artificials - cryptic preview.

Dave, Remington and Isadore all head to the counter of the coffee shop, order, and move to sit down. They don't say anything, and you cannot see their faces, possibly shot from the lower jaw to the point covered by the counter. The order one at a time, and make a few gestures, etc., but nothing with any deep inherent meaning.

It's mid afternoon on a weekday and the coffee shop is pretty much deserted. This is after the lunch crowd would have left, so the only people there are either meaningless or elderly or both. The three characters are each sitting around a table facing one another. The atmosphere is one of comfortable mistrust.

REMINGTON: So. Any good stories?

ISADORE, DAVE look at him as though he is an idiot.

REMINGTON: Because I met this girl, and when I said I liked-

ISADORE, angry

ISADORE:Just because you aren't working, doesn't mean this is 'be yourself' time. You gave up 'be yourself' time.
DAVE:Is it anal posturing time, then?

REMINGTON smiles slightly. ISADORE is pissed. DAVE is enjoying the conflict.

ISADORE:Fine. Let me know when we can start.
REMINGTON:Whenever my coffee is here.
DAVE (SARCASTIC):Should we read the minutes from last meeting, Dor?
ISADORE:Shut up, Dave.
DAVE:Anything new?
REMINGTON:I'm trying to move into another social circle. So, the usual.
DAVE:What kind of circle are we talking about?
REMINGTON:Artsy. Students. The kind that go to gallery shows and know everyone there, ramble to each other about the 'obvious influences' of the work.
ISADORE:So you need to pretend you know who Pollock was to sleep with them. This requires prep now?
REMINGTON:Of course not, if I was picking them up at a bar. But if I actually want to enter the entire group, and attendant dating pool...
DAVE:We do what we do. Remington squanders it. Do we really need to have this conversation every time?

The coffee arrives, via either a server, or one of the characters goes to grab it quickly.

ISADORE:For as long as he keeps being an idiot.
REMINGTON:Yeah, your reasons are ever so pure.
DAVE:No one's reasons are pure. Anyways. Dor does the research, You figure out who they are and who they know, and I'll figure out what they'll think is attractive. Do you have names?
REMINGTON:Always. I think I'll go with quiet critic, tortured by his own inability.
ISADORE:Tell me what gallery is next for them.
REMINGTON plays around with a PDA
REMINGTON:The power of the internet, where everyone puts their life on file and complains about the death of privacy.
DAVE:You really aren't anything beyond an evolved libido, are you?
ISADORE:This is what I was saying.
REMINGTON is amused. This is a regular conversation.
ISADORE:There's a release party I need to be cool by the end of.
REMINGTON:The band from last time?
ISADORE:I need to get in with the band, because they can introduce me to this author, who can introduce me to her manager.
DAVE:This is from last week, right?

DAVE throws an envelope across the table. ISADORE opens it, and there's a bunch of vaguely hip magazines. Flip through them, there are notes, highlighted and circled looks, elements of a style.

DAVE:Follow the instructions. Buy what I said to, wear it how I said to. They'll invite you to sit with them.

REMINGTON gives ISADORE a couple of business cards.

REMINGTON:I'm introducing you to these people tomorrow at about 2:15 am, 'randomly' at Location 4, the west bar on the top floor. One of them is going to the release party, you can arrange to hit it off. I'll email you the work-up from when I met them.
ISADORE:It's so cute when you try to be professional.
REMINGTON:Really? You just seem like a bitch when you do it.

DAVE laughs.

DAVE:Why this manager, Dor?
ISADORE:One of her other clients needs a new PA. I need a larger paycheck, and invites to better events.
DAVE:So, access.
ISADORE:As ever.
REMINGTON:I thought I was the whore?

