infodensity and the modern media consumer.

Infodensity: When I talk about this, what I mean is the amount of information shared in a matter of time, or length of text, or conversation. Information density can thought of in an old media context as a matter of medium. As in, text in a novel is not at all dense, a textbook can be very dense, and TV shows have gotten denser over the last few decades

The modern media consumer: The most common thing you will hear from the uninitiated in terms of the current generation of media consumers, is that we don't have any attention span. They’ve been saying it since the MTV generation was actually a label that people cared about. The general assumption is that we deal with the landslide of information that gets thrown at us every day by not caring about anything.

This is a completely acceptable interpretation, up until the point you think about it.

In general, this is the most media-literate generation in history. More reading, more watching, and definitely more education, despite what parents say when they see the homework their kid brings home. Simply parsing this amount of information into what you care about and don't care about indicates an absolutely astounding level of understanding of media as information distribution. This isn't the generation that doesn't care; it's the generation that refuses to take any shit at all. Think about it. We’ve been parsing commercials from drama since birth, and we're already starting to parse product placement from genuine content. Why would we be willing to invest undue time in anything that wasn't going to be of use?

Old media doesn't get it, for the most part. Newspapers think they are invincible because they are an institution, but the keep shrinking and losing actual importance. TV news isn't about content, it's about sound bites. This is why it is watched, but still irrelevant. Magazines are probably the best thing old media has going for it, but they fall on their own sword in two places. First; they don't actually understand what they have, and second; they don't think it makes sense to demand that everything be selectively dense, even though most columns or articles have the base concept embedded in their structure.

Selective infodensity: The idea that something can be taken as a whole, or as elements, without automatically losing context, purpose, or value. In other words, the creation of a media experience that is only as time or effort intensive as the user demands. Something that has value at every level of interaction, as well as a greater total value.

The best example of selective infodensity in relation to old media forms is the magazine, as mentioned before. When you read a magazine article, you get the core text. This is the 'point' of it all. But you also get sidebars, images, image captions, and at times references to other articles, web links, sourcing footnotes, etc. Each of these elements adds something to the core text, while usually having some value of their own. However, it's important to note that this isn't perfect. The core article is usually not-so-dense to begin with, and often there's only a tangential connection between the secondary information, and the core. But, it's a start. You can read some of the side elements as stand-alone, or read just the core, and still have a media experience with value. Magazines are naturally tailored to allow a consumer to define their own level of interaction.

This is something that web media in particular, but most interactive new media forms, could excel at. But, this isn't an issue that I have seen discussed regularly in terms of the design of web media, especially that created for the sole purpose of sharing information.

Just something I'm toying with. These are ideas that are equally applicable to fiction and nonfiction. They are also ideas in their infancy. So. This requires further exploration.


fixing protest (2).

The major flaws with protest, when considered as a medium:

  • Inability to attract and keep attention.
  • Very little information is shared with those who DO end up paying attention.
  • At the end of the day, it’s still a bunch of people talking about someone else’s problem, in terms that in no way make it your problem.

Using the African AIDS epidemic as the issue in question, this is what I would suggest:

Juxtaposition: If people do not respond to someone else’s problem, you present it as theirs. By this I don’t mean to suggest that you can teach someone to value the life of people they have never met. Instead, you alter the terms of the conversation. Present the facts of AIDS, lack of access to treatment, and the relative prices of retroviral medications, and in no way embellish them, EXCEPT, frame the conversation as about West Nile Virus, or the Bird Flu, or whatever current health scare is active in the imaginations of the target people, the target society. I am going to assume that this will be in a fairly large metropolitan area. The important thing is to not lie about what is being said. Talk about the disease, how many it kills, and then inform the individuals you speak to that there is treatment, but pharmaceutical companies aren’t willing to negotiate price. Tell them how much it would cost for someone to get a needed supply of the medication, adjusting prices for the average income of a North American, rather than an African individual. Talk about how the government refuses to bypass the patent. Talk about anything you can find a reference point for, speaking about AIDS in Africa under the guise of Bird Flu in North America.

Present to someone the mortal threat of another, as though it was their own. Let them know, even for a second, how stupid and how hopeless the situation would be.

Presentation: Faux man-on-the-street interviews. Two person teams, both dressed the part as cameraman and interviewee, providing the information, and taping responses. These interviews will be actually taped, and will be under the pretence of an independent website talking about this ‘impending’ insanity. Hopefully, this will both make it easier to convince people that it isn’t a ruse. Each interview ends with giving the person spoken to a business card, or possibly a pamphlet, with little to no real information, other than a website to be open to the public in a short time.

Assuming even 50 people acting together in the ‘protest’, the video interviews could make a pretty interesting addition to a website that would reveal the hoax. Visitors would come to get more information, and find out that what they were afraid of was actually happening to someone else, and they were ignoring it. On the website could be included information on what can be done, more facts, as well as petitions, the ability to donate to relief programs, and links to other organisations, etc. Information on how to help, and people who will actually have a reason to seek it out.

In the plus column, this idea could be almost entirely volunteer-driven, with little in the way of expenses other than the website itself. Enough people have video cameras now that volunteers could borrow them, or use their own. As well, this is massively scalable, and could work with nearly any sized group that would be small enough not to break silence. It personalises tragedy, is based on actual interaction, and presents options for actual positive direct action, as opposed to attempting to guilt the world into changing. As well, something like this is pretty ripe for coverage in the mass media.

