Space is Money

Everyone says, “Time is money.” But isn’t it more true that space is money?

I can’t increase the amount of time I have. In fact, I can’t possess time in any real sense because, in a very real sense, time doesn’t exist.

Time is not; it’s more like the is-ing or is-ness of everything. (I think a Nazi philosopher once wrote about this.)

By contrast, I can increase the amount of space (actual, physical space) that I own and control. In fact, through rents and the extraction of natural resources, this space can be fairly easily converted into money.

The notion that “time is money” is the expression of a wish: the wish for immortality. If time were something that we could accumulate and hoard, then we could, through force of will, stave off death, the end of our specific time.

But time doesn’t work that way.

Nor does money.

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On Religious Tolerance

When we are asked to “tolerate” the religious views of others, the assumption is that we harbor no religious views of our own or, at least, that such views do not lay claim to absolute truth.

In other words, calls for religious tolerance (and this includes the “freedom of religion” ensconced in our Bill of Rights) tacitly imply that all religions are equally valid, which is just another way of saying that no one religion is the true religion.

Of course, at least in the case of Christianity and Islam, such an insistence is baked into the religion itself. For this reason, asking Christians to be “tolerant” of (in the sense of neither criticizing, mocking nor lampooning) Islamic doctrine, or vice versa, is tantamount to asking them to disown (or at least relativize) their own creed.

That many believers are in fact willing to do so, thus accepting the relatively modern perspective that one’s religious beliefs are a matter of personal preference, rather than universal obligation, testifies to humanity’s willingness to favor social bonds over dogmatic, doctrinal fidelity. It also suggests that many people understand their religious identity to be as much an accident of birth as their native language or particular ethnicity.

That others are unwilling to do so and, in fact, ready to persecute and attack adherents of rival faiths or be martyred in the name of their own, strikes us as both hopelessly antiquated and, if seen as an act of principled, unwavering devotion, oddly heroic.

Which does not mean, however, that such “heroism” need be tolerated.

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Two Shows: Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Potter, Regattabar, March 2013

It’s been a week since I saw Chris Potter play with his quartet (David Virelles (p), Larry Grenadier (b), Nate Smith (d)) and two weeks since I saw Kurt Rosenwinkel with his (Aaron Parks (p), Eric Revis (b), Justin Faulkner (d)) and I’ve been wrestling with how best to describe what made these shows so different and, not to put too fine a point on it, why the Chris Potter show was so much better.

Top of Their Game

The most obvious reason, I guess, is that Potter’s band is just better. Larry Grenadier (picture above) is a “best of his generation” bass player, David Virelles is as rhythmically inventive and harmonically adventurous as they come, and Nate Smith plays drums in a way that is commandingly funky as well as surprisingly understated (he played a solo that built so slowly and massively that he was halfway into it before you knew what was happening).

To top it all off, of course, is Chris Potter himself. Combining a pop sensibility (that reminds me of Stan Getz, though Potter sounds nothing like him) with a protean mastery of the instrument, Potter can be at turns lyrical and wild, brainy and melodic. And whether it’s a question of his acumen as a leader or the collective intelligence of the ensemble, the group moved effortlessly with him and around him into realms that seemed both uncharted and sublimely familiar, as if we had been transported to a 80s era Brecker Brothers New York funk throw-down infused with an unheard of at the time nuanced modernism.

Long story short, Potter’s set was energetic, energizing and everything I want when I go see live jazz: amazing musicians playing astonishing, improvised music.

Continue reading

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Controlling Content

A friend of mine reminded me of a post that I wrote many years ago (five, by my reckoning) with which I no longer entirely agree.

The post was entitled, “Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now” and it’s main line of argument was that people should not try to control where their content appears on the web.

My reasoning was threefold. First, if people are citing your content, or, really, reproducing lengthy citations from it, on their site then (a) that may fall under the doctrine of “fair use” and (b) as long as they are attributing it to you and linking back to the original, that should be fine.

Second, I invoked John Perry Barlow and asserted that “giving it away” was the wave of the future and that companies should share content freely and focus on making money from inimitable products or services. As an illustration, I referred the Grateful Dead’s willingness to allow taping at their concerts while charging for attendance at said concerts.

Finally, I argued that, since every page on the web is literally one click away from any other page, the very notion of a “site” is questionable. That is, in a sense, the web is the site, so quibbling about where content appears (on this site or that site) misses something fundamental about how the web works (or, more accurately, how the very nature of the web calls into question the absolute location of any particular piece of content).