DAVE is giving them both the 'why do I have to deal with this' look

DAVE:Once a fucking week, mid-afternoon, I feel the urge to never talk to you again and start another cell. You two have to be the least business-like revolutionaries I've -
REMINGTON:Stop. Just stop. This isn't a militia, it's business.
DAVE:And business can't be revolutionary? What does subversive mean, Rem?
ISADORE:There's a difference between fucking shit up from the inside, and deciding to play the game with the cheats on.
DAVE:Is there? Both are basically working a system in a non-approved way. Dating isn't supposed to work the way it does for Remington here -
REMINGTON:Despite my name being perfect for a plethora of opening lines.
DAVE:And 'networking' isn't supposed to work the way it does for our young Isadore -
REMINGTON:I could say my mom had a huge crush on Remington Steele...
DAVE:But we make it work that way. We get what we want, when we should not. But for some reason, we can't call it revolutionary, because that's a dirty word -
REMINGTON:I could say it was only realised later that my dad had picked the name off his shaver...
DAVE:Like terrorist. Terrorism was almost socially acceptable, in certain cases. I mean, Mandela was a terrorist.
REMINGTON:I could even just pull the 'oh, I'm so shy about my stupid name, I need someone to pull me out of my shell.'
DAVE:Che Guevara. The king of the T-shirt silhouette. Terrorist.
ISADORE:This isn't exactly news, Dave.
REMINGTON:I could even just-
ISADORE:Shut the fuck up.
DAVE:All I'm saying is, we get together and fiddle with shit behind the curtain, all the damn time. And all he does is try to get laid. And all you do is climb the corporate ladder a little faster.
ISADORE:What do you do, Dave?
DAVE:Right now? I'm still using that producer you helped me convince I was a Wall of Sound expert to get to that idiot pop star with the bad haircut.
ISADORE:But why?
DAVE:So I can slowly ruin her career, and put a few select messages into the public eye.
ISADORE:But why, Dave.
DAVE:Fun. Possible profit. Mostly fun.
REMINGTON:Here's the tickets to that Moog retrospective thing, by the way. Producer dude will continue to think you are the best of friends. Pop star's 'still on good terms' ex should be there.
DAVE:See. The system works.
ISADORE:Fine. And here's the Moog workup, and background on shit likely to come up in conversation, according to Rem's profiles.

Everything gets passed to DAVE

ISADORE:What you don't get, is that you're the one here that makes no sense, Dave.
REMINGTON:I dunno. Everyone hates pop stars.
DAVE:He has a point.
ISADORE:Fuck. I mean, Remington and I have motives, as stupid as his are. We're doing this for a direct reason, a direct goal. You aren't really getting anything other than self-satisfaction out of it.
DAVE:I accomplish things, Dor.
ISADORE:But what do your accomplishments accomplish?
DAVE:Everything they need to.
ISADORE:Dave. Dave. If there's no point to fucking with people expertly, it's just as bad as doing it in a playground.
DAVE:This is why I hate working with you. You never got it, no matter how many times I explained it.
ISADORE:These are the facts. We each gave something up to do this, basically having a real personality, being known by another person, ever.
REMINGTON:I'd argue giving that up is like giving up belief in the Easter bunny.
ISADORE:We gave something up, because this, the whole perfectly planned appearance, conversation, ideas, ideals, whatever, it means power. It means we can do things. We do things for a reason, usually. I have a reason. Rem has a reason.
DAVE:I'm very proud of you.
ISADORE:Look. He just wants to meet new and interesting people, and fuck them. I just want access, more better cheaper with prettier people around. You? You're just a fucking sociopath.
DAVE:I prefer the term 'subversive observer'.

Silence for a few seconds.

REMINGTON:Well, if no one else is talking, I have the standard chart for the last week. Targets, who we know who they know, the usual.
ISADORE:Contact information?
REMINGTON:Where it always is.
DAVE:Okay. You have goals, so do I. You want access, he wants women. I want to be able to do whatever the hell I want, at any time.

Dead level stare, no emotion.

DAVE:I can't think of a single thing worth giving up a sense of identity for, other than carte blanche. I have that, so do you. I just choose to fucking use it, rather than just sit here.
ISADORE:We're just people, Dave. We think it through a little more, but we're just people.
DAVE:Exactly. I don't have to feel bad, because anyone else could do it, too.
REMINGTON:I think I read this one before. 'The Prince', something like that?

A few more seconds of silence.

ISADORE:Dave. This... This is just a way to get ahead. It's just a thing to do to get what we want.
DAVE:It's not. It's a lifestyle. If a personality makes a person, then we are post-people. We're the genuine fakes. So we can get laid, get a better job, ruin some crappy music career. It's what we get to do.
REMINGTON:You said it yourself, Dor. We all gave up 'be yourself' time. Price of admission.
ISADORE sighs.
DAVE:Anything else today?

All three sip coffee at the same time.

REMINGTON (TO ISADORE):Is the band any good?
ISADORE:Not really. There's nothing to them. It's all posturing.
DAVE:I'm bored. I think I'll seduce a waitress.

DAVE gets up, leaves.
ISADORE and REMINGTON sit in silence, drinking their coffee for a while.

ISADORE:No, not really.

They walk out, not acknowledging DAVE as they pass him and the waitress. She's laughing and touching his arm. They exit into the street.

