Monday, 12 September 2011

Radio. There are no pictures.

There are few things to ponder at 4am on a motorway.  Especially now it's autumn and therefore dark all the way.  The agenda is pretty much the inside of the car, the issue of keeping the car in the middle of the white lines and the thrill of a break in an hour's time at a service station with crappy shops at a time when they're shut.  Don't worry, you think, there's always the radio.  But there's not, is there.  There's a sequence of people desperately filling in time before they can press a button.  It's the sort of talking that you avoid normally.  Coked up talk, unnecessary jibber-jabber that assumes your interest.  They play music sometimes, but it's music they haven't even chosen themselves.  It's simply a terrible experience.

Radio may have been exciting in the era when everyone used flags and pigeons to handle their Comms strategy.  But today someone ought to get all radio people in a room and tell them to stop bouncing up and down in their chairs and laughing at their guest's jokes, because the medium just doesn't stack up.

For a start, no pictures. Those whose careers have taken them to this abyss of technology-lessness, will deny it by saying in some fat-arsed Uncle Magic the Magician way, "the pictures are better on radio".  But they're not better.  They are non-existant. It's radio.

This morning on TalkSport a man called in to complain because he'd recently been concussed by a man who was in drug rehabilitation.  He had an irritating, concussed sort of voice and I didn't want to know his rancid little story, let alone have anyone draw me a picture.

The trouble is, radio is not proper media all, it's essentially an outgoing voicemail message for a wrong number.  Worse, it has adopted all kinds of habits and stylistic repetitions that they assume we all think are cool, simply because no one writes in to tell them otherwise.

1.  Trailing sports programmes.  Instead of explaining the times and contents of programmes, radio insists on mimicking cinema and TV trailers by giving you an adrenalin-filled sample.  So they play the reaction of a commentator shouting his head off at goal from a previous match.  It is a vile and disturbing sound.  Would they trail the appearance of glamorous female by playing the sound of middle-aged men masturbating? Why, yes they probably would.

2. Attenuating voices to make them sound trendy and exciting.  Against the background of some throbbing music, a man excitedly lists football fixtures, or up coming celebrities, then suddenly, out of the blue, a girl's voice interrupts with a completely different EQ setting, sounding like she's trapped in a tiny perspex nightclub and she adds to the list, sounding all hot and turned on "Tranmere against Arsenal" or "Brian Blessed".  After which the man carries on.  What are they thinking? We're not fooled into thinking radio is white hot technology, you know.  We are still aware that is just a upgraded version of morse code.

3.  BBC.  The sprawling negative vision of BBC radio is to stop you listening to anything else.  Drive through my route up from Somerset and you scan in despair.  BBCs Somerset, Cymru, Bristol, Swindon, Wiltshire, Berkshire.  All droning on in the same charmless way, not that they have any reason to bend your ear, they'd just rather you didn't hear anything interesting that might make their jobs less secure.  Every text you send is schmoozed over as if condoning their right to stick that fat, corduroy vowels and Neil Sedaka classics in your ears all the way from Cornwall to Norwich.

4.  Repetition.  Who listens to radio for five minutes at a time? No one.  We're drivers, builders, sheet metal workers.  We listen for 2 hours at a time. So stop telling us the same fucking weather, FTSE index, trailers, news bulletins, traffic, guests who'll be dropping in, competitions, addresses, emails, phone numbers, every five minutes.  It's pure audio dung.

5. Getting jokey about tiny verbal slips.  Sadly, it seems radio announcers are the only people who genuinely believe in the comedic value of mispronunciation.  "Ooh I said that wrong."  "I'd better put my teeth in".  "Excuse me", "why what you done?" "Chance'll be a fine thing" "Easy for you to say".  Are we rolling around at the improvisational elan of these gifted raconteurs?  No.  We think they're drunk.

So don't get your hopes up.  The next time I go for a long drive I shall take the precaution of regarding the radio not as "media", like twitter and TV and gaming and things that are modern, but simply as a vital source of middle aged men with sadness in their hearts and no short term memory.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Amis and Hitchens.