Dissenting from Myself

As I mentioned, I wrote the original piece a long time ago and my thoughts on copyright and control of content have in the interim shifted somewhat.

For example, a little over two years ago I started working for an online publisher and came to experience first hand what it’s like when someone scrapes your content and publishes it in it’s entirety to their site (and not always with proper attribution). Aside from blatant issues of copyright infringement, there is an actual business impact to this sort of thievery to the degree that the stealing site reaps the SEO reward of your content, on the one hand, but can also bring Google penalties down on your site for publishing “duplicate content.” (If any SEOs are reading this and I’m getting this wrong, please school me in the comments.)

My thoughts on digital copyright have also been influenced by Robert Levine’s book Free Ride, in which he convincingly argues that, rather than a question of free speech or freedom of information, the people calling most vocally for “freedom of content” are actually huge businesses (Google and Apple, among them) who sell services or products that benefit from unlimited access to content. If you can fill an iPod with music you downloaded illegally from the web, or use Google to find such music, the argument goes, then the content creator’s loss is the gain of Google and Apple.

Finally, I think that, underlying my argument, was the notion that “content is going to be stolen, so don’t build your business around ownership of content,” which is really more an expression of resigned acceptance than an actual argument.

All That’s Solid

We live in a world in which things that used to be concrete—books, records, movies, etc.—and relatively difficult to reproduce and distribute, now exist as configurations of electricity that can be replicated at will and accessed from anywhere. The obstinacy of matter that once offered some protection to works of imagination, intellect, technical proficiency and physical prowess, has evaporated.

We are in the midst of dealing with the repercussions of this technological turn of events and the end is not yet in sight. Organizations and individuals are experimenting with a variety of methods for tracking, tagging and getting paid for access to content, but there is no perfect solution yet that can prevent people from “taking” whatever content they like. In fact, these people can easily feel little guilt for doing so because, in the end, they aren’t “taking” anything at all; they are merely copying or reproducing, as I said, a “configuration of electricity.”

Should someone who has recorded a piece of music or written a book or produced a film be able to control access to their work? I believe that they should.

Can they now? Not entirely.

Will they be able to do so in the future? I am not certain and tend to think that, if the work can be copied and distributed electronically, then it will always be, to a greater or lesser degree, beyond their control.

Image from the Public Domain

Posted in Emerging Media, Ethics | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The Trouble with Capitalism

When I was a student, I was a communist sympathizer.

I say “sympathizer” because, while I was never a Communist Party member, I was sympathetic to the critique that capitalism was a system based on exploitation and that the ends of capital were pursued by national governments in the Northern Hemisphere, in the form of colonialism and imperialism, to the detriment of people in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere.

(Before you accuse me of being naive about the crimes of communist regimes from Stalin to Pol Pot, please read this post. Generally speaking, I believe that one party rule is a recipe for corruption, incompetence and, at worst, outright gangsterism. I am also opposed to “utopian” politics and, in fact, see utopian inclinations in every political ideology right, left and center.)

I was reminded of these sympathies this morning while reading the New York Times (noted running dog of imperialism and propaganda tool of the CIA).

Exploitation and Disenfranchisement

First I read that corporate profits, as a share of national income, are at their highest point since 1950, while personal income is at it’s lowest point since 1966.

As a way of explaining this state of affairs, the Times wrote:

With millions still out of work, companies face little pressure to raise salaries, while productivity gains allow them to increase sales without adding workers.

In other words, even though businesses are enjoying record profits, they are using unemployment as a hammer both to keep wages low and drive greater productivity from those “lucky” enough to have a job. If that isn’t a case of “exploitation,” I don’t know what is. (I believe that it also gives the lie to GOP contentions, dating back to the Reagan era, that policies which benefit business lead to lower unemployment and “benefit everybody.”) Continue reading

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Why I Am a Vine Skeptic

Note: I wrote this as a comment on a post over at MarketingProfs, but when I realized I’d written 300+ words, I thought: This is a post in itself!

At this point, as much as I’ve had fun with Vine, I’m still a Vine skeptic.

I’ve got two issues with the app. The big one is sound. Montage works in movies because you can have a separate audio track that provides continuity. Since Vine doesn’t allow you to separate sound from image, the soundtracks of Vine-ettes (as I call them) tend to be choppy and abstract (or, “experimental,” to be generous). You can show a kind of story, but it’s much harder to literally tell one.

