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 POP LOSER No. 81

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You Can Only Spend It

That thing that was taking up so much of my time that this thing was sort of punted to the side? Well, that thing is done, meaning I get to do more of this thing again. That said, I have some other things and it’s summer, when I like to sit on my porch reading and watching baseball, so we’re taking PL to a biweekly schedule.

I should also note that, as always happens after a brief break, the links below are plentiful and sometimes stale. Feel free to delete this entire email and start fresh in two weeks.
 

CONFUSIONS

We trust news more based on who shares it, not who creates it.

They found that a trusted sharer resulted in more trust for the article and more engagement with the original news — including re-sharing the article and signing up for news alerts from the source. Furthermore, the sharer of the article affected how people thought about multiple facets of the article: “When people see news from a person they trust, they are more likely to think it got the facts right, contains diverse points of view, and is well reported than if the same article is shared by someone they are skeptical of.”

[…]

There are some caveats here. The study only looked at the effect of articles shared by public figures — in this case, Oprah, celeb/trainer Jillian Michaels, NBC News’ Lester Holt, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Oz, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and celeb/trainer Kayla Itsines. Results could be different if they were applied to real-life friends in a Facebook feed.

This methodology seems… flawed.


We need more Facebooks.

Many of us have been concerned about digital overreach by our governments, especially after the Snowden revelations. But the consumerist impulse that feeds the promiscuous divulgence of personal information similarly threatens our rights as individuals and our collective welfare. Indeed, it may be more threatening, as we mindlessly trade ninety-eight degrees of freedom for a bunch of stuff we have been mesmerized into thinking costs us nothing.

When you look at Facebook that way, it’s hard to root for the company to find ways to be a platform for more civic engagement. In fact, unless we think people should be required to shoulder whatever privacy costs Facebook decides to impose, it probably should not be the main place we go to find groups that, in Zuckerberg’s words, “support our personal, emotional, and spiritual needs.” Ideally, people would be able to form robust online communities and engage in the public square without letting any single company build a comprehensive dossier on them.

​This bit at the end is interesting:

Why are we finally now in what’s often called a golden age of television, with culturally influential, sophisticated shows that don’t insult our intelligence? It’s not because broadcasters stopped airing schlock. It’s because the audience is more fragmented than ever—thanks to the rise of public broadcasting and cable TV and streaming services and many other challenges to big networks. It required a flourishing of choices rather than a reliance on those huge networks to become better versions of themselves.


Twitter turned eggs into generic user profile icons. Why is this post so long?

For the past seven years, everyone who has created an account on Twitter starts out with their default profile photo as an egg. This was a playful way to reference how eggs hatch into birds that send all the Tweets you see on Twitter! But now it’s time for something new – something that encourages people to upload their own photos for more personal expression. So today, we’re introducing a new default profile photo.


Instead of checking social media, I eat a bag of nails.

You’d think chewing the nails would be the hardest part and buddy, you’d be right. However, swallowing is also very challenging. A close second for sure. Both hurt pretty bad. I am looking forward to the day when I no longer think about Facebook and therefore no longer need to eat another bag of nails ever again.


Evgeny Morozov on the privilege of disconnecting.

What do we really gain if we win the right not to check our work-related email only to squander it on clicking, half-mesmerised, that “update” button on Facebook or Twitter? One set of companies – our formal employers – stand to lose, as they can’t expect us to be always available; another set of companies, though, our informal employers – the likes of Facebook and Twitter – stand to gain, as we gladly furnish them with valuable data that propels their growth.

Short of developing an alternative economy of digital communications – which, at this point, would also mean developing an alternative knowledge economy – there’s only one way to fight such addiction: disconnection. But, in this case, disconnection is likely to be treated as a device, not as a right. Thus, we can already pay a fee to use slick software that will limit our access to Facebook or Twitter. Or we can pay some more and fill our smartphone with a dozen mindfulness apps that will give us all the benefits of Zen without any of the burdens of Buddhism. Or we can pay for the privilege of spending a few weeks in an internet detox camp, which are now proliferating across the globe.

The solution is the same: pay to enjoy the freedoms that you have once taken for granted. Instead of the realm of political rights, the solution is to be found in the marketplace, accessible to some – at, perhaps, variable prices.


What if we listened to sociologists?

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.

Related: Camille Paglia, still a thing.


Working yourself to death in the gig economy.

Perhaps, as Lyft suggests, Mary kept accepting riders while experiencing contractions because “she was still a week away from her due date,” or “she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet.” Or maybe Mary kept accepting riders because the gig economy has further normalized the circumstances in which earning an extra eleven dollars can feel more important than seeking out the urgent medical care that these quasi-employers do not sponsor.


Making sense of modern curation.

What is a curator, and why is it the admired cultural position of the moment? Why is this the word that springs to our tongues today when once we would have said “DJ,” or “blogger,” or “expert,” or just “snob”? And why is it persistently associated with liberals?

Consider the most basic aspect of the word as we use it today. A curator is an arbiter, someone who distinguishes between what is good and what is bad. Curators tell us what to welcome and what to exclude, what to keep and what to toss. They make judgments. They define what is legitimate and what is not.

