The media of me: it’s not about the technology

media of me post

Wadds came up with 13 theses about media with more than a nod and a wink to The Cluetrain Manifesto. The main thrust of it is that the media model is broken, technology has a lot of the blame at its door.

Picking through it are some worthy aspirations, but it was diagnosing symptoms rather than causes. I believe that the main problems are wetware, not software. People and civil society rather than networks and servers.

Technology has its own momentum
As with many things, the reality and where we are going is much more complex. Kevin Kelly posited that technological progress is a natural force of its own. He called this force the ‘technium’. It is not moral, it doesn’t understand good or bad. It can be slowed down for a time, but never stopped.

Even during the European dark ages, the golden age in Muslim countries saw Arab scholars:

  • Collate classical knowledge
  • Translate it into their own language
  • Build upon the body of knowledge

This knowledge came back into Europe. It helped provide a foundation for the renaissance.

We’re not going to be able to stop bots or algorithms. As they improve; their impact will be harder to discern. There will be a tension in online platforms; shareholder value versus good citizenship.

Digital is a winner takes all world
As with many previous technology markets such as the PC and smartphone operating systems online is an oligopoly of two. Digital media provides a disproportionate amount of benefit to very few platforms.

Facebook and Google count for 85-90% of online advertising growth.

In China, online media is dominated by Tencent and Baidu. We could ‘Balkanise’ the media landscape. But that would mean a poorer experience for users outside the US and China. The technology sector does not have:

  • Commercial scale in funding
  • Sufficient talent
  • Comparable addressable markets

Timms & Heimans hypothesis of ‘new power vs. old power’ rubs up against technology as an uncomfortable vector.

This all means that the tensions in society, civic society and societal discourse is accelerated and amplified.

From the perspective of technology platforms this isn’t their problem. They are only tackling it with reluctance, they don’t have a silver bullet solution.
In their eyes:

  • ‘Online’ isn’t a problem, it is the breakdown in social norms, which are then amplified and gamed online
  • In the real world we’re insulated from views unless we chose to explore alternatives. Algorithms have amplified this process further to create a filter bubble. Algorithms are only mimicing our natural desires. This is mirrored in the lack real-world discourse and polarisation of views
  • Algorithms are accused of having a reductive effect on an individuals breadth of media consumption. News feed algorithms jobs are to make platforms money. Before their widespread use netizens widely flocked to chatrooms and forums with a similar narrow focus. News readers using RSS which would allow individuals to read widely have proved to be only a niche interest

Reading widely is important to be being well informed, but its a conscious choice that people have to make. But in order to read widely one has to be:

  • Sufficiently educated to be confident in their reading ability
  • Confident enough to ignore any scorn that might come from ‘books, learning and being an expert’
  • Sufficiently curious to have the motivation to read
  • Having sufficient time to be able to read

These bullets are affected by quality of education, social norms and income. If you are just getting by with a series of side hustle jobs you might too time poor to read widely.

These are not universal traits in society. In the UK the idea of the self-educated literate working-man who goes to classes at the Mechanics Institute is long dead. That wasn’t done by Facebook or Google.

The notion of an easily swayed populus wasn’t an invention of Cambridge Analytica, Google or Facebook. The Roman poet Juvenal famous for the concept of ‘bread and circuses’ would see something similar in populist politics. From Brexit, to Germany’s AfD the focus on diversion, distraction and immediate satisfaction ‘palliative’. A significant amount of common people are selfish in nature and often pay little attention to wider concerns.

A quote from near the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play No Exit sums it up quite well

“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”

Whilst in a democracy, all opinions should have the opportunity to be voiced; should they have a right to be heard? Should politicians really reflect the will of the people? I think there is a strong argument to be made against it. I am not advocating authoritarian rule, but that we need leaders who reflect on the greater good. Edmund Burke – one of the founding fathers of British conservatism is a widely cited example of a politician who didn’t reflect the will of the people. Burke recognised that democracy can create a tyranny over unpopular minorities. He didn’t consider politicians to be delegates; conduits for votes without moral responsibility.

He is widely cited as being a better man for it:

  • Burke viewed the British conduct in India under the East India Company immoral
  • He advocated representation for American colonists
  • Acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the Crown in America and an appropriate apology

Facts versus Emotion
Facts and emotion have always duelled and facts have frequently come off the worse for it. Western politicians from Adolf Hitler to Barrack Obama have little in common except being successful exponents of rhetoric and emotion in their speeches. Technical skills and knowledge don’t make the cut. A classic example of this is the dissonance between the advice of John Redwood as a strategist with Charles Stanley versus his political stance on Brexit. Mr Redwood knows what works as a politician.

