January 23, 2011

John Scalzi on Facebook

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:18

John Scalzi has been online for a long time. He even “handrolled his own html code and then uploaded it using UNIX commands because he was excited to have his own Web site, and back in 1993 that’s how you did it.” He’s not excited about Facebook. Not at all:

A friend of mine noted recently that I seemed a little antagonistic about Facebook recently — mostly on my Facebook account, which is some irony for you — and wanted to know what I had against it. The answer is simple enough: Facebook is what happens to the Web when you hit it with the stupid stick. It’s a dumbed-down version of the functionality the Web already had, just not all in one place at one time.

Facebook has made substandard versions of everything on the Web, bundled it together and somehow found itself being lauded for it, as if AOL, Friendster and MySpace had never managed the same slightly embarrassing trick. Facebook had the advantage of not being saddled with AOL’s last-gen baggage, Friendster’s too-early-for-its-moment-ness, or MySpace’s aggressive ugliness, and it had the largely accidental advantage of being upmarket first — it was originally limited to college students and gaining some cachet therein — before it let in the rabble. But the idea that it’s doing something better, new or innovative is largely PR and faffery. Zuckerberg is in fact not a genius; he’s an ambitious nerd who was in the right place at the right time, and was apparently willing to be a ruthless dick when he had to be. Now he has billions because of it. Good for him. It doesn’t make me like his monstrosity any better.

[. . .]

I look at Facebook and what I mostly see are a bunch of seemingly arbitrary and annoying functionality choices. A mail system that doesn’t have a Bcc function doesn’t belong in the 21st Century. Facebook shouldn’t be telling me how many “friends” I should have, especially when there’s clearly no technological impetus for it. Its grasping attempts to get its hooks into every single thing I do feels like being groped by an overly obnoxious salesman. Its general ethos that I need to get over the concept of privacy makes me want to shove a camera lens up Zuckerberg’s left nostril 24 hours a day and ask him if he’d like for his company to rethink that position. Basically there’s very little Facebook does, either as a technological platform or as a company, that doesn’t remind me that “banal mediocrity” is apparently the highest accolade one can aspire to at that particular organization.

I have a Facebook account, but only really check it every few days. Twitter, on the other hand I’ve found to be an excellent tool for a blogger: lots and lots of interesting stuff has come to my attention first through a Twitter update from journalists, bloggers, celebrities, and just ordinary folks. And it doesn’t try to worm its way into everything I do.

Some folks felt John was being too harsh on Facebook users, rather than the site itself, so he posted an update later that day:

* In comments here and elsewhere there was interpretation of me saying that Facebook wasn’t for someone like me, but it was for normal people as a) a way to signal that I am awesome and smart and also awesome, and b) normal people are stupid and suck, and that’s why they use Facebook. Yeah, no. It’s not for me because the functionality doesn’t map well for what I want to do or have for my online experience, and “normal” in this case doesn’t mean “stupid people who suck,” it means “people who don’t want to make the time/energy commitment to run their own site.”

It’s always a problem with written work . . . some people will misunderstand or misinterpret what you’re saying — deliberately or otherwise — and it’s difficult to make something so clear that it can’t be twisted. Did I say difficult? I should have said impossible.

Lawrence Solomon on the coming crash in China

Filed under: China, Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:17

If you think I’ve been too chipper and dismissive on the medium-to-long term issues that could cause a Chinese meltdown, you’ll enjoy Lawrence Solomon’s article:

In China, the resentments are palpable. Many of the 300 million people who have risen out of poverty flaunt their new wealth, often egregiously so. This is especially so with the new class of rich, all but non-existent just a few years ago, which now includes some 500,000 millionaires and 200 billionaires. Worse, the gap between rich and poor has been increasing. Ominously, the bottom billion views as illegitimate the wealth of the top 300 million.

How did so many become so rich so quickly? For the most part, through corruption. Twenty years ago, the Communist Party decided that “getting rich is glorious,” giving the green light to lawless capitalism. The rulers in China started by awarding themselves and their families the lion’s share of the state’s resources in the guise of privatization, and by selling licences and other access to the economy to cronies in exchange for bribes. The system of corruption, and the public acceptance of corruption, is now pervasive — even minor officials in government backwaters are now able to enrich themselves handsomely.

[. . .]

The corruption extends to the enforcement of regulatory standards for health and safety, which few in China trust. In recent years China has endured a tainted milk scandal and a tainted blood scandal, each of which implicated corrupt officials in widespread death and debilitation. In a devastating 2008 earthquake, some 90,000 perished, one-third of them children buried alive in 7,000 shoddily built “tofu schools” that skimped on materials. Nearby buildings for the elites that met building standards, including a school for the children of the rich, were largely unscathed.

[. . .]

China is a powder keg that could explode at any moment. And if it does explode, chaos could ensue — as the Chinese are only too well aware, the country has a brutal history of carnage at the hands of unruly mobs. For this reason, corrupt officials inside China, likely by the tens of thousands, have made contingency plans, obtaining foreign passports, buying second homes abroad, establishing their families and businesses abroad, or otherwise planning their escapes. Also for this reason, much of the middle class supports the government’s increasingly repressive efforts.

Compared to my rather milder criticisms, this is strong stuff indeed.

H/T to my former virtual landlord for the link, who referred to this as my “hobby horse in full gallop”.

Penn & Teller’s iPhone app

Filed under: Humour, Randomness, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:07

Do watch both videos. One shows the app in operation, the other shows how it works.

Detroit’s abandoned buildings as “economic disaster porn”

Filed under: Economics, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Noreen Malone wants us to sober up and “stop slobbering over abandoned cityscapes”:

When I sat down to my keyboard recently to Google the city of Detroit, the fourth hit was a site titled “the fabulous ruins of Detroit.” The site — itself a bit of a relic, with a design seemingly untouched since the 1990s — showed up in the results above the airport, above the Red Wings or the Pistons, the newspapers, or any other sort of civic utility. Certainly above anything related to the car industry, for which the word Detroit was once practically a synonym. Pictures of ruins are now the city’s most eagerly received manufactured good.

We have begun to think of Detroit as a still-life. This became clear to me recently, when the latest set of “stunning” pictures of Detroit in ruins made the rounds, taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre for a book, The Ruins of Detroit. They were much tweeted and blogged about (including by TNR’s own Jonathan Chait), as other such “ruin porn” photosets of blighted places have been, and were described variously as wonderful, as beautiful, as stunning, as shocking, as sad. They are all of those things, and so I suppose they are good art. But they are rotten photojournalism.

[. . .]

I suspect it’s not an accident that the pictures of Detroit that tend to go viral on the Web are the ones utterly devoid of people. We know intellectually that people live in Detroit (even if far fewer than before), but these pictures make us feel like they don’t. The human brain responds very differently to a picture of a person in ruin than to a building in ruin — you’d never see a magazine represent famine in Africa with a picture of arid soil. Without people in them, these pictures don’t demand as much of the viewer, exacting from her engagement only on a purely aesthetic level. You can revel in the sublimity of destruction, of abandonment, of the march of change — all without uncomfortably connecting them with their human consequences.

H/T to Felix Salmon for the link.

Powered by WordPress