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Homogeneity, the Web, and liking stuff

In Coming to terms with the Web, Uncategorized on October 16, 2010 at 7:40 am

Looking back over my posts, I realised I hadn’t delivered on my promise to discuss the Web and homogeneity. It’s lucky, then, that over the break I discovered Stuff White People Like. For the uninitiated… oh, just go to the site and read it. Then report back here and tell me how many of the items on the list describe you. I’m at about 12, but I won’t say which ones – until you do. (Incidentally, as the author pointed out in a recent ABC interview, the site could well be called ‘Stuff the Middle Class Like’, or even ‘Stuff  Wealthy People Like’, but then would it be as funny?)

Anyway, what’s the point here? Well, other than finding out just how absurdly unoriginal I am in at least 12 ways, I discovered that David Sedaris is on the list. Rather than throw out the two Sedaris books I’d just bought (visit the Book Grocer for some bargains), over the weekend I read Naked, and made a start on Sedaris’ Christmas story collection, Holidays on Ice.  And what did I find but the icon of bland, homogenous whiteness himself picking on homogeneity. One Christmas Sedaris worked as a Macy’s Christmas elf, and was often designated the Santa Elf. When adults have their chance with Santa, he observes, they all

…ask for a Gold Card or a BMW and they rock with laughter, thinking they are the first person brazen enough to request such pleasures.

Santa says, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Couples over the age of fifty all say, “I don’t want to sit on your lap, Santa, I’m afraid I might break it!”

How do you break a lap? How did so many people get the idea to say the exact same thing?

All of us take pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.

It looks those that even those who observe homogeneity  shouldn’t think themselves too unique.  But does this pervasive sameness matter?

Well yes, it could do. My partner and I were listening to a radio program about the fall of communism in East Germany the other day, and were pondering whether fascism could rise again in a country such as Germany, or even in Australia. He opined that he thought our improved access to information – and thus enlightenment? – would tend to militate against that. I pointed to the homogeneity of thought that’s evident in any society, giving as an example the anti-foreign feeling that seems to be sweeping our country (or that you’d think is doing so, given the way our politicians are behaving). Greater access to ‘information’ may well reinforce that (see this blog post by Clay Shirky about power laws).

Homogeneity seems to be timeless, and sometimes it’s dangerous, but perhaps our shared culture isn’t always a source of shame? I’m thinking about popular culture. Reading the Jenkins article on cultural jammers and poachers, it occurred to me that there is a potentially illuminating lesson here: instead of railing against the homogenous consumerism and corporatisation that has suckered itself onto popular culture, as the jammers do, we can make like a poacher and subvert this blandness from within, thus assauging our guilt about liking the same things everyone else does. After all, we all have the same delightfully post-modern take on it. Oh dear…

Now excuse me, I’m off to my favourite breakfast place with my Moleskine diary (please note that I am upwardly mobile: at some stage I’ll start shelling out tens of dollars for Moleskine notebooks, too), after which I think I’ll pick up a coffee.

 

 

Image by Zedlik [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL] on Wikimedia Commons

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10 things I googled over the break

In Fun things, Uncategorized on October 9, 2010 at 11:55 am

 

An example of a British-style crossword puzzle.

Image via Wikipedia

 

Freed from focusing on an actual topic for a few weeks, I found myself googling with far more enjoyment than I have for a while.  I hesitate to call the following list a top ten, and some of the items, it’s true, arose organically during a stream-of-consciousness-type surf than from a search, per se: a search implies purpose. Please enjoy, and don’t feel bad if you are so entertained and distracted by these links that you don’t come back. I’ll never know.

1. Bulgarian currency (googled to answer a crossword clue): it’s the lev. This means I must have misunderstood the key word in this particular clue. Damn. Double damn as I’ve already thrown out the crossword. Though the Web can give me instant responses to such crossword queries, I don’t use it for this much at all: in fact crossword-doing, a gravely important part of my morning routine, is performed during one of the few computer-free times of my day, the commute. This being said, once the crossword is done, I’ve taken to reading the daily publishing news from the British site The Bookseller on my mobile, tiny and unsatisfactory as it is.  In fact, that’s where I found

2. This article, about the end of the beginning, middle and end in books. Nothing I read here particularly surprised me, but it did prompt me to check out

3. Stephen Fry’s new e-book which, of course, I haven’t bought, being far too used to having free Fry. BTW, did anyone watch his Opera House show on ABC the other night? And did anyone notice how much traditional story-telling the show consisted of? Perhaps narrative isn’t the dinosaur we think it is.

4. Next, the Tippex ad. It’s great, though the writers show an unfortunate misunderstanding of grammatical subjects and objects.  (If you haven’t tried this, clearly you haven’t been watching

5. Gruen (nobody hip – that is, nobody on the show – calls it ‘The Gruen Transfer’ anymore). I never seem to manage to watch it at the time it’s on (whenever that is). Spent a lazy weekend morning watching the Gruen Sessions, in-depth discussions on advertising themes like making ads for charity.)

