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by Rob Horning

20 Mar 2009

At the Atlantic‘s website, Reihan Salam files a report on the tech companies debuting projects at South by Southwest, which has apparently transformed itself into a milieu for venture capitalists rather than A&R men. (Related question: In our iSociety, has music become subsumed under technology?) Salam highlights the proliferation of services that attempt to transform everyday life tasks into games by assign values to them and keeping score. He describes Loudcrowd, which serves up social games to isolated people, commercializing our reluctance to be out in the world where we can’t control everything. Channeling Allen Bloom, Salam writes that Loudcrowd suggests to him “anomic dystopia”—I guess I’d define it as a world in which collective experience is systematically abrogated, a world in which only competition can “unite” us and corporations reap the profits from our combat. We end up sharing only the ideal of measured achievement: how many more points we can score, how many people are reading our updates, how many more things we can own or add to our list of experiences. Services like Loudcrowd seem to meet the need we now have to have our social experiences more rigidly structured by an outside party, a referee, some sort of mediator. Increasingly, simply hanging out seems like wasted time unless someone is keeping score or is broadcasting it to others who are not there.

We seem to have worked ourselves into a corner where we must outsource our ability to be motivated. We need outside parties to generate motivational schemes and point systems to drive us through life activities that were once rewarding enough in and of themselves. As Salam notes, It’s easy to imagine this evolving into a social engineering system in which we are told what we should enjoy by virtue of how many points some commercially interested party has assigned it. But where he points out that “this concept of layering games over real life is an extension of something we all do: apply our own standards and expectations to the social world,” he fails to note that these services are endeavoring to perform that function for us, pre-empt our own standards while substituting their own.

Meeting with your friends too boring? Social life too uncompetitive for you? Enter Foursquare, “an ingenious service that turns finding your friends into a Zelda-like quest,” according to Salam. He quotes this description of the service from the NYT:

Foursquare players “check in” via iPhone application, text message or the Web. That alerts their network of friends to their current location, in case they feel like dropping by to say hello or have a drink. (If you’re flying solo, or on a date, Foursquare allows you to check in without posting your location.) Players rack up points for checking in at unusual places, early hours of the morning or in the same location as other users in their network.


It seems strange that we would need to incentivize ourselves to have a social life, but that seems the inevitable outcome of technology-assisted convenience. Convenience tends to be a matter of avoiding interpersonal hassles in favor of a solipsistic world in which we have individual control over as much details of our experience as possible. The ideal, from the perspective of technology, would be a situation in which we don’t have negotiate any aspects of shared space or time with anyone. “Sharing” itself would become passe. (Where’s the incentive?) Instead, we broadcast at one another from our hermetic worlds. Why trouble yourself with reciprocity when you have the tools to broadcast yourself to those who happen to be interested, and filter out what bores you among everyone else’s broadcasts.

Drawing on Will Wilkinson’s argument about the proliferation of coexisting status hierarchies making us all feel like achievers (as if these are not themseleves ordered into a hierarchy), Salam suggests that these virtual games mapped on real life are useful because they “introduce new hierarchies designed to make life more fulfilling and fun at a faster rate than we’ve seen in the past.” Generally, that seems like a grim take on human nature, that it requires hierarchies for their to be fulfillment and fun—that winning is the only joy we know. But stranger, especially for a conservative like Salam, is how he posits acceleration as basically beneficial. This seems to me another of technology’s detrimental effects, given our consumer society—tech is tailored for increasing our cultural consumption throughput. Making social life into a game, quantifying it even more precisely, seems very likely to exacerbate that tendency, nullifying the quality of experience and reducing it to a point value. (“I wanted to see that painting show at the Met, but I saw that the Guggenheim was worth more so I went there instead.” “Would have went to see your band, but seeing the band playing at Mercury Lounge was worth more points. Sorry.”)

 

by PopMatters Staff

20 Mar 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Spencer: That’s a tough one. I haven’t read or seen anything that has made cry in a very long time. We need more sentimental material out there.

Jessie: The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine during Christmas break after a break up. It’s a classic, but so sweet and heartfelt.

2. The fictional character most like you?
Spencer: Hands down I am like a young Black Tony Starks from Iron Man.

Jessie: Lydia from Beetlejuice. She’s a bit of a loner. She’s dark with a curiosity for the “other side” and ghosts. Plus all of her clothes are super rad,,,

3. The greatest album, ever?
Spencer: The greatest album off all time for me is A tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Changed my life at the age of 12.

