Tuesday, May 23, 2017

zuboff's law number 3

'Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control'.

In the car, on my way to work, I was listening to an episode of the 'Here We Are'podcast on the car stereo.

The show is hosted by American comedian Shane Mauss, who interviews local science experts and academics he meets while taking his stand-up comedy show from city to city.

In this particular episode he interviewed Professor Adam Bradley from the University of Colorado, a literary critic, musicologist, and a writer on popular culture. They discussed music in general, hip-hop, memory, and the brain.

In a section of the chat Bradley made a point that caught my ear as it seemed to connect to 'modular mind' theory.

Modularity is the idea that the mind is, at least in part, composed of innate neural structures or modules which have distinct established evolutionarily developed functions.

This perspective on modularity comes principally from evolutionary psychology, and the work of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. They suggest that the mind's modules are units of mental processing that evolved in response to selection pressures that faced our ancient hunter gatherer ancestors, when natural selection was forming the modern human species.

One such unit of processing is likely to be for language.

Music emerged in early human cultures for different purposes than simply inter-personal communication. And it therefore likely that music might be processed by another distinctly separate module.

To illustrate this point the Professor hypothesised that to ask one particular question to another person in the context of normal conversation would generally elicit an uncomfortable response.

'Do you ever wish you had never been born?' .

At the very least it's conceptually a bit strange to contemplate.

However, essentially the same proposition rendered in the context of a song, in the lyrics of the Queen song 'Bohemian Rhapsody' specifically, evokes far less existential angst.

It's therefore reasonable to suggest that the module for processing language and the module for processing music respond to similar stimulus in different ways.

I'm still in my car at this point, nodding with interest, when my Apple watch starts to vibrate on my wrist.

I glance at it and the message on the screen.

The discussion has clearly also caught the ear of my watch, it thinks that it's me talking, and it proceeds to ask me if I am contemplating suicide at this moment, and offers up options for help if this was the case.

Shoshana Zuboff is author of the classic 'In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power'.

First published in 1988 the work was the culmination of several years studying the extensive involvement and implications of information technology in organisations.

Many of ideas in the work have endured, not least the trifecta known as Zuboff's Laws.

  • Everything that can be automated will be automated.
  • Everything that can be informated will be informated.
  • Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

Or as folk wisdom would have it; there are only two groups of people who's movements are continuously monitored.

The first group are monitored involuntarily by order of the courts or suchlike with tracking devices attached to their person.

The second group is everybody else.

Every digital application that can be used for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

I'll let you know if I have any difficulties in obtaining insurance in the near future.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

if advertising is dead...

The death of this, the death of that, the death of the other and the death of the next thing.

The impending death of something or other is reported every other week.

The death of advertising in particular.

Mea culpa. About 10 years ago I probably was that douche-bag.

I wrote about my folly and subsequent enlightenment a couple of years ago in The Dunning-Kruger Peak of Advertising.

Eventually one gets over one's own bullshit, to a degree.

Or at least goes into recovery.

(I'm taking each day as it comes.)

And with every announcement of the demise of advertising comes the announcement of a new agency model (sic), so it seems that even advertising has abandoned advertising.

As the management consultancies stand in line to buy up agencies all the talk is of doing-things-differently, disruption or redefining-the-industry.

What if the change the industry really needs is to refocus itself towards producing brilliant advertising?

Back in 1979, the emerging young painter Julian Schnabel presented his two breakthrough solo exhibitions at Mary Boone’s gallery in New York.

The shows mainly featured his signature neo-expressionist wax paintings and plate paintings.

Amid the popular and influential artworld narrative of the time included widely read articles with titles like 'The End of Painting' and 'Last Exit: Painting' in respected journals such as Artforum.

It should be noted that those essays (penned by critics Douglas Crimp and Thomas Lawson, respectively) should be approached with some caution unless readers are particularly fluent in academic postmodernist gobbledygook.

The final nail in painting's coffin had barely been bludgeoned into its place when at the exact same time other commentators began to herald Schnabel’s works as 'the RETURN of painting'.

In later years (and looking back), Schnabel - somewhat wryly - reflected:

'I thought that if painting is dead, then it’s a nice time to start painting.'

It strikes me that there is an emerging opportunity for advertising agencies that actually want to make advertising.

It's worth presenting Schnabel's full comment on the 'return to painting', but looked at through an advertising lens.

“I thought that if [advertising] is dead, then it’s a nice time to start [doing advertising].

People have been talking about the death of [advertising] for so many years that most of those people are dead now.”