One of the best uses for enterprise instant messaging apps is to engage in a backchannel conversation while engaged in a tedious conference call. It's an excellent stage for comedy. Talking back to the screen has a long and entertaining history.
Social media, when it's not just a curated newsfeed, is a backchannel. It's a hallway conversation that comments about what's going on. Slipping advertisements into a newsfeed is what television and radio have been doing all along. It's what newspapers do. No one has really successfully monetized the backchannel.
The various social media provide backchannel tools. When a presidential election debate is on television, the backchannel is sometimes the most amusing way to watch it. The jokes are quick, in real time, and sometimes really provide the best insights into what's going on. The regular news media generally waits until the event is over before weighing in with their official analysis. But during the show, they've got their own backchannel going.
We're not really meant to see the backchannel. It's a private joke, just between us. When an attempt is made to foreground the backchannel and monetize it through advertising or some other data sale, the backchannel creates another backchannel to comment on what just happened.
The backchannel must constantly step out of the light in order to provide the proper cover for the kind of conversations it hosts. The best hope of those trying to monetize the backchannel is to create a front channel and call it a backchannel.
Of course, the best place to learn about those kind of efforts is on the backchannel–that's where you'll hear the best jokes about them…
The science press tells us that human “mini-brains” are being produced for a cost of .25 cents each. They’re made from human stem cells and are about the size of a fly’s eye. Unnamed sources close the project say that these mini-brains “fire electrical impulses and communicate via their normal networks,” which means they “show the electro-chemical activity characteristic of thinking.”
Thomas Hartund, leader of the project assures us that these mini-brains are not sentient. This electro-chemical activity is a “primitive type of thinking,” but because there’s no “input or output” the buzzing is meaningless. The advance is meant to make certain kinds of animal testing obsolete.
Science often blunders forward with no explicit sense of its embedded metaphysical framework. On the one hand, there’s an acknowledgement of the cruelty of treating animals as instruments in a scientific experiment without regard for them as life forms. On the other, there’s no real thought about what they’ve done by creating mini-brains. For the effectiveness of a test to improve, the mini-brains must be as close as possible to human brains — and to further standardize the results, hundreds of identical mini-brains can be baked in a single batch. Before we’ve even thought about it, we’ve assured ourselves that the creation and use of a mini-brain is an allowable form of instrumentality.
No input or output. Do we really know what that means? Are we so sure that sentience requires input and output? Can we even be sure that no form of input or output is occurring? Are we even concerned with testing this assertion of “no input or output?”
It’s an interesting kind of creation, a mini-brain that is close enough, but not too close to the brain of its creator. Close is better, but too close borders on evil. Too close, and memories are produced.
All those moments will be lost in time. Like tears in the rain.
There’s a beautiful interview with the musician Robyn Hitchcock in the LA Review of Books. He talks about how the music business has changed and how he’s changed his own practice. But it was this sentence that really caught my attention.
People measure their lives out in fashion and in pop culture.
There’s a contingent that believes that the spirit of rock and roll has moved to the technology business and specifically the manifestation of creativity through the inter-network of connected computers. Even some in the rock music business have held that belief.
On the one hand we have the perception of geniuses moving the focus of their attention from one thing to another. The older view is that the genie moves and occupies a new home. In this view, it’s people who are attracted by the genius of a place.
Here’s a longer piece of Hitchcock’s quote from the LARB interview. When he comes to the current generation of young people, he says they will measure their lives in units of climate change. Sometimes you choose things; sometimes things choose you.
As they say, “Nostalgia’s not what it used to be.” Pop culture is now about the same age as I am. I was born in 1953, and rock ’n’ roll seems to have bubbled into being around the same time. Not many people around now actually remember when it started.
People measure their lives out in fashion and in pop culture. They have since World War II, since there’s been no enormous eruption to shatter everything. And everything has been recorded and then re-recorded or adapted to be on a new format, so sound recordings would go from being on a 33 1/3 LP to being on a cassette to being on a CD that came from the quarter-inch tape. But it keeps getting upgraded; you can listen to it on LP again now. It’s just that there’s now so much of it — people’s lives are measured out in, “Oh yeah, do you remember the Specials?” “Oh, right.” “Cyndi Lauper.” “Oh, I lost my virginity to ‘Time After Time’.” I mean, I didn’t personally, but you know, somebody probably did. Or “I had the best hangover of my life after going to see Blur.” You see people feeling about the Stone Roses the same way that I felt about the Jefferson Airplane, and you see those people also getting older. I look around at the punks now, who are a few years younger than me, and they’re all coming up 60. There was a time when punks made me feel old, because I was such a determined Class of ’67 guy and I couldn’t really embrace ’77 fully.
It’s the currency. My parents’ generation had the war, my generation just had drugs, the next generation had irony, and the ones after that have got climate change. [laughs]
What does it mean to measure out your life in units of climate change? Before the apocalyptic moment, we get a call for absolute discipline in an effort to extend the runway, to defer the moment when the world as we know it, ends. But if you look at the way past generations have measured themselves, there was always a sense of freedom, adventure and possibility.
At first, the measure of climate change presents itself as the end of freedom. Now we have to buckle down and impose the hard austerity that will save this world of ours. Any creativity is backwards looking. But the younger generation tends to gravitate toward the post-apocalyptic moment. After things have fallen apart, a different kind of freedom and possibility emerges. A new generation gap appears, and youth forges a new measuring stick.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
I hadn't been following the major recall of Volkswagen's cars very closely. Nearly a half million cars had been recalled, and I assumed it was some safety issue. When I sat down with my newspaper and cup of coffee this morning and read the details–I almost did a spit take.
Here's how the NY Times put it:
The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars' full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. said.
There's your techno-utopia for you. It's a variation on the old saying, “once you can fake sincerity, you've really got it made.”