Welcome to a week in which it appears that literally everything that happens in the world now is the news equivalent of 'The Dress' or 'Yanny vs Laurel' - EVERYTHING IS BINARY AND NOTHING EXISTS BETWEEN TWO EXTREMES.
Or at least it is if you live on the internet - so, er, why not stop it? After you've choked down this week's particularly appetising link granola, that is - please, though, do chew as I don't want to be responsible for any perforated infobowels amongst you (NB - I appreciate that there may be a few new people reading this this week due to a nice recommendation from Jay Owens; to those of you who've not experienced it before, I'm afraid that Curios is basically sort of all like this, so if the overwritten prose is an issue I'd probably step away now before your confusion and disdain mature into actual hatred. Anyway, the first section below is for people who have to care about advermarketingpr, so please feel free to skip that if that doesn't apply to you; oh, and please don't feel you need to click all the links. Though know that if you DO I will love you forever).
Anyway! Welcome one, welcome all into my enticingly-adorned tent of web-related fun! Except increasingly it's not fun at all! It's nervous and anxious and all-consuming and makes us ill! Wevs, THIS IS WEB CURIOS, CLICK THE LINKS.
Photo by ME. This was parked outside the office where I sometimes work yesterday - it is not, apparently, a joke.
FIRST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MUSICAL SELECTIONS IS A BIT OF AN EMOTIONAL ONE FOR ME AS IT’S MY MATE’S KID’S FIRST ALBUM AND SHE IS 18 FFS THIS IS MENTAL I REMEMBER MEETING HER WHEN SHE WAS ABOUT A WEEK OLD AND GIVING HER A TEDDY BEAR CALLED ‘MR SCHNOOKUMS’ AND NOW SHE’S GONE AND MADE A GENUINELY EXCELLENT ELECTRO-Y, BEATS-Y ALBUM AND ANYWAY SHE’S CALLED IZZY FIELDING AND I PROMISE YOU THIS IS MUCH, MUCH BETTER THAN IT OUGHT TO BE SO GIVE IT A LISTEN!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD BE GENUINELY FASCINATED TO HEAR EXACTLY HOW FACEBOOK ATTEMPTS TO SPIN THE ADDITION OF A ‘PETITIONS’ FUNCTION AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A BRAND NEW TUMOUR ON THE ALREADY UNPLEASANTLY LUMPY BODY OF THE BODY POLITIC:
- Facebook Petitions: Sorry, not petitions - COMMUNITY ACTIONS! That...that sounds worse, doesn’t it, in a way, like some sort of horrible, double-figure-IQ pitchfork mob. Which, funnily enough, is almost certainly what this will end up being! Only launched in the US in the moment, so there’s an outside chance that the platform will see the error of its ways and mothball this before it spreads (let’s be honest, though, it’s not exactly a platform with a great track record on knowing when it’s dropped a massive, society-fcuking ricket). Anyway, the detail: “Users can add a title, description, and image to their Community Action, and tag relevant government agencies and officials who’ll be notified. The goal is to make the Community Action go viral and get people to hit the “Support” button. Community Actions have their own discussion feed where people can leave comments, create fundraisers, and organize Facebook Events or Call Your Rep campaigns. Facebook displays the numbers of supporters behind a Community Action, but you’ll only be able to see the names of those you’re friends with or that are Pages or public figures.” Take a moment to parse those sentences - a system which gives any idiot, or bunch of idiots, the tools to actively bother and harass government institutions and employees, all allied to the now-infamous ‘reasoned and well-informed debate’ that Facebook fosters every single day amongst its billions of users. Take a moment to read the whole piece, which does a reasonable job of outlining all the many, many ways in which this is, at best, a potentially tricky move, and then think about exactly how much this suggests Facebook has learnt from the past 12 months.
