Antonym "So It Goes" Edition
Five minutes to be come unstuck in the web. A week to get over it.
I’m back from France, so no humble-bragging about typing this on rustic bistro sets overlooking bucolic valleys this week. Instead we’re back in Brighton and examining the weirdness of news and my obsessions with layered realities and AI’s making art.
DALL-E 2 DANGERS
Imagine if we asked DALL-E 2, the AI image generator, to show us:
A man who has made billions from harvesting and selling data about people's identity makes electronic ski goggles synonymous with his identity and then releases pictures where he pixelates the ski-goggles to hide them.
It might give us this:
This is of course an example of a game we’re all going to be playing a lot more as AI image generators spread: Real or Fake. It’s real, in some senses, in that it’s a still from a video of Mark Zuckerberg demonstrating Meta’s Project Cambria mixed reality headset (a.k.a. augmented reality (AR)) which has some interesting use cases but non compelling enough for mass adoption just yet. You’re not going to walk down the street in these things—or are you?—but at home you can magic up endless variations of workstations and things on your desk. As it will cost more then $800 at launch, I suppose that’s comparable to buying a high-ish spec monitor for your desk. But the resolution won’t be anything like as good for a few years yet.
Back to AI image creation… Casey Newton wrote about trying DALL-E 2 for The Verge and said it feels like it will be a big deal — my feelings exactly:
I remember the first time I Shazam’d a song, summoned an Uber, and streamed myself live using Meerkat. What makes these moments stand out, I think, is the sense that some unpredictable set of new possibilities had been unlocked. What would the web become when you could easily add video clips to it? When you could summon any file to your phone from the cloud? When you could broadcast yourself to the world?
For more about Project Cambria take a look at this piece in ITPro.
When paper was crypto
The usefulness of applications of the blockchain is that records can’t be changed. This was also originally the case for that older data storage medium, paper.
"Al-Ma’mun’s father, al-Rashid, is said to have ordered the use of the material in government offices to prevent the ‘cooking of the books’: writing on paper is difficult to erase, unlike that on parchment and papyrus, which can be scraped off comparatively easily." – Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Arabs: A 3,000 Year History
The book-banners and burners.
Moms For Liberty organisation—presumably named in homage to Margaret Atwood dysotpia (see above for its official t-shirt)—has succeeded in getting the book banned in a Florida school district. Slaughterhouse Five is based in part on Vonnegut’s time as a prisoner of war in Dresden, when it was firebombed by US and British planes, killing an estimated 25,000 people over three nights. It’s anti-war at heart, and it has a lot of heart…
A LitHub article recalled Vonnegut’s reaction to his books being banned previously, in his lifetime:
Here is how I propose to end book-banning in this country once and for all: Every candidate for school committee should be hooked up to a lie detector and asked this question: “Have you read a book from start to finish since high school?” or “Did you even read a book from start to finish in high school?”
From now on, I intend to limit my discourse with dimwitted Savonarolas to this advice: “Have somebody read the First Amendment to the United States Constitution out loud to you, you God damned fool!”
What the hell are Savonarolas, you say? History Today has got you on this one. He was a puritanical monk who won some culture wars in 15th century Florence:
His opponents called Savonarola and his followers ‘Snivellers’ and he grimly disapproved of jokes and frivolity, of poetry and inns, of sex (especially the homosexual variety), of gambling, of fine clothes and jewellery and luxury of every sort. He denounced the works of Boccaccio, nude paintings, pictures of pagan deities and the whole humanistic culture of the Italian Renaissance. He called for laws against vice and laxity. He put an end to the carnivals and festivals the Florentines traditionally enjoyed, substituting religious festivals instead, and employed street urchins as a junior gestapo to sniff out luxurious and suspect items. In the famous ‘bonfire of the vanities’ in 1497 he had gaming tables and packs of cards, carnival masks, mirrors, ornaments, nude statues and supposedly indecent books and pictures burned in the street. The friar also disapproved of profiteering financiers and businessmen.
Three Snivellers—including Savanarola—were hanged by papal decree and burnt and children danced and spat on their remains before they were thrown into the river. Standard stuff for party poopers in Renaissance Italy.
How checks & balances work in 2022
The hearings on the January 6th insurrection in the United States will be nothing without adept social media management, say Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway on the Pivot podcast (June 7th — it’s a great episode, hence the multiple references in this newsletter). Galloway said:
It’s all about production. It’s all about slicing and dicing and putting it on social media.
The example cited was the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard libel trials, where the court of public opinion was dominated by remixed absurdisms and embarrassments from the US trial’s video footage.
It reminds me of Thomas Cromwell’s words—imagined by Hilary Mantel—in Bring Up The Bodies:
Truth can break the gates down, truth can howl in the street; unless truth is pleasing, personable and easy to like, she is condemned to stay whimpering at the back door.
It’s interesting to think that TikTok is the arena where public opinion is now formed. Twitter is where the establishment argue things out. And Facebook is where… well, I’m not sure anymore...
Metaverse?: investors yes, marketers not yet (not even close)
Damian Ryan of Moore Kingston Smith is a smart fellow, I braced myself for a puff piece about the Metaverse when when I saw his “M&A in the Metaverse” article pop up in my feeds, but I needn’t have worried.