Those that wield emotion now, have a greater understanding of how it works. It is why populist organisations win. It is why experts fail to persuade voters to act in their own interest. That won’t change with technology but with stonger, harsher electoral commission powers.

Fact versus Fiction
Yellow journalism and fiction has been with us for as long as civilisation existed. It’s modern roots are in the American media industry of the late 19th century, as publishers battled for circulation. They work because audiences love ‘good stories’. A good story is one that:

  • Surprises
  • Entertains
  • Reinforces our own beliefs

American journalist Frank Mott listed the following characteristics of :

  • Scare headlines
  • Lavish use of images
  • Faked expertise: misleading headlines pseudo-science and false learnings

All of Mott’s points sound like a thoroughly modern media playbook. Yellow journalism pioneers Hearst & Pulitzer were only stopped by public vilification and shame. Pullitzer Price, like the Nobel Prize was a penitent act at the end of a successful  media career. Hearst & Pullitzer were owner-proprietors, it is a lot harder (though not impossible) to shame a public company today. The bigger issue is that a century of mass-media practice has lowered the bar in standards for ‘new media’ companies. A brutal legislative machine that would replace compliance through guilt with compliance through fear is a possible solution. However the legislative executive by its nature tends to favour the wealthy.

More information
What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
Trend Watch: New Power v. Old Power by Beth Comstock
No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean Paul Sartre
Satires by Juvenal
Media of me: 13 theses

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ICMYI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Blue Note Review – jazz label Blue Note Records goes Birch Box

The death of the MBA – Axios – more like normalisation after a bubble in US business schools

China must enhance protection of intellectual property rights: Premier Li | Reuters – I bet that only goes to protection of Chinese IP

Apple – No Nirvana | Radio Free Mobile – interesting breakdown why it was an IP / acquhire

Brands, I’m part of your marketing team: Alibaba CMO | Data | Campaign Asia – compare and contrast with Amazon’s approach as a ‘retail cancer’

McKinsey on digital marketing: Personalization is not what you think | ZDNet  – The first thing [is] that people, when they talk about personalization, often confuse it with targeting. Absolutely every client that I talk to and every person in the industry, we all want to do better targeting. I think personalization has a piece of that, but I think of personalization as really helping manage a customer through their journey. That could include advertising. That could include experiences, both physical and digital. But it’s that end-to-end view of helping the client, the customer, get through that journey in a thoughtful way

AT&T wants to bin 100,000 routers, replace them with white boxes | The Register – will the white boxes be built to provide telecoms QoS in terms of reliability and redundancy?

Supermarkets urged to boycott Sun, Mail and Express – DecisionMarketing  – the Daily Mail blamed “Internet trolls orchestrated by a small group of hard-left Corbynist individuals” trying to “suppress legitimate debate”.

WPP stalls supplier payments ‘to boost year-end results’ – DecisionMarketing  – An internal email leaked to the newspaper read: “Cash balances are one of the most important indicators there are of the health of a business and so every year WPP looks to maximise its cash position reported in the year-end accounts.” It went on to ask for help chasing cash owed to WPP and “slowing down payments to our creditors”. – I wonder if they are slowing down the paying of staff OOPs?

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Burger King’s contribution to Movember is epic

Tony Hawke does tech support for virgin and veteran skaters

The Future of Life Institute put together a compelling video about the danger of machine learning and autonomous weapons (including weaponised autonomous vehicles). Its a great piece of storytelling to make a powerful case and an interesting direction, rather than talking heads and expert opinions. Look at how they used judicious found footage to make it look much more expensive.

Weiden & Kennedy’s take on the roaring fire screensaver as an hour-long YouTube video for Old Spice

This is my new wake-up alarm music, so far its got me out of bed each morning on time and I am not a morning person

ICMYI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

How Adform discovered HyphBot – one of the largest botnets to ever hit digital advertising (PDF)

Apple wins one of their First Augmented Reality Patents related to Compositing an AR Scene – reminded of the locative art from William Gibson’s Spook Country

Sweating bullets: notes about the creation of PowerPoint by Robert Gaskins – (PDF)

Social Media Is a Denial-of-Service Attack on Your Mind | Nautilus – (paywall)

Facebook launches collaborative Stories for Groups and Events | TechCrunch – Storify / Moments for Facebook?

