Listen up forefathers

A recent iPad Air 2 commercial (“Change is in the air”) features
a song by The Orwells called “Who Needs You” with the following lyrics. The
italicized portions are the lines actually used in the spot:

You better toss your bullets
You better hide your guns
You better help the children
Let ’em have some fun

You better count your blessings
Kiss mom and pa
You better burn that flag
Cause it ain’t against the law!

You better pledge your
allegiance

You’re not the only
one

Listen up forefathers
I’m not your son
You better save the country
You better pass the flask
You better join the army
I said: “no thank you, dear old uncle Sam!”

You better toss your bullets
You better hide your guns
You better help the children
Let them have some fun, some fun, some fun!

On its own terms I find the social commentary of the song a
bit murky. It is hard for me, old fogey that I am, to distinguish between the
things “you better” do that are meant ironically and the things you better do
that are serious, if there are any such. The song seems to stretch for a Sixties-style
oppositional sensibility without any clear sense of what to be opposed to. Is
it a sly lament about alienation and not feeling needed, or a declaration of
complete autonomy? Is the lesson that helping the children is fun? Maybe hipper
and younger people at Apple caught the drift when they edited the song in such
a way as to suggest that having “some fun” really is the key point. But even
then, I wonder what fun is it to burn the flag if it is not against the law?
And who cares if you don’t join the army when there is no draft?

Still, the use of the song by a huge and profitable
corporation like Apple strikes me as (ahem) Orwellian, if in a
relatively familiar big-business-cutting-its-own-throat sort of way. Who needs
you? Apple needs you, to be the success it is, a success that still seems to be
riding very much on the coattails of its forefather, Steve Jobs. And indeed,
most of the images in the ad suggest that you need people in order to have fun
with your iPad, or indeed help “the children” with it.

But the inner contradictions are not the only problem. Apple
has been able to have its success in this country precisely because it is a
child of its forefathers. The Constitution of the United States, as it serves
to protect private property, provide the rule of law, protect trade and
intellectual property, promote domestic tranquility, and provide for the common
defense, is the necessary condition of Apple’s existence, let alone of its
managers’, shareholders’, and workers’ ability to profit from its existence.
(The same might be said of the suburban-kid Orwells, of course.) If the changes
in the air are based on a repudiation of the foundations secured by our
forefathers, Apple will not long thrive. Go have some fun then.

Apple wants to be in our heads, and is pretty good at
getting there. And this dismissive — dare I say unpatriotic — attitude is the
message they choose to link with their product. There’s no arrogance like big-business
tech arrogance, no blindness like that of the West-coast masters of the
universe who think that the world was created at the beginning of the last
product cycle.

The Revolution Will Be Advertisement

More on augmented reality, from Jeff Bercovici at Forbes:

So far, Google has only scratched the surface of the advertising potential here. That makes sense: How many times in your life are you actually going to point your phone at an ad?
Google glasses could change all that. Now the user doesn’t have to point his phone at an ad to activate the AR [augmented reality] layer — he only has to look at it. Combine that with location data and all the other rich targeting information Google has at its disposal and you’re talking about potentially the most valuable advertising medium ever invented.
Imagine it: You’re walking home from work. You put on your Google Glasses to check your email and notice that the sushi place across the street, where you frequently go for takeout, is highlighted. In the window is a glowing icon that lets you know there’s a discount available. A tiny tilt of your head brings up the offer: 40% off any purchase plus free edamame. With a bit more tilting and nodding, you place your order. By the time you cross the street, it’s ready for you. Would you like to pay via Google Wallet?
You nod.
In unrelated news, Ben Goertzel thinks that corporations “are directly and clearly opposed to the Singularity.”

Ray Kurzweil for Leader of Antiquated Tribal Political Council (a.k.a. Kurzweil for President)

Even transhumanists shudder to hear Ray Kurzweil described as their leader. But he’s running for president!

Well — not really. As my friend Aaron Saenz reports at the Singularity Hub, Kurzweil has been nominated for Americans Elect, an online organization attempting to draft a third-party candidate for the 2012 presidential election. He looks to be one of maybe a couple hundred candidates listed, and currently has 25 supporters (their top listed candidate is, shockingly, Ron Paul, with 1,746 supporters).


