There’s something happening in fiction now, and to a degree in film and TV too: the time in which stories are set is scootching back, with writers fleeing to the safety of 1994 or 1987 or much earlier. Why? Because we didn’t have smartphones then. We didn’t have social media. The world didn’t have this shimmering overlay of internet which is, in a very practical way, hard to write about. Writers of novels and teleplays have well-developed tools for the depiction of drama in real space. Drama that plays out through our little pocket-sized screens is just as rich – but how do we show it? We’re now seeing film and TV figure this out in real-time.
In Cuba, internet access is limited. But if you can’t get to the internet, there are ways of bringing it physically to you.
It’s known as “el paquete semanal” or “the weekly packet”, an external drive loaded with thousands of hours of media content that is delivered to customers by enterprising ‘suppliers’ like Alberto Jorge.
I remember reading about this same story a while ago, and yet it never ceases to dumbfound me — internet access in Cuba is expensive to the point that it less convenient than having a person coming around the house regularly to deliver a dump of the data via HTP (Hand Transfer Protocol).
From a CloudFlare post of a couple of years ago:
El Paquete is a weekly service where someone (typically found through word of mouth) comes to your home with a disk (usually a 1TB external USB drive) containing a weekly download of the most recent films, soap operas, documentaries, sport, music, mobile apps, magazines, and even web sites. For 2 CUC a week Cubans have access to a huge repository of media while turning a blind eye to copyright.
Cubans told me of children waiting anxiously for “El Paquete Day” when they’d get the next set of cartoons, music and shows.
Individuals are unlikely to make much money by selling their own data, yet the same data in the aggregate can be worth a lot. Gregory Barber, from Wired, who recently tried to put his facebook data on the market, managed to make a grand total of 0.3 cents.
The economics here are a bit like the economics of voting. If it were legal, and you tried to sell your vote and your vote alone, you might not get much more than 0.3 cents. That vote is unlikely to prove decisive. Yet average and marginal value do not coincide. If someone could buy a whole block of votes, which in turn could swing an election, the price could be much higher.
Bryan Boyer built an epaper display that shows movies at 24 frames per hour (instead than 24 frames/sec). He has called it Very Slow Movie Player (VSMP): it slows a movie down so that it can be experienced differently, so that its frames can be seen as paintings.
VSMP is an object that contains a Raspberry Pi computer, custom software, and a reflective ePaper display (similar to a Kindle), all housed inside a 3D printed case. Every 2.5 minutes a frame from the film stored on the computer’s memory card is extracted, converted to black and white using a dithering algorithm, and then communicated to the reflective ePaper display. […]
Films are vain creatures that typically demand a dark room, full attention, and eager eyeballs ready to accept light beamed from the screen or projector to your visual cortex. VSMP inverts all of that. It is impossible to “watch” in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose. It can be noticed, glanced-at, or even inspected, but not watched.
Inspired by the project, Jon Bell built Slow In Translation: Lost in Translation, stretched out over the entire year as a webpage background.
Ultimately, all of media is prioritization — every site, every newspaper, every broadcast has editors involved in determining what is the hierarchy of information to be presented to users. Somehow, RSS (at least in its current incarnation) never understood that. This is both a failure of the readers themselves, but also of the protocol, which never forced publishers to provide signals on what was most and least important.
Spotify, like Netflix, wants you to stream. That’s the point of a streaming service. To achieve that both platforms do two things: they make sure that the system nudges us into endless streaming (e.g. by auto-playing episodes) and they produce content which streams well.
The Baffler argues that there is now a new type of music, part of a new kind of genre (they call it streambait pop), which basically satisfies the demands of this kind of consumption and produces songs which flow, songs that work well in the background, lyrics which you can always be listening to without really noticing them.
The Spotify sound has a few different variations, but essentially it’s a formula. “It has this soft, emo-y, cutesy thing to it,” Matt says. “These days it’s often really minimal and based around just a few simple elements in verses. Often a snap in the verses. And then the choruses sometimes employ vocal samples. It’s usually kind of emo in lyrical nature.” Then there’s also a more electronic, DJ-oriented variation, which is “based around a drop . . . It’s usually a chilled-out verse with a kind of coo-y vocal. And then it builds up and there’s a drop built around a melody that’s played with a vocal sample.”
The formula wants the content to be atomic, to work well on its own. Its context is the playlist:
“It’s disposable AF. It’s too disposable. New Music Friday has seventy-plus songs every week. Who is actually supposed to hang on to any of those songs? There’s too much!” This is a symptom of the attention-driven platform economy as well: the churning stomach of the content machine constantly demands new stuff. In such an economy, music that doesn’t take off is dropped once it has outlived its usefulness—either as a brand prop or as playlist-filler.