I recognise that this is somewhat dishonest, but I think it is excusable, considering the cause, and the fact that even minor research, such as looking at the site, sets the record straight. Luckily, ground level protest and dissent doesn’t have to maintain a squeaky clean public image; not everyone is Bono, trading on near universal appeal. This doesn’t actually hurt anyone. It’s disinformation with a purpose, and not based on personal gain.

Inspiration for this approach came in chunks, from sources including an abandoned short story of mine called The Artificials, The Yes Men, and an Artificials related idea for ‘performance art’ that was in part abandoned for the ethical concerns of screwing with people for personal gain / entertainment only.


four points on fixing protest.

1a) pick a battle. by this i mean several things, but i think an example is in order. have any of you attended a protest recently? i did not too long ago (i think canice was taking pictures) and i couldn't tell you what it was about. there were signs and speeches on everything from palestinian apartheid, to genocide in darfur, and i think i remember conversation about islam, somalia, and probably foreign aid. all of these are important problems with the modern world, and there is no real arguing that. but at the same time, if protest is to be at all useful, you can be generalists on dissent. if someone comes up to you, and asks 'what is it about the world that you are trying to change?' your answer needs to be short enough that there is a chance they will listen. pick a battle. fight like hell for your one battle.

1b) pick a battle. there is no place in this world, sad though it is, where you will be able to both challenge the acceptability standards for appearance, and the workings of governance. i am sorry. this is unfair, it's discriminatory, and it is undeniably true. if you desperately need to drive home the point that you can look however you want and still be successful and smart, then your appearance is your cause. you are sacrificing many things to that altar, and one of them is the ability to have controversial opinions taken seriously by mass groups of people. this isn't some kind of pro-conservative dress rant. but if the people whose minds you are attempting to change dismiss you out of hand, it doesn't matter if they are wrong. it only matters that they have stopped listening.

2) don't be a fucking child. do you want to know what killed the anti-globalisation movement? the battle of seattle. not because the sheer power of the activist mindset so scared the foolish capitalist that they went crazy with security, but because the entire movement was discredited with every smashed window, and every store that was closed afterwards. it got harder for protesters to show up to summits, because the police were waiting with teargas and riot gear. reading press from the time, the activist explanation was that they had done so much already, that they had the bad guys running scared. wrong. they had the completely harmless people, the ones they might have convinced, horrified that the anti-globalisation movement was really just a bunch of young, militant psychos who were going to trash their mini-mall. if you throw your fucking tantrum, if you attack goods and services in a misplaced outrage at CEOs, the people are going to see you, rightfully, as a threat. if the counterargument is that non-violent protest isn't working, then refer to the first sentence of this point. only children resort to violence against those who are merely ignoring them, not acting directly against them.

3) pick a battle you can win. you will not eliminate capitalism in north america, and then worldwide. you won't. impressive goal, i see your reasons, i've read naomi klein too, i get it. but it isn't going to happen, at least not by your hand, for many reasons. first, you haven't presented a good alternative yet. if ethical capitalism (yes, it IS possible) isn't an option for you, if all capitalism is evil, than you need to start your own society, because you are asking for the dissolution of this one. when you try to change something that has become intrinsic (i am not saying natural) to the state of the world, you are essentially asking everyone who is on the working side of the equation, to throw away the system they know and work within, for no guaranteed gain. i understand fears of being co-opted by those in power, and why working within the system is ideologically abhorrent to many. regardless. if you want to change things, you need people on your side. if you are going to try to win them over with the promise to tear down their house, without any blueprints for a rebuild, they aren't going to listen.

4) don't do it for you. i don't mean to suggest that protest is inherently selfish. i'm just making the point that almost every protest is designed in a way that appeals to those who agree, and further alienates everyone who doesn't. if your numbers were so great that you didn't DESPERATELY NEED to bring those on the boundary into the fold, the would would be the way you want it. don't throw a protest that, at best, serves to recruit more people who are either identical in ideology to you, or, at worst, a mass of idiot teens who are rebelling simply for the temporary buzz of stepping outside the mainstream. the design of an act of protest is usually why most people walk by with half a glance and a chuckle at the one last true believer from the vietnam era, shaking his ponytail as he screams into the 11th grade masses.

i would be more than happy to work with someone to create a more viable, and less self-defeating plan for an act of organised dissent, if and when anyone contacts me to do so. i respect ethics and hard work aimed at a desire for a better world. i don't respect the way protest has become a dead horse race.

by way of introduction.

From another blog. March 22, 2006.

i'm still dancing with the idea of the broken gentleman. right now he's the eternal and everchanging embodiment of the masculine ideal, the gentlemanly ideal. in the past, he lived as a renaissance man, as a wizard of electricity and science, as a philosopher, as an author, a playwright. now there's no defined ideal, and he can't embody the single famous people who alternate as the masculine ideal. the idea of the gentleman is dead. so he sits, and he shifts randomly between the ideals of the past, between different strains of genius and respectability. he's never in the same suit, but it's never pressed and ready. there's a few spots of stubble he's missed. he'll sit in the corner of the coffee shop, the library, the martini bar, and seem somehow born for his seat. he'll talk to you about nearly anything, and he'll do it as though he created the idea. he did, in a lot of ways. but he switches specialties and beliefs and personalities by the second. and he's not in love with the modern world.

the displaced man, the transplanted man. a relic of another time, a relic of every other time. he's the broken gentleman. he doesn't fit. but he can tell you every story, first hand, until the dawn of the anti-hero. and he'll do it in a distracted, disjointed manner, over a coffee, a manhattan, some coltrane.

(put better, the broken gentleman is the essence of a world in which a unified, yet fractured perception is a requirement for understanding.)