The Selfie: The Next Frontier in the Darwin Awards?

 

 

AS this photo from Reuters aptly suggests, a strange intersection between ballsy selfies and the Darwin awards has emerged, and it is likely growing large. Will the next Darwin awards winner earn his or her prize in the act of taking a selfie?

 

The rise of selfie photography in some of the world’s most beautiful, and dangerous, places is sparking a range of interventions aimed at combating risk-taking that has resulted in a string of

Source: Selfie madness: too many dying to get the picture | Reuters

Will the Markets Realize That Twitter is Bullshit?

Some things can’t be summed up in 140 characters.Twitter Inc’s announcement that Dick Costolo would exit as CEO on July 1 was long on plaudits but offered few clues on how the company will tackle its biggest problem: user growth.

Source: Twitter seeks new CEO, and more users, as Costolo exits | Reuters

So begins Reuters’ report on the turmoil in Twitter, the “social” media company that can’t quite manage to live up to the hype that preceded its transition into a publicly traded company.

In case it wasn’t clear to those who bought in early in this turkey of a stock, Twitter is a big, stinking pile of bullshit.

Twitter is a cute attractive idea to the average user, but nothing more. (I opened my account in 2006, and I “tweeted” 13 times for no apparent reason.) People will want to satisfy their ego by broadcasting 140-character nuggets of wisdom to people who are eager to read these nuggets. The hash tag would will allow Twitter and its customers to organize these missives and, thus, gain insight into the behaviors of the masses, a critical insight for marketing. No one questioned the notion that organizing and analyzing the quips of millions of people can be coalesced into a useful metric. Gaining insight into anything from billions of random quips was suspect from the start.

This somewhat dated IBM video shows how Twitter data is monetized. Billions of the short missives (i.e., “tweets”) are collected by search criteria and then organized into data structures that can be broken down by useful (in a marketing sense) categories and quantified. These results would, ostensibly, play a constructive role in shaping marketing research and subsequent and campaigns.

But why the fuck would they?

This premise that aggregates of 140-character messages can contain wisdom about marketing is highly suspect at best and an utter fallacy in all likelihood. People possessed with the free time to set up an account, to market themselves to “followers” who would place enough value on random, terse messages to read them, and to broadcast to these throngs of followers can hardly be considered to be representative of the population at large. The bulk are likely to be fickle teenagers whose tastes change in less time it takes for brilliant Ph.D.’s to analyze their tweets with heavy duty software like IBM’s Big Sheets. The rest are celebrities who can gather millions of these teenage followers. These celebrities effectively get free advertising through Twitter because they keep all the proceeds they get for advertising products to their Twitter followers, and they pay no commissions on the sales that their “tweets” generate.

In short, Twitter is an utterly worthless service. It represents nobody, it contains no useful marketing data, it has no way of capturing any portion of the revenues it generates for the people who use it as a marketing tool, and it offers nothing of any social value to those who participate in it. Not one of the relationships forged via the Twitter service can be construed as a true friendship or a business or personal relationship founded on substantive qualities like trust, affection or respect.

Even with respect to communication–the only level wherein Twitter could have had any claim to legitimacy–Twitter fails, too. It is the antithesis of communication, literacy and intellectual discourse. Even teenagers will eventually develop deep feelings and the capability to express these feelings, and the short expression format of Twitter will fail them. Pithiness is a good thing, but expressing true affection or grave disappointment may well be impossible in 140 characters, even it is accompanied by the same photos that one has already posted to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and other worthless “social” media services.

It would be nice if venerable news sources like Reuters had the backbone to expose one of their technology darlings for the failed experiment that it is. Instead, even Reuters chooses to sensationalize the downfall of this business oddity in terms of the failure of the management to grow the business. There was no business, ever, in the Twitter endeavor. The market fell for it in its typical fawning of seemingly revolutionary technology companies.

Furthermore, Reuters, like all other media companies, is remiss to admit to the fact that it happily played up the fallacious merits of a business entity through which it hoped to get much free publicity and marketing. Lest they lose all credibility, however, they ought to start exposing the social media hoax by coming clean about Twitter. Twitter was a cool experiment for a computer geek, but as a business, it is nothing but a giant, massive, repulsive, stinking mountain bullshit now covered with flies feasting on its accelerating state of decay.

And, the rest of the “social media” aren’t much better.

And, yes, I’m sick and tired of “news” about business hoaxes depriving me of real news, real enlightenment and real insight.

Steal Better Movies, Please

Sony movies leak online as computer systems remain dark | LA Times

Sony’s demise is lamentable. The company is truly legendary in bringing cutting edge technology to the marketplace, especially with respect to entertainment. The company has defined the state of the art in consumer electronics for decades. They have lost their way with consumers, however, by attaching draconian rules to recordings made with their technology, and by leveraging their music and movie production businesses to impede digital media distribution.

