In the northern hemisphere winter becomes a faded memory as the days get longer and we rediscover the rituals of daylight-saving season. One of these is clearly the ritual of planning what we’ll watch during the summer as our favourite shows go dormant.
In the end of television I had ventured into a world where we were no longer forced to sit in front of the television set at a specific time to join the collective trance that was prime time TV. While it was written almost three years ago, it reads as a note from the recent news:
If TV has been so engrained in our culture, what does the BitTorrent revolution means? What can we infer when corporations decide to take action by targeting TV Download Sites [Pirate Bay]? They were obviously nervous about how much attention was being taken from them. It took a gutsy move by Apple [and YouTube, Hulu, Boxee et al] to admit that there was no going back to the television set and that content producers had to find ways of leveraging the Internet as the new distribution channel. While we can debate that downloading shows to a computer is pretty much the same as watching them on television, I believe these are the early attempts by some enterpreneurs to end the addiction to TV. We should only expect this trend to grow as a new aspect of our global culture as the alternatives and mechanisms become available across all layers of society.
After three years of unplugging the cable, I’m still plugged into the collective culture by virtue of a number of venues that provide ongoing access to the most relevant items of the daily digest: a larger number of sites have made some of their content available in streams, a larger variety of appliances are able to connect to the web to offer alternative content, torrents are available for a very large number of prime time shows, some networks have signed exclusive distribution deals to make their content available through specific channels. In short, there is a lot of content out there.
In fact, I’ve noticed I don’t download much music anymore. Not because I’m getting it for free at some underground website run by pirates, but because the amount of media available continues to grow at such an overwhelming pace that there is no space for one more download. I realize I’m nothing but one particular case, but so I was when decided to unplug the cable.
Television has been a powerful factor in shaping our behavior as a society over the last few decades. Marshall McLuhan pointed out well ahead of most that while the print had forced people into the abstract world of letters and words, accelerating the diffusion of ideas, television was going to reverse the process by leveling access to culture by means of simple images, creating along the way a univeral language of very concrete symbols, enabling what he called the “Global Village”.
And while television played its levelling role quite well, we now find ourselves at a point where the amount of content greatly exceeds the capacity of humans to consume it and so we must be selective in our watching. This means that while all those simple images could be available to everyone, the fact is that only a small percentage of them will be.
Or put in other words: what good is to have access to so much content if you can’t decide what to watch? There is a famous snippet of TV history from the show Max Headroom where a broadcaster had figured out ways to compress lengthy content into just a few seconds of watching. I don’t believe such technology has been invented just yet (maybe it will be 20 minutes in the future), but in the meantime we’ll have to figure out how to get better at selecting the content we watch. The curation processes that we put in place next will be critical to the shaping of our culture. The immediate collective consensus that was brought up by television will now be diluted by the multitude of possibilities, redefining the concept of multiculturalism. Nothing wrong with that.
Leave your fears of running out of shows to watch this next summer. Chances are that there will be plenty that you haven’t discovered and they will all be available upon request.
Given the current economic trends in the travel industry, it is expected prices will drop in many fronts. From the analysis of the recent Competitiveness 2009 report we can even derive that some regions will have to try much harder to compensate for factors such as dependency from long-haul passengers.
In an effort to understand some of the key factors in the current hotel industry, I created a data set with the top 5% most expensive hotels and mapped their locations to determine which regions had the highest density of “exclusive” hotels. As it was to be expected the usual suspects are at the top of the list: London, Tokyo, New York City, Paris, Rome. The rest of the list has a good mix of modern, beach and historic cities: Venice, Miami, Los Angeles, Milan, Moscow, Florence, Cape Town, Osaka, Morocco, Maui, Cancun, Washington, Bali, Madrid. London has over 120 exclusive hotels while Madrid counted 20. Beyond that these exclusive hotels are scattered around the world. These images provide a general view of where in the world they are: ……
While calculating these “exclusivity hubs” I came across some other interesting facts:
The five regions where the top 5% is far more expensive than in the rest of the world are: United Arab Emirates, Morocco, South Africa, New Zealand and Switzerland
The currencies that will buy you more exclusivity for less are the Japanese Yen, Polish Zloty, Mexican Peso, Canadian Dollar, Indian Rupees, Chinese Yuan and Brazil Reais
US$264/night will get you into one of these properties
It’ll be interesting to see how this group changes as the year advances and hotels fail to meet their quotas. I’m planning to release a lot more of this analysis as part of a new set of travel guides we’re producing at PlanetEye, but if you’re interested in the numbers behind please drop me a line.