- More Accountability for FB Pages: Another one of those updates that won’t affect you, obviously, but you probably ought to know about just in case - this is basically going to start telling Page owners if their content gets removed or depreciated, and why, which seems like a sensible move. Here’s the blurb to save you a click: “people who manage a Page will see a new tab that shows when we remove certain content that goes against our Community Standards and when we reduce the distribution of posts that have been rated false by a third-party fact-checker. Second, we are updating our recidivism policy to better prevent those who have had Pages removed for violating our Community Standards from using duplicate Pages to continue the same activity. We’ll begin enforcing this policy in the weeks ahead.” That makes everything better, doesn’t it? Eh? Oh.
- Facebook Introduces Kite Mark-type Thing For Marketing Partners: Long story short, FB’s introducing a sort of quality certification for third party businesses that work closely with it on the advermarketingpr side, a designation which “recognizes companies offering proprietary solutions that can help Facebook advertisers review content options and control where their ads will appear.” God, I don’t care about this at all.
- Facebook Testing Option To Add Events to Stories: Hugely useful if you’re trying to shill an event using influencer endorsement. Or, er, I don’t know, invite people to your birthday party or something.
- Whatsapp Business Gets Better Customer Service Features on Desktop: This basically brings a whole host of features that were already available to Whatsapp Business users on mobile to the desktop / web experience, such as ‘Quick Replies’, chat filters and labels for users. I think Whatsapp is still hugely underexploited by most businesses for this sort of thing - updates like this might go some way towards changing that. Also, well done Whatsapp (ok, Facebook) for realising and acting on the fact that switching between your mobile and your desktop whilst working is, quite honestly, the greatest travail of the modern age and doing something about it.
- Some Largely Tedious LinkedIn Updates: As part of last year’s thrilling updates to LinkedIn Pages, this latest round up tweaks makes it easier for users to keep up with information from Company Pages - so you can now get information about a company’s staff more easily, and (this is exciting!) find out the most relevant hashtags for any business on their LinkedIn Page (I know, I’m tumescent at this too!). This is, in the main, individual-focused rather than business, but there is probably something you can do with the hashtag stuff if you care about LinkedIn and the dreadful people that spend time on there.
- Google Launching Political Ads Centre: So, India is having a general election later this year (April/May, to be precise) - in advance of what one can confidently predict is going to be a pretty spectacular shtshow of digital misinformation, Google is following in Facebook and Twitter’s footsteps by releasing information about political ads bought on its platform, showing who paid for them and how much was spent - this will inevitably be rolled out globally in due course, so, you know, BE READY.
- Social Media Guidelines For Influencers: So this week a bunch of famouses admitted what we’d all known forever - to whit, they were getting paid by brands to shill tat for them on the socials without going through the tedious and unappealing process of actually disclosing the payment. But! Now they are NEVER GOING TO DO THAT AGAIN, and they are pledging to abide by these guidelines instead! Once again, I feel the need to point out that none of this stuff will be relevant to you, you lovely, ASA-compliant advermarketingprdrones, but, just in case you’re wondering, the meatiest bit of this is as follows: “unclear use of hashtags, for example: using #sp; #spon; #client; #collab; etc; adding #ad directly after the name of the brand or business (for example #[BRANDNAME]ad); when the disclosure (for example #ad, #advert) is not prominent because it is hidden at the end of or among other text and/or hashtags”. Interestingly there doesn’t appear to mention the practice of social media agencies using multiple meme-type accounts that they own to boost posts featuring brands that are paying them without actually disclosing that payment - I do wonder what The Social Chain make of all this.
- Google Advanced Search Operators: A useful, up-to-date and pleasingly practical guide to all the stuff you can do using Google search. Read it - as I never tire of pointing out to people (they tire of it quite a lot, though), my entire working life is built on being marginally better at using Google than most of the people who employ me. You too could be a shiftless webmong with no drive, ambition or even ‘career’ to speak of!
- James Whatley’s 2019 Trend Gubbins: James Whatley and Marshall Manson used to write Ogilvy’s annual trend report - which I featured on here a couple of times, as it was less eye-gougingly stupid than most trend things written by agencies. They have now both left the agency, but James has written up some of his trend predictions/observations on LinkedIn (yes, I know, he’s a thought leader!) - this links to the first of them (you can find the others at the bottom). Covering Stories, Audio and Regulation, and a lot of other stuff besides, this is sensible and well-informed stuff.