The latter act may well have been what motivated hackers to exact revenge on Sony by stealing and distributing its movies, as noted in the LA Times article above.

The greatest disappointment to me is the fact that none of the titles are worthy of watching, in my mind. Fury might be, but the trouble of stealing it via file sharing networks seems hardly worth the trouble.

It’s difficult to condone such a bold act of theft on the part of the hackers–an act that has shut down all of Sony’s computer networks–but, it’s just as difficult to feel sympathy for a company that leverages its market power against the consumers who generate its profits. Conflicts of interest of Sony’s variety–tying entertainment production and distribution to technology–eventually lead to disaster. How could so many executives have been blind to it?

As the Google graph for Sony’s stock price amply demonstrates, it has been long, agonizing demise for Sony. Apple and Samsung have run away with Sony’s lunch while Sony squandered billions creating restrictive technologies to protect intellectual property that nobody cared to buy.

The Capitalist Assault against Individuality

Google’s Brin: Individual car ownership needs to go | CNET

What’s the difference between Google and socialism? Not much.

A long time ago an excellent mathematician and member of the Southern California Federation of Scientists (whom I had the privilege of knowing very well) had made the shocking argument that by eliminating automobiles and levying a tax that is equivalent to approximately half the average of cost of individual car ownership, it is possible to fund a complete fare-free transit system that can pickup everyone within 100 yards of their residence and drop them off within 100 yards of their place of work with less than a few minutes of waiting time and use a lot less gas than having a million cars on the road daily.

In fact, he was not the only one. Numerous “idealists” had crunched the numbers and demonstrated expanded bus service could be a much more efficient transit system,

Continue reading “The Capitalist Assault against Individuality”

Seminal Act of Civil Disobedience

Artist nails his scrotum to the ground in Red Square | World news | theguardian.com

Picture of the act from The Guardian.

Pyotr Pavlensky, the artist in the photo, has a substantial history of employing self mutilation in performance pieces that protest the increasingly repressive nature of the Russian regime, according to The Guardian article above. About the man’s possession of boundless will power and tolerance for pain, no doubts can be harbored. One only hopes that this act is more successful than his previous protests. This writer certainly wishes that this extraordinary act of self mutilation inspires the tsunami of rebellion that the artist desires to incite against a political system that has indeed become a shadow of the Soviet autocracy against which so many people like the artist gave their lives.

The most unfortunate question thus arises. Is a mere scrotum enough of a sacrifice? Should he have gone as far as being incarcerated without due process like Pussy Riot, a cause for which he mutilated himself to no apparently productive ends? Should he have immolated himself like the many Tibetans who do so annually in a final, desperate expression of defiance and self determination against an omnipotent, malevolent government? Must roads to freedom and self determination be paved with entire corpses, not just limbs and valuable appendages like the scrotum?

The political artist’s expression will forever be deconstructed. The desire for attention will forever confound any legitimate expression he or she may have made. It will be a shame if Mr. Pavlensky’s remarkable act of defiance is dismissed as a shameless act of self promotion. It rings sincere, in this writer’s mind, in its desperate expression of a desire for rights and dignity for every citizen in Russia.

Should its impact and distribution be limited to the pages of odd news sections and blogs like this, then the inescapable conclusion is that it is more effective to stick one’s neck out than it is to go balls out in the quest for freedom. Given how extraordinary it is to see a man go balls out like Pyotr, it is hard to imagine that anyone will stick their necks out. This may be the ultimate sign of resignation in the western world and the ultimate assertion of the current price of progress.

It is, perhaps, time to contemplate Syria, Chechnya, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and myriad other countries where necks are slashed in plain sight of western citizens far too apathetic to vote to protect their own interests. Political and military power are tools we developed to stroke our own balls, it seems, rather then to save necks.

Pyotr, may your balls be safe and your scrotum whole again someday.

The American Economic Revelation: We’re Like Europe

UCLA Anderson Forecast paints dismal picture of economic recovery | latimes.com

Five years after the credit bubble burst, the best experts in the country are still wondering why the robust recovery isn’t happening. They employ pessimistic words to avoid the one truth that is perhaps less convenient than Al Gore’s.

“Growth in GDP has been positive, but not exceptional,” UCLA economists wrote in their quarterly Anderson Forecast. “Jobs are growing, but not rapidly enough to create good jobs for all.”

The report, which analyzed long-term trends of past recoveries, found that the long-anticipated “Great Recovery” has not yet materialized.

That truth is that that the American economy has finally become like the European economy. Whether we like it or not, the American economy is going to resemble that of France and Germany, with slow, sluggish upturns and mild downturns punctuating vast seas of stability.

