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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Hang fire

chronic catnip company logo thumbnailRecovering from a hangover by reading Nobody Scores! and giggling like a simpleton.

internets apocalypse nobody scoresI wrote a while ago about Indian TV advertising: “most advanced in the world, in terms of biological imperative”, was the phrase. It’s right up there in terms of brand cheekiness, too. This campaign has probably stopped, since it was running when I was there over New Year, but I was still thinking about it the other day, which is a good sign (though I couldn’t remember the brand for the life of me).

It’s about “emphasising what women want – men, as opposed to wannabes“, apparently. Maybe its memorability for me is partly because of its remarkably succinct use of a gora (Western) backpacker dipshit as a signifier for the “wannabe”, although in that sense its visual semantics are also slightly confusing to my eyes, because like most B-list Indian Ad models or “Item girls”, the ad’s Girls look as Western as possible.

“Axe is a strong leader in this category …the guy to look up to, and we know that,” says Shah [Marketing manager, Paras]. “We’re close behind, and this gives us the freedom and cheeky irreverence to take on the giant and be compared to the topmost brand in this space. There is a thin red line between fun and offence and we haven’t crossed it.”

It’s a pretty limp parody, all told, but well executed.

PS Japanman has a good post about queueing in Japan, which made me think of Get in Line Games, a company producing queue-centric group game software which queuers use via mobile phone.

Lastly this: Salvador Dali on US fifties game show “What’s my Line”, which is a joy to watch as found art and as vintage entertainment

Actually in the general context of the questioning we would have to accept that all the affirmitive replies except perhaps the last one are not misleading in any major degree however I think the last answer is misleading and we could not accurately describe our guest as a leading man.

He’s a misleading man?”

p

the greater the work the easier the parody

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Rollout

All right let’s do this

A few weeks ago, in a lecture for the BBC on the future of Public Service Broadcasting Will Hutton argued that in the Reith era, the early days of the BBC when bandwidth was scarce, it was vital (and enforceable) that those granted it were held to the highest standards.

An obvious answer for today occurs: in an attention economy so vast that published space can be given to any jumped-up oik with a grudge, it is vital that someone holds themselves to those same ideals, rising out of the mass of wholly marketised information trading. I am with Hutton to this point. The BBC is the jewel of public service in many ways (including its being glossy and expensive, and having regularly to be cut smaller to improve its sheen), but there are a couple of reservations which occur to me when people argue, for example, for a BBC which makes itself a pinnacle of the web, providing a gateway or a consolidated set of services, providing not just news but a ‘trusted guide to the web‘.

One problem is that Hutton associates the sprawl of ideal-less media about the BBC’s feet with the democratisation of truth, a doctrine he associates with former BBC and Ch4 exec Michael Jackson’s onetime argument that everyone has an equal, because non-existent, claim to truth and objectivity. Personally, having just come out of an arts degree I dealt with this, todestrieb’s sneaky cousin, every day, and have largely made my peace with it. Hutton asserts as an alternative to total subjectivity what might have been the motto of a Victorian-era society of cricket umpires: “there are truths about matters“. Hutton knows that few things can be founded without holding a few truths self-evident, nor can they usually be maintained without occasional reminders: without them, they are not matters: they do not matter.

Don’t get me wrong: Hutton’s sic probo for the Corporation is a fine piece for its conscience, well analysed and well put; I also greatly admire his work on China. I assume, perhaps unfairly, that the more technically-minded who propose a model of the BBC as a ‘trusted guide’ (‘BBC presents: the Internet’ reminds me of this*) are not the sort of ballsy public intellectuals who take it upon themselves to champion what Hutton acknowledges are slightly atavistic ideals of the Truth of Matters. These guys are more likely to be freedom of information idealists, which lends itself more to the subjective side. But the same problems occur.