Jessie: Tie with White Album by the Beatles and OK Computer by Radiohead. They both embody undeniably amazing songwriting, musicianship and the ability to go outside the box musically. They both have classic tunes that most people know of but they also have those wacked out obscure tracks for the super fans like me. Turn off the lights, sit down with these records and the experience is always amazing. They have been standby’s in my collection that I never tire of.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Spencer: I grew up watching nothing but Star Wars movies. I used to take my mom’s iron hair straightener and pretend it was a light saber. Star Wars all the way.

Jessie: Star Wars. No big reason why, really. I just watched The Empire Strikes Back probably 20 times one summer break. I prefer the older versions. You know, pre-Jar Jar Binks. I hated that thing…

5. Your ideal brain food?
Spencer: My ideal brain food is fish. Because its a proven fact that it is healthy protein for your mind. look it it up its true.

Jessie: Sushi…the whole package…sushi, sake, green tea…I always feel fresh and ready after a good sushi session.

by Thomas Britt

20 Mar 2009

Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) is on a short tour in advance of a new album scheduled for release later in 2009. The tour includes North American dates, including a DJ set at Santos Party House in New York, as well as his first show in Mexico. Also noteworthy is his return to Plastic People in London, where he will resume his DJ residency.

TOUR DATES
Friday 20th March - Echo, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday 21st March - Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA
Thursday 26th March - Holocene, Portland, OR
Saturday 11th April - Santos, New York, NY (DJ set)
Friday 17th April - Sonotheque, Chicago, IL
Saturday 18th April - WIUX Culture Shock, Bloomington, IN
Thursday 23rd April - Wrongbar, Toronto, ON
Thursday 30th April - Pasaje America, Mexico City, Mexico
Friday 29th May - Plastic People, London, UK (DJ set)
Saturday 1st August - Field Day Festival, London, UK

 

 

by L.B. Jeffries

20 Mar 2009

The new Facebook bears an eerie resemblance to Twitter in both function and appearance. Instead of asking for our status, we are asked to post what we are thinking. Whereas the old website broke everything into categories, everything is lumped together in a gushing stream of information. Like Twitter, Facebook is now aggregating information without prejudice.

It’s an interesting shift because on the surface Facebook would seem to have every advantage over Twitter. The culture of birthday greetings, posting links, and clever away messages is just as prevalent as ever. Facebook is also currently the number one social networking website, beating out myspace both in terms of active users and monthly visits. The crux for any of these websites is figuring out a way to keep people coming back. How do you make the incessant flow of information more presentable and easy to consume yet still need to be checked constantly? How do you make a website become a necessary part of someone’s life?

It’s tempting to automatically dismiss Twitter as standing no chance in this struggle but its rise in popularity has been incredible. Going from being ranked 22 in social networks to 3 in such a short space of time is no small task. As a user of both websites, I also use them for very different purposes. My Facebook account has always been an elaborate yearbook and text message service. Twitter, on the other hand, is where I talk with people about video games. What’s striking is that I have never met almost all of the people I exchange tweets with. Twitter has a distinct advantage over Facebook in this regard because it encourages meeting and linking with strangers. You don’t disclose personal information in your profile, so you don’t really care who reads it.

There are also several problems that Facebook’s culture is going to have when adopting Twitter’s information distribution method. It would be nice to think people have gained some sense of internet etiquette over the years, but you still encounter folks who seem to think we need to know what they’re having for breakfast. Combine this with people actually posting interesting links or comments and that girl who incessantly needs to tell me she won a free laptop and you start to encounter information overload. There are only so many people you can follow on Twitter before you just start focusing on certain people and ignoring the rest. The issue is that de-friending someone on Facebook is often taken personally, un-following someone on Twitter is just business.

Which brings up the issue of functionality that is going to dominate 2009 for both gaming and the internet as a whole. The website that is going to become a part of a person’s life, as opposed to just an escape from work, is the one that is the most useful. After four years of using Facebook, the majority of people I’m friends with no longer live near me. I don’t really need to know about their day to day lives except for the occasional nostalgia bender. Twitter and the discussion it provides with a group of likeminded people is, by comparison, something I rely on daily for news and insight. Grouping people by common interests, instead of who they know, seems to generate more traffic.

by Diepiriye Kuku

20 Mar 2009

Considering any anthem for coming out, I naturally look back to my own experience sixteen years ago. It is therefore several chansons from 1992 that facilitated that DJ’s saved my life. Kids like me heard a strong and clear message in:

I can’t help falling in love/I fall deeper and deeper the further I go

My mother had gone to California for the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. The state had yet another budget stall, employees were given cash against future checks at local credit unions, but mostly state employees weren’t receiving any pay. Moreover, the state’s backlog infringed upon plenty citizens’ rights to due process, hence these relief recruits from all around the nation. My mother became involved in this quandary in order to help push along the process of disabled Californians to receive state benefits, however meager.

