The Circle

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Social media becomes an ever more dominant part of our lives and yet so few people seem to seriously contemplate it and how they use it. We see this not only in rampant and rewarded narcissism (as Horning says in the quote above, on social media we can show off and it’s okay) but in instances like the Paris Brown affair. The “totalizing system” is such that I found myself asking a friend last week “if it’s not on Facebook, did it actually happen?” It goes beyond merely sharing photos of our nights out, checking in at a gig or posting our thoughts on the latest episode of ‘Mad Men’ into experiences actually becoming subservient to their expression on social media. They become means by which we can further express our personalities online (and so find them both reflected back at us and affirmed). Not only does it seem that the offline space to develop becomes ever smaller but the desire to do this recedes.

The above quote, taken from here, is one of many efforts I’ve made to reflect on social media and its impact on our lives. I was perhaps too hesitant when I wrote that “few people seem to seriously contemplate it”…in actual fact it seems that such serious contemplation is actively (but almost unconsciously) seen as a bad thing. Katherine St Asaph began her response to this piece by declaring “I shouldn’t even be responding to something that uses the “social media increases narcissism!” study as its kicker”. Such instant dismissal of any notion that social media could have negative impacts is typical of the discussion around it and it’s fitting that it came in a dialogue around One Direction. Like 1D, social media is identified with youth and as such is attributed the qualities of being youthful and exciting; to parse either in a critical manner is to be condescending, snobbish and, worst of all, old. Any person, organisation or brand attempting to reach a ‘younger’ audience will invariably find themselves quickly drowning in hashtags, Vines and Tumblrs. Yet this focus on marketing obscures the fundamental reality that the main product of social media is ourselves – its value relies on monetising relationships which were previously mediated off-line and, further, in inventing new relationships (between ourselves and other people, ourselves and brands, ourselves and pop stars etc). Capitalism’s survival depends on its vampiric ability to encroach onto and transform more and more aspects of our daily lives. Our ‘inner self’ does not escape this – we’ve seen that work has become more and more a question of ‘emotional labour‘ and, conversely, our personalities have been turned into business and profit.

It’s staggering how quickly Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like have transformed much of our reality and the flood shows no sign of abating. Google Glass seeks to augment reality and make us cyborg-like beings, permanently wired in and switched on. From our televisions to our online shopping we are more and more willing to share our habits in order to receive personalised services which seek to tell us about media and products which we otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. We all walk around with devices which identify our location at every second of every day. We don’t mind this. We don’t mind this to the degree that when it’s revealed that our ‘national security’ agencies routinely monitor this data along with our calls, e-mails etc it inspires little more than a mass shrug. And certainly we can identify a lot of ‘good’ in this technology – I’m writing this on Tumblr and will post it to my Twitter which I’ll read on my phone, I’m in no position to be superior – but the point is that we’re surrounded by messages telling us about that good. Thinking about the bad is, as noted, kinda beyond the pale.

Which brings us neatly to The Circle, the new novel from Dave Eggers. Eggers is the kind of guy it’s easy to hate: talented, prolific, accomplished, involved in charity work and an archetypal upper middle-class liberal. Fortunately for him, his books are a joy to read, as effortless to get through as gently warm water. In recent months I stormed through the incredible What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng and last year’s A Hologram for the King, a book which manages to make gripping reading from a lot of sitting around in a tent pitched in a Saudi Arabian desert. It was a fortuitous coincidence that Eggers’ latest novel, The Circle, turned out to be due for publication only a few weeks after I finished the latter.

The Circle will widely be described as a satire aimed at Google and the titular tech company does indeed share many similarities with everyone’s favourite ‘Don’t Be Evil’ conglomerate. It also draws on aspects of Facebook, Twitter and Amazon yet the satire of the novel goes far beyond the behaviour of any of these companies or our own relationship with them; instead it concerns the very nature of humanity. That the book is a dystopian vision of the near future (a blend of 1984, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Brave New World) is writ large, so much so that the strokes can seem laughably broad: it seems certain that many readers will be put off by what initially seems like caricature. I myself wasn’t initially sure…yet there is one particular scene, quite early in the novel, which so pitch-perfectly captures the weird, hysterical neediness fostered by social media event invites and their ‘wandering around a minefield in a blindfold’ politics that I found myself grinning widely at its brilliance. From there on in I submitted to the book and found myself hooked, staying up far later than I should to read it and looking forward to my commute just so that I could snatch some more pages.

