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 POP LOSER No. 91

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What We Go to Books to Find

A (very select) sample of things I have on my phone and Kindle:

  • The Complete Novels of Charles Dickens
  • The Complete Works of Ernest Hemingway
  • The Short Novels of John Steinbeck
  • Mark Twain: The Complete Novels
  • George Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays and Collected Articles
  • The Complete Works of George Orwell
  • The Complete Captain Underpants

I haven't read half of that stuff and I'll probably never get around to all of it. I mention it because I was scrolling through the list the other day looking for something to read and it occurred to me that paper books might be stupid.
 

CONFUSIONS

America 2017 continues. The fallout of racist rallies and that Google memo and, well, I guess everything continues and there’s no keeping up with all the takes. I’d advise just skipping this section of links. Because ugh.

Tech companies are (finally) taking a stand against terrible people using their services, which is good, even if the same terrible people will just go build their own platforms. (Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Google, Apple, PayPal, SquareSpace, GoDaddy and others have all been kicking the worst offenders from their platforms, but my personal favourite is this poor prick getting booted from OkCupid, a decision we can probably all agree is a solid public service.) But the whole thing does raise some thorny questions about free speech and who gets to decide.

I’m not really sure what the culture of Silicon Valley is or is supposed to be. I haven’t spent much time there, so I can’t fully appreciate what progressive ideals and aggressive libertarianism looks like when slammed together, though I imagine it creates the sort of cognitive dissonance that shatters fragile minds and allows assholes to thrive.

But what gave these trolls power on platforms wasn’t just their willingness to act in bad faith and to break the rules and norms of their environment. It was their understanding that the rules and norms of platforms were self-serving and cynical in the first place. After all, these platforms draw arbitrary boundaries constantly and with much less controversy — against spammers, concerning profanity or in response to government demands. These fringe groups saw an opportunity in the gap between the platforms’ strained public dedication to discourse stewardship and their actual existence as profit-driven entities, free to do as they please. Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones. It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them.

Also: All the self-respecting white supremacists are on YouTube.

And: Another reverberation from the Google memo: Wikipedia edit wars.

Truth: I’m a Google Manufacturing Robot and I believe humans are biologically unfit to have jobs in tech.
 



More, but with a video pivot. Vice made a great short documentary called Charlottesville: Race and Terror (featuring the OkCupid poor prick mentioned above). But… (feels like there's never not a "but" anymore).

The idea of a 70 year old white guy sitting on his couch watching Fox News and lamenting the destruction of our country by forces they fear (Gays! Blacks! Liberals!!) is one most of my friends mock with glee. Yet here we are, a portfolio company of the media genius that created the entire right wing tabloid machine’s is convincing a whole other demographic that the world is coming to an end. Anger and fear sell.
 



Zines forever. Dirty Girls is a short look at some California teens shot in 1996 and it’s completely wonderful.
 



Synergies in journalism. Franklin Foer on tech vs. journalism and his time at The New Republic under Chris Hughes is scathing. There are counters, but none I’ve seen that make me less sad about it all.

What makes these deals so terrible is the capriciousness of the tech companies. Quickly moving in a radically different direction may be great for their bottom line, but it is detrimental to the media companies that rely on the platforms. Facebook will decide that its users prefer video to words, or ideologically pleasing propaganda to more-objective accounts of events—and so it will de-emphasize the written word or hard news in its users’ feeds. When it makes shifts like this, or when Google tweaks its algorithm, the web traffic flowing to a given media outlet may plummet, with rippling revenue ramifications. The problem isn’t just financial vulnerability, however. It’s also the way tech companies dictate the patterns of work; the way their influence can affect the ethos of an entire profession, lowering standards of quality and eroding ethical protections.

Not Unrelated: Facebook is big. Bigger than big. It's incomprehensible big. And you are still the product.