Anyway, after I had giggled about the Tippex ad for a full 20 minutes, my partner, noting my liking of interactive Web stuff, directed me to

6. This ‘choose your own adventure’ Zombie-pizza-delivery movie/ advertisement, shot by one of his NZ acquaintances. While I was there, I checked out

7. How to make a grand piano out of an upright. It’s good to know this stuff, but I’d especially like to  know if it’s possible to have, and play, a real piano, grand or otherwise, in a duplex.

8. One day, I was observing pigeons on a railway platform, and noticed that while they bob their heads when they walk, other birds don’t.  I found out why here. After that, my curiosity about avian head-bobbing was spent.

9. Somewhere (can’t remember where) I heard of Stephen Colbert’s roasting of G. W. Bush. Here’s the transcript.

I was shocked, upon visiting

10. Stuff White People Like, to find that liking Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart mark me out as white (and so do half a dozen other things evident in this post alone).

You’ve still here?  Wow. Okay, so…

How about you – did you find anything great online during the break, and more importantly, is it greater than any of the above? If so, please share!

Clicks/Bricks: the Kogan/Norman controversy

In The Web and advertising, The Web and democracy, Uncategorized on September 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I’VE decided to renege on my promise of a photo extravaganza (see last week’s post), because something more intriguing – and pertinent to the theme of this blog – has caught my eye this week.

ON last week’s highest rating episode of the Gruen Transfer (Season 3, Episode 9), the panel discussed the battle between the new online TV retailer Ruslan Kogan and Harvey Norman. Somehow, I’d managed to miss the whole shemozzle (perhaps because I get my news from ABC News Breakfast and Jon Stewart rather than Today Tonight). For those of you who are similarly behind on the news, and don’t have time to watch the Gruen episode (the Kogan segment starts around 23 minutes in, but why would you watch just part of the show?), here’s a summary from blogger Renai LeMay on Delimiter.

The Lowdown

IF you refused to be distracted by the link minefield I’ve just laid, the battle between the Kogan CEO Ruslan Kogan, and Gerry Harvey (no introduction necessary) made it on Gruen Transfer because of a cheeky ad Kogan had made in the style of those insistent and eminently lampoonable Harvey Norman ads. The Gruen panel, especially Todd, were glowing in their praise of the parvenu’s advertising strategy, and pointed to the fact Kogan has saved a packet on advertising, relying on the viral spread of the advertisement instigated in part by the story that Channel 7, a longtime partner of Harvey Norman, refused to show the ad during the Ben Cousins documentary (Kogan announced in advance that he’d booked the spot). Russell used a great term to describe the contest between the internet-based business model over the mass-market franchise model Gerry has thrived on for so many years: clicks versus bricks.

ANYWAY, why might this all be of interest to us? Well, another strength the panel pointed to was Kogan’s online community building (over 2000 people ‘like’ Kogan on Facebook). I thought I’d look into Kogan a bit further, through their Web site.

The site

It’s not the prettiest of sites, but then perhaps we don’t want that in a bargain retailer. All the same, it’s not amateurish. In fact, it’s reassuringly average.

From kogan.com.au

It’s also roguishly militant, in its taunting of Gerry Harvey and Stephen Conroy’s internet filter (see Delimiter’s commentary on the latter); the company’s blog has the combination refreshing directness, quasi-diplomacy and insolence that characterises much Web 2.o communication.

And, along with all that swagger, it’s inclusive, encouraging readers to help name TVs and and take their own swings at Harvey, Conroy and big brands.

Also, though consumer reviews are not given prominence,  Kogan appears to be unafraid of what its customers might say:

My one big disapointment is the location of the page turn button. In my opinion, it’s a design flaw, especially if you read with the unit in it’s case. It also requires quite a bit of pressure to turn a page. Not good for repeated page turning.

(From customer review of the 6″ Kogan ebook Reader)

This, I believe, is called crowdsourcing.

IN SHORT, not only has Kogan embraced an efficient internet business model, its site seems to have tapped the Zeitgeist of Web 2.0 – or at least makes a damned good impression of doing so.

BUT once the novelty has worn off, will Kogan’s community suspect (/realise) that they are being manipulated just as the Gruen panel was, just as they are lured into Harvey Norman stores by those tantalisingly interest-free months? The curious and skeptical reader might look at the list of domains Kogan’s acquired and wonder whether they are just another unsuspecting gnat in a rapidly expanding corporate Web.

Now, I just have to make sure my partner doesn’t see Kogan’s site (or this post), otherwise I’m afraid we’ll see the unwieldy but perfectly fine CRT in our lounge room replaced with a Kogan whatchamecallit.

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More

Gerry Harvey takes Kogan’s bait in this SMH article: Go Harvey!

Mumbrella’s commentary on Gruen’s commentary: meta-meta-advertising moments