Internet writing uses subtle punctuation choices to convey sarcasm and other tone of voice nuances. It’s not lazy.
That’s Gretchen McCulloch, who wrote a book on how we write on the internet (it’s not out yet, but it’s available for preorders).
You know, the fact that for example the fullstop in the context of a text isn’t used to mark the ending of said text but rather to convey to the recipient our utter aversion to their existence.
In its first era of popularity, it was all pop and pulp, but now it seems reserved for the task of adding just the slightest bit of a smirk to extremely straight-faced endeavors: elegant magazines, important books, experimental theater, and $80 ceramic pipes.
I didn’t realise how popular this typeface was until I stumbled across this article and started noticing it in bookshops or books I myself own (Mark Grief’s Against Everything).
It was used on the first cover of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and for the credits of Friends. Quite a weird mix.
(Here’s a good reimagining of Lydia by the Colophon Foundry)
Speaking of how the model of reality which a technology proposes can end up influencing and changing reality itself, here’s George Dyson:
Their models are no longer models. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it /is/ human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought. No one is at the controls. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled, with no central model except the traffic itself. The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. This is why it is a winner-take-all game. Governments, with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind.
Maps make for a good example here. We’re all aware that the mercator projection is an inaccurate model of reality, one which distorts the true size of countries and is skewed in favour of Europe, nonetheless that’s what we use to describe the world, it’s what we think of when we think of a map — it’s the default, almost natural, choice.
The risk here is for a model to become so ingrained that we end up forgetting about the other options we had — or that what we’re using is, in fact, just a model.
From Robin Sloan’s newsletter, via Alan Jacobs:
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.
Unexpectedly, reading a webpage on the Apple Watch isn’t as painful as I imagined it being. I’ll have to update my websites to render properly on it. It seems fairly simple: all it’s needed is yet another meta tag and some adjustments to the images.
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.
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 whole environment is quite dystopic:
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.
Patricia Marx, The New Yorker:
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.