Fierce competition from Europe and Asia put upward pressure on wages brought by aggressive inflation are enforcing the regime that “socialistic” policies have been enforcing in Europe for over forty years: efficiency. The high wages that strong unions have enforced for decades in Europe are finally coming to the US as businesses that need stability for successful operation realize that they must pay wages that alleviate some of the effects of inflation in order to keep their best employees. Consequently, gone are the most meaningless jobs that one scarcely sees in Europe: parking attendants, valet parkers, bus boys, etc. The most mundane jobs have been automated and the remaining ones ultimately demand a living wage. This level of operational efficiency will not drive job growth.

Similarly, the marketplace is making US capital markets like Europe’s by enforcing stability. Another speculative bubble in the US won’t just be disastrous for the public at large who will be fleeced by opportunistic, well connected executives. It will be disastrous for American institutions who now have to compete globally for the dispensation of capital against mighty institutions in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Short term speculative gains are likely to cause long term annihilation for firms that undertake the Ponzi schemes of the real estate bubble, whether the institution is bailed out or not. Banks’ reluctance to lend even to the most credit-worthy borrowers underscores this fact. Corporate cash hoarding also underscores this fact. They all realize that the next mistake can have existential ramifications whether the government plays savior or not. The core functions of the company matter again. As has always been the case in Europe, a car company has to be a car company again, and a bank has to be responsible.

All of which sums up to a European existence: mild fluctuations peppering vast seas of incredibly boring stability. Global competition enforces a high unemployment rate in such regimes. Companies running efficiently will never effect full employment. This is why Europe has persistent, high unemployment. It is not because they have trouble creating wealth or because they are economically and fundamentally lazy. It is because they are closer to the economic endgame that the US is. Forbes Magazine laments the fact that no path to full employment is visible on the most distant horizon, but, beholden to staunchly conservative owner, it will be the last source to admit that the Europeans were right, that they are ahead.

Let us end this stupid, emotional and utterly vapid debate about the state of the economy and focus on what matters: quality of life. The economy is finally stable. Like Europe, we have the resources to make life better for those who work and for those who do not work. We have the resources to fix our bridges, to build new railroads, to provide healthcare to everyone, to ensure that those willing to work will eventually find a job that will provide a decent living, and to ensure that those who cannot or do not want to work will not be condemn to the oblivion of homelessness and marginalization that will demobilize them from the work force.

We have a stable economy. What do we do about life? Forward, march!

The United States Justice Department Are Beer Drinkers

BBC News | Budweiser-Corona beer merger opposed by US

The writer does not write this piece out of a sense of anger, a feeling of resentment or sheer snootiness. The writer is, indeed, grateful–positively, unreservedly and absolutely thankful–that the United States Department of Justice has taken a step to prevent further consolidation in the beer brewing industry in order to keep the market for that elixir that the writer loves competitive.

It is easy to be cynical about this apparently responsible act on the part of a governmental agency that has hardly acknowledged the anti-competitive nature of the telecommunication industry, that did absolutely nothing during the financial meltdown, that refuses to undertake any substantial prosecution of top executives in the aftermath of the financial meltdown, that doesn’t dare prosecute the hierarchy in the Catholic Church responsible for fostering centuries of sex abuse, that threw the book at a defenseless young idealist and drove him to suicide, and that is all to happy to use the PATRIOT act to collect unwarranted data. The same DOJ elected to intervene forcefully, however, to protect the public from higher beer prices. Why is beer so important? So special?

Beer, Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. It is easy to argue that the “happiness” induced by beer is desirably by the DOJ. Given its failures in restraining large corporations from preying on the general populace and its appetite for harassing those who would entertain the notion of counteracting the prevailing corporate order (as enumerated above), a sober populace might be tempted to take the federal department ostensibly dedicated to the dispensation of justice to task. Absent any relief from inflation driven by a devaluing dollar and high oil prices, a cheap high, one might argue, is the only escape left for the average citizen. If it were to disappear, she or he might finally build enough anger and thus gather enough energy to inquire as to why it is that she or he must forfeit every penny earned to profitable concerns that are never held accountable to moral, ethical or economical standards. Why the average citizen must take pleasure–when the citizen’s prospects in the absence of a job are concerned–in toiling arduously daily under the strictest of supervision and face the most dire consequences for his or her failure to dispense his or her duties while the reckless disregard of the most powerful corporations for moral–not even ethical–behavior is rewarded with impunity and material wealth?

The posing of the question is a demoralizing. Pondering its answer is petrifying. It is, therefore, indeed, better to drink beer and to be merry. The DOJ has in this rare instance of wisdom and charity preserved this right for the average citizen. Let’s not drink to that.

Let’s just drink.

