Oprah time: The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway

Galloway is known as the founder of L2 and as a perceptive commentator on the digital economy (well as perceptive as anyone is with a bank of researchers behind them). He admits freely in his book that his fame was due to years of effort, advertising spend, researchers, script writers, video editors and studio time.

The Four

The Four is Scott Galloway channelling Malcolm Gladwell; explaining for the average man:

  • How Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple make their money?
  • How the digital economy is affecting the overall economy?
  • What are the negative aspects of their effect on the digital economy?

Galloway does a really good job of surfing the media and policy wonk groundswell against Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

As a digital marketer the book won’t tell you won’t know already know.  I found it a bit disappointing given the role that Galloway and L2 play in the industry.  Secondly, Galloway has already covered all the territory repeatedly in his media appearances and opinion editorials over the past year. He has left little unsaid that would be considered an exclusive for the book

As a digital marketer, if you want your family and loved ones to understand what you do for the living and the major issues that are shaping your job Galloway’s book is a good option.

Oprah time: The art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye | 书评 | 서평

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Sonny Liew’s autobiography of a fictional comic book creator Charlie Chan Hock Chye is an illuminating history of Singapore and a clever exercise in multilayered storytelling.

Charlie’s story takes you through his family’s history, growing up in a shop house run by his parents and his own life that largely stands still as an unknown comic writer.  It covers his disappointments in comic publishing and the decline in ‘pavement libraries’ as TV became an important form of information and entertainment. One of Chan’s comic book superheroes is a ‘night soil man’ who gets bitten by a cockroach and develops super strength and abilities. Until the necessary infrastructure was built out Singaporeans used to dispose of their toilet contents manually. They would be collected by a night soil man and driven for disposal in a lorry.

Various life events of Chan are outlined; his parents selling the shop to pay for his father’s unsuccessful medical treatment in Singapore. The love of his life marrying a business man and an unsuccessful visit to ComicCon. All of this tangentially addresses changes in Singaporean society in terms of public housing, medical care and economic improvements. Chan’s failure reflects on what they author felt Singapore lost by not having this kind of critique.

Through Chan’s comic stories we see a post-war Singapore lose respect for the British following their defeat by Japan and the path toward a post colonial future. The book takes an oblique but cutting tilt at the legacy of the People’s Action Party and Lee Kuan Yew and asks at the end what if things had turned out differently.

Beyond the storytelling and the historic analysis of Singapore, the book is a homage to the greats of the comic book world:

  • Osamu Tezuka
  • Walt Disney
  • Will Eisner
  • Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Despite being relatively oblique in its critique of Singaporean history, the Singapore National Arts Council withdrew a grant $8,000 for the book. Citing “sensitive content” and its potential to “undermine the authority and legitimacy” of the government. Just a few decades earlier Liew could have received a stronger reaction to his work from the state.

It leaves some interesting questions, Singapore has been a success growing from a post-war where much of the infrastructure was destroyed to an economic power house unlike any other country in South East Asia. Admittedly, it did much of this prior to the opening up of China; but it also didn’t enjoy the natural resources of its neighbours either.  Had Singapore missed out in this dash to economic success?

The post-war change of sentiment towards fallible British rulers raises questions about whether a post-Brexit freebooting global Britain open for trade will be successful in the face of 7 decades of diminished responsibility and respect around the world?

Oprah Time: Dark Satanic Mills by Marcus and Julian Sedgwick

dark satanic mills

I grew up with British dystopian science fiction with a fascistic bent. From the numerous franchises within 2000AD magazine to Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

The tone of these stories was set by a UK dealing with:

  • Decolonisation and trying to work out its place in the world
  • Economic chaos due to inflation, a shrinking manufacturing base and globalisation
  • A battle of elites against working people
  • The rise of right wing populism
  • The rise of racism 

It sounds rather similar doesn’t it?