The audacious capturing of many of the hilarious but equally sinister aspects of social media, and our relationship with modern technology, continues apace. Clicktivism and e-petitions are ruthlessly skewered, as is the embarrassing desire of our politicians to associate themselves with these exciting tech companies. One of the main sparks for the march towards a totalitarian ‘openness’ turns out to be an anti-internet troll campaign and the eagerness to trade-off privacy for ‘safety’ is a recurring theme. The inherent insincerity of relationships conducted almost entirely on social media looms large, as does the diminishing effects of being able (and expected) to pass comment on every person who crosses our screens. The fascistic strand of the unthinking cult of ‘positivity’ leaps from every page. Overarching all of this is the question of human experience and personality – what does it mean to be ‘you’? Are we more or less ourselves when we construct an online identity, share our experiences there and encounter people and things which we never could in ‘real life’? Is there any value in secrecy, in lies, in retreating from the world – and is social media itself this retreat?

The book is far from perfect and its sledgehammer subtlety does initially jar; yet at every point where I found myself beginning to roll my eyes I realised that I knew people who would eagerly pursue the course of action described. Obvious, then, but only in the sense that it describes what already exists and pushes it further to make its point. In fact, it could be said that this forceful signposting reflects the decline of critical thinking which has in part been fostered by social media and ‘positivity’. Spend 10 seconds on the page of any online marketing/media company and try not to feel nauseous at the insipid horror on display – you don’t have a personality but rather a ‘personal brand’ and how this is perceived is what matters. As such, the appearance of being caring, being intelligent, being funny, being human is key. Sign those petitions, post those videos, tear down those X Factor contestants and rack up the likes and retweets. Then you’ll know people care. You’ll know you made a difference. The Circle seems overblown because it has to be – the signifier is replacing the signified and the hellish results of that are laid bare in an all-too-appropriate manner. If you’ve ever found yourself checking your Facebook to see if something you posted five minutes ago has been liked, looked forward to a tv show because of the witty comments you hope to tweet about it or taken photos of an experience because you thought it would play great on your profiles – read this book.

As we see that cultural capital build, we strive to document as much as we can within social media, thus mimicking at the personal, micro-level the macro-level aspirations of Facebook to assimilate all of sociality on its “social graph.” From this totalizing system, we can then derive the comfort that everything will be recorded and be factored in — we don’t need to decide in advance what is significant, what to consume or not consume. With social media as a personal content-management system, we get to consume more than ever, free of the supposed guilt that comes from consuming the wrong stuff or showing off.

How we use and relate to social media is a big theme in my writing and ever since I found the Marginal Utility blog, much of it has been sparked by Rob Horning’s work. I’ve come to hate it when people describe something as ‘must read’ but Horning seems pretty essential to me – at least for anyone who regularly uses social media, which is obviously almost anyone reading this. This latest piece shares some provocative and profound thoughts on the nature of identity and the ‘authentic self’, positing that we increasingly find and believe in who we are by what we share (and interact with) on social media. As Horning puts it, ‘self-discovery’ is now ‘reputation management’. 

Social media becomes an ever more dominant part of our lives and yet so few people seem to seriously contemplate it and how they use it. We see this not only in rampant and rewarded narcissism (as Horning says in the quote above, on social media we can show off and it’s okay) but in instances like the Paris Brown affair. The “totalizing system” is such that I found myself asking a friend last week “if it’s not on Facebook, did it actually happen?” It goes beyond merely sharing photos of our nights out, checking in at a gig or posting our thoughts on the latest episode of ‘Mad Men’ into experiences actually becoming subservient to their expression on social media. They become means by which we can further express our personalities online (and so find them both reflected back at us and affirmed). Not only does it seem that the offline space to develop becomes ever smaller but the desire to do this recedes. It’s Warren Beatty’s infamous quote about Madonna stolen from the realm of the super-celebrity and applied to every mundane moment of life:

She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? 

For ‘camera’ read (obviously) ‘social media’ – what is the point of doing anything if it can’t be shared online, can’t be used to further our perception of ourselves? More than that, if others don’t see it, don’t comment on it, don’t ‘like’ or RT it, what was its purpose? This was rammed home to me yesterday as we visited a friend at a gallery and I was astounded at the ubiquity of people taking photos of the artwork with their phones – it was happening everywhere, constantly. Contemplation of the art was replaced by broadcasting the fact that you are contemplating art.