'Mmm yes, we're really great, shnrah, chumble'
I just read Martin Amis's article about his mate Christopher Hitchens, written I think on the occasion of Hitchen's cancer diagnosis.I hate to be cold but it struck me as pretentious. Unlike Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, whose friendship was of lasting literary interest, Martin and Christopher have been flattered by privilege and modern celebrity into thinking themselves into near gods.  It's material for a great novel, ironically. It's the tragedy of a son unable to compete with his great novelist father, displacing him by idolizing a thundering bore. The bore sadly, is now seriously ill, adding pathos to the story. While Amis is the product of a great but unpushy father, Christopher Hitchens is the product of an ordinary but pushy Mum.  ('If there's going to be an upper class...Christopher's going to be in it'.)So both Amis and Hitchen have achieved fame with help, accompanied by the sound of doors swinging open, and they accept each others' right to be feted unquestioningly. Perhaps that's why the Amis tribute is horribly overblown for the ordinariness of what he describes.  As he starts his paragraphs he invokes the Gods and the titans of the literary world, only to end each time with something quite funny Hitchens said at a dinner party.

"You're going to hate us for this."
And Christopher said, "We hate you already."
Yeah, it's funny,  but no funnier than any put-down overheard in any pub, any day of the week.  Nor do you have to be in a tavern in a university town, a packed Wetherspoons before a QPR match would do.

"Christopher and His Kind runs the title of one of Isherwood's famous memoirs. And yet this Christopher doesn't have a kind"

So why reference the book at all?  He might just as well say: John Keats once wrote 'Much have I traveled in the realms of gold' And yet my friend John Smith hates traveling. His main thesis is unconsciously daft.  He notes that Nabokov once mocked his own shortcomings in conversation with the phrase: 

'"I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child."
This is in contrast to his friend Christopher, says Amis.
'He writes like a distinguished author'
'He speaks like a genius.'
'He thinks like a child.'

To anyone not in his thrall,  this simply means Hitchens is a grandiloquent idiot, a man who covers egotistical simplicity with a show of book-learning. Amis reveres the effortless fluency of Hitchen's speech, but then goes on to undermine the point by quoting one this great witticisms, including its clumsy mid-sentence revision.

"Don't forget the miseries of others," said Christopher. "Don't forget the languid contemplation of the miseries of others."

Why did he revise the point to include 'languid'? This reveals that Hitchen's is maybe not after all,

"one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen"

 but, tragi-comically, someone who is straining to fulfill the role for his friend. There's further unintentional mirth  (or as Amis and Hitchens would call it Sophoclean Irony) in Amis's non-literary compliments.

"One evening, close to 40 years ago, I said: "I know you despise all sports – but how about a game of chess?" Looking mildly puzzled and amused, he joined me over the 64 squares. Two things soon emerged. First, he showed no combative will, he offered no resistance (because this was play, you see, and earnest is all that really matters). Second, he showed an endearing disregard for common sense."

Or as I would put it,  Hitchens is shit at chess. Here's another of Hitchen's being a legend of the quip.

"I can't understand a word you're saying."
"I'm not in the least surprised," 
said Christopher, and moved on."

While I'm sure Nabokov couldn't have competed, it's not really worth the build up Amis gives it. It's OK as a recovery tactic after you've just talked drunken rubbish, but eulogy material? To get an idea of the Olympian feats of pretension these two are capable of in their pomp, consider this anecdote.  The punchline I have already given away so you can immerse yourself in every gloopy detail of self-regard

"In the summer of 1986, in Cape Cod, and during subsequent summers, I used to play a set of tennis every other day with the historian Robert Jay Lifton. I was reading, and then re-reading, his latest and most celebrated book, The Nazi Doctors; so, on Monday, during changeovers, we would talk about the chapter "Sterilisation and the Nazi Biomedical Vision"; on Wednesday, "'Wild Euthanasia': The Doctors Take Over"; on Friday, "The Auschwitz Institution"; on Sunday, "Killing with Syringes: Phenol Injections"; and so on. One afternoon, Christopher, whose family was staying with mine on Horseleech Pond, was due to show up at the court, after a heavy lunch in nearby Wellfleet, to be introduced to Bob (and to be driven back to the pond-front house). He arrived, much gratified by having come so far on foot: three or four miles – one of the greatest physical feats of his adult life. It was set point. Bob served, approached the net, and wrongfootingly dispatched my attempted pass. Now Bob was, and is, 23 years my senior; and the score was 6-0. I could, I suppose, plead preoccupation: that summer I was wondering (with eerie detachment) whether I had it in me to write a novel that dealt with the Holocaust. Christopher knew about this, and he knew about my qualms.Elatedly towelling himself down, Bob said, "You know, there are so few areas of transcendence left to us. Sports. Sex. Art … "
"Don't forget the miseries of others," said Christopher. "Don't forget the languid contemplation of the miseries of others.""