By Shaun Tan
NEXT UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE A PRETTY INCREDIBLE MIX WHICH COLLATES THE SOUNDS OF 2017 IN A FRANKLY ASTONISHING COLLAGE!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT IT WOULD BE AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE QUALITY OF REPORTING WERE NEWS ORGANISATIONS TO BAN THEIR REPORTERS FROM USING TWITTER FOR A WEEK, PT.1:
- Dreams: So it’s 7:48am as I type this, and as per usual I have opened up 40-odd tabs to write this next section, and clicked on ‘Dreams’ to remind me of what it was and BLIMEY is it a somewhat psychedelic kick in the frontal cortex with which to start the day. A new webproject by Web Curios favourites the National Film Board of Canada, Dream is basically a...no, hang on, here: “Dream is built on a custom audio-visual synthesizer coded by Edouard Benoit-Lanctôt. You can navigate the animated dreamscapes created by artists Caroline Robert and Vincent Lambert. You might also stumble across the illustrated dreams of people who participated in our live draw-in events. Each visual memory is there to be morphed and transformed into another memory, creating a unique journey for each dreamer. To interact with Dream, you can click anywhere, drag, release or even do nothing. As in dreamtime, you cannot “control” the dream but you can influence its content.” This is VERY TRIPPY, but also rather beautiful - that said, I can honestly say that my dreams are NEVER like this.
- 40075: I think that this is a student project by a class at France’s Gobelins school of digital design - regardless, it’s a beautiful little website that invites you to explore it to discover a selection of tracks by six different artists; it’s simple, but the visuals are lovely and it helps that I genuinely like all of the music they’ve picked. Have a play.
- What Do You Genuinely Not Understand?: A prime example of why Reddit is a brilliant website - this thread features a load of people admitting to things that they simply don’t get (what would yours be? Mine range from ‘anything in physics beyond GCSE level’ and ‘why people buy magazines about soap operas that tell them exactly what is going to happen in the soap operas they are about to watch that week’, fyi), with often INCREDIBLY helpful explainers posted by other Reddit users in the comments. Honestly, this is a SUPERB resource for finding out in simple terms stuff like ‘how wifi actually works’ or, er, ‘electricity’. It’s what ‘Explain it like I’m 5’ ought to be, but most of the time isn’t, and it has the added bonus of making you think you’re less stupid than you in fact are for 5 minutes or so.
- Hang The DJ: Communal playlist apps aren’t new, but this is a neat twist on the genre. You hook up your (paid only) Spotify account and the software lets you (and anyone else who logs into your playlist session) add songs, upvote them, downvote them, etc, for the classic ‘illusion of democracy’ party vibe. The clever bit is its use of software to then carry on playing music that feels like the rest of the playlist when people get too drunk / bored to bother adding new stuff - obviously there’s no guarantee that the AI (not actually AI) will do a decent job, but the idea is a decent one.
- Who Owns England?: Let’s be clear - the answer to this question is unlikely to make you feel good about the world (unless said answer happens to be ‘you’). The orange bits on this map are unregistered land - as the site points out, usually, this land has been owned by the same family or institution for many decades. There are some obvious bits - roads, for example, are unregistered but probably owned by the Highways Agency - but having a bit of a zoom around makes you realise how much territory in this country is in the hands of the Church or the Crown or the aristos, in whose hands it’s been forever and who have never had to register it because it’s never been sold. Want some light class-based anger on a Friday (or whenever you happen to be reading this)? You’re welcome!