Even if the BBC were to host a popular frontend, a gateway to the internet, we must acknowledge that it can only do so really by hosting or linking to content not its own, including others’ news and interpretations. The BBC can afford to be open-handed with its programming, and it might be best suited to the notion that an open-door approach to news, where you acknowledge the competition and link to differing accounts or citizen journalists wherever relevant. Denying the existence of the mass of contradicting material surrounding any story is underestimating the audience. Link-farming may be the new objectivity.

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Always consider the source

There are two appeals of citizen journalism: one is that it adds more, or more authentic material to the mass of material available for interpretation surrounding an event. The other is the sheer excitement of the mobile phone footage of the guy who was actually there, the prospect of someone having got inside the sphere of bullshit and interpretation into the event, (or into the vents) This in itself is misleading. I once saw a high security barrier collapse in a gale and crush a couple of people: I helped many others lifted it, but then I hung about, chatting to people and taking surruptitious camera shots of the injured. I have never felt more simultaneous shame and exhilaration.

Like other News sources, the BBC’s need to have a Man On the Scene, in order to give the impression of reporting the truth of matters, is as false as it’s always been. They’re usually, notoriously, on the roof of the hotel. But if we can get excited about citizen journalism and its supposed authenticity, it’s only because we haven’t read very much of it. The deprofessionalisation of journalism is another way to look at it: we may have to read even more, not less, to feel we have a reasonable grasp of a news situation if we start to include the eyewitness accounts of anyone who can type. Some notorious pieces of citizen journalism, I agree, can convey a situation better than anything professional, like this hypnotic video, which still makes me feel ill. (video opens in player). But these things also contribute to the opaque sphere of information which forms around an event the instant it’s digg’d. The mass of comment and reportage shows the outline of the story, but the endless permutations of phrasing and interpretation obscure whatever reality it had. It’s possible to be more informed than ever before, but we are no closer to being ‘at the scene’.

It becomes harder everyday to crawl across and appreciate even a fraction of the surface of the information sphere around an event (though thank God for RSS). All we can really do is read so much that we begin to feel that we have grasped the outline of a story, built up from the minor variations between wire service accounts and the rabid semantic contradictions between mainstream reportage of an event. Or we can pick our news source, or sources, and stick with them. Some want to see the Beeb as a spike of decency on the surface of the internet, a single readable point of light which can puncture the information sphere and show the Real within. The trouble is that the BBC has never had a monopoly on truth, and cannot be everywhere at once, any more than can either Drudge or Huff. The consumer can, whether hopping between the news channels or online. So long as someone is there, and online.

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Dead Boomers

We should consider ourselves lucky that none of the students trapped in lecture halls at Virginia Tech on (*) had a Blackberry and a journalist’s mind, or we would already have had to face these questions much more publicly. The BBC can never be the Authority on Everything; what it trades on more than anything online is its name. I’m ready to agree with * that the BBC is the reason that internet news became seen as credible, at least in this country (though the success of the Telegraph and the Mail online finally mark its integration into society for their massed readers, and a rather bitter vindication for the rest of us).

These sites are a good example: people either trust them and read little else, or don’t care, or include them in a cycle of three or five or fifteen different sources. It is now so easy to do the latter that cross-referencing becomes instinctual, as easy as typing- or it can be automated, as in the randomised computer editorship of Google News. The BBC, it could be argued, is in the best position to provide not just a frontend but a disinterested system of links, a mosaic of outside sources which gives the sense of a story. Disinterested- but a far cry from Google’s robot editors. But then, this means adding free advertising to the list of services BBC Online already provides to non-license fee payers who may hate it and everything it stands for. And online, advertising, or more accurately attention, is the only real currency.

If the BBC wishes to move into attention brokering, not just attention attraction, then it has seen the future beyond an economy based on the restriction of content: a future of informed, infinite, impatient demand. But if so it must know that it is going up against both the big boys and the whiz kids, from the Google empire to ClickUni. Surely, though a company which can stand above the concerns of such an economy is ideal for the purpose. A company somehow funded by the people, for said people. Which can, perhaps, take some of those whiz kids under its uniquely funded wing with something other than, or at least additional to, commercial interest. Well, all right. But unfortunately innovation and the net don’t discriminate, and the license fee does. And so do people.