Having denied myself for years, my sexuality became undeniable at age 16. Perhaps I could see the light at the end of the tunnel: graduating high school a year later meant leaving the Bible Belt for good. Janet Jackson had come out as bisexual, too, and though portrayed as a media trend, the concept of alternative sexuality was now ‘out’ there in my universe. This was also the year Madonna came out. In her videos, she’d play with gender and sexuality rather straightforwardly, yet by 1992, she was ready to affirm her bisexuality. Finally, one could discuss the topic, for example, with friends at school without any direct reference to the self—without coming out. This was a typical way of gauging the temperature of peers around sexuality.  What felt as the most taboo subject after race, which often got diluted in mixed company, to mean racism. Similarly, any discussion of sexuality would always get reduced to petty epithets of hate or whitewashed diversity. None of this addressed the kid standing before them, struggling to understand difference, yearning for any context where we could fit it.

The words you could not say, I’ll sing them for you

Growing tired of media gossip and what at the time seemed to him as an irony in being a sanitized teen pop idol-broaching sex and sexuality that effaced his own—George Michael finally understood the importance gay icons. He began to rage against the machine, taking great shots at Sony with his tongue-n-cheek super model videos, all but announcing himself as a sissy (can you imagine 50 Cent in a video with that much naked feminine flesh and not tap any of that ass?). Yet at that time, his sexuality was clearly unspeakable. Ain’t nobody loves me better, sang George, covering Chaka Khan at the 1991 concert where he met the man whom he would eventually consider the great love of his life. Where lay people struggle to find gay love reflected in the pop culture, it must sting an actual pop artist to conceal his own love, particularly when love is flaunted and easily trampled upon by his colleagues and cohort.

As an artist, George Michael would not be able to sing openly about this love and eventual loss- Feleppa succumbed to AIDS-related brain hemorrhage—until years after that faithful night in Rio. Even still, the artist waited years before publically acknowledging that relationship. I’ve been loved/So I know just what love is…Oh the lover I still miss/Was Jesus to a child, sang the balladeer softly in 1995.

Where Madonna and Janet were painted as predictably and effectively licentious, George Michael’s ‘secret’ was balled around in the press as deception. Moreover, as a gay teen, it did feel like his deception were betrayal; only our deep love of Luther saved him from the same fate. George Michael and L.V. used feminine pronouns for their love interests in every song—some of the best love ballads of their generation. Creep, creep, creep, creep! Gay love was made visible by Madonna and Janet’s media antics, but silenced and effaced by the real gays. Creepy.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Jesus to a Child

Madonna really came out in her Sex picture book my senior year in high school. I had joined a gay youth support group, and had met many more queer youth during the months of media trashing 1992’s Erotica and 1994’s Bedtime Stories, where mistress Dita wore her queerness on her sleeve as keenly as she had turned the tables a year earlier- chaining herself like a junkyard dog, superficially reversing the patriarchal role to reflect men working to titillate women: “Don’t go for second best, baby … make him express himself.” This was not a contestation of power, but S&M fantasy reinforcing the way things already were. Bleaching her hair silly, Madonna showed that she was prepared to “trade fame for love,” as she would later reveal nearing 40.

Even in high school I found her interactions with her black-and-tan ‘chain of fools’ to be maternal, portraying blacks as juvenile, and the whole thing as play, much like her feigning fellatio on a bottle in Truth or Dare. In Erotica’s  video, which MTV banned, as well as in Sex’s scenes with the definitive supermodel Naomi Campbell, and rapper Big Daddy Kane, my favorite Material Girl appeared like an overseer. Lily White, a n*gger wench and a n*gger stud; she even invited over an older European sophisticate to come play with her toys. Instead of this liberated sexuality, I saw rather retrograde images of white supremacist fantasies, which ultimately just showed that a woman could do anything a man could.

Again, this was S&M both superficially- there were whips, chains, (p)leather bras and the whole bit- but also in the profoundly clear projections of white supremacists fantasies of the gender, race and class hierarchy. Images of the supermodel’s fake making-out with the big black rapper, or with some contrite visual composition, like Madonna standing nude as if hustling on a wide Los Angeles boulevard reminded me of that poor little motherless Italian girl, growing up in Detroit (Oh Father!), finding refuge with the blacks who were ready to accept her, and even teach her to dance as she admitted early in her Material career. Blues, jazz, funk and hip-hop have always masked white transgression, aiding generation upon generation to distinguish themselves from the conservative norms of whiteness bequeathed them; here was our generation’s Elvis, mocking and masking anything authentically black, trading love of the craft for sheer fame. And here on the black and white pages of Sex, she was showing us her beautifully dark skin friends, bragging about how much of a bad girl she was.

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