- The Map of the Brain: Friend of Web Curios and oddball digital artist Shardcore was recently commissioned by the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre to do an art about the brain - he turned it into a 17C-style map, which “uses a wide range of conceptual groupings to indicate the functions of the different areas, highlighting the metaphorical chasm between our linguistically bound representations of the mind and the actual functions of the kilo or so of fatty tissue which sits inside our skulls.” What this means in practice is he’s made this LOVELY old-school map featuring a whole load of things which map onto the way we understand different bits of our brain to work - I can’t stress enough how lovely this is, and, whilst the website is a nice way of exploring it, the real draw here is the limited edition run of prints he’s doing of this. Honestly, I could stare at this for HOURS (and no, he’s not paying me for this endorsement, the tight-fisted, silver-fingernailed pervert).
- The Paris Dakar Rally: Or, more accurately, photographs of said rally. You like dusty cars and sand dunes? OH GOOD!
- The Fable Cottage: Such a nice idea, this - Fable Cottage presents a variety of fairy tales, translated by native language speakers into a variety of languages, with the idea that you can use familiar stories in a foreign tongue to help you learn. The site covers English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, and features 5 or 6 tales in each language (so far - they plan on adding lots more), and the functionality is lovely - you can listen to an audio recording of each story as you read along, and each paragraph can be toggled between languages independently so it’s easy to look up words and meanings if you get stuck. This is ace.
- Uncover Harassers: A Chrome extension which will highlight the names of any known harassers on any webpage you navigate to. Which on the one hand is a sort-of nice idea in terms of being able to have a quick and easy visual guide to when a site or individual is discussing someone known to be a sexpest or worse, but on the other is the sort of slightly problematic mob rule-type thing that characterises the very worst of modern online discourse. At what point does whoever updates the script decide that someone is a ‘verified’ harasser? Still, given the fact that we’ve all collectively decided as a society that nuance is hard and we probably shouldn’t bother with it as a result, this is fine!
- Shodan Safari: This is a link to a TechCrunch article, but I promise it’s interesting - the ‘Shodan Safari’ is the name given to the game that hackery-types play using Shodan, the search engine that surfaces internet-connected devices, in which they find the worst examples of insecure Internet-of-Things-type stuff. Scroll through these and realise that a) wow, there is a LOT of stuff connected to the internet that really doesn’t need to be; b) wow, lots of this stuff is really, really vulnerable; and c) wow, you really, really oughtn’t link your entire physical life to the web unless you know what you’re doing as regards security. On the other hand, though, just scroll through the list and imagine the sort of excellent gentle terrorism you could undertake by remotely taking control of, say, the video displays at Phil’s BBQ Restaurant in Texas and making them all play the party political broadcast for the Natural Law Party on a loop.
- Intern Magazine: An online magazine aimed at “the creative youth, empowering the next generation through content, support and training”. Which, obviously, is appalling, meaningless spaff - I thought everyone was creative these days?! And STOP SAYING CONTENT - but on the other hand might be genuinely useful to any CHILDREN reading this; there’s a lot of genuinely useful practical advice about legal stuff and how to charge for your work, and profiles of interesting (and, to me at least, largely unknown) creatives, and it’s pleasingly non-US centric too. Artydesigny youngsters (or, you know, anyone really, AGE IS JUST A NUMBER oh god I am 40 this year please god take this withered husk to your welcoming bosom and cease the fleshy torment of decay).
- The Baccy Papers: Now this is an interesting repository of stuff - “An archive of 14 million documents created by tobacco companies about their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, scientific research and political activities, hosted by the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management.” Honestly, as a means of examining exactly how an industry did its dirty work over a 60-odd year period, this is unparalleled - you’ve got internal positioning documents and web materials and basically every bit of propaganda churned out by Big Tobacco in the latter part of the 20th Century. Students of communications and business will find a lot of interesting stuff here - as will any of the rest of you who work for...er…ethically questionable clients and who want a useful primer on how The Bad People go about their Bad Business.
- Magnet Fingers: Charlotte Dan has magnets in her fingertips. This is her little FAQ site, detailing the why and how and what of the project, and as with all homebrew cyborgery (yes, that’s right, CYBORGERY. It is now a word, fcuk off) it’s simultaneously deeply queasy and quite amazing. Don’t try this at home, kids.