An investment arm of the BBC as proposed years ago by Azeem Azhar among others would be a truly public institution, one which provides encouragement and support for nimble, ingenious little startups, introducing them to the right people then perhaps pointing others in their direction. But to beleaguered controllers this notion may appeal in the main merely as a means of offsetting the apparant contradictions of the success of the commercial arm in the eyes of critics of the license fee, and indeed in anticipation of potentially hostile Cameron charter review. Because an investment arm with a remit to provide truly altruistic support and encouragement to innovation, exclusively or in large part within the British economy, might seem asinine to you or I or our assumed shared consensus but to many such an institution would seem like a very suitable, clubbable thing indeed.

Such a thing would be utterly hamstrung in its economic purpose by the very forces that maintain its contradictory competitive noncompetition; in the same way that BBC, ITV and Ch4’s single-platform venture Kangaroo might yet be stillborn as a result of the delay of its referral to the Competition Comission. Apple is about to rollout its TV-on-demand iTunes iteration (complete with BBC archive material, for which openhandedness the Director of Vision may well be kicking herself now). This is crystal-ball stuff, but in this case we’re talking about the space of the few first key weeks of rollout. If Apple is given room to strut its stuff in the next few months then the unprecedented co-operative platform which Kangaroo represents will likely lose a deal-breaking share of the UK TVOD market to an American firm. And that seems hardly the point.

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Counting them out

One of the classics of journalism under duress is also the best example of journalism under a cloud: Brian Hanrahan’s report from a carrier in the Falklands that he counted all the jets out, and counted them all back in. Hanrahan was operating within the deliberately imposed fog of war, not to mention the Navy’s notorious abhorrence of the press in general. Hutton raised this example as a high water-mark of the BBC’s reputation worldwide, and the existence of honest if incomplete reportage during war proof of the rightness of our cause compared to the Argentinians. Indeed, if the morality of a war is not in why it is fought but how, that principle must extend now to how it is reported. It was a part of that credibility coup that the BBC was operating not just in harm’s way, but in a state of potentially iconoclastic tolerance by the authorities. On the other hand, it is also an early example of embedding, and the rightly unambiguous bias that brings. Max Hastings’ dispatches from the Falklands and his memoir are unabashedly eneamoured with the servicemen around him.

Hutton contends that an independent and ‘truth-seeking’ media is under threat because of “today’s ever more strident commercial values”, and because governments are becoming more astute in hiding their interests. The first has a simple, almost childlike solution: Public Service Broadcasters are given money calculated to offset the commercial dead weight of socially responsible programming. But the BBC is not struggling to contend in the marketplace by most measures: instead it is struggling with the contradictory pressures of its stated purposes within the market. BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm, is doing too well selling properties abroad for many to consider the Beeb the nation’s museum anymore. ITV and Ch4 are held to the same legal Public Service standards but aren’t given public money. BBC has to compete for the same viewers, but with its standards, not theirs. And now it has to try to do the same online. And here is where the problems arise.

Cass Sunstein argued years ago that the internet is inherently radicalising: people are attracted to affirmation and thus find themselves drawn into communities of mutual radicalisation, developing a ‘Daily Me’ roll call of news sites attuned to their interests and prejudices. This is okay up to a point: the web is indeed the ultimate in the commercialisation of information, as well as the freeing of information: it’s an attention economy. But anyone who spent years reading how traditional print media discussed the web in its early days will find nothing new in the argument that the web lends itself not to extremism but to fetishism. Not necessarily to the extremes of the news spectrum, but to the depths of an interest: be it crocheting or nazi sex memorabilia; as deep into connoisseurship as you can stomach it. Whatever it is and whether you know it or not, someone has a page dedicated to your secret lusts; and if they don’t, you can always make it yourself. The Beeb, like Will Hutton, has to operate within the assumption that there are a few matters that everyone is interested in, or should be interested in, and that truth is foremost among them. Correct. Perfect. Yes. You and I and Ayn Rand can all agree about that.