In Bob Burrough’s words (Burrough is the author of the demo):
An environmentally-lit interface takes information from the environment around the device and uses it to render physically-accurate things on the screen. It appears as if the lights around you are shining on the things on the screen. […]
This doesn’t mean you have to hold a flashlight over your phone to read the web in bed. What it means is, designers are empowered to use the design language of the physical world to design their interfaces. Gloss, glitter, glow-in-the-dark, or any other visual quality may be used. In the case of reading a website in a darkened room, the web designer may apply elegant backlighting or glow-in-the-dark treatments to maintain legibility. This is far superior to today’s method of making your phone act like a spotlight that shines in your face.
Chinese companies are outsourcing the censorship burden to third parties. The constant reviewing and blocking of content has to be done by humans; algorithms wouldn’t be able to catch everything.
These “professional censors” — before they can start spending their days taking content down — have to be introduced to China’s forbidden history (think of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown):
Now, after training, he knows what to look for — and what to block. He spends his hours scanning online content on behalf of Chinese media companies looking for anything that will provoke the government’s wrath. He knows how to spot code words that obliquely refer to Chinese leaders and scandals, or the memes that touch on subjects the Chinese government doesn’t want people to read about.
The screen saver on each computer is the same: photos and names of current and past members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s top leadership. Workers must memorize those faces: Only government-owned websites and specially approved political blogs — a group on what’s called a whitelist — are allowed to post photos of top leaders.
The moment is equivalent, perhaps, to the juncture when fish crawled out of the sea and onto land. At the reception desk of a robot-staffed hotel in Japan, sharp-fanged, hairy-chested dinosaurs wearing bellhop hats and bow ties poise their talons at the keyboard; at a pizza restaurant in Multan, Pakistan, bosomy figures on wheels, accessorized with scarves around their necks, deliver food to your table; at a gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, androids in garters perform pole dances.
The difficult part is not to teach humans to trust robots, but to teach them not to blindly accept them.
The truth is that what the algorithm says, we will do. Once it’s clear that something is convenient for us, we drop any initial resistance. And so software design choices end up becoming our default choices — the places that a map decides to emphasise, the suggested route, the results at the top of the search, the related items, and so on.
These suggestions might even help us — they are, often, convenient. Nonetheless, it’s important to ask why they’re there, to notice which details were tuned down or ignored to favour the default.
Quindi pare che questo sia l’ultimo post per un po’ in italiano. Che non mi sembrava giusto passare dall’italiano all’inglese senza dire una parola. Si fa una prova: che lo si scrive in inglese, il blog, per un po’. È una prova. Che poi magari non mi piace, magari non funziona, e si torna indietro. Non voglio promettere nulla. Ma per il momento lo si scrive in inglese. Che alla fin fine era già per un 50% in inglese, quindi non cambia molto. Voi dovevate comunque conoscerlo l’inglese, per capirlo, questo blog. E gli altri, gli altri invece beh: gli altri ovviamente l’italiano non lo sanno. Ed è già di per sé una cosa buona che lo si scriva, in italiano o in inglese, questo blog: che è passato un anno, un anno esatto, dall’ultima volta che ci eravamo sentiti.
Poi — se non l’avete notato — c’è una nuova grafica e tutto il resto, anche.
The change in abstraction is the point, and adding touch to Windows or Mac misses the point. It’s like putting a mouse driver on DOS. It does make DOS better, and if DOS is all you have because you misssed GUIs, then of course you should do that. But it’s not the future.
We use the word tablet to refer to two different types of devices:
- The Surface category of tablets. They’re fundamentally a PC with touch screen — these devices promise the same OS and same behaviour of a laptop, with a new input.
- The iPad category of tablets. They’ve got some of the perks of a laptop — a big screen and (if you want) a keyboard — but run on a separate OS which introduces some new ways of doing things.
I never used OpenDoc, but the idea behind it was interesting:
The core idea of OpenDoc is to create small, reusable components, responsible for a specific task, such as text editing, bitmap editing, or browsing an FTP server. OpenDoc provides a framework in which these components can run together, and a document format for storing the data created by each component. These documents can then be opened on other machines, where the OpenDoc frameworks substitute suitable components for each part, even if they are from different vendors.
Instead of recreating the same set of features within each app — forcing the user to learn different ways of doing the same thing —, the idea was to abstract the core functionality of each software to make it available across the OS.
I think iOS gets closer to that but it’s probably the internet, more than anything else, that which helped unbundling the data from the underlying software — turning the latter into a service.
I’m not a dedicated podcast follower — I listen to a few, handpicked, episodes rather than follow a specific show weekly, from start to end. Mainly — I don’t have the patience.
For those of you like me, pay a visit to The Podcast Browser: they point you at episodes worth listening to.