Also: Curatorial statement for the moving back home with my mom biennial.

The Moving Back Home With My Mom Biennial is a site-specific show that will take place from my 28th birthday until my mother decides I need to start paying rent. At this indeterminate point, the activities will draw to a close, symbolizing the unpredictability of the current artistic climate. There may be an opportunity for the biennial to continue if I agree to go out with my mom’s dentist’s son who works in finance. Guest curators from all over the world, including two or three liberal-arts college graduates who can no longer afford New York and Berlin, will be invited to contribute to the MBHWMMB.

And: Mozilla bought Pocket something something human content recommendation engine or something.


Alex Ross laments the fate of the critic in the digital age.

Cultural criticism is a form of journalism—odd journalism, but journalism nonetheless. The Times film critic A. O. Scott mounted a vibrant defense of this sour science in his recent book “Better Living Through Criticism.” He writes, “As consumers of culture, we are lulled into passivity or, at best, prodded toward a state of pseudo-semi-self-awareness, encouraged either toward the defensive group identity of fanhood or a shallow, half-ironic eclecticism.” The role of the critic, Scott says, is to resist the manufactured consensus—to interrogate the successful, to exalt the unknown, to argue for ambiguity and complexity. Virgil Thomson immortally defined criticism as “the only antidote we have to paid publicity.”

Related: Music criticism, take a look at yourself.

And: Critique in the age of Trump.


Postmedia is dying. Postmedia will die. This is inevitable. So then what?

What you are left with is the CBC. The CBC recently hired the excellent Joanne Chianello (a refugee from the Citizen) who has greatly enriched its civic coverage. But across the country in recent years, the CBC’s commitment to core public service journalism has been uncertain. In many locations, the corporation has moved to episodic, event-drive coverage of city halls and legislatures, which means less of the deep digging we so desperately need.


Podcasts and the power of public broadcasting.

Prestige podcasts, like prestige television shows, tend to have an audience that believes itself literate, well-informed, and reasonable. Listening to podcasts, in this model, is a form of virtue. While the subjects covered may sometimes be as esoteric as any that you might find on a more rough-and-ready, lower-end podcast—the murder long forgotten, the case long unsolved—their pedigree makes them appear more high-minded. Sometimes they are: American Public Media’s In the Dark excels at taking apart complicated cases and social issues, and laying them out in profound and carefully reported ways. The NPR Politics Podcast is a voice of relative calm in an era when the dominant mode of political engagement is screaming.

But the curious thing about such successes is how heavily they depend on the NPR reputation for public-mindedness.


The web looks like shit.

Auto-play videos lurking in unopened tabs. Pop-ups that won’t go away. Photos that won’t load. Text that’s invaded by ads. It’s hard to complain about the internet without feeling like a mom struggling to post on Facebook, but going online has started to feel like an assault on the senses. The internet so often feels like that joke from Annie Hall in which two old women complain about dinner: “This article is terrible.” “I know — and so hard to read!”


Putting pedestrian traffic lights where people are looking—on the ground.

Bodegraven, a town in the Netherlands, has installed LED light strips on the sidewalk that synchronize with traffic signals and turn red or green at pedestrian crossings, so that people can’t miss them even if their eyes are cast down toward their smartphone screens.


The church run by brand managers that launches startups.

Over the next few months, a core of 11 people, some of whom had helped build billion-dollar consumer brands, reimagined church as one might expect P&G executives to do. (The company more or less invented brand management, and it’s been a prime breeding ground for business talent—Microsoft ex-CEO Steve Ballmer, Intuit’s Scott Cook, HP’s Meg Whitman, and GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, among many others, are all P&G alumni.) They gathered demographic data on Cincinnatians’ churchgoing habits, with a focus on the city’s affluent east side, which includes the P&G enclave suburbs of Hyde Park and Oakley. They scoured secular popular music and TV comedies for tips on how to keep churchgoers’ attention. They settled on a target demographic, 25- to 35-year-old males, figuring that if they could get the guy, they would get his wife. They wrote brand positioning statements—a church for friends who don’t like church; a church for people who’ve given up on church. Finally they built a slide deck featuring a mix of data and Scripture and began raising money from friends, family, and business connections.


Stella & Dot is the new Avon.

Yet Herrin has managed to tap into a brutally underserved market: the tens of thousands of women around the country who are fueled by an unfulfilled entrepreneurial zeal and are in need of part-time work. They don’t have the time or energy to start their own companies, nor do they want to rough it in the dregs of the gig economy, shuttling food for Instacart or driving for Lyft. They want to be a part of something bigger—something with purpose. This idea of empowerment by entrepreneurism is baked into Stella & Dot’s mission statement, coined by Herrin and printed on everything from the website to the office wall: “To give every woman the means to style her own life.”


Upcoming.org is back. Sort of.


The “YouTube voice.”