Horning posits this tension as being between the consumerist sense of authenticity and a post-social media ‘data’ sense, ending by envisaging a time of “postauthenticity, in which the momentum of sharing itself is all that needs to be shared, and identity becomes noninterpretable.” I’m not so sure – to me it seems that social media is a continuation of the consumerist idea of identity (albeit one which is subsuming the latter) and people will remain wedded to the idea of the ‘self’. Indeed, you need only look at the amount of pictures which people share of the latest things they have bought or how frequently we post about what we ‘consume’ as if it says something about us to see that the two ideas of identity are finding a happy co-existence online. Perhaps the fundamental difference is that the former did allow for ‘privacy’, something which is becoming an irrelevance (and an impossibility). The implications which this has for us are enormous and troubling, to say the least.

Google Alert for the Soul

A few thoughts on Paris Brown

Last year I wrote about the increasing authoritarianism which surrounds social media and has seen people arrested and even convicted for their words online. We’re seeing it again with  the current ‘storm’ around Paris Brown, which has gone viral on Twitter and has led to the great and the good of Twitter leaping to her defence. This intrigues me –  last year’s case of Azhar Ahmed, convicted for posting an ‘offensive’ message about British soldiers on Facebook, springs to mind as both are young and both landed in trouble due to ostensibly ‘private’ (ie they weren’t addressed to anyone in particular and weren’t ‘harassment’) messages they posted on social media.  Despite initially being charged over a year ago, a search on Ahmed’s name returns less than 1/9th of the Google results which a search on Brown’s does. Indeed, it’s safe to assume that most people will never even have heard of Ahmed and issues of race and the idiotic sanctification of the armed forces no doubt play a large part in that – many will be absolutely fine with him being arrested and convicted. Yet he was a private citizen making an ‘idiotic’ comment whereas Paris Brown came to our attention due to being the inaugural ‘Youth Crime Commissioner’, an odd job which apparently is intended “to reduce the gap between younger people and the authorities” and commands a salary of £15,000 a year. As someone who has actively applied for and obtained a public role (and the first such role in the country), it’s a no-brainer that she would attract scrutiny. So much so that it’s staggering that no-one seemed to consider that social media could have become an issue as some simple precautions (such as checking her tweets before appointment, making her account private or deleting it altogether) could probably have avoided this whole mess.

Does she deserve to be persecuted? Of course not. Nothing she wrote is anything more than idiotic. Yet I’d be very curious to see who leapt to her defence if her words were less banal brainfarts and more ‘offensive communications’ such as Ahmed’s. Cases such as the latter seem to arouse little ire when, to me, they are far more sinister than that of a newly-appointed public figure being found to have said some dumb things which relate to her new job.

Paris Brown seems an interesting choice for people like Owen Jones to be defending and it largely seems to be down to the fact that she has been ‘exposed’ by the Daily Mail – a point which most have fixated on. It’s a truism on Twitter that if you ‘offend’ a prominent left-leaning figure you are quickly deemed to be a ‘troll’ and you deserve everything you get; if it’s the Daily Mail (or The Telegraph and so on) who get up in arms, it’s absolutely fine. The eagerness to kick the Daily Mail seems to have led some to rather odd positions. Jones asserts that her future may be ruined due to her “behaving like a teenager” while Dorian Lynksey sums up her behaviour as “in short, she is a teenager”. Joanna Moorhead in The Guardian writes that she “did what every teenager in Britain does”. This is an absolutely bizarre argument, seeming to suggest that the Daily Mail took it upon themselves to comb Twitter for the ramblings of some random person rather than investigated someone who was suddenly (and voluntarily) very high-profile. Furthermore, the ‘they’re a teenager’ argument strikes me as ridiculously patronising. It’s been quite a while since I was a teenager but I’m fairly certain that most don’t refer to gay people as ‘faggots’ or assert that they become racist when they’re drunk. In fact most teens aren’t even on Twitter. Contrary to this ‘oh we’re all awful dickheads when we’re teenagers’ narrative, it would have been relatively easy for Kent to find a teenager without Brown’s baggage and while we can certainly understand the follies of youth, it’s absurd to imply that being a teenager necessarily means being homophobic or lacking self-awareness. Lynskey makes a comment, as I have before, that he’s glad Twitter wasn’t around when he was younger. Yet if I think back to when I was a teenager do I think I would have been tweeting heavily-loaded offensive terms? Would Lynskey have been? Do we think any of the journalists defending her would have been?