Hutton derides the subjectivity of Jackson and the notion of an open-season on truth. The trouble is that cross-referencing is so integral to use of the web that that open-season is simply what truth on the internet looks like. The truth might be out there somewhere, but there’s no guarantee that site’ll have the scoop next time. Of course major news sources all catch up eventually on facts and figures, but like Hutton I’m talking about truth which can’t be tabulated; the report which gives the real, true impression of a situation, if you believe in that sort of thing.I believe with Einstein that nothing can be made more simple than it is. Which means the chances are that for a given story someone somewhere will have got it exactly right, not over-simplified nor over-egged, but told as it is. And if that’s the BBC one time in four, say, then the investment is worth it a hundred times over. But I’m skeptical whether it’ll be possible to justify a national tax (call it what you like) in order to sustain one reputable world news source among many. We should avoid the illusion that the ideals embodied in the net and its tech heads are from the same camp as the BBC’s. In many ways the net is a market like any other, with the exception that the only thing it can tax is your attention and your patience.

Ayn Rand’s eternal rage in her novels and philosophy is that ineptitude should exist and have its say. In a truth market on the net, ineptitude becomes almost immaterial. There are many, many adept communicators ready to provide whatever you want to see. This may be mediocrity, but so be it. And besides, in the cosmos of material online you can find something so perfectly keyed to your interests that the question of whether or not it was skillfully made so becomes irrelevant. Even mediocrity is not necessarily the problem. What the BBC has to deal with is an attention deficit. The BBC’s great unanswerable strength online is that people know it’s there; it is a go-to. But the endless iterations of specifics available online, and the lack of an absolute authority, is what makes Jackson-style cod-Saussurean total subjectivity so tempting when thinking about the net. Because it is possible to find something that looks so like the truth to you that the distinction ceases to be relevant.

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True 2.0

If we argue that the investment is worthwhile to maintain BBC as one of the best, most regular hosts of the truth, the question still remains as to whether this justifies public subsidy. If with Hutton we assume that truth has an eternal commerical draw, then the BBC will have as its competitors more and more stringent adherents to that ideal every day. (So long as a site can still be discredited by claims of deceit. But that’s another question.) Of course, nothing stops these competitors being owned or influenced by a corporation. Perhaps that’s what the BBC is truly good for. But then, in order to fund its attempt to corner the market in truth, it has already sprouted breadwinning arms to get cash which, under the old system, it was told it could not need. It now has interests. If we find ourselves in a few years’ time looking back and able to say that the BBC weathered the darkest patch of License Fee Envy in its history, we should also appreciate that it the BBC’s future and the ultimate Moral victory will be defined not by its survival, but by how it fought its war, and what it chose to sacrifice.

Which is a terribly journalisty ending, not an executive one. Platitudes aside I don’t doubt that hard decisions will be taken, and taken bravely: the investment arm business would leave a bad taste in the mouth if required to be In The National Interest, but then the BBC has already suffered because the Competition Commission appeared to forget that it’s remit only extends to protecting the economy of the United Kingdom. The Beeb as well take advantage of the system in turn.

I won’t disguise the fact that when I imagine a future acclimatised to communication technology, I am looking for a place for PSB to exist within it. An instinct which probably owes as much to the sound of the late Today presenter Brian Redhead’s voice in the morning before school as it does to idealism.

The question I want to ask in this blog is how quickly things become second nature: when new developments become simply, solidly How Things Are. For young people this never happens; the older might be forgiven for feeling that this will never happen again. Forgiven, because every adult since the Middle Ages has felt the same. I’m a bit between those two stages, though I won’t deny that there’s far fewer things can be taken for granted than ever before.

When does the singular become second nature? I want to know how it looks frombove as new technologies roll out around the globe. I’m going to Japan soon to work, and I want to know if just seems foreign, or if it actually feels like the future, our future, late capitalist ennui and all. I can’t wait.

roll out and transform

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