In our dystopian present, vloggers are now legitimate celebrities who make millions of dollars a year and travel the world. Toronto’s own Lilly Singh, who started vlogging in 2010 is now a millionaire, making $2.5 million a year. But even as vloggers cross over into channels that more resemble the home shopping network, one thing remained the same—the YouTube voice.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? With over 10 million subscribers and millions of views on almost all her images, Bethany Mota is one of YouTube’s biggest and most successful stars. In almost every video, within thirty seconds Mota begins by yelling, “Hey guys! It’s Beth here” to her viewers.

Also: Lo-fi house and YouTube’s algorithm.

The lo-fi house sound wasn’t invented on YouTube, but the platform allowed it to flourish. Beginning around 2012, aficionados of fuzzy ’80s house music congregated on online forums and in a Facebook group called Strictly Lo-Fi to share their creations. One of the most common ways of sharing tracks was by uploading them to YouTube, where, over time, the community would algorithmically grow.


TV opening credits are amazing now.

But television credits weren’t always this good. Until recently, they were afterthoughts, cobbled together by overtaxed editing departments. Now they’re mini-films in their own right, transitioning viewers into the proper emotional state no matter where they happen to be watching.

And very soon they’ll be entirely unnecessary.

Netflix is testing a button that lets you skip the opening credits on some television shows, the company said. This week some Twitter users spotted a “skip intro” button that appears when you hover over the title sequence for shows including Netflix originals House of Cards and Iron Fist, and Mad Men and The Office (third-party shows). The button works both with shows that begin with the title sequence and those that include one after a cold open.


Send a message to your textdoor neighbour.


The chess problem people get but computers suck at.

The chess problem - originally drawn by Sir Roger - has been devised to defeat an artificially intelligent (AI) computer but be solvable for humans. The Penrose Institute scientists are inviting readers to workout how white can win, or force a stalemate and then share their reasoning.

The team then hopes to scan the brains of people with the quickest times, or interesting Eureka moments, to see if the genesis of human ‘insight’ or ‘intuition’ can be spotted in mind.

“If you put this puzzle into a chess computer it just assumes a black win because of the number of pieces and positions, but a human will look at this and know quickly that is not the case,” said Sir Roger.


Don’t walk on escalators.

It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers said it is more efficient if nobody walks on the escalator.

To be clear, this is not better for the escalator itself, although that has been a matter of dispute.

 

INTERPLAYS

Obits: Jack Ziegler, Bernie Wrightson, Jay Lynch and Graham Gladwell. Music: Shifting “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to a major key and  The Sampling of Daft Punk . Video: An animated introduction to Marshall McLuhan and Southpaw Regional Wrestling. Collections: Museum Of Obsolete Media and Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. Trailer: Atomic Blonde. Misc: Twin Peaks Skateboards and The Cage Cage.
 

PROPOGANDA

The Age of Rudeness // The New York Times Magazine
As the social contract frays, what does it mean to be polite?

The Capsizing of Damien Hirst // The Baffler
How did Damien Hirst find himself in this predicament? Once reportedly the richest artist in the world, Hirst’s market value and reputation have sunk, which makes it all the more appropriate that his new exhibition seems to involve the salvaging of a mythic, treasure-filled shipwreck.

Death to the Flâneur // The New Republic 
This mythic figure is having a moment. But to adopt his point of view is to look for meaning around all the wrong corners.

The Magician Who Wants to Break Magic // The New York Times Magazine
Derek DelGaudio takes illusionism to new conceptual heights.

What Bill O’Reilly Means to Fox News // The New Yorker
One afternoon last month, when I was reporting a Profile of Tucker Carlson, I met him in the cafeteria at the Fox News Channel headquarters, in midtown Manhattan. During the interview, we were briefly interrupted by Bill Shine, the co-president of Fox News. When Carlson told Shine that he was doing an interview, Shine responded mischievously. “Why isn’t he interviewing O’Reilly?” Shine said. “His ratings are bigger!”

The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy // The Walrus
In the age of information overload, discussing books you haven’t read has become a badge of honour—and, for some, a profession.

The Story of Pearl Jam, From a Seattle Basement to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame // Pacific NW Magazine
Down a dark Belltown alleyway, where pigeons outnumber people most days, a heavy door opens to an ironworks shop. Inside, you walk down a dozen or so rickety steps to a basement, about 30 feet by 30 feet. Exposed water pipes hang from the ceiling.

Fuck You And Die: An Oral History of Something Awful // Motherboard
Current internet culture is rooted in the SomethingAwful.com forums. These are the people who made it what it was.

Funny or Die at 10: An Oral History of A Comedy Juggernaut // Wired
When Funny or Die launched on April 12, 2007, with “The Landlord”—a supercheap two-minute sketch pitting Will Ferrell against a swearing toddler—the premise was so simple even a 2-year-old could understand it.

Larger Than Life: An Oral History of WrestleMania III // Detroit News
Bigger! Better! Badder! That was the tagline for WrestleMania III, and it certainly lived up to the hype — never mind that the whole thing, 12 matches in all, was a pumped-up soap opera in spandex. 

“The main problem with this great obsession for Saving Time is very simple: you can't save time. You can only spend it.”
Benjamin Hoff


Pop Loser is a weekly newsletter of innumerable confusions collected and written by Tyler Hellard.

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