Monthly Archives: February 2008

A new way to watch the telly

The experiment that produced Speechification – which is a sort of diagonal slice through the output of Radio 4 and various other speech radio stations delivered as a podcast – has brought forth Watchification!

At Watchification, Russell, Roo and myself, plus a small army of contributors (including my wife, who is, like, a real TV critic), are making regular selections from the BBC’s new streaming iPlayer. By the wonders of ‘embedding’ you can watch the video right there at Watchification, without having to beetle off back to the Beeb.

This is a bit of a breakthrough, since it allows us to ‘curate’ the BBC’s broadcast content in a way that’s never been possible before – and certainly not with the non-streaming, Windows-only iPlayer that launched at Xmas. It’s like a ‘best of’ for your telly. What I find exciting about it is that we’re playing with proper, grown-up media and making a contribution that feels like it might be the beginning of something: a new kind of television ecology that’s more distributed and less monolothic.

So tune in daily, subscribe to the feed (when we switch it on), follow us on Twitter and tell your friends.

The organic backlash starts here

Delia’s on the money. Let’s dump the backward, unproductive organic bullshit and get back to growth and progress.

On daytime TV and down on the farm, the food and agriculture wars are getting interesting again. The extremes are being tested. Rapacious techno-capitalist agrobusiness has been shown to be predatory and short-sighted. Likewise, dreamy organic pastoralism has been shown to be superstitious and narrow-minded. Some kind of consensus may emerge. We need one. How are we going to feed billions under this most fragile curve of blue sky without some kind of agreement?

In the pop media the old school is mounting a quite entertaining backlash. Delia’s in the front-line (she’s channelling others of her era: the galloping gourmet and Fanny Craddock are coming through loud-and-clear). She’s putting into words a decade’s pent-up objections to those smug, wealthy food-bores with their herb gardens and their rare breeds and their bloody Magimixes. We may have seen high water for the foodies and their unbending authenticity. Crack open that tin of pineapple chunks, friend.

And now the Spring’s coming so the action’s moving back to the fields (it’s been a bit nippy for crop vandalism). The anti-GM crowd are pulling on their ‘funny’ bunny suits ready for action and they’ve apparently been perfecting their methods.

Why is it so dispiriting to contemplate the waves of well-meaning greens swarming over fences into the fields again? Shouldn’t we be glad these kids have got the balls and the energy to take on the evil agrobiz and the government? Not really. Because they’re doing all this in the name of that most timid and constipated of social policy inventions: the precautionary principle.

Over-use of the precautionary principle is the mark of a society that doubts its ability to transcend its conditions, make progress, break through. It’s a kind of constitutional paralysis. Boldness, experiment, risk: all out the window. We need to push back, get the foot back on the accelerator. If we don’t, the economies where the only principle at work is the principle of ‘fuck you’ are going to be in charge and then it won’t matter which principle we apply. We’ll be remembered as the crowd of fussy eaters who used to live on that little island in the North Atlantic.

I’d like to see a counter-movement (perhaps wearing ‘funny’ tweedy caps or something), a pro-science, pro-progress group ready to get out into the weedy, under-nourished plots of the organic establishment and start digging up their crops. I’d like to see piles of pointlessly expensive organic veg liberated and dumped on the steps of Number 10 – with some kind of clever PR twist to get it in the papers, obviously. Maybe we could even mount a programme of stealth weed killer application – not a lot, just enough to completely freak out Farmer Giles when he brings in the gang only to find there’s no weeds to weed.

Symmetry violated

Bad-men.jpg

Saw this book yesterday. Struck me straight away that the positioning of those three characters is odd. The spacing, I mean. I’m going to make a small bet that the first version of the cover spaced Bin-Laden, Bush and Blair evenly across the top of the pocket but that everyone at the meeting objected to it. I can imagine the discomfort it would have produced in the studio.