Funnily enough, last year one of those sympathetic to Brown had a very different take on a 17-year old tweeter. Graham Linehan noted in the case of “@Rileyy_69”, who was arrested for tweeting abuse (and a lame death threat) to Tom Daley:

As a symbol of free speech, Riley69 is not Lenny Bruce. He’s not even the EDL. He’s a teenager going through that thing a lot of teenagers go through where they seem unable to feel empathy. This kind of temporary sociopath can be very dangerous and using these new tools they can wreak havoc more efficiently than ever before.

He was all for Riley’s arrest – there was no ‘oh teenagers!’ on display here. Yet Riley69 wasn’t a public figure, just someone who had tweeted idiotic comments to a celebrity. If Tom Daley had quickly blocked him, almost no-one would have ever heard of him. Instead Daley alerted his followers and we ended up with people like Linehan defending Riley69’s arrest. The logic, then, that it’s simply awful to bring to light the casual homophobia/racism etc of a newly-pointed police figure but fine and dandy to arrest someone of the same age for their idiotic tweets seems rather…pained. It’s for this reason that I have zero doubt that, had Brown’s tweets not came to light via the Daily Mail but rather (say) through some left-wing blogger who presented them as highlighting her use of ‘faggots’, the response from many would be very different.

As I’ve made clear previously, I think the offence taken on Twitter tends to be overblown and nothing that blocking or a breather can’t fix. I think it should very rarely be an issue for the authorities. Sadly, the logic of people like Linehan and others who fixate on ‘trolls’ and use their profile to draw attention to people who offend them feeds directly into an atmosphere where everyone is ready to pounce on anyone who says the wrong thing. It’s really not that big of a leap from asserting that some rubbish insult is unacceptable and something must be done to the cases of Azhar Ahmed and Paris Brown. Everyone feels entitled to their outrage and this seems unlikely to change, requiring some self-awareness and caution when online. Unfortunately research is suggesting that we’re becoming less compassionate and empathetic and this is most pronounced in teenagers. We do, after all, live in an age of narcissism; of self-obsession; of reality tv and stars who are big on sassy put-downs and low on social engagement; of individual and ostentatious ‘creativity’ being seen as the highest goal to which we can aspire. Hell, perhaps a lot of this has to do with over 30 years of atomising neoliberalism and Paris Brown is neatly illustrating Thatcher’s Britain. Whatever the case, we should stop presenting it as inevitable that teens are going to embarrass themselves online and realise that it’s a tool which we all need the skills to use. We need to think about how and why we use social media. It’s certainly not only teenagers who use it to find, express and validate their identities and it can only be a good thing if we think more about who we are in a fundamental sense offline. In the meantime, things like this are only going to keep happening and things will never change unless we start wondering why.

HMV and Understanding the Internet

I’ve written previously about the effects of the internet on my music listening habits and the news that HMV has called in the administrators brought this to mind again. Like many people of my generation, I have whiled away many, many hours of my life in HMV. Together with Borders and Virgin Megastore, HMV shops were refuges for me and my friends: we would always meet in one of them on a Saturday afternoon or, later in life, prior to heading to the pub. I purchased my first gay magazine in an HMV and discovered countless bands through its sales. I even worked in HMV on Union Street in Glasgow for a few months and while it wasn’t a job I loved, I have fond memories of helping elderly ladies purchase dvds for their grandchildren’s Christmas presents (“He likes car chases – do you have any films with car chases?”) One thing that was clear from my time there was that many of the people who worked in HMV absolutely loved music, something that frequently was lost in the contrast with romanticised indie stores.

Also like many of my generation, however, my visits to HMV had dwindled in their frequency. I would still make the pilgrimage to HMV on Oxford Street whenever an artist I loved released a new album – last year I still got a thrill from seeing a large display dedicated to Madonna on the day of ‘MDNA’’s release. There was a communal air to such big releases that you couldn’t really find anywhere else and the very act of going to the shop, picking the album up from the shelf and waiting in line to pay for it became as much part of the experience as the first listen. Indeed, it was in HMV in East Kilbride where I purchased my very first CDs – a bunch of Madonna singles. Somehow, the sales assistant accidentally put Bjork’s ‘Debut’ in my bag while putting through the sale. I almost cried when I discovered it, fearing I’d be in trouble for stealing. I wasn’t and that happy accident led to my introduction to Bjork and other artists of her ilk.