- The 2018 Ocean Art Photography Contest: It seems that there is now a different underwater photography award announced each month - still, I personally LOVE pictures of weird fish and creepy marinescapes, so I’m quite happy to keep featuring them. This is a typically excellent selection, with the added bonus of each being accompanied by a short ‘story of the shot’ explanation of when and how it was taken - ctrl+f “face to face” for my favourite, but, honestly, there’s not a duff shot in here.
- Pokemon Shirts: There was a time when wearing an actual dress shirt which had tiny Pokemon integrated into the fabric design would have guaranteed you being the butt of some spirited ribbing, but now, as we live in an era in which even elected political representatives have grown up with videogames as a significant part of their lives and culture, you can probably get away with it. Is that a good thing? Is it? I mean, yes, probably it is, fine, but know that I will still judge you if I see that what looks like a sober pointillist pattern on your collar is in fact a tesselated infinity of Magikarp. This is all in Japanese, by the way, meaning I have literally NO idea whether it’s possible to get your hands on this stuff internationally - knowing the global nostalgiaobsession with Pokemon, though, I don’t doubt that someone enterprising is making a killing with these on eBay.
- Pocket Sprite: Do you want a miniature handheld console running emulation software which can play Gameboy, Game Gear and Master System titles on a piece of kit which you can also use as a keyring? Do you? WHY? Honestly, I think that this is so small as to be unplayable, but the kit does at least seem solid, and the open source nature of the whole thing is interesting and possibly appealing if you’re feeling a bit hackerish. Trust me, though, nothing you play on this will be as good as stuff you can now get on your phone.
- Swish: Swsh describes itself as a ‘social video maker’, and looks like a very, very useful thing indeed if you’re the sort of person who makes a lot of CONTENT for your SOCIALS; basically it’s a suite of tools for video editing, all in one place, which also does all the tedious gubbins of resizing and reframing content for different formats - so you can quickly make stuff that will work on Insta, Stories and Twitter, say, without having to do three separate edits. No word on how good the quality of the output is, but, regardless, this is the future and if you make a living doing video editing for this sort of thing then, well, good luck mate.
- Mathematical and Puzzle Fonts: Fonts that are also mathematical puzzles. I honestly felt so, so stupid looking at many of these that I am including them almost solely so that you will (hopefully) feel the same.
- Console Variations: Do YOU collect videogame and videogame systems? Would YOU like a website dedicated to tracking all the different variations of various consoles throughout history that were ever released? GREAT! You’ll love this site, in that case, which is an insanely comprehensive guide to every single games machine ever released (and it’s about to get a shiny new relaunch too, apparently, should you care about such aesthetic considerations).
- Liquid Cats: So as far as I can tell from other people’s writeups, this is a Twitter thread in which a bunch of people and Japan discuss the age-old internet question “are cats liquid?” and post photos of cats in various poses to prove their point. This is, basically, just a massive thread of floppy felines with the added bonus of the weird formality of the Japanese language - I recommend translating the odd tweet, as the images are improved immeasurably by such sober captions as “Only the one with a high viscosity was found, but we support verification”.
- InCoWriMo: You all know National Novel Writing Month, in which people around the world talk incessantly about the fact they are spending 31 days writing an unpublishable novel that noone will ever, ever read; this is a better, more socially-acceptable variant on that, in which participants will commit to writing one handwritten letter a day throughout the month of February. Think how HAPPY it would make people to receive a bunch of actual proper letters - even if you don’t commit to the whole thing, this is an excellent reason to dust off your Basildon Bond (just typing that made me realise that it’s entirely possible that noone under 30 has the faintest idea of what I mean by that, ffs) and write something to an old friend or relative. GO ON DO SOMETHING NICE FOR A CHANGE INSTEAD OF JUST FCUKING POSTING PHOTOS OF YOUR FCUKING AMAZING PLASTIC LIFE ON INSTAGRAM YOU PATHETIC WHELP.