Wu argues that capturing and reselling attention has been the basic model for a large number of modern businesses, from posters in late 19th-century Paris, through the invention of mass-market newspapers that made their money not through circulation but through ad sales, to the modern industries of advertising and ad-funded TV. Facebook is in a long line of such enterprises, though it might be the purest ever example of a company whose business is the capture and sale of attention. Very little new thinking was involved in its creation. 

And: How Mic manipulated social justice to drive clicks and revenue.

Also: Medium is now paying writers with claps, which is just so fucking stupid. (Has anyone coined the term "clapbait" yet? If not, DIBS!)

Finally: The day content was invented.

Content was invented in 2007 by Steven Ross, a principal at a boutique communications agency. Ross, who now works as a freelance visionpreneur, often became confused when he had to discuss the many different kinds of work — articles, videos, photos — he would commission for clients. But one day, while taking a bath, he had a thought that would change the world.

Why not just call it all content?
 


 

🎧

150 Greatest Albums by Women and 169 song titles with parentheticals (in order of parenthetical charm).
 



Someone buy me this. Roland is re-releasing an updated 808 for their Boutique series and I wish I had more time and money for toys.

Also: *808: The Movie* and you can play with a browser 808.
 


 

🎙

Steven Levy on Longform and Craig Silverman on Canadaland.
 



Miscellany: Prince got his own Pantone. A brief history of 'NSFW'. New Strong Bad email. Toy stores, fidget spinners and fads. Stefan Heck's annual trolling of football fantasy drafts.
 



Good news: your passwords can now just be an easy-to-remember phrase and the guy that told us to use random characters for all these years is really, really sorry.

Simple math shows that a shorter password with wacky characters is much easier to crack than a long string of easy-to-remember words.
 


 

📺

Trailers for Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, Ingrid Goes West and Rememory.
 



Phones are the worst. Your phone is a Tamagotchi and your notifications are fucking evil.

Our phones are an abusive, demanding, and needy digital entity; a Tamagotchi for the modern age. They don’t look after us—we look after them. We treat them as a living entity that we need to keep alive and grow. We nurture them and feed them with our data and power. We train them over time, their characters growing and evolving as we play games and donate our attention and love.
 

PROPOGANDA

This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley // The Cut
An excerpt from Ellen Pao’s ‘Reset,’ about sexism in Silicon Valley and her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.


Voyage to the Otherworld: A New Eulogy for Ray Bradbury // The Paris Review
Margaret Atwood remembers the late Ray Bradbury, who saw his writing as a way of living on after his death.


What the Departure of the Times’ Michiko Kakutani Means for Books Coverage // New York
The most powerful book critic gets a book deal.


Inside Rebel Media // National Post
How Ezra Levant built an extreme media juggernaut, became a major player in the far-right movement — and watched it all begin to unravel.


Is the Sun Rising or Setting on the CBC? // The Walrus
Our public broadcaster charts its course in a world of Snapchat, clickbait, and teenage YouTube stars.


The Cult of the Costco Surfboard // The New Yorker
Jesse Will on the phenomenon of the Wavestorm Classic Longboard, which sells for a hundred dollars at Costco.


The Fallout From Sportswriting's Filthiest Fuck-Up // Deadspin
The article hangs on a wall in my office. I am actually staring at it as I write this—it is taped, slightly crooked, to the white paint above my desk, positioned between a Chicago Blitz bumper sticker, a picture of my mother’s late Uncle John, and a photograph from the 1987 Mahopac High School freshman class trip to Washington, D.C.


Did 1997 Contain the Worst Two Weeks in Music History? // A.V. Club
In the topic of “Worst Music Year,” 1997 is a frequent contender. Some of this can be attributed to distaste for a single genre—boy bands and the Spice Girls, mostly, whose dominance was complete anathema to anyone who’d spend the earlier part of the decade convinced the alt-rock “revolution” was anything but a passing fad.

 

"What we'd never see except in a book is often what we go to books to find. Whatever is completely lifelike in literature is a bit of laboratory specimen there. To bring anything really to life in literature we can't be lifelike: we have to be literature-like."

Northrop Frye



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

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