The pond-front house, wrong-footing pass and nearby Wellfleet are so absurdly irrelevant to the actual story that it makes you giggle at the whole poncy business. You could argue these details are reminders of good times spent with Christopher,  were it not for the fact that Christopher wasn't present.  He is a comedy character wheezing in at the end to misdeliver a pay off line. Were it not for Amis's obvious love of his subject, you'd wonder if Amis is simply using him to show off his own powers. 

"Christopher's personal devil is God, or rather organised religion, or rather the human "desire to worship and obey"."

So is God Christopher's personal devil or did he just want to start a sentence by saying something clever?  Perhaps we are not supposed to be reading it at all, this is just another performance by Amis, for Hitchens.

"Your corporeal existence, O Hitch, derives from the elements released by supernovae, by exploding stars. Stellar fire was your womb, and stellar fire will be your grave: a just course for one who has always blazed so very brightly. The parent star, that steady-state H-bomb we call the sun, will eventually turn from yellow dwarf to red giant, and will swell out to consume what is left of us, about six billion years from now."

Christ on a bike. The personal address is touching, and I'm sure Hitch is a great guy to be around, but per-leaase, save it for the funeral. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

TED UPDATE. Bill Gates and the one man ovation

It's getting bigger.

The new batch of TED speeches are out there and words are not ready for the onslaught of revelations.

Future-facing media people are even now having new adjectives developed to describe them.

Future-scoping, thought-nurturing, awesometric concepts are on their way.

Concepts so innovative and mesmerising you'd need a field of stricken Carl Sagans to gawp at them.

Swooning media-commentators are mouthing half-formed imprecations of cosmic idolatry at their Ipad2 screens.

'Light needs darkness,'  Rogier Van de Heide tells us.   It's a sentiment I could buy  as Beverly Hills clothes shop philosophy, but as 'a riveting idea from a remarkable person, free to the world', it's right up there with 'nothing brings out the taste of cheese like a cracker.'

'No one was a hero, because everyone was a hero' says some Egyptian guy as he brought month-old news of the Egyptian revolution to us, unaware of the irony as he sucked up all the TED credit.

How about Deb Roy and his 'Natural Longitudinal Data'?  What is that, you ask?  It's video.   The fellow filmed his family from pinhole cameras over what seems like forever.  'The longest home video ever'. Big laugh, though why calling it its proper name should be funny, I don't know.

In this way the audience maintains the pretense that what an idiot does with 50 year old technology is in any way awe-worthy.

David Brooks 'taps into the insights in his latest book'  goes the hype for a talk entitled 'The Social animal'.  The excitement to be generated by a man's familiarity with his own recent publication can only be imagined.

So against the spectacle of a social media guru sustaining himself on his own lactated guff, it was thoroughly pleasant  to watch Bill Gates at work.

Did he imagineer a future?  Did he time-sculpt ? Did he posit cultural memes?  Did he aspire to world of social animals emoting hope and expressing their communities in wireless clouds of mind-scat?

Nope. Bill Gates knows how the world works.  He would have taken a phone call from Mr TED asking him to appear. 

'What's it about?'

'Well, Bill, it's about inspiring the next generation,  celebrating the opportunities offered by new technology bringing about benign change'.

Pause, while Bill makes a note, then...

Bill Gates
'OK.'  See you Thursday.

He would have then wondered how to achieve that. Not at how the whole future of technology can be attributed to him. He's got that. He knows that mind-bending space-twaddle doesn't solve problems. He just looked at some data and figured out a way to improve the future.

Come Thursday,  Bill Gates tips up in his best woolly jumper and stands centre stage like a badger making apologies for the absence of a Russian Dance troop.

He then makes an unfussy, finance director's speech about the abject mismanagement of California's education budget. 

Ha! He talked common sense reality at a TED conference.  And they couldn't arrest him for breaking TED rules because he's Bill Gates, right?

He had full grasp of his data, and studiously took the audience through the issue, leaving no one in any doubt as to what needed to be done and the immense improvements that would follow.