Yes, investor funds are flowing in a metaverse direction, albeit towards gateway tech such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). We are bound to see M&A activities following fundraising. But, are we really going to see the commercial and consumer benefits of a metaverse any time soon? Not just yet.
Think of it like this: We’re at the airport, a big shiny plane awaits us on the tarmac and we’ve had our final boarding call: ”*Passengers destined for the metaverse, please ensure you have filled the remaining gaps in your digital transformation programme, sorted those postponed cloud migrations, embraced data analytics, and AI, and have your headset (not facemask!) fully charged and ready to go.
Speaking of new media
Back to the June 7th Pivot episode — here’s some good advice from Galloway:
Donald Trump and Elon Musk. Neither would be president or the wealthiest man in the world if they hadn't done what is key to disproportionately advancing your interest and your wealth faster than inflation or your competitive group. And that is they leaned in and they became masters at an emerging medium. And what I say to anybody, and if you want to disproportionately grow your influence, you have to get great at the next medium.
This week’s reminder that busyness = bullshit
I am reminding myself, not you. I’m so busy I need an intervention.
Reaching for the smartphone, diving back into the to-do list, pounding away on the elliptical machine at the gym – all these forms of high-speed living were serving as some kind of emotional avoidance. — Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
“Data always tells you to send more email.”
Brian Morrissey on form as usual, analysing different types of media that publishers use. He outlines the jobs they do for audience, company and the trade-offs they involve. This is his breakdown of newsletters. Make sure you read the rest and for pity’s sake subscribe to The Rebooting. The man’s a professional telling you things you need to hear.
Job (audience): What they need to know to do their jobs
Job (company): Habit, user data, monetization.
Majors: Content, distribution
Trade-offs: Email works. Send an email, people buy stuff. Ads are straightforward. But monetization is capped by limited surface area. That causes publishers to hit the brand ATM by sending ever more emails and shoving in more ads. [The data always tells you to send more email](https://therebooting.substack.com/p/the-problem-with-email?s=w), leading to an email queue resembling the line of cars looking to squeeze through the Holland Tunnel at 4:30pm on a Friday.
This week I’ve been…
G.K. Chesterton said:
Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese.
My emphasis. Source.
I’m back from France now and recovering from eating all the cheese. Look at this place in Mirepoix — can imagine what delights are inside?
Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix). The most charming and warm TV series ever. This is about people and food and travel without a hint of foodie-pseudies. The viewing equivalent of comfort food, if comfort food made you feel forever slightly better about the world.
Physical (Apple TV). All caught up now. I thought there were two seasons and so when we ran out episodes halfway through season two I felt like Wile E Coyote running in mid-air over the edge of the cliff. New episodes out Friday is my least favourite phrase to see on my screen these days. Let me binge, you bastards! The good news — season two is getting better and better.
Bad Actors, by Mick Herron
The answer to last week’s question is: yes, I do now think of Jackson Lamb as Gary Oldman, although slightly fatter and filthier. As always, Herron’s playful twisting prose is as much fun as the characters — so deliciously readable:
As the PM’s enforcer, Sparrow wasn’t as high profile as his predecessor had been – it would have been challenging to maintain that level of unpopularity without barbecuing an infant on live television – but those in the know recognised him as a home-grown Napoleon: nasty, British and short.
The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh. I’ve got to finish it today, which says it has a hold on me, but it’s an uneasy read that I won’t be recommending with any urgency. I like the dingy pubs and the cliques of shabby characters hanging out in them — they feel real and vivid. Perhaps the genius of it is a narrative that pulls you in and won’t let you look away from the grim subject matter. Not a beach read, then.
I enjoyed preparing the Silicon Brighton talk I gave on Friday about hype, lessons learned from web 2.0 and how to think about web3 and metaverse. I’ll package up the notes and slides and get them online in time for next week’s newsletter, I hope.
That’s it for this week, folks (apart from the PS links below). We’re about six weeks in to this new season of Antonym and I’m having a lot of fun writing. Let me know what you think and if you are so moved, pass it on to a friend or two.
See you next week,
P.S. More links….
Citizen spies in Ukraine
Pokrasa is one of about 1,000 civilian drone operators contributing to Ukraine’s extraordinarily courageous and ingenious defence. They do so at extreme personal risk. There have been several reports of Russian forces shooting civilians as suspected spies. Independent security experts have also warned about the dangers of blurring the lines between civilians and combatants, calling for the laws of war to be updated.
Texas school shooter posted his intentions on Yubo
Yubo was the social media platform of choice for the Texas school shooting. He talked about getting guns and his intentions there. Kids reported him, but nothing was done…
Three users said they witnessed Ramos threaten to commit sexual violence or carry out school shootings on Yubo, an app that is used by tens of millions of young people around the world.
The users all said they reported Ramos' account to Yubo over the threats. But it appeared, they said, that Ramos was able to maintain a presence on the platform. CNN reviewed one Yubo direct message in which Ramos allegedly sent a user the $2,000 receipt for his online gun purchase from a Georgia-based firearm manufacturer.
Yeah, that gun company from last week’s links…