It'll make more sense later, hopefully. Trust me.


a kind of update.

A notable amount of my spare time, at the moment, is being spent on something loosely called the artificials manifesto.

More on this will follow, but in a lot of ways, it relates to last posts points on crowdsourcing as the solution to the attention arms race. I'm also hoping that the artificials concept will translate into at least one upcoming project for school. If not, I like it enough that it will continue to eat time that otherwise would be used to prepare for midterms, or job-hunt.

I'm back to working in / on my favourite medium, and the oldest one. Also the least utilised. It's both excessively cerebral and overwhelmingly engrossing.

Anyway, more updates soon enough.


paris hilton and the attention arms race.

As mentioned in this earlier post, The Rebel Sell influenced my view of many things in society as a kind of arms race. While I read not too long ago that Paris Hilton could best be considered a platform, rather than a celebrity (the argument being that she can aid promotion by associating things with herself, but can’t promote her own works successfully), I’m starting to think that she’s actually the perfect example of the arms race worldview in terms of the mass media.

Let me explain.

We live in an over saturated media landscape. Whether it be advertising or television channels, or celebrities, we are blasted in the face with an insane amount of information on a second by second basis. I don’t know about anyone else, but even going to school in a suburban area, I’ve gotten so used to the noise that silence feels eerie.

What do small children do when no one is paying attention? They start to yell. And when all the children start yelling, they begin to act out. In the same way the girl that no one paid attention to in grade 10 ends up making some bad decisions in her quest for attention, people (in this case, media producers) decide that being a little ridiculous isn’t a big problem, as long as people are looking. Upping the t&a isn’t that high a price to pay, as long as people keep looking. Starting every episode of CSI with three dead hookers and an exploding caddy isn’t that bad, if someone will please for the love of god look.

Having your homemade nightvision porn leak online for every teenage boy to spank it do isn’t shameful anymore. It means people are looking. And the simple fact that people are looking means that you matter, regardless of issues of respectability.

Paris Hilton being famous is the end result of the attention arms race. So are movies where Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass crew get the shit beat out of them by bulls. It has nothing to do with quality. It’s the simple reality that there is so much signal out there, that getting people to look is seen as a matter of being more attention-grabbing than the other guy.

This makes perfect sense, given the broadcast model of mass communication that has dominated for the last several decades. More reach meant more power. Louder meant more power.

The problem is, signal is now noise. All of it. And yeah, people will look when a screech emerges from the static, when a bright flash disrupts the snow. But what happens when that stops being a distraction, and people turn off the radio and the TV?

When signal is noise, you basically have three options;

1) Create a new type of signal.

2) Make people seek you out, instead of vice versa.

3) Get louder.

Obviously, the last option eventually stops working. So, two more things to explore. But the point I’m trying to make is, if you want attention, and screaming isn’t getting it, a conversation will. Interaction is louder than night vision pornography. Creating a discussion among others is essentially viral marketing. Creating a discussion with them, and with you, often falls into the world of crowdsourcing.

Which I guess, is something to talk about next post.

EDIT: some more stuff to look at regarding signal as noise.
NYT article
Anti-Advertising Agency Clip


democratized democracy.

One of the oldest myths / dreams about the internet is that it would, eventually, somehow, lead to a better world. The best chance for this is the democratizing effect that it has for media. The idea that everyone can have a voice was, and is, definitely revolutionary, and blogging has been the obvious example that we can point to for this democratization in practice. Another one popped up recently, and I think it’s worth dissecting on a theoretical level.

Disclosure: I like Barack Obama. I want him to win, for many reasons. I’m also not an American, so (although everyone has a stake in a US election) I’d like to claim something resembling distance from the issue of who wins what.

At the same time, I have to talk about my.barackobama.com, and why the idea of it excites me.

First off, to explain. Although I can’t actually sign in to the site, due to my lack of an American zip code, it seems to be a fairly straightforward social network, allowing a user to make friends, blog, create groups, plan events, message, and fundraise. This isn’t anything unusual for social networks, but it is for election campaigns.

The traditional election campaign has always operated on something similar to the traditional broadcast model of communication. Those representing the candidate express an approved message, follow orders, and generally the candidate tells you what they are about, and why you should vote for them. This is pretty much the standard of campaigning in democracies the world over. Beyond that, there are fundraisers, public events, commercials praising the candidate, and at least a few commercials attacking the opposition, from at least one member of the race. While this model is obviously still in effect, and still based on grassroots support, it isn’t exactly a conversation, and it is most likely very closely controlled by those leading up the campaign.