Standing ovations are usually obligatory at TED,  but not for this feat of inappropriate behaviour.  The responses was muted, confused even.  He might as well have read out a knitting pattern for all the sense he made to the bullshit seekers.

But watching the video (sorry, the natural longitudinal data) we just have time to glimpse one chubby man on his feet in a centre aisle, clapping like seal over the side of its pool. A seal who'd obviously been asleep the whole time and just assumed he'd missed something vaguely inspiring about nothing in particular.

Monday, 21 March 2011

It's time to discuss that Halifax ad.

Yesterday, a banker was fired from his bank for waving a tenner at a group of protesting NHS workers from his office window.  His name is Romain Camus.  His namesake, Albert, once wrote that the man who doesn't cry at his mother's funeral will end up going to the gallows.  The point being that you don't fuck with prevailing public opinion.

In the 1980s Harry Enfield did a similar joke with a character called 'Loadsamoney'.   But that was a quarter century ago.   Average salary at Romain's bank is about £350,000 so it was a reasonably judged office gag and one which did nothing but support the NHS workers point about the injustice of UK life.  The trouble is, timing.  From the bank's point of view Romain's gesture was rather like a Nazi torturer doing armpit farts at the Nuremberg trials.

Which takes us naturally to that Halifax ad.  The cleanest, most inviolate humans ever to run a bank's radio station.  You know, bank radio stations.  You've got your cash machines, your mortgage advisors, your counters, pens, deposit boxes, then upstairs there's management, admin, radio station and Bureau de Change.    That's it. Right in between the sheep dip and the hosiery section.  

I forgive the creative team for the device of the radio station.   The brief for the campaign came as a response to public perceptions of bank profligacy, Halifax's previous ads being big, wanky production numbers.   So the conversation presumably went...

'Hey, how about if we forget telly.'
'Yeh, too profligate'
'Yeh, like maybe we should do like a launch of like a Halifax radio station?'
'Hey, that could be really cool'
'Yeh. Could be really great.'
'They could play like songs about money'
'Be really great.'
'Yeh, and have like interviews and financial advisors'
'Be really great'
'Be really cool'
'Really great'
'Really cool'

Not a bad plan.  Till the agency said 'Not radio, there's no margin.  Turn it into telly and we'll sell it'.

All good, though.  

But then came the city boys, with their beautiful wives from Spearmint Rhino, who committed  the most astonishing mass heist in history.  A crime so massive in scale that we are unable to fit it in our brains.    They stole from everybody.  In every direction.  When they took clients' billions and invested them in risky mortgages, which  then became collateralised debt obligations, which were then valued higher the riskier they were, and were in any case rated as AAA by complicit rating agencies, it was your billions they were using, spending on Petrus and motorbikes.  They gambled without risk.  One incompetent Hong Kong trader made such losses he was fired, with a £10 million pay off.  Tax free. By pocketing the proceeds and passing on  losses you and me and old people and babies all over the world will pay for the rest of our lives.


But as the banks then had to be saved from collapse, to prevent something silly happening, like money ceasing altogether and people having to do dances and juggle to pay for groceries, bankers still persist.   They must still walk amongst us, rather than be put down humanely as they would be if they'd merely been dogs that had chewed your face off.

So what must bankers do now?  Be nice.  Not just nice.  Halifax advert girl nice.    Blonde, nubile 20 year old nice, with 6 year old brain and a vagina stuffed with butterflies.  You know, so fucking nice, that she will watch with riveted attention as a work colleague pushes a mixing desk slider lest its plastic grooves injure the underside of her pinkie.

It's not just the girls.   And not just Halifax.   Nat West's caring counter staff are just as genital-less in the Helpful Banking posters.  Scrubbed simpletons, chosen for vacuousness, brains extracted and faces gurning with compliance.  But why do they have to do this?  If I need to discuss a mortgage I don't want a Japanese sex doll,  I want someone who possesses the appropriate forms.    All these sweet, youthful, white-teethed virgins are here to stop you thinking about that thing that just happened.  Ignore the fact that you just glimpsed NatWest horse-whipping your terrorised family as they lay chained to the radiator in a shit-smeared back room.  That didn't happen.  We're nice.  You must be mistaken.

