience.
WTF with Marc Maron - There’s a reason this is one of the most popular podcasts. Maron’s introspection and self-deprecating wit adds a new layer to all of his interviews with comedians, comics and celebrities. He achieves a level of intimacy in his interviews that many trained journalists never learn.
Slate Podcasts - I could probably spend a whole post just talking about these. Slate was one of the first publications to go all-in on podcasting programming and it shows. With tight, intelligent and interesting conversations covering a wide variety of subjects including politics, culture, sports, women’s issues, books and others, Slate has it covered. Here are a few of their ‘casts. - Political Gabfest - Culture Gabfest - Hang Up and Listen - XX Factor (every other week) - and more.
This American Life- Another obligatory podcast. Ira Glass is one of the best and it shows with every show.
Radiolab- Forget the interesting stories and interviews, I could listen to this for the sound design alone.
Filmspotting- For movie fans, this is an intelligent and engaging look at both the newest blockbusters, indie releases and also looks back at some of the best movies from the past. They’ve also started an occasional mini-show which covers the newest streaming movies from Netflix, Hulu and more.
On The Media-As a journalism/media nerd, I love this show. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone deftly discuss and examine the hot media topics of the week while pulling no punches. They also monitor the cutting-edge changes in technology that affect the way we understand and take in media and news. Great show.
Doug Loves Movies- Another movie podcast, This classic humor ‘cast from Doug Benson features him and his comedian and celebrity friends discussing and joking about films and playing fun movie-related games.
The Nerdist- Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray host this romp through nerd-dom discussing a wide range of things from movies to TV, video games and more. They also have a variety of celebrity guests.
Left, Right and Center (KCRW)- At a brisk 30 minutes, this is one of the better political roundtable shows. Featuring commentators from a variety of political discussion, the show prides itself on grown-up and polite discussions. Mostly free of talking-points and empty rhetoric, it’s a thought-provoking listen.
99% Invisible - Created by Roman Mars, this brief (but always great) show focuses each episode on an amazing, but often overlook masterpiece of design, ranging from technology to architecture.
While interesting, I can’t help but see Stern’s argument that camera apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic as defensive and a little deceptive. He says:
“Any news photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that the best camera is one that lets you take the photo unencumbered by the technicalities of the process. A camera that lets you record the scene with the light and shadows as it lies before you, and to produce an image that brings the emotion of the scene to the viewer — one that lets you take the photograph naked.”
But this seems a little off. The saying goes “The best camera is the one you have with you” (The artist/photographer Chase Jarvis even made a book about this) and the ubiquity of mobile phone cameras allows more people to be in more places and the chances of capturing a symbolic or significant moment increase exponentially because of it. Think of this like the proliferation of home movie cameras and their impact on news coverage. We would never have the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination or the Holliday’s video of the Rodney King beating if it weren’t for personal videos, and I don’t see how mobile photos are that much different.
Instagram and Hipstamatic may add a level of twee manufactured retro-ism, but as long as they’re not actively changing the content of the image and not just the content’s framing, I don’t see the problem. Is this unsettling for professional photographers? Probably, but professional photographers also have access and skills that set them apart from the iPhoned masses. Just like hobbyist bloggers vs. publication journalists, it’s the access, experience and know-how that earns the professional photographer his/her paycheck, not that their products (whether articles or photos) are “more real”.
“The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You” Chase Jarvis: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Camera-One-Thats-You/dp/0321684788
This is a fascinating piece about how to market something relatively common
in uncommon ways:
Dunn’s team talked to more than 20 agencies. One firm pitched a commercial
with a vegetable army, baby carrots in the lead, storming a beach defended
by junk food. Another proposed pairing two unlikely celebrities together,
or maybe rival politicians, with the punch line “Look who’s having a baby!”
Dunn kept a memento from the proposal he liked best, a large model of a
carrot ripping through a jelly doughnut, red jelly oozing from the exit
wound. Nothing, though, seemed quite right. Even the outrageous ideas
tended to come back to avoiding junk food and eating healthier.