Tragedy Strikes the Internet

BBC News – Facebook users suffer service disruptions

It is a calamity of biblical proportions when millions of Facebook users endure a two-hour span of time during which they cannot instantly find out whether a friend drank a latte, discover that a distance acquaintance inadvertently passed gas, or wonder as to why a particular friend had to forward such a stale political cartoon.

It was so important that, in addition to this BBC News piece, people felt compelled to comment on it on Twitter:

“Facebook is acting like its stock. It keeps going down,” quipped one Twitter user.

Thanks to the network architect gods, the agony of missing pablum is over. We can all feed our addictions. As soon as I click on “publish”, this will be posted to Facebook to be enjoyed by, perhaps, millions. My timing may be perfect, but will I be heard above the noise?

Possibly louder than any protestor in Syria.

The Spoils of Suffrage

When I was an undergraduate student, I was not yet a citizen, but I was blackmailed into registering for the Select Service, aka “The Draft”, in order to receive financial aid. This was a huge motivation for me to become a citizen. I wanted to have some say in the political process that might send me to fight wars in distant conflicts. I had no objection to being subject to conscription, but I found the notion of being denied a voice in the political process that might effect conscription especially unpalatable, repulsive even.

In 1995, therefore, I became a United States citizen and immediately registered to vote. The satisfaction of exercising the political voice whose absence effected the immigration of my family to the US has repeatedly been spoiled by the drudgery of jury duty, however, and today is my third trip to the enervating practice of “justice”.

Although the process has been dramatically improved over the last 10 years through the advent of computerized random sampling, it feels more and more like a dreadful anachronism, which it indisputably is. Two centuries ago, when the process was instituted, juries did not have to deal with anything as complex or as convoluted as modern contract disputes, patent disputes and crimes as bizarre as identity theft. Criminal accusations are ultimately born out or refuted by evidence that has been properly collected and complex civil disputes are best settled by those who have expert understanding of the heart of the matter.

As I am enduring the propaganda video exalting the validity of justice dispensed by juries and arguing the ecstasy of the process of serving, I am haunted by the following question: can we find a better reward than crappy politicians and jury duty for the privilege of suffrage in a democratic society?

Maybe I’ll catch up on my reading a little.

Advertising Each Flight Like the Superbowl

Professional Sports is an Excellent Marketing Model for the Airlines

It is exceptionally difficult not to become furious–downright livid–with the state of the airline industry. As if the incessant prodding by Homeland Security weren’t enough, the advent of online booking began obscuring the actual price of flight tickets (How much will the taxes be? How about the booking fee?). Then, we came upon the reality that even the final price we paid for the ticket wasn’t the actual cost of the flight because airlines first started charging for meals that used to be included in the price of the ticket and then they started charging for hauling our baggage, which also used to be included in the price of the ticket. Even worse, the luggage fee is subject to change, and it varies from airline to airline. Consequently, the final cost of the flight remains a mystery until we check in our baggage.

If the trend continues, Airlines will soon charge for oxygen during the flight, but more civil alternatives that might quell the passengers’ thirst for the Airlines’ jugulars exist. Airlines can take a hint from professional sports and have sponsorship for every event that happens during the course of a flight.

Just as NFL kickoffs are typically “brought to you by the new Buick LeSabre”, the highly anticipated pushback from the gate could be “brought to you by AIG insurance: isn’t now a good time to buy some life insurance? We’re begging you!” The takeoff can be sponsored by “Red Bull: it gives you wings”, or by “Viagra: your turn to take off, baby”, or by “Cialis: nothing can stop you from joining the mile high club”. Dinner can be sponsored by McDonalds or Subway. Long smooth stretches of sky can be sponsored by Smirnoff Vodka or Jack Daniels, and heavy turbulence can be sponsored by “Valium: you need one. Don’t deny it.” The oxygen in the cabin could be sponsored by “Microsoft: without Microsoft, you’d be dead. Don’t you forget that”. Landings, those so happy endings to long flights, could be sponsored by Victoria’s secret, or Trojan condoms, and that blissful moment at which we are allowed to be again shackled by our mobile phones can be sponsored by Verizon. Or Stayfree maxipads.

Airlines can take another cue from professional car racing and put all sorts of logos on the giant fuselages of their planes. Oh, look, it’s the Home Depot plane taking off. Kids can be heard screaming “I wanna fly the Cocoa Puffs plane, please!” And, flight attendants’ uniforms will naturally be covered from head to toe with patches from a thousand different sponsors, from STP to Chilli’s.

Although the net result might be that sponsors will end up prolonging flights the way they prolong football games just to cram a few more commercials down our throats (“We’re making an extra turn in Chicago to show you the Willis Tower. It’s no longer the Sears tower, damn it!”), perhaps we might again be afforded the sanity of knowing one simple fact about our flight: how much it costs!

PS If you got other sponsorship ideas for the airlines, share them in the comments below. PNM