Back to that Halifax ad.  The scene in which the lovely, toasty, caring mug of tea was dropped said it all.  The team must have discussed it at length, for it drips with significance, the way a trampoline in a 15th century Italian painting was never just a trampoline.   The dropped mug is there to tell us this.

'Despite the inordinate care we took to avoid crashing the entire banking system and you having to pay us back, it was JUST AN ACCIDENT.  And everything's fine. The mixing console needs a wipe  but no harm done.  Everything's fine.  Not to worry.' 

Or are they calling us mugs, like Romain?

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sky Atlantic

I wonder if anyone with a senior role at the BBC had a moment of guilty self- realisation  on seeing the home of HBO spring into life last week. Sky Atlantic may be another cynical purchasing coup by the Murdoch empire, but like the Premiership, like movies, it has ended up owning the best of a genre.  Meanwhile the Big British Castle is busy fighting its imaginary battle with ITV.  From the astonishing leaps in broadcasting that it once made, it is now self parodic, to the point of parodying its own self parody.   (The One Ronnie?) Back when there was just 3 stations, of which 2 were BBC, I watched in awe Kenneth Clarke's 'Civilization'.  A medium  for triviality and light entertainment  pulled back a curtain to reveal long slow tracking shots of cathedral ceilings accompanied by Bach and Purcell.  Dr Who was created out of the imaginations of viewers as much as of its writers, so bad were the sets, but still in stark difference to the gurning ineptitude of American TV.  That standards have lowered at the BBC is too humdrum a fact to explore.  That US standards have risen so high is not so humdrum.

Let's take what we in the UK hold up as excellence in film-making skills.  Our soaps seem to be the high water mark of drama output, with a few freak tides where something of outstanding class breaks through.   That would be, presumably, the remake of Sherlock Holmes, the remake of Dr Who, the occasional Stephen Poliakoff play or breakout comedy.  Last year's BBC Bafta winners included Kenneth Brannagh in Wallander, Julie Waters playing Mo Mowlem and various awards for The Thick of It.

What do we learn from that estimable line-up by comparing it to a standard week's viewing on SkyAtlantic?  Of course there's Boardwalk Empire, Blue bloods, Curb your Enthusiasm, Mad Men, Entourage, Re-runs of Sopranos, 6 feet under,   new Specials - You don't know Jack, When the Levees broke.  And now the amazing Treme. 

I've watched a few hours of both lists and it amounts to nothing less than a 'how to create great TV' education, with the BBC so-called award winners presented as a risible 'How not to do it' section of the lesson, to warm up the audience before a serious and brilliant step by step guide from the HBO programmes.  Indeed, imagine the scene at a night class for aspirant writers in a college in Anaheim.   Tired from their exertions at the pizzeria or waving in a Mickey costume during the day, the students settle and focus on the projected screen as the tutor plays a montage of British TV writing.    'I love you Denise.  I can't stop finking about yer'.  Pause.  The chuckles die down.  The tutor says,  'OK.  what do we know about what's happening in this scene? Anybody?

'He loves Denise'.  Laughter all round.  'OK' says the tutor.   'And here's the biggie, how do we KNOW he loves her?'

'He fuckin' tells her. '  Big laugh.

How do we tell that Al Pacino's character loves his wife in 'You don't know Jack'.   He rolls the tape.
It's the moment Jack emerges briefly from his concentration on his plan to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with dignity and says to his wife thoughtfully 'Is that a new wig?  She acknowledges the compliment,  not by saying 'Hey I can't believe you noticed!' but by smiling touchingly and saying 'It's rum n raisin'.(A hair tint, I inferred.)

In every facet of that simple exchange there is craft at work, as there is in almost every exchange in every scene in every one of those above-listed US dramas. As a viewer we can project backwards the nature of the characters' marriage. It is long, it is loving, that he is gallant and caring, if obsessive, she has suffered, perhaps through illness, but that she is an optimist and loves her husband yet fears that he is becoming distant as he throws himself into his final cause, haunted by his own mortality. We learn about their peculiar modern American milieu in which wig tints are described in terms of ice cream flavours. All this from the words alone. The casting, lighting, framing, editing are telling their own stories. The tiny simper of pleasure the wife feels is lingered on, because it means everything. Not just that he she was once beautiful and always enjoys it being noticed, but still feels it when her husband notices. That gentle expression of love is the entire theme of the mercy killing drama.