When fake news will be made by pros – Monday Note – opportunity for PR industry? ;-)

Google – The colour purple. | Radio Free Mobile – interesting support for Swift in the Fuchsia build

Have we reached peak smartphone? – Kantar‘Younger mobile users aren’t simply listening to less music or reading fewer books; instead, the way in which they are engaging with entertainment and the devices they are choosing is evolving. For example, we have seen a decline in younger mobile users listening to music on their mobiles, but the purchasing of vinyl and streaming music through home virtual assistants is on the rise. Social networking has held steady, with 87.8% of 16-24-year-olds using their phones for this purpose (87% in 2016), so as new (or retro) technologies come onto the market the role of the mobile device for younger users will continue to change.’ – a certain amount of this is BS

To predict crime, China’s tracking medical histories, cafe visits, supermarket membership, Human Rights Watch warns — Quartz – Minority Report in action

Interviews Come Back — With Cringely’s Answers – Slashdot – Slashdot’s proto-AMA with Robert X Cringely from 2000

Ten years of the Kindle

Amazon Kindle & Sony eBook

Amazon is celebrating 10 years of the Kindle so it makes sense to reflect on the device and the service.

Rather like Apple products Kindle is a combination of hardware, software (including content), payment infrastructure and the Whispernet global mobile virtual network.

Like Apple, Amazon came in and refined an existing business model. Companies like Sony made very nice e-readers, but they didn’t have the publisher relationships and market access that Amazon had.

Context rather than convergence

In a time where consumer electronics thinking was all about convergence, from the newly launched iPhone to the Symbian eco-system Amazon were determined to come up with a single purpose device.

Amazon resisted the trend and created a dedicated device for reading. That is why you have a black-and-white e-ink screen and an experience exclusively focused on seamless content downloads.

Yes, they’ve rolled out tablets since, but even the latest range stick to the original Kindle playbook. Some of their decisions were quite prescient. The Kindle was deliberately designed so that it didn’t require content to be side loaded from personal computer like an iPod.

The Kindle has survived the smartphone and the tablet device as a reading experience.

Using the U.S. legal system to clear the field

Amazon was helped out by the US government prosecuting Apple under the Sherman Act. Wikipedia has a good summary of this case. On the face of it Apple was doing a similar structured deal with publishers on book pricing to what it had done previously with record companies for iTunes music.

This case effectively stalled Apple book store momentum and lumbered Apple with overzealous US government overwatch. The consumer benefit has been minimal – more on that later. The irony of all this is the way Amazon has leveraged its monopolistic position to decimate entire sectors of the retail economy.

The interesting thing about this case, say compared to the Apple | Qualcomm dispute is that Apple still kept Audible audio book sales in iTunes throughout this dispute and didn’t look at ways to bounce the iPad Kindle app from the app store. Audible is an Amazon-owned company.

By comparison, Amazon bounced Apple’s TV from its own e-commerce platform and has taken a long time to support the AppleTV app eco-system – long after the likes of Netflix.

Piracy in China

Amazon hasn’t had it all its own way. China had a burgeoning e-book market prior to the Kindle and Chinese consumers used to read these books on their laptops.  Depending which store you used; it might have more books at a cheaper price because intellectual property wasn’t ironed out.

A cottage industry sprang up that saw Kindles acquired in the US and Japan shipped back to China and reflashed with software that made them compatible with the local app stores.

The Kindle brain phenomenon

I moved from the UK to Hong Kong to take up a role and tried to lighten my burden by moving my reading from books to the Kindle. I found that I didn’t retain the content I read. I enjoyed the process of reading less and did it less often. I wasn’t an e-book neophyte I had enjoyed reading vintage pulp fiction novels as ebooks on Palm devices and Nokia phones in the early 2000s as a way of passing them time on my commute.

Talking to friends their experience was similar. I now read on the Kindle or listen to audio books only for pleasure. I tend to buy my reference books in the dead tree format. There is something more immediate about the process of reading from a ‘real book’ rather than an e-book.

It seems that digital natives aren’t ready to give up books just yet. Studies about the use of digital technology and e-books in education are mixed and anecdotal evidence suggests that technology industry leaders liked to keep the level of digital content in their children’s lives at a low threshold.

The Kindle hasn’t replaced the bookshelf and the printing press yet.

Pricing

Disposing of the medium didn’t mean that we got cheaper e-books. On Amazon it is worth looking carefully to see what is the cheapest format on a case by case basis. Kindle competes against print books and secondhand books.

Secondhand books win hands down when you are looking at materials beyond bestsellers. A real-world book is easier to gift and Amazon Prime allows for almost instant gratification. The Kindle starts to look like Amazon covering all the bases rather than the future of publishing. This may change over time, a decade into online news was a more mixed media environment than it is now – but Kindle feels as if it has reached a balance at the moment.

More information
New study suggests ebooks could negatively affect how we comprehend what we read | USA Today
Shelve paperbacks in favour of E-books in schools? | BBC
Study challenges popular beliefs on e-reading | The Educator
Are Digital Textbooks Finally Taking Hold? | Good eReader – makes the case for a heterogenous book environment of standard textbooks, e-books and used books
Do ‘Digital Natives’ Prefer Paper Books to E-Books? | Education Week
Our love affair with digital is over | New York Times (paywall)

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