Almost four years ago I wrote a small article entitled the “Birth of Cool” that was intended to speculate on possible uses for the then largely unsophisticated mobile space.
Every day you cross paths with hundreds of people as you go to work, run your errands, find entertainment and go about your life. Without noticing, all your electronic devices are listening for any cue on their digital surroundings. Armed with low-intensity transmission protocols they are capable of establishing instant communication with those in close proximity. Spread across the city, a vast array of hidden transmitters are continuously feeding the information-hungry mobile community. As you visit a gallery and admire a piece of art, a simple click will record your opinion about the moment.
Throughout the city you’ll exchange your opinion about all those places you’ve been to and things you’ve seen with every stranger that happens to be “listening”. At the same time you will have received a few dozen tokens representing what the invisible crowd you never met thought was their coolest experience.
At the time I was particularly interested in the massive adoption of mobile devices that had the capability of broadcasting location information, and while GPS were far from mainstream, there were other ways to convey location information. In an alternate present important locations around a city would be broadcasting low-intensity messages (bluetooth?) that would only be picked up by people in the proximity. Today there are many ways in which this vision has been realized: standard smart-phones are equipped either with GPS or the means to triangulate position based on radio or cell tower signals. The map interface is now a must on many mobile applications.
All technology aside the most interesting aspect about this milestone is that as a collective, we humans are leaving a digital breadcrumb that describes many aspects of our lives. Maps are no longer updated every few years, but in some cases a few times per month, revealing the incredibly sophisticated processes at play in the growth of a city. The same goes for an always increasing scope of human activity. Our culture is revealing itself onto the scars that we leave on the face of our planet, the virtual paths that we traverse while exploring the real world, the info-maps that layer useful statistics, the highly evolved versions of journals that nowadays include geocoded photographs, maps, and many other artifacts. Our culture is streaming itself in high definition and nobody is watching.
While culture is vast and any exercise to try to map it would be in vain, I hope that the methodic exploration of individual snippets of data that reveal single aspects of our culture will become a common task that won’t require a degree in Cultural Anthropology. Discovering patterns of culture that would otherwise be ignored may lead to further understanding of the people around us.
It’s hard to say where this journey will take me, but I have a few ideas on where to start. From some very basic interpretations of geodata that may be useful to global citizens and travellers to an attempt to map the culture of a micro-region to bring it to pair with other areas of the world that are over-represented. From understanding the cultural aspects that thrive in urban centres to identifying unique traditions that are mutually exclusive with large cities. These are all aspects of the same endeavour: using the digital breadcrumb to understand our global culture.
What if you could spend the next two years of your life travelling around the world, taking the time to really get to know each place you visit and nurture long lasting relationships with locals at each point? Which destinations would you choose, knowing that you want to cover as much world as possible but don’t want to feel in a race?
Mostly inspired by slow-travellers like soultravelers3, who have found the way to engage on an open ended trip around the world, taking time to settle in each community they visit and making it a way of life, I realized it was possible to engage on a similar experience by splitting the journey into one to two month long segments, each one of which would be done every year. So this year you devote your summer to a little village in Spain and the next year you immerse yourself into the calm serenity of the northern Italian alpine villages. Each year you complete another leg of this tour around the world…
The nature of such journey allows you to engage in meaningful discovery of the culture that makes each destination unique, and not just the landmarks that have made it famous. Every year you grow wiser as a global citizen, a contemporary Phileas Fogg. With each year you become more engaged with your community because you’ve learned of all the things that you took for granted and find new ways to give back throughout your journey, because you know what value you can add to each destination.
You grow more cosmopolitan as each destination thrives on your cosmopolitanism.
“Acoustic” was mostly used as a metaphor for “many things happening at once”
Any jazz lover can tell of the marvellous ways in which a simple riff becomes a rich, complex, unique piece of art through methodic experimentation and endless variation around a central theme.
A couple of years ago, inspired by the popularity of Lonelygirl15, I wrote the post lonelytv:
First consider the fact that TV is mostly an exercise of serializing and organizing a complex story in a way that can be digested by the masses with little effort: from the rigidity of weekly schedules, seasonal programming, series of predefined length to the organization of several threads of action into a cohesive sequence that eliminates any possibility of misunderstanding the story. It’s not too different from the organization of a novel in a book that must address several tracks in a way to keep the reader engaged. The advantage of this approach is accessibility. Very little effort is required to consume.