A comparison by Prospect magazine between The Wire and a Uk equivalent last year found that the former had 17 concurrent plot lines to the UK drama's 4.

Considering Sky's motivation is to make an arse load of cash and the BBC is to lead the world
In TV excellence and costs us 4billion quid a year I actually don't mind the Tories laying into them.

The guy who wrote the Wire confirmed in the article that he could never have done it at the BBC.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

TED GLOBAL: Powerpoints of the Gods

I could not run a thought-leadership organization.  I'd get my founding principles muddled, my symposia would break out into workshops before I was ready.  But much as I admire TED in some ways,  I cannot like TED.  (Technology.  Entertainment.  Design. ) 

I returned to the tainted pool this morning to watch a few of the speakers on YouTube.  Once again, (see previous blog) it was all twitter and internet and awe.  But the quick shots of the audience were what I noticed this time.  A smell of hegemonic white flesh seemed to pervade the academic auditoriums of Oxford, England and wherever the fuck else these things are held.

Sure, there are some clever people (sorry, amazing guys) in attendance and delivering the presentations.  There is certainly some impressive work on display.  Correction, there are some minor incremental advances on display that are extrapolated into an an amazing future for our grandkids (never grandchildren).

But that seems to be the TED working definition of 'an idea'.  The optimistic exaggeration of existing phenomena.  For example, the speaker who showed a way of making the internet more portable by projecting it onto things from a dongle hanging round your neck (is that even practical?) didn't present it as it was.  i.e. a projection device.  It was described as a sixth sense.  Now call me Victorian.  Call me a dinosaur, but I  had sight down as one of my main five.

The point is that I love ideas. Hydroponics.  Texting. Distance Chromatography.  But I can't help feeling that some kind of God-complex is getting in the way and arsing about with the ideas on show.  I feel I'm watching an audition for something, as if the world needs someone to take credit for how great the internet is.  (Almost every subject boils down to the simple increase in connectivity occasioned by the internet, yawn.)   It is this attempt to make a religion, or at least an orthodoxy out of beautiful, natural human endeavor that resides so purulently on my tits throughout any given speaker's presentation. 

The orthodoxy of this coolocracy is expressed through its language.

First,  the pronunciation of 'Technology' itself.  Whatever country you are from this sacred word is to be spoken as Bill Gates himself intones it,  half thrown away,  with a long second syllable, tailing off with a downward inflexion.  Practice it.  Tech- naur - logy.  Keep that central 'o' right at the back of the mouth, like you were drinking this stuff with your mother's milk.  Tech - nauhhh- logy.  Bit more arrogance?  Tech - nauhhhhh- logy.  That's it. We're growing.

Secondly, there is an important list of secondary words that connote your membership of this elite.  Obviously, nothing should be expressed as experimental, highly original or prototypical because your  terminology needs to be informal and non-precise.  It's cool, it's stuff, it's a whole new way, it's a shift, it's amazing.  We use sloppy-joe words and phrases,  relaxisms like 'enough already', 'uber', 'genius', 'OK'.   We say, 'right?' at the end of a sentence.  We say 'So' at the beginning of a sentence.  We punctuate with 'actually'.    We create, we innovate, we are global, taking a path, in a hotbed, laddering up. 

Thirdly,  to show your willingness to give yourself to this religion you must open your presentation by divesting yourself of your old, national or racial identity.  If you are English you make a faux-awkward reference to your lack of interpersonal skills, if American you take a sideways crack at US foreign-policy,  Eastern European speakers must allay fears that they are backed by state sponsored criminality.  Being able to distance yourself from your national stereotype indicates that you are ready to board the TED spaceship and fly off to populate the universe with intelligent cool people.

Fourthly, the future is great.   If you for one minute imply that the future is very likely a shitstorm in which everyone is fucked over by big pharma and international capital movements, that democracy is so last century and that the internet is 90% porn, you'll find yourself on the receiving end of a geeky moccasin and not invited back. 

Fifthly, while you and your audience are very clearly a well paid elite, you must make it look like the opposite.    This morning I watched a social media revolution guy gush about the large numbers of African Americans using twitter.  And that Brazilians twitter in greater numbers than anyone else, and it's not even in English.

Non-whites using twitter?  Fuck a bus!  And there was me thinking Brazilians lacked opposable thumbs.   The saddest moment for me was the speaker who showed how the internet had taught a shanty town in Nairobi how to recycle rubbish.   OK.  That's great.  Recycling rubbish?  I'm sure they'd never have thought of that.    But then, the Coup de Teatre.