People wouldn’t have been able to place it to begin with but they’d all have felt the relief once that little gap was opened up. Even spacing may have been neater but it suggested equivalence. Grouping Bush and Blair together does enough to defuse that and neutralise the queasy feeling I’m sure the original produced. The message now is: “they’re all bad but one of them is really bad”.

Thinking about the public domain

So what I want to do is put up a blog celebrating the public domain. Not public domain in the narrow, literal sense – stuff that’s not protected by copyright – but in a broader sense. ‘Public domain’ may actually be the wrong phrase here, since people will probably just think: “Ah, free stuff!”. There are other phrases: ‘public realm’, ‘culture’, ‘society’. None of them reallly does it for me though. The public domain is the shared space where societies and cultures make meaning. But that’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? I wrote an essay a while ago for the BBC Trust (here’s a PDF).

I think it sits between disciplines: there’s some economics (production and distribution methods, economic models), some sociology (how groups create shared meaning), some history etc. etc. In the essay I touch down (in a not-at-all systematic way) in ancient Greece, Tin Pan Alley and Renaissance Florence: moments when the public domain was robust and productive. I want the blog to record moments like these: to catalogue the conditions that produce a healthy public domain. Read it if you get a minute. Let me know what you think.

And by the way, I need a name for the blog. Got any ideas?

Tories reassuringly stupid and short-sighted

Aldenham Conservatives

I just wanted to share this piece of elemental stupidity with you. I live in the outer suburbs of London, in a green belt stronghold of the Tories called Radlett. The cutting comes from one of their leaflets. I suppose I could provide some kind of commentary or I could just leave you to treasure the nastiness and pointlessness of this little announcement on your own. I’m practically speechless.

So I’m going to leave it to you to figure out where the evicted kids are meant to go instead of the park, what kind of alternative provision the Tories are making for their amusement and what plans they’ve made to prevent antisocial behaviour in the future.

Get me my agent!

I was talking about this the other day with Alison Hall. Alison’s a top flight head hunter-type who’s got a consultancy called Seven Arts. She disagrees. She reckons agents are sleazy and that clients wouldn’t use them. The thing is, I have my talents (honestly) and they are various. I’ve also got decades of life experience and loads of very specific skills. I’m multi-faceted you see. Unless we’ve had cause to work together, though, you have no idea what I can do.

For instance, I can state the total cost of a job during a pitch without laughing, proofread a Powerpoint presentation on a moving escalator, get a smile from the snootiest Venture Capital receptionist in Mayfair and divine the secret purpose of a digital strategy using only instant coffee and a pencil. I’m like a God! So all I need is an agent.

The conventional recruitment/placement process blocks most of the important information. It’s staggeringly inefficient. Even LinkedIn, Facebook and the rest are weak: they apply powerful network effects but essentially commoditise me, reduce me to a profile, a node (don’t forget to friend me though, will you: Facebook, LinkedIn). If there was a culture of ‘representation’ in this business (as there is in the arts and in sport), I could just go out and hire an agent who could get on the phone and tell the world about my remarkable mix of charm and perspicacity; devastating analysis and sparkling creativity. But where are the agents for digital types like me? There are none.

Odds that Conway was the only one: close to zero

Here’s a quick one. Let’s have a sweepstake. In the next couple of weeks, as the tips and leaks start to flow in, how many MPs will be busted for paying their relatives to do nothing? Nearest to the actual number wins… er… a slightly cleaner legislature.

Seriously, Conway got the boot (a much tougher sanction than any of the various donation monkeys received, remember) so we have a precedent. If it turns out that there are ten or twenty (fifty?) MPs currently employing invisible researchers and secretaries that’s a potential legislative apocalypse: Westminster could be on the brink of losing five percent of it elected representatives.

I think I now understand why it took Cameron a day to think about it. Dave’s thought process: “everybody knows that lots of MPs do this. Over 70 Tory MPs employ relatives. We could be in for a flood of bent MPs. I could lose dozens of loyal troops. Oh. My. God”.