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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!

Please comment, read previous rants or subscribe to get ’em automatically via the right hand column



1. Peter Silverton - January 21, 2013

oh, mark, i do love your disinclination to go quietly . . . hats off! (i allow myself one dog’s cock a year and i think you are a perfect recipient)

markswill - January 21, 2013

Thanks for your veiled approval Pete: coming from a renowned wordsmith such as yrgdlsf., it’s actually high praise indeed.

2. andy tribble - January 22, 2013

Just because I USE Facebook, Google and Apple, I doesn’t mean I LIKE them. In fact Facebook users are constantly slagging off their idiotic redesigns, and lots of old Apple fans have a grudge against thefor their history of dumping previous services and software.
It’s the same problem as capitalism and democracy: the others are worse.

3. David Cobbold - January 22, 2013

More good stuff Mark. Be interested to get your take on Bollywood while you’re out there. Have a good trip and mind the micro-chips

4. Pathfinder - January 22, 2013

VI VI VI …. It’s the mark if the beast, we are all doomed – and a happy new year to you too!

5. John Rushworth - January 22, 2013

Is wishing you Mark, a Happy New year appropriate bearing in mind the post? I do hope you have one. Personally I will set sail sometime this year (when the sun comes out) and switch off all digital communication at will. Indeed even the sea is becoming blanketed with digital intrusion. Interestingly, by law, I must still take paper charts for when all else fails. Comforting….

markswill - January 23, 2013

Comforting indeed John, but then I always was all at sea…

6. Steve Kane - January 23, 2013

Perhaps this is actually the beginning of the end of electronic entertainment (“Tertiary Experience?”) as we know it. My grandfather only drifted into it in his last decade. The whole thing will become so homogenised, commoditised and – above all – just too damned available – that inconvenient, dirty, frequently amateurish, Primary Experience will gradually creep back into favour. My grandchildren might drift away from the ever-on delivery-van sized screen in each room, discard the over-interactive, irritatingly-smart device in every pocket, reject the toy the 3D printer just produced, ready fashioned to their freshly detected taste – and stumble forth into the great outside in search of something that draws real blood when it bites, and sheds real tears when it is moved.

markswill - March 11, 2013

Let’s hope you’re right about your grandchildren Steve… I’m so glad I haven’t got any as the world they’d inherit isn’t one I’D want to live in.

7. WTK - January 24, 2013

Sorry for my tardiness in reply, but I was having a cellular transponder placed in my mastoid bone. I checked and found that the last 6 book purchases from Amazon actually were sent and paid to small owner-run book shops in 4 different states? I actually don’t know if Amazon shipped any from a “warehouse” they own. Is it the same in the UK, or unique to the US? It appears that the small bookshops are supported whereas the monster chains, read that Barnes & Noble, are being decimasted.

8. WTK - January 24, 2013


markswill - January 25, 2013

Yeah, they do a bit of that in Britain too (or so I’m told), but they’re not so much bookshops as wholesalers, hence the prices, and still they put shops out of business.

Interestingly (possibly), I’m here at the Jaipur Literary Fest. (that’s in India Terry, as I realise your geography extends no further than, er, where was it you impregnated that hooker when the troops left Paris?) where book and newspaper readership is actually INCREASING thanks to (a) the march of education and (b) fewer litereate people can afford digital reading devices and tablets. Trues, apparently.

WTK - January 25, 2013

Well, the way the West is heading I guess we too will be poor literates and not able to afford recharges of ancient devices. Wasn’t that a movie? Let’s hope for destitute poverty! BTW, France is cracking down on these huge online tax scofflaws like Amazon, etc., to cough up the booty. I assume that Amazon, Ebay, etc., use whoever is convenient and competitve. The little bookshops do well on used books or out of print stuff, I assume, as no wharehouser would bother. I hope…

9. Dave Gurman - January 26, 2013

Coincidentally, although his death day was back at the beginning of the week, I’ve been listening to “The Real George Orwell – Animal Farm” on Radio 4 as I read this.

I’m a complete Internet whore but I’m working on the basis that my interests (or distractability) are so diverse that they’ll throw Google into confusion.

10. hed maginnis - February 3, 2013

Not quite sure where all the bitchings coming from here. I’ve been buying loads of physical books from here and the states.(Especially the states where the hist and pol stuff is going for sweet bugger all) Digital books still good for trave. I used to think minidiscs and a paperback were brilliant for travel.
Now with a tab, you’ve books, music. That days paper from home. Interesting to see the print market learned sod all from the music industry. Buy the book, get the digital copy for a £1.

WTK - February 3, 2013

Even tardier I must say I heard a disturbing news report, thus: The San Fransisco Pet Shelter does not have enough newspapers to put in the various cages because even our liberal SF’ers hav shunned the paper trade, it seems. How’s them apples? Who woulda’ thunk?

markswill - February 3, 2013

Terry, I think you’ll find that the “liberal SF’ers” you so readily dismiss have in fact been turning their discarded newspaper into paper-mache fuel briquettes for their wood-burning stoves so’s to save on felled cedars that would (sic) otherwise be used to heat their well-insulated eco-homes.

markswill - February 3, 2013

Well the “bitchings” you so quaintly refer to in your admirably punctuation-free missive Hed come from those of us who would rather get escape the protective techno-bubble that Gargle, Amazin, Farceberk etc. would imprison us in with our naively willing dependence on the virtual “life” that they peddle in the name of “progress” and, most laughably of all, “freedom”. As for the Yanks’ disinterest in history and politics, well given their penchant for intolerance, jingoism and gun-crime… well I rest my case.
(How long before young Terry lambasts me for that opinion, I wonder? Three minutes? Two?).

markswill - March 11, 2013

Let’s hope you’re right about your grandchildren Steve… I’m so glad I haven’t got any as the world they’d inherit isn’t one I’D want to live in.

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