The sound is also a distraction. Whereas I can scroll through Instagram while waiting at the dentist’s office without bugging people (or at home without bugging my wife), with Vine I either have to use earbuds or keep the sound off, which means missing what can be an important piece of the content (though, to my first point, often is not).

The second issue is time. Unlike Instagram, it takes time to make Vine-ettes. This makes it, in its way, “anti-mobile.” Since Instagram allows me to pull in pictures from my photo library, I can snap pics on the fly and “Instagram” them whenever I want.

With Vine, as simple as these things can be, sometimes it takes time to get them right and sometimes I will re-shoot a couple times and then just give up (ok – I’m a quitter).

There is also something to be said for the at-a-glance scrolling that both Twitter and Instagram provide. With Vine, I have to stop and watch. Again, it’s only 6 seconds, but it adds up and makes the interaction lumpy rather than smooth.

I’m not saying that Vine couldn’t fix these issues—by allowing for separate sound recording, for example—but, frankly, if they added more features it would simply make the process more involved and time-consuming. Once that happens, this will become what I think it is destined to be: a novel social tool/network/phenomenon whose widespread adoption will stall.

 

Posted in Emerging Media, Marketing Today, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Narratives Over Numbers?

On the Sunday when the Patriots were due to play the Ravens in their conference championship game, I picked up the Sunday Globe and saw this story about Ray Lewis. When I read the following paragraph—

But in the years since, Lewis has been a tale of personal redemption and a case study for image rehabilitation. He has become an ambassador for the game, a mentor both in and outside of his locker room, and a motivational speaker with far-reaching appeal beyond his sport.

—I knew the Ravens were going to win that game.

The funny thing was that, going into it, I had taken for granted that the Pats would win. I don’t follow sports, so this was little more than gut-level regionalism.

But when I read about Ray Lewis’ path from infamy to the brink of glory, in this his final year in the game, I realized that the NFL wanted to push a redemption story and that this narrative would be more compelling than anything the Patriots could muster (except perhaps the chance for the rest of the country to indulge in some Schadenfreude and once more exult in their defeat).

Of course, the Ravens won.

Continue reading

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Is That True?

I once worked for a CEO who would, when someone made a declarative statement such as, “Toothpaste is made with formaldehyde and detergent,” frequently ask, “Is that true?”

It always surprised me how disarmed I felt when he would ask me that question, for, frankly, it inevitably made me realize how infrequently I asked that question myself. In some cases, of course, the question would have been superfluous because the case in point was so commonsensical.

In other cases, admittedly, I was simply naive or embarrassingly uncritical.

Still, I have found that this question, when I pose it myself, almost inevitably makes people uncomfortable. This may be because, once posed, it causes people to reflect on their unconscious assumptions and unreflected credulity, and they are perhaps thereby a bit chagrined.

It could also be because, when someone asks you, “Is that true?,” they aren’t really asking you to back up your claims, they are, instead calling you either an idiot or a liar.

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Breathe

I tend to get lost in labyrinths of anxiety-fueled or vaguely apocalyptic thought.

When I’m far down the rabbit-hole these days, though, I’ll catch myself and start focusing on my breath.

As soon as I do, my posture improves (I was always inevitably hunching over), my shoulders drop and I become calm (or, at least, less anxious).

Does this work for you?

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Academic Time

If you have never attended the MLA or any other conference in the humanities, then you may not be aware that the traditional mode of presentations at these affairs is “slow reading.” That is, people sit at a skirted table and slowly read their papers to the audience.

Towards the end of my own academic career, I became frustrated with this mannered and boring format and vowed never again to read a paper at a conference (a vow I have kept, opting to “present,” rather than read).

With the MLA Convention in town, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the persistence of this practice and wrote, “I only wonder sometimes if the slow-motion paper reading isn’t analogous to the glacial change we’re enacting for the students.”

What connects this stilted method of recitation and the glacial pace of institutional change, particularly in the humanities, is a shared temporal horizon. Academic time is cyclical, seasonal and mythic. It’s a pastoral time, following the rhythm of the harvest, on the one hand, but also a timeless, monastic time in which scholars toil insulated from the hectic pace of the secular world.

Scholarly work relying on immersion in texts, contemplative reflection and artful writing seems to require solitude and a remove from the world. The academic institution, however, needs to engage with the world in order to maintain itself and thus enable and support such remove.

The challenge faced by the humanities lies in reconciling this circular time, this time beyond time, with the restless, linear time of the outside world—for that time, is the time of change.

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