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Wednesday 26 June 2002

Reading vs. The Internet

From a Washington Post article about how boys today don’t read as much as girls do:

We always had books around the house. And there were, of course, fewer entertainments competing with reading when I was growing up. Undistracted by cable TV, the Internet, DVDs and Playstation 2, I could be bored enough to be driven to discover on the summer cottage bookshelves copies of Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Reader’s Digest’s I Am Joe’s Liver and Boccaccio’s Decameron. I read to make my own discoveries. The more I read, the more I wanted to read.

Heh, heh. I read all the articles about Joe’s various organs, too, when I was wee. But that’s not what I’m about at the moment.

Note that this guy sees the Internet as something that distracts from reading. Sure, there’s a lot of porn online, and some incredibly bad Flash games. But I can’t help but to have noticed that the vast, vast majority of the material available online is in convenient text format. Text that, even in this Jetsons-like future we live in, requires reading.

I shouldn’t be too hard on the writer, though; the point he’s actually trying to make is a good one, and the article isn’t really about the Internet vs. reading; but I still can’t get over the fact that people a lot of people see “education”, “learning” and “reading” on the one hand and “The Internet” on the other as fundamentally different things.

Posted by tino at 17:52 26.06.02

Allergies Schmallergies

This story in the L.A. Times (use username/password cpunks/cpunks) chronicles the growing popularity of hookahs, of all things, in hip L.A. bars and such.

Now, you can’t actually smoke these things (or anything else) in the bar or restaurant in California, because that would be just too unhealthy. Too many people are allergic to smoke, they say. Or are they?

On a recent Friday night in Pasadena, Rachel Lesky, 25, smoked a hookah for the first time at an outside table—smoking being prohibited nearly everywhere indoors—at Equator coffeehouse. Though she is allergic to cigarette smoke, the fumes from the mixed fruit tobacco didn’t bother her. “It’s really mellow and very calming,” Lesky said.

So she’s allergic, mind you, to cigarette smoke, but she’s not allergic to trendy smoke. Trendy smoke is “mellow” and “calming”.

Now, it’s certainly within Ms. Lesky’s rights — or anyone else’s — to dislike cigarette smoke, and they can dislike that smoke while liking other, trendier smoke. But I find it very hard to believe that she (or anyone else) is allergic to secondhand cigarette smoke, and at the same time finds fancy smoke “calming”.

It’s impossible to just dislike anything these days; you have to maintain that you have some catastrophic biological aversion to it. By claiming some biological basis for your preferences, you avoid having to compromise on or defend your opinions. Very clever.

I expect hookahs to be banned outright before long in California; the possibility of holes being poked in the smoke-allergy argument is too dangerous.

Posted by tino at 17:02 26.06.02
Monday 24 June 2002

Hazards of Product Placement

Minority Report, which I saw the other day, shows us something of the future of product placement. Hardly a scene in the movie doesn’t contain someone’s logo or name.

Almost all product placement is cheesy, and the product placement in Minority Report is no exception. As I understand it, product placement is supposed to show the sponsor’s product or name in the way it would be shown were the film a documentary. People in documentaries drink Pepsi, they walk past billboards, they drive certain cars; so do fictional characters on the screen.

In some cases, this works seamlessly. The classic James Bond drove an Aston-Martin; for a short time in the 1990s, he drove a BMW. He’s got to drive something. The fact that James Bond drives a car makes it cool for some people, so that’s a good product placement. (Bond’s famous vodka martinis are themselves a result of clever product placement.) In Minority Report, the animated, constantly-updating newspaper is USA Today. That’s far less distracting than if the characters had been reading The Big City Herald.

Other times, though — most times — product placement is cheesy. Long, lingering shots of Pepsi cans; AT&T logos inexplicably slapped on the bottom of telephone handsets; larger-than-in-real-life logos on nearly everything: these might pay the bills, but they do so at the expense of the Fourth Wall. They make it obvious that we’re consuming a product, not spying on the little alternative universe up on the screen. Sometimes, it’s so bad that you almost long for Archie Bunker’s blue-and-white cans of “BEER”.

Anyway. So I went to see Minority Report, and I was amazed by how much I’m advertised to during the course of the movie, and how little effort went in to disguising that fact.

In this case, at least, though, the trick backfires on some of the advertisers. Minority Report is set fifty years into the future. A major part of the plot centers around the fact that, nearly everywhere you go, your irises are scanned by gadgets in the ceiling, and you are identified. Sometimes, this is explicitly for the purpose of tracking your movements; sometimes, it’s so an advertising billboard can speak to you directly.

In one scene, our hero, Tom Cruise, walks in to a Metro station, and is greeted by a number of billboards in succession: one hawking American Express cards, another selling Guinness, etc. Back at HQ, these identifications of him are used by those chasing him to track his movements.

Let me put that more clearly: In this movie, American Express, Guinness, and other real-life companies are (admittedly, unknowingly) in league with the bad guys against the hero. And they paid Spielberg money to be in that position.

Unfortunately, this will probably result in nothing but more tightly-restrictive product placement contracts, ones that will call for a lingering product shot in a scene without any serious ethical points being made. And we’ll be wishing more and more for the return of the cans of BEER.

Posted by tino at 22:47 24.06.02
Saturday 22 June 2002


So I’ve had a few comments that I’m not writing much here lately. It’s summer, and I’m taking it easy and doing other things.

Recently, I fixed my TV reception by installing a larger antenna, a process I’ve written about here.

I have a few complaints and comments about other things that should be up here in the next week or two, too.

Posted by tino at 18:33 22.06.02