Culture

Gmail's Priority Inbox

I suppose it's a measure of my social insignificance that I don't get very many emails to my personal account in a day -- no more than dozen or so tops, and a few of those are from automated mailing lists. I have never had much trouble keeping up with that influx. So I can't say that the priority inbox feature that Google is rolling out -- described here by Slate's Farhad Manjoo -- is targeted at me. But it bothers me nonetheless, and for the usual reasons. They want to assume responsibility for some of our tedious decision-making tasks so as to better develop a simulacrum of our thinking processes, to anticipate what we want as an intermediary step to knowing better how to dictate our desires.

Google proposes to collect information about your priorities so that it can sort your mail for you before you see it and perhaps even ensure that some emails deemed unworthy of you never offend your eyes, much the way most spam is effectively banished to junk folders. Manjoo describes how it is supposed to work:

Priority Inbox looks for signals that a message is especially valuable. Among other things, it analyzes your experience with a particular sender—is a message from someone whose mail you tend to open and reply to? Was the e-mail sent only to you, or was it part of an e-mail list? Did the message contain keywords that have proved interesting to you in the past? If a message makes the threshold for importance, Gmail marks it with a small yellow tag. These messages will appear at the top of your inbox, above the rest of your mail.

That seems semi-innocuous, automating a process you can set up manually with Gmail's existing filtering features. What makes this whole thing sinister is this: Manjoo notes that "Priority Inbox promises to get better the more I use it. Google has added two buttons that let you train the system—you press one button to mark a message as important, and another to mark it unimportant." To call it "training the system" is to put a benign aspect on what's really the collection of highly intimate personal data about your social life and encoding in a way that makes it immediately operational. It's in effect a Google initiative to get a hold of some of the "social graph" data Facebook is designed to collect and own -- who cares about who, what, when, and why. Facebook spits out its status update feed on the basis of such information and is always refining it through its monitoring of our interactions with the site. No doubt Google would like to offer future marketers something similar in terms of proof-of-concept: "See, we can mimic their own decision making so well that they accept it as their own!"

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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