Gathering everyone to a social network based on the candidate, however, creates a few new and interesting wrinkles. Obama supporters who sign up get to blog whatever they please, on a site sponsored by the candidate himself. They can do their own organising. They can fundraise how they please. And they can do it independent of direct oversight by the candidate himself, or his staff. The people get a voice, and they get it for the entire run up to the next election, as opposed to once every four years.

Sounds an awful lot like democracy, doesn’t it?

There are obviously possible problems, however. As much as I hate to mention it, editorial control over user accounts, and the ability to remove postings, is essential. Essential, if only because a black presidential candidate is almost certain going to be the target of racism, ignorance, and idiotic pranks. The question is how tight editorial control will be. Will MyBarackObama.com remove posts that comment negatively on the actions or stances of the candidate? I’d hope not, if only because it would completely negate the ‘This Campaign is About You’ message posted on the front page of his website proper.

Equally important to relinquishing control over discussion of the candidate in a sponsored mass media forum is the simple fact that this move speaks volumes about the Obama campaign and its understanding of the youth of the modern world. The execution, from what I can see, looks almost textbook web2.0. This isn’t a complaint, but it at least shows that someone has been paying attention to how these things work. Someone is actively targeting the youth vote, and doing it in terms that don’t reek of desperation. By creating a separate social network, people are given a tool to use, as opposed to a sad appropriation of a tool they already enjoy. Facebook isn’t for elections. MySpace isn’t for elections. MyBarackObama.com is for elections, for this specific election, but also for users to enjoy and control.

Something like this is fascinating to me. If campaigning, even in part, becomes a matter of mostly unedited discourse between supporters, and between supporters and the candidate, arguably the most important non-voting part of the U.S. democratic process for the public, actually involves the input of the people. More than that, it actually invites mass involvement, rather than just a tick in the appropriate box, on the appropriate day.

Mostly, this kind of move supports the claims senator Obama has made about his beliefs and goals in relation to politics. It shows action on a desire to include and represent public viewpoints, even in a media organ designed specifically to support one candidate. Democracy is a glorious, honourable ideal. It’s nice to see that reflected in more than the final element of an election.


I've actually logged in and checked out the site. Other things to note are the ability to select issues of importance to you while creating a profile (ranging from civil rights to energy policy), and a personalised fundraising message that can be sent to friends, and other members of the site.


a way of seeing.

Reading 'The Rebel Sell' was probably one of the major moments in shaping my view of human relations. The view espoused therein of commerce as an arms race has proven applicable to many, many things.

(The gist is, keeping up with the Joneses results in the Joneses trying to pull back ahead, and vice versa, until everyone is unnecessarily spending beyond their means. Heath and Potter (the authors) call it a Collective Action Problem, and invoke the prisoners dilemma to explain further. In the name of all that is holy, buy the book.)

For the last few days, I've been asking myself how do you win an arms race? I've also been refusing to accept the standard answer I would give, which is not to play.

So. How do you win an arms race?

Turn it into a ground war.

Much as guerilla warfare seems to continue to do well trumping ever increasing military budgets the world over, crowdsourcing seems to do the same thing to flush media outlets. I'll admit that crowdsourcing also happens to fit very easily into my ideals about the way media can and should, in some cases, be run. A similar point could be made about guerilla marketing, if we didn't live in a political climate where a lite brite could shut down a major urban centre.

There was a lot of input today that led to me scribbling this down into a moleskine, and I'll get to the related idea at some point in the near future.

Ground war. That is all.


from my journal.

long talk with angus last night. basically, he was arguing that supplying people with truth and evidence in media should be enough to make positive strides in society. i was taking the counterpoint, that people don't ever just want the honest and noble. you have to give them the honest and noble, AND a reason to desire it. this is, in part, the explanation for my interest in user experience design, and in the presentation of information. just telling the truth hasn't been enough in generations. the truth needs to be put in the right dress, so people will actually stop and stare.

re: truth dressing...this is why scientists don't talk to the media at press conferences. we (as a discipline) don't understand why people just don't care a priori, thus miss out on the sexifying process. This is why we need people like you. you will be useful to the world, likely someday soon.

Thanks to Kirsten, but this is basically here as a reminder to me that most people don't think the way I do, in terms of what use information has. The 'sexifying process' is fairly integral, in my opinion, to the point where it baffles me when it is left out. Facts aren't remembered without framing, and they definitely cannot tell a story without it. To revisit, I suppose.