The Sedgwick brothers Dark Satanic Mills fits right into this very British genre of graphic novels. The illustration style is similar to the stark black and white kinetic styles of 2000AD or Moore’s From Hell. It should be of now surprise that the jacket copy was written by Pat Mills of 2000AD. It almost felt like the baton was being passed on to the next generation.

The book has a premise that is similar to the body of work in 2000AD. It taps into Moore, channeling not only V for Vendetta, but also his love of mysticism. William Blake’s Jerusalem and The Bible fit into a post-apocalyptic backdrop. Blake fits the bill perfectly: his association with the English identity often misused by ‘patriots’, his innate distrust in systems and of organised religion make his words the ideal foil.

The heroine Charlie is a dispatch rider who ends up in possession of a manuscript that will expose the populist government and the religious zealots it uses as a paramilitary force.

The religious zealots called the Soldiers of Truth are a chimera of Britain First and the droogs in Kubrick’s film adaption of A Clockwork Orange.

Charley ricochets around an England where rational thought, tolerance, logical analysis and experts are enemies of the state. It echoes Michael Gove‘s

“I think people in this country, have had enough of experts.”

Without giving too much more away, the story finishes in an ambigious way leaving Charley and the authorities open to a future largely unwritten. Again the ambiguity of a post-Brexit future is an obvious analogy. The fact that Dark Satanic Mills was published in 2013 makes it feel curiously prescient: a parable for our times.

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Oprah time: Master Switch by Tim Wu

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Tim Wu is an American lawyer, professor and author on internet matters. He is main claim to fame is coining the phrase ‘net neutrality’ back in 2003. He is well known as an advocate of the open internet.

One needs to bear all this in mind when thinking about The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. In it Wu posits a natural lifecycle for the rise and maturation of platform and media companies; which he called the ‘long cycle’.

Wu uses the following companies as examples:

  • Western Union’s telegraph monopoly
  • Western Union-owned Associated Press’ relationship with the nascent newspaper industry
  • AT&T in telecoms
  • The early film industry and the rise of Hollywood studios
  • Apple’s history – though this point is less nuanced because Apple has cycled a number of times between open and closed systems – a nuance that Wu doesn’t fully pick up on

In Master Switch, he points about how these companies have moved from open systems to closed systems in order to maximise profits and resist change. Wu then uses these cycle to argue that a repeat of history was under way with the modern internet. In 2010 when the book was written; this would have ben the rise of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Ed Vaizey announced that ISPs should be free to abandon net neutrality in the UK and it was abandoned in the US when FCC chairman Ajit Pai was appointed by Donald Trump.

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Oprah time: Directorate S The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars In Afghanistan And Pakistan, 2001 – 2016 by Steve Coll

Directorate S

Coll is a veteran journalist and professor of journalism. He did time abroad working for an American newspaper covering South Asia. Later Coll wrote for The New Yorker on defence and intelligence.

In 2004, Coll’s book Ghost Wars covered America’s involvement with Pakistan’s intelligence service. He focused on the Soviet invasion Afghanistan through to 2001.

Directorate S is a natural successor to Ghost Wars picking up the story on September 11, 2001 to the end of 2016. Directorate S takes its name from part of the Pakistani intellgience service. It covers the perspectives from all the parties involved. Surprisingly it included more than I expected about clandestine operations in Pakistan.

Coll knows his material and what unfolds is an in-depth scholarly blow-by-blow account. It doesn’t have the zip and excitement of say Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Coll’s story instead sits at the seat of power. Colls tells the story of:

  • Ambassadors
  • Policymakers
  • Generals and civil servants
  • Politicians

When Coll dips into the operational reporting, it is used to illustrate a wider point.

What comes out is not one story of a war, but a succession of parallel agendas and pivots. The CIA and special forces had very different objectives to their military colleagues. The planning and chain of command was fragmented. Directorate S takes a good deal of commitment to read, but it looks as if it will be as much of a go-to book as Ghost Wars.