Up came the live video link to the poor kid in Nairobi running the project who spoke directly to the audience boasting that his community was now 'A hotbed of Innovation'.   TED had made him use the special words.  Innovation?  Hotbed?  He'd learned the language of TED!  The white-bellied elite in the hall rose to their feet as one man, like a missionary seeing God's work done in Africa without the bother of putting together an expedition.

Amazing, right?

Monday, 24 January 2011

TED is TEDious.

But surely that's impossible?
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.   It's a kind of annual conference and awards festival at which a genius is made to stand up and say why things are so beautiful and creative these days.  Then, once the head of Glibtech has made his powerpoint presentation, the audience give him a standing ovation.
For what?
For little more than pointing out in a roundabout way that the Internet exists.
How to yawn without opening your mouth.

Distill everything down to to a two second summary and in almost every case it's a version of Whooa! Internet!    If powerpoint had been around at the invention of the wheel, it would have been the same.  Case studies would have started with the challenge (getting rock from A to B) which then would be solved by a caveman wearing a polo-neck.   Evening session:  man with funny accent says, what if we used wood?  Lighter, more practical.  Ovation.

One of the most watched TED lectures is from a guy who says he can transform Global business with the finding that people solve problems quicker when they're NOT given a financial incentive.  Very interesting.  Except that the research is 40 years old and has been replicated in every country ever since.  It's a motivational number with a bit of input from Wikipedia.  Another guy does a display of publicly available stats shown in a nice graphic interface.  Sooo you take this bunch of stats from the internet, download some software from the Internet, and lo, an internet thing happens.   Someone showed Jamie Oliver the recipe for a pie chart and he's lost to the world of seasonal veg forever.  Genuine techmaster Pranav Mistry shows how he took his computer apart and stuck different bits to his body to make himself into a sort of internet man.  Ovation.  Trouble is, he was probably more use to the world in a lab than being a Tomorrow's World presenter and working the room with a name badge.  What TED seems to prove is that there has been an incredible increase in people's accessibility to the developments in technology, entertainment and design, and that means really, really good powerpoint fodder.  We're all geniuses now.

To prove it, here's a TED presentation.

(Stand for a few seconds.  Pace to one side, forefinger over mouth, look up as if I've just had a thought)
Numbers are amazing. Did you know, the world's consumption of baked beans last year weighs as much a 20,000 fully grown African elephants.  Yet 20,000 cans of baked beans weighs the same as a fully grown African elephant. Why?  What is that?  (Thoughtful gasp from audience) Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of America’s founders both died on the same day, July 4th. Exactly 50 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Surprising, isn't it. You see, the internal symmetry of numbers is what drives the universe.  We are all numbers. (Click powerpoint button - pic of flower) Dynamic symmetry is evidenced mathematically in botany, art and architecture. But here's a thing.  It exists too in the stock market.  (click  - seascape) A amazing cool guy called Charles Henry Dow compares market trends with tides: the waves are subordinate to the tide and the ripples in the water are subordinate to the waves.   (Click - numbers) Then an amazing genius called Ralph Elliot noticed that there are impulse waves and corrective ways and that they behave in a similar way to Fibonacci ratios, i.e. according to natural rules....

I could go on. Of course,  I'm no mathematician, but I'm guessing neither are you.  So the fact that I'm just absent-mindedly trawling websites,  gleaning 20, 30 60 year old guff, adding the odd 'cool' and 'genius' then pulling on the old polo-neck and standing in front of you fools you into thinking that the most amazing thing ever just happened. 

Well, much as I appreciate smart new media people for their continuing to point out that technology has driven new ideas (as if that's never happened before in human history),  I've got some internet-derived but otherwise bog-standard research myself.

An individual's productivity tends to plateau or tail off on being given an award.   In other words, the TED foundation is killing off great creative minds one by one,  taking them out of the labs, studios, offices, kitchens, theatres, garages and front rooms where they do their thing, and turning each one into yet another stage-pacing powerpoint monkey to be cooed over by human equivalent of their hotel room mirror.

Right...if I can just generate coupla slides on that half-arsed theory, check my refs on wiki and I can embark a career on the circuit myself. See you there!