Saenz’s post has the details, among which is that apparently the Singularity Hub itself was involved in nominating Kurzweil, and Kurzweil may not even know about it himself yet. Looks like Internet-Kurzweil just became self-aware.

Of course, it’s a little strange for either Kurzweil or his followers to be getting involved in such an arbitrary, outmoded human institution as the American electoral process. After all, as Kurzweil wrote in The Singularity Is Near, “A charismatic leader is part of the old model. That’s something we want to get away from.” But I guess you’ve got to join the system to beat it.

Speaking of selling out going mainstream, where else did Ray Kurzweil appear recently but in the Best Buy Super Bowl ad:

ad (non)sense

Micah White is upset:

The vast library that is the internet is flooded with so many advertisements that many people claim not to notice them anymore. Ads line the top and right of the search results page, are displayed next to emails in Gmail, on our favourite blog, and beside reportage of anti-corporate struggles. As evidenced by the tragic reality that most people can’t tell the difference between ads and content any more, this commercial barrage is having a cultural impact.

The danger of allowing an advertising company to control the index of human knowledge is too obvious to ignore. The universal index is the shared heritage of humanity. It ought to be owned by us all. No corporation or nation has the right to privatise the index, commercialise the index, censor what they do not like or auction search ranking to the highest bidder. We have public libraries. We need a public search engine.

Well . . . if advertising is the problem, then “a public search engine” won’t solve the problem, will it? We wouldn’t see ads while searching, but we would see them as soon as we arrived at the pages we were searching for. Moreover, if it’s wrong to have ads next to reportage online, then presumably it’s wrong to have ads in the paper version of the Guardian, in magazines, and on television as well.

What exactly is White asking for? A universal prohibition on internet advertising, brokered by the U.N.? An international tribunal to prosecute Google for unauthorized indexing? Yes, it would have been wonderful, as Robert Darnton has pointed out, if universities and libraries had banded together to do the information-indexing and book-digitizing that Google has done — but they didn’t.

So here we are, with an unprecedented and astonishing amount of information at our fingertips, and we’re going to complain about ads? — the same ads that give us television, newspapers, and magazines? Please. Why not just come right out and say “I want everything and I want it for free”?

Google gives us plenty to complain about; I have deeply mixed feelings about the company myself, as I have often articulated. But the presence of online ads ought to be the least of our worries.
(Update: here’s Darnton on the possibility of creating a national digital library.)

In texted time

Three items today relevant to recent posts. First, following up on our series of posts on lifelogging, CNN has a very cursory but still-worth-excerpting article called “Do digital diaries mess up your brain?“:

But recording everything you do takes people out of the “here and now,” psychologists say. Constant documenting may make people less thoughtful about and engaged in what they’re doing because they are focused on the recording process, Schwartz said.
Moreover, if these documented memories are available to others, people may actually do things differently.
“If we have experiences with an eye toward the expectation that in the next five minutes, we’re going to tweet them, we may choose difference experiences to have, ones that we can talk about rather than ones we have an interest in,” he said.
Similarly, a 1993 study led by researchers at the University of Virginia found that undergraduate students who were asked to think about their reasons for choosing posters chose differently and reported less satisfaction than those who did not have to justify their choices.
The opportunity to contact many people at once seems to encourage compartmentalization, as people try to establish different kinds of romantic attachments with different people at the same time.
It seems to encourage an attitude of contingency. If you have several options perpetually before you, and if technology makes it easier to jump from one option to another, you will naturally adopt the mentality of a comparison shopper.
It also seems to encourage an atmosphere of general disenchantment. Across the centuries the moral systems from medieval chivalry to Bruce Springsteen love anthems have worked the same basic way. They take immediate selfish interests and enmesh them within transcendent, spiritual meanings. Love becomes a holy cause, an act of self-sacrifice and selfless commitment.
But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination. A coat of ironic detachment is required for anyone who hopes to withstand the brutal feedback of the marketplace. In today’s world, the choice of a Prius can be a more sanctified act that the choice of an erotic partner.
Finally, Mariah Carey aside, can you believe this is intended as an advertisement for Blackberrys?: