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The Fallen Mighty January 21, 2013

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Politics, Schmolitics.

Firstly and very belatedly, Happy New Year. Or if you live in Somalia, Afghanistan, Mali etc., Happy Bloody New Year. Actually, since our wonderful ‘festive season’ I’ve tried several times to pen a tirade, but each time I hit on a suitable subject, something even more terrifying or irritating came along and rendered it redundant. Now however…

I was leafing through November’s Prospect magazine and intrigued by her byline, started reading Hephizbah Anderson (I’m shortly changing my name to Hezbollah Williams) on the ‘Quantified Self’ movement, a bunch of narcissistic  über-geeks who track everything about themselves from how much they smile, shit and sleep to monitoring their blood sugar levels and reading habits using “wearable computer devices”. As Anderson pointed out, although the QSers may be obsessive about personal data capture, anyone with a smartphone has the ability to mine all manner of information about themselves and their circumstances. And then lo and behold the next issue of Prospect contained a whole feature on how Google (of course!) is working on devices that will blur the distinction “between our physical and virtual lives”. Point your iPhone at a restaurant and a ‘Wikitude’ app will reveal reviews of it, download the ‘Fits.me’ app and you can discover whether that saucy little chemise you’re contemplating on Net-a-Porter will both fit and suit you. (This is addressed to my transvestite readers, obviously).

Writing this as I am on George Orwell’s death-day, it’ll come as no surprise that I find this lamentable, especially because the instant availability of great gobbets of information also means that info can easily be manipulated for commercial and/or malign reasons. And returning to Anderson’s piece, even self-accumulated data – which is not necessarily the same as factual information, right? – can be used by data miners, or ‘pirates’ as I call them, to bombard you with sales pitches for anything that might improve your mood, bowel movements or sleep patterns etc., i.e. in much the same way as Google already picks up on the content of your emails, and Twatter your tweets (well not mine, obviously), Farceberk your cute snaps of little Johnny building a snowman and sell it to advertisers who then bombard you etc., etc. We may also become so enwrapped in our virtual or ‘enhanced’ realities that we are unable to distinguish it from the real one, indeed it may become the real one.

Of course as intelligent, self-disciplined individuals you ignore such puffery and dismiss any sinister implications concerning the technology that facilitates it, but I reckon that within a few years you’ll have been brainwashed into surrender, much like the citizens of Orwell’s dystopia. I smelt the reasons for this last week, the day after HMV went into administration and finding myself in the glittering metropolis, I visited its flagship Oxford Street store and witnessed a very sad sight indeed. The place was rammed, largely with badly-dressed men of a certain vinyl buying age (e.g. yrs. trly.), riffling through the racks of now heavily discounted CDs for bargains. Indeed I came away with fifty-quid’s worth of stuff I really, really needed driven, I admit, by a subconscious fear that this truly marked the end of an era when music could be bought in physical form, at least somewhere other than online via mega tax-avoiders, Amazon.

It was, of course, the same week that Comet and Blockbuster also went bust which, quite apart from making thousands jobless and causing glee at Amazon HQ, prompted sage comment in the financial press that this was the inevitable outcome of a failure to recognise and thence adapt to the threat of online retailing (and in HMV’s and Blockbuster’s case, downloading and streaming). Quite how anyone, even the mighty HMV could match Amazon or Apple in flogging cut-price music wasn’t discussed, but some commented, albeit without actual approval, that all this was merely capitalism’s tectonic plates making one of their periodic shifts, just like when film gave way to digital and Tesco et al decimated the independent grocery trade. And that may be true, and we may just have to get used to the fact that consumer choice will be dictated by fewer and fewer mega-corps, many of whom, well Amazon anyway, who’ll rely on another largely privately owned mega-corp we once called the Royal Mail to deliver its goods.

I’m currently reading Mark Kermode’s entertaining treatise on what ails the movie and cinema industry, ‘The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex’ which my sister, who is deeply involved in both, refused to read because Kermode is a critic and “never trust a critic”, but he, too, acknowledges that cinema must adapt if it’s to provide a persuasive alternative to 60inch home cinema set-ups, Netflix and LoveFilm (prop. Amazon), because the film-makers by-and-large don’t care how they flog their wares, just as long as they do. Multiplex traffic is in steadily decline, whilst my sisters’ indie flea-pits do well because they offer a wider variety of fare and a viewing environment not staffed by glorified popcorn peddlers who know and care nowt about films, but the writing could well be on the wall even for her operation, just as it must be for our last remaining bookshop chain, Waterstones (see my last outing).

And to return to where I started, that is partly because the web, cloud computing (which an ad. in this week’s New Yorker claims “will solve the world’s greatest challenges” !!!!!) and most insidiously of all, applications and the miniaturised personal devices that run them will soon be able to deliver direct into our line of vision, and eventually I guess our subconsciouses, exactly what the few mega-corps who own them want them to… Especially when there’s no HMV, Comet or Waterstones left where we can inspect the goods, and indeed the alternatives, in real time… even before going home and buying them online for a few pence less!

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