Know This: Image spam, Curtis's sensibility, Embassy racism, against lit-bores, predictive analyticsTim Parks doesn't know why lit-bores like Franzen and Julian Barnes are so worried about e-books. Doesn't the e-reader present pure, unadorned literature? "The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups."
Google analytics is something you notice loading in your browser every now and then, a little mysterious spray of text in the corner telling you your browser is contacting Google. The brief transaction is gold to marketers and the digital advertising industry. Three articles address it this week. The first is in the NY Times, where we learn that "analytics" exist offline too and that these will soon be linked to our online browsing habits: "almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a 'predictive analytics' department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them." Pregnant women, for example, are found out by a pattern of purchasing certain items – cotton wool balls, baby oil, small rugs, vitamins – in a certain sequence.
In the Atlantic, we get another sense of the scale of these operations: "At the start of the 21st century, the advertising industry is guiding one of history's most massive stealth efforts in social profiling. At this point you may hardly notice the results of this trend. You may find you're getting better or worse discounts on products than your friends. You may notice that some ads seem to follow you around the internet. You may actually like some of these intrusions. You may feel that they pale before the digital power you now have. After all, your ability to create blogs, collaborate with others to distribute videos online, and say what you want on Facebook (carefully using its privacy settings) seems only to confirm what marketers and even many academics are telling us: that consumers are captains of their own new-media ships. But look beneath the surface, and a different picture emerges. We're at the start of a revolution in the ways marketers and media intrude in -- and shape -- our lives."
Meanwhile, New Inquiry step back to remind us how advertising works and how these new technologies insert themselves into more familiar systems of advertising: all "ads call out to us in certain ways, and we recognize ourselves as the sort of person they are hailing. [Cultural studies critic] Williamson argues that 'advertisements are selling us something else besides consumer goods: in providing us with a structure in which we, and those goods, are interchangeable, they are selling us ourselves.' Ads lift us above the other people who are duped by them. That is part of how they persuade us.” And whatever all these complex new analytics may bring in the future, “for the time being capitalism still relies on consumers who believe against the evidence that they are in control."
Future archaeologists and extraterrestrial creatures intercepting our human radio waves would be equally bemused by the sheer weight of image spam produced by and for society today. What is it all telling us? Image spam presents a neagtive image of who we really are, a vertible "contemporary family of men and women: a bunch of people on knockoff antidepressants, fitted with enhanced body parts. Image spam circulates endlessly without ever being seen by a human eye. It is made by machines, sent by bots, and caught by spam filters, which are slowly becoming as potent as anti-immigration walls, barriers, and fences. The plastic people shown in it thus remain, to a large extent, unseen." But Hito Steyerl believes a move is on to get outside the pervasive number of images and representations we see every day. "I have noted that many people have started actively avoiding photographic or moving-image representations, surreptitiously taking their distance from the lenses of cameras. Whether it’s camera-free zones in gated communities or elitist techno clubs, someone’s declining interviews, Greek anarchists smashing cameras, or looters destroying LCD TVs, people have started to actively, and passively, refuse constantly being monitored, recorded, identified, photographed, scanned, and taped. Within a fully immersive media landscape, pictorial representation—which was seen as a prerogative and a political privilege for a long time—feels more like a threat."
In an interview with e-flux, Adam Curtis spells out his history as a documentary maker and thinker, while also letting us in on a few ideas he has about the present: "I think the new sensibility is beginning to shape itself out of the limitations of just experiencing things for yourself." It's all too hard to summarise here. But for those who haven't seen his work, here's a preview of his most recent, three-part documentary, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace:
This is how Chris Graham starts his piece for Crikey on the recent Tent Embassy controversy in Canberra: "There is perhaps no event in the last few decades that better sums up the divide between black and white Australia than the debacle that engulfed the Embassy celebrations. It had everything: media misreporting; white political mischief; black political disunity; police violence; frustrated activists. And it had the odd rat-bag, black and white. If nothing else, the debacle that engulfed the Tent Embassy celebration has once again exposed to the rest of the world the racist underbelly of a very ignorant nation." The media coverage, he writes, completely outpaced events. "As footage that emerged after the media had already written the script clearly showed, the only people pursuing Gillard and Abbott when they were rushed from the building were police, journalists and photographers. There were no protestors within coo-ee, and certainly none chasing down a terrified Prime Minister nor an Opposition Leader, who can be clearly seen smirking and smiling as he’s rushed to the car. But that’s not such a newsworthy story." He then takes apart video footage of pumped-up police getting heavy with protesters.
Elsewhere, Sylvia Lawson visits Alice Springs and, as she moves, remembers its many appearances in prose, poetry, art and film – like Ivan Sen's Yellow Fella.