The only record shops which existed in Hamilton, where I grew up, were Our Price and Woolworths. The former is where I investigated my tentative teenage interest in David Bowie, purchasing a bunch of his albums in a ‘2 for £10’ deal, while the latter is where I bought most of my singles. I can vividly remember the 40 minute walks home from Our Price after buying Michael Jackson’s ‘HIStory’ or Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Stories’, enjoying the excitement of anticipation. I still get that feeling sometimes (Bowie’s surprise single last Tuesday being a perfect example) but it now lasts for seconds.

The HMV news reminds me once again that I am part of the final generation to grow up without the internet, pretty much. I was in my late-teens before it became a ‘thing’ and it being costly and slow meant that it remained an occasional luxury – something my parents would let me use for an hour here and there. I didn’t get a mobile phone until I was almost 20 and it would be many years before I could do anything other than call and text on one. Downloading of albums first crossed my radar in 2000 when a manager at Spoils (a kitchen reject store I worked in) obtained Madonna’s ‘Music’ prior to its release and I was amazed that such a thing was possible. I had never even heard of Facebook until 2007 (I did use Myspace for a couple of years prior to that) let alone Twitter.

The internet has changed the world so much in only ten years and the decline of the record shop is but one small part of that. It’s strange to think that the musical memories being formed by younger generations will often involve iTunes, Amazon and illegal downloads rather than a visit to a shop to pick up a CD. Even stranger is that this trend is sweeping the whole of culture, from films and television to books and magazines – they are all increasingly available with astonishing ease online (and for free, if you know where to look.) It’s almost impossible for me to comprehend the mind-set which must develop when literally millions of songs, films, shows, books etc are available within seconds, just as it’s difficult for me to imagine how social media like Facebook and Twitter (and their drive towards personal sharing) impacts on developing minds. All I know is that I am very glad they did not exist when I was 13 (God knows I’m annoying enough on them at 32 – back then it would have been a car crash.)

There is a body of opinion and research which suggests that the internet is having a very real impact on morality and empathy. There are countless articles and books (and indeed my blog on listening to music) which rest on the idea that the web can lead to shorter attention spans and/or less engagement with art and knowledge. Certainly I have banged on a lot about how many people seem to use their web interactions solely to validate themselves rather than to actively explore, learn and challenge themselves – human nature, after all, but is it amplified/made so much easier now? It’s literally never been easier in the history of humanity to read widely, access and engage with other opinions and find out about almost any subject within minutes. This seems to be unambiguously a good thing but the crucial aspect is the relationship we have with this power and that we recognise the responsibility that comes with it.

Clearly the outpouring of nostalgia for HMV suggests that we perhaps haven’t taken that particular responsibility too seriously – we continue to feel sad at the closure of more resonant stores yet we continue to shop online. Perhaps it really is little more than misguided nostalgia and strong independent stores will thrive. I’m not sure anyone really knows and that’s the big thing with the internet – we continue to be unaware of the very real, very deep effect it’s had on us (good and bad) until it’s already happened.

Music, the internet and us.

Lucy Jones is by no means the first to worry about the impact of the internet on our listening habits, but this resonated with me by coming so soon after the release of ‘MDNA’. Madonna is one of the few artists whose new albums I anticipate with a tingling mix of anticipation and dread, because I know that it will instantly become part of the soundtrack to my life. Each of her albums is loaded with memories and associations for me. This is undoubtedly strongest and most common with her, David Bowie and the Manic Street Preachers, but there are many records which take me to other times, other versions of myself. Prince’s ‘Symbol’ album always places me back in my childhood bedroom, listening to the cassette over and over and scrambling to fast forward through ‘Sexy M.F.’ when I could hear my mum in the hall outside. With ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ I am in my friend John’s bedroom, revelling in a joint teenage misanthropy and poring over the lyrics. ‘Ok Computer’ and ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ were both bought on one of the first days after I left school. My parents were on holiday and it was just me and our dog, Kerry. She got sick and wouldn’t move from her bed, so I blasted the albums through the house while sitting beside her. I always associate ‘More Adventurous’ by Rilo Kiley with my tentative steps into PROPER ADULTHOOD – living in Glasgow, having a responsible job and falling in love with my friends over and over again. ‘The First Days of Spring’ will forever be inextricably linked with Rob, particularly when he lived in Camden and we would shuttle between there and Hackney on the 253.

There’s always the risk when engaging in nostalgia about music and when it really meant something that you’re just getting old. I’m reminded of the Coupland quote from ‘Life After God’:

I believe that you’ve had most of your important memories by the time you’re thirty. After that, memory becomes water overflowing into an already full cup. New experiences just don’t register the same way or with the same impact. I could be shooting heroin with the Princess of Wales, naked in a crashing jet, and the experience still couldn’t compare to the time the cops chased us after we threw the Taylors’ patio furniture into their pool in the eleventh grade.