However, for a new generation of viewers, viewing is not enough. Participation is a must. The Lonelygirl15 phenomenon provides a preview of the type of interactivity that the audience is demanding. Unscheduled snippets of action, very short, cuasi-serialized but easily interchangeable, many different levels of stories that may appeal to different participants, alternate channels to get involved whether providing comments or producing additional snippets of content and endless hooks to plug-in their own ideas into the story. In this new medium there are no rules on how to consume the message
Three different stories in Wired magazine made me realize how far that vision has come and the many ways in which it is being realized:
Clive Thompson on How YouTube Changes the Way We Think: comments on the innovative ways in which people are using new video tools (web cameras, YouTube, etc) to create powerful messages that span many individual videos. His take is that after the expected “adoption” phase where people try to use the new technology in very much the same old ways, we’re finally seeing the innovators creating a whole new medium with it, enhancing our abilities as humans.
David Downs on how Yo-Yo Ma Brings Remix Culture to Music’s Ivory Tower by providing the initial musical track to a yet unfinished piece that will only be complete when mixed with one of thousands of submissions. More importantly, by recognizing that any personal contribution to the body of knowledge (or art in this case) is only a piece of the puzzle, and encouraging others to contribute, augment, modify, Yo-Yo Ma has started a musical theme that will likely exist in many different ways and will be consumed in many different versions. This reminds me of the work that Creative Commons does and their “shared culture” statement.
watching Lonelygirl15 or its next incarnation will allow the audience to react to the story while endless threads of stories become available, allowing every single person to experience it in a different way, requiring a strong oral tradition among those participants to maintain a global cohesion and ultimately realize the vision of this new medium. The “acoustic” approach would require not just watching all the snippets associated with a particular thread of action, but also catching up on what others have to say about the snippets they have uncovered. The story as a whole exists only when the community comes together to share their experiences consuming their individual versions.
McLuhan wrote about the return of society to its tribal ways, pushing the literate man back to an “acoustic” world where oral tradition is the preferred mechanism for cultural transfer. Just like when a jazz ensemble improvises a piece, starting with a simple riff and adding complexity as the ideas evolve in the minds of the musicians, we’re seeing the beginning of a radical new way of building up our cultural heritage by purposely creating simple “riffs” that must be enhanced, mixed and experienced multiple times in many different ways. No consumers, we are all producers in this new medium.
What is more likely: That an American entrepreneur will look for an early exit strategy to live the good life in Europe or that a French impresario will consider giving up a dinner invitation to Pierre Gagnaire (one of the World’s best restaurants) for a meeting with potential investors?
As absurd as the question seems, that is the tone of the debate going on among the readers of celebrity-entrepreneurs Michael Arrington (Joie De Vivre: The Europeans Are Out To Lunch) and Loic Le Meur (Should Michael Arrington Be Invited At LeWeb Next Year). The word battle, taking place across blogs posts, comments, twitter messages continues to scale as people are quick to join sides and it seems there are only two ways of being an entrepreneur: you either kill yourself building a company and sacrifice all immediate personal satisfaction or give up trying to be successful in the business world but discover the joys of life.
What most people engaged in this debate are not recognizing (and I’ll admit I haven’t finished reading all comments/posts) is that everyone is really advocating the liberal ideology, where individual success is what matters the most. One could even judge from recent events, that individuals may feel entitled to succeed at the expense of others.
The American entrepreneurial spirit, driven by hyper-competition will not hesitate to take every opportunity to grow a business, which would be great if the ultimate objective of such business was to enhance the life of all the people that depend on it. But too many times we’ve seen greed triumph over the high ideals of the early capitalists, leading to an early sell without concern (more on this from Matthew Ingram) for long term prosperity. However, a life style without such ambition may lead to stagnation. Feeling entitled to long lunches, 35-hour weeks without producing the output that the world needs to overcome the current crisis, may be just as damaging, though.
In past posts I’ve explored the relationship between growing cities and their hunger for an accelerated rhythm. I’ve also quietly considered what is it that everyone wishes in the long term. Why are people attracted to quiet, relaxed retreats away from the fast-lived scene of the big cities?
It seems to me that putting the individual ahead of the collective is the cause of problems in any case. If the entrepreneur was every bit as considered when selling the business as he was while building the business, accounting not only for individual pay-out but overall society impact… and every citizen just as concerned for overall output, even at the expense of personal gratification we may have a new entrepreneurial spirit for our post-bonanza era.