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by Rob Horning

4 Dec 2007

I found a copy of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift in the free pile at work—a quite appropriate place to find it in some ways (somebody’s giving it away), totally inappropriate in others (the copy of the book was distributed in a commercial setting solely for marketing purposes, which Hyde argues destroys the gift’s essential nature). Hyde’s fundamental point is that gifts necessarily form relationships between giver and recipient, while commercial exchanges pointedly do not—they are arranged to be reciprocal and neutral, to balance out and eradicate any need for gratitude or graciousness or indebtedness. Hyde writes, “In commodity exchange it’s as if the buyer and seller were both in plastic bags; there’s none of the contact of gift exchange. There is neither motion or emotion because the whole point is to keep the balance, to make sure the exchange itself doesn’t consume anything or involve one person with another.” For some, that lack of intimate contact or interpersonal obligation is the whole point; it’s much more convenient to accumulate things without accumulating relationships, even though relationships are likely much more fulfilling and are often the point of having things in the first place. We want to have certain things all to ourselves to project a certain kind of identity, but we also want to share things with who we choose and erect the boundaries we seek to make concrete around our family or our circles of friends. Consumerist ideology works to persuade us that the convenience and the identity display of collecting goods and market exchange are more satisfying than the sharing and the network formation of gift exchange; that isolation from ties and evasion of responsibility is the whole of freedom. But in reality, most people don’t want to be free on those terms. We like to feel obliged; it gives us a reson for being, a sense that we matter. Consumer society is set up that you can live your entire adult life without having anything but frictionless, emotion-free commercial interactions with other people—an arrangement preferred by commercial interests, since it may then take a cut of the action that occurs every time people interact. Every bit of human interaction in such cases requires market mediation, which allows the intermediaries to extract profits. Ordinary human relations, decommercialized and inconvenient with all those feelings and junk, are not so reliably lucrative. The fair, impartial exchange idealized in the market in which you get what you pay for (caveat emptor and all) is a way of stifling relationships that occur outside of commercialization. Making a fair deal as a cornerstone of morality may foster isolation.

It occurred to me that my contempt for word-of-mouth advertising has something to do with opinions as gifts—when one offers a word-of-mouth recommendation, it functions as a gift; it fosters a relationship that in some way supersedes the specific thing recommended. The opinion is only an occasion to enrich a relationship. But word-of-mouth advertising, obviously, corrupts that process and invalidates the gift, turning it into a tactic or a product. Few people are soulless enough to spread bogus word of mouth intentionally, but the goal of Facebook and other social networks seems to be to commercialize sincere word of mouth recommendations or to automate the opinion giving process, so that every time you do something online, your actions generate an automatic recommendation to those who are on a feed, receiving updates of your every move. This deprives you of the chance of making a gift of your opinion, making it into a sales tool preemptively, poisoning the very ground of friendship. Instead of promoting the sharing of ideas and opinions among friends, social networking sites promote posturing and marketing, friendship as spectatorship, surveillance, and imitation. The reciprocity it provokes seems thin, encourage discourse that is typically taken for granted in friendship—you don’t need special notification that someone is paying attention to you or validating your choices; you don’t need testimonials from friends to the effect that they actually really do like you. Social networks offer a way to conduct a friendship without putting forth any specific personalized effort—it removes the gift of friendship from the relationship and leaves the marketing possibilities.

by Jason Gross

4 Dec 2007

First an AP story then a Yahoo follow-up and a Slashdot reprint of the results have a small echo chamber screaming that the Zune is beating up on the iPod this season.  If you take a closer look at the Slashdot comment section through, it seems reasonable to figure that the books were cooked against Apple, giving Microsoft and Zune the advantage.  And so you see the dangers of a misguiding story being repeated, believed and then pointed to all over the place (i.e. Iraq war justifications).

by Karen Zarker

3 Dec 2007

The 15 DVDs in this beautiful set represent the wide range of documentaries aired on PBS over 20 years, as they vied for attention against the programming on major networks.  This is a thoughtful gift for anyone who cares about important social issues, and revels in being reminded of just how many different ways there are of being, and seeing, in the world—and all so very close to and much like one’s own life.  Covering subjects such as living (and dying) with physical or mental illness, suffering (and fighting) judicial malfeasance, and the casualities and survivors of cultural and political battlefields, this is brain food that’ll stir you, nay, take a clench-hold on your heart and knee you in the gut.  The fearlessly brainy and big-hearted types will love this set; the aspiring documentarian and the precocious youngster will learn from it, and anyone who just loves to be told a really good story will enjoy these immensely. Details on each of the films is available on the Docurama site.

by Dave Heaton

3 Dec 2007

The earliest issues of beat diggers’ bible Wax Poetics are nearly as coveted as the vinyl records the magazine’s writers obsess over. The magazine isn’t just about samples used in hip-hop, though. It pays reverent homage to the musicians behind the sounds, whether legends or humble session musicians. The shiny new hardcover tome Wax Poetics Anthology, Vol. 1 collects articles from the first five issues of the magazine. It gives subscribers and newcomers another chance to read smart interviews and features that look through the lens of hip-hop at the diverse world of music that stands as its foundation.

by Mike Schiller

3 Dec 2007

MySims didn’t quite translate to the Wii—when you are sitting down in your living room to play a game, you want something more than a time killer. For a portable platform, however, the cutesy style and the oddly addicting gameplay of MySims is perfect. Sure, if you sit down and devote more than an hour to it, you may well start to wonder what the point of all this walking around, planting flowers, and decorating your house is, but for the purpose of bus rides, passenger day in the carpool, or even a fun way to kill ten minutes, it’s wonderful. For one, the mini-games are actually quite difficult to achieve gold medals in, and those who mean to master the game will have to be pretty nimble with the DS stylus. It’s easy to want to come back and give lei-making one more go for the sake of that gold medal. For two, kids seriously dig it. Buy enough stuff for your virtual house, and young children could spend hours decorating, and have a great time doing it. It sounds like a cliché, but it really is a fun little game that the whole family can enjoy.

MySims - Trailer

//Mixed media

Ubisoft Understands the Art of the Climb

// Moving Pixels

"Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed and Grow Home epitomize the art of the climb.

READ the article