They’re not called ‘formative’ years for nothing and it seems a no-brainer that the music which soundtracks your adolescence and resulting emergence into the world would seem more profoundly evocative. Yet the point about changing listening habits is, in my own life, undoubtedly true. I probably listen to music on shuffle/playlists far more often than I listen to albums these days. I frequently have to force myself to listen to an album I’m unfamiliar with; even then, I’ll sometimes have to fight the urge to change if it’s remotely difficult. Being able to have pretty much any album you would ever want to listen to within minutes, and for free, may have its undeniable benefits but it means there is such a roaring avalanche of options that it’s tempting to retreat to what you know or, at least, the genre you’re comfortable with.

As always with question about how the internet is changing things, my thoughts turn to younger generations who’ve never known anything different. What does music (and albums, specifically) mean to them? Going by the anecdotal evidence of forums and Twitter, it seems pretty common for today’s teenagers to see albums as playlists to be amended, ditching tracks they don’t like, changing running orders etc. Do you really commit to challenging yourself, stepping outside of what you know, persevering with ‘difficult’ music, if you can simply get rid of it and reshape it to suit in seconds? The transcendent joy of ‘discovering’ a completely random song, album or artist with which you were unfamiliar, or the leap in your stomach when something clicks with you on your fourth listen to it, are experiences which seem to be made more difficult by modern technology.

This argument obviously isn’t confined to music. One of the most famous recent works looking at the effect of the internet, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, argues that it makes us less prone to concentration and contemplation. Even more dramatically, it argues that it alters the neural circuits of the brain to this effect. A recent article in Adbusters looked at the studies of Antonio Damasio at USC which purport to show that, as well as encouraging a tendency towards more ‘shallow’ thoughts, the internet also raised the spectre of a generation with more ‘shallow’ emotions.

These arguments are much discussed and much disputed. It is, however, difficult not to see them as persuasive when you look at Twitter. It seems to be more and more common for people to rush to a strong judgment on everything and anything based on not much at all; more than that, to feel entitled to their judgment and to scorn competing views rather than be able to engage/debate with them. People will ‘live-tweet’ their way through countless tv shows and films. New songs and even entire albums will be dismissed within minutes of them becoming ‘available’. It could be argued that this is merely technology reflecting and enabling what is already there – certainly it would be silly to believe that twenty years ago we were all considered, informed and slow to judgment. Yet just as it is commonly accepted that the printing press, telephone and television changed humanity in profound ways, it is reasonable to believe that the internet is doing so currently. The positive argument is that kids growing up with it are developing the capacity to digest large amounts of info, quickly learn new things and multi-task in dazzling style. Questions about what it does to their (and to our) core beings in terms of how we relate to one another and to our culture are far more profound and so, far more difficult to answer.

When I posted the Lucy Jones article last night, my brother responded that he also adopted the habit of Mark Wood by clearing his iPod each month and putting new music on it. I think I’ll give it a try.

This is a decent enough introduction to SOPA and Pipa. I find it staggering that the authorities and the entertainment industry seem incapable of realising that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. There is literally nothing they can do at this stage to return to the days of widespread copyright protection and any attempts to impose an authoritarian version of it will backfire.

I’ve said before that the debate over copyright is (as with so many other things) something that many seem incapable of thinking of on any level beyond the most trite and superficial. You’ll hear people complaining about ‘illegal downloading’ but they will have zero problem with Spotify paying a pittance for ‘legal’ streaming, or listening to unreleased songs on Youtube. There is an inability to engage with the morality of the entertainment industry and their modes of operation.

Amusingly, I think there is also a strong tendency for many artists to blame the internet for a lack of success which any dispassionate observer can see would not have come anyway. I’ve seen unknown musicians speak with dewy-eyed fondness of a period when musicians could make a living from making music, as if 30 years ago there were countless 18 year olds making decent money from their garage bands. Obviously the altered landscape throws up challenges but it also offers infinitely more possibilities.

Governments try shit like SOPA/Pipa because they think they can rely on a populace incapable of fully thinking about the morality and implications of such laws. This is why a household name like Wikipedia taking a stand was so important. It remains to be seen whether it has any effect given the disease that is ‘representative democracy’ in the West.

Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only internet