- The Rappers’ Vocab Project, Updated: The Pudding has updated its iconic ‘Rappers’ Vocabulary Analysis’ thingy with a whole bunch of new artists, many of whom are from the ‘Soundcloud Rap’ end of the hiphop spectrum; feel free to use this as proof of why your younger colleagues’ favourite facially-tattood Xanax-guzzler is in fact a talentless hack compared to THE GOOD OLD DAYS.
- Punpedia: An exhaustive - and at times exhausting - guide to all the possible puns you might ever want to make, organised by theme. You want hundreds of potential balloon-related puns? WHY??? Still, you can find them here. Now I think of it, this is an absolute GOLDMINE for crap PR ideas which need a punny title - or, frankly, for any TV development executives who need a ‘funny’ title from which to work back and extrapolate a format (we all know that this is how it works).
By Jolene Lai
NEXT, TRY THIS SELECTION OF ELECTRO-PSYCHEDELIA WHICH I FOUND ON REDDIT AND IS SURPRISINGLY RATHER GOOD!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT IT WOULD BE AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE QUALITY OF REPORTING WERE NEWS ORGANISATIONS TO BAN THEIR REPORTERS FROM USING TWITTER FOR A WEEK, PT.2:
- Psychological ‘Tricks’: Another stupendous Reddit thread, this one listing all the great techniques people have for manipulating each other. Some of these are genuinely amazing and practically witchcraft - honestly, I read this one and did a proper forehead slap of astonishment: “To avoid workplace drama and be well liked is to just compliment people behind their back.” GENIUS. So, er, know that if you ever hear that I’ve said something nice about you I am doing it solely for the long-term social benefit!
- Qlearly: This is a rather nice idea; Qlearly is a Chrome extension which presents a customisable selection of bookmarks, arranged thematically per your preferences, each time you open a new tab; I’ve been using it this week and if, like me, you’re a pathetic creature of habit who looks at the same 60 websites in the same order every day (honest, I’m really fun at parties, promise), it’s will save you literally MINUTES each week.
- 1923 Zine: You may have read that this year a whole bunch of previously copyrighted materials from 1923 became public domain for the first time - this is a truly lovely project by Parker Higgins, who’s crowdfunded a run of monthly zines which will present a different selection of old, perhaps forgotten, culture from the past in each issue. Each one will highlight a work, an artist, a genre, or a medium, and will be sent to a limited list of subscribers - this is such a nice idea, and though all the physical subscriptions are gone, you can still get 12 PDF editions for under a tenner which strikes me as a pretty good deal.
- Seat 61: This is a VERY obsessional but equally hugely useful site, presenting incredibly comprehensive information about train travel all over the world. You want to know how to do a train journey from, say, Stevenage to Magnetogorsk? This site has you covered. Honestly, there is seemingly NOTHING it doesn’t know about travelling by train - the fact it’s maintained by just one bloke is slightly intimidating, frankly.
- Faces of Naples: Sam Gregg is a photographer who spend several years living in Naples and photographing its residents. As he puts it, he wanted to show a different side to the city than that depicted in the classic black and white shots of aspirant mafiosi, smoking aggressively in front of the tower blocks of Scampia. These are some AMAZING faces, several of which are weirdly reminiscent of my granddad. Beautiful.
- 400 Free Ivy League Courses To Take Online: Updated for 2019, this is a wonderful list of online learning resources by America’s most storied academic institutions, covering topics as diverse as Computer Science, Business, Humanities, Social Sciences, Art & Design, Science, Health & Medicine, Data Science, Education & Teaching, Mathematics, Science, Engineering, Personal Development, and Programming. You want to make that resolution to ‘learn something’ concrete? You could do worse than starting here.
- The Beef and Dairy Network: All of the links in Web Curios are RIGOROUSLY VETTED, as I hope you all know and appreciate - except for the podcast ones, because, well, life’s too short, frankly. As such I have NO IDEA whether any of the ones I stick in here are good - I select them based solely on whether they sound interesting. This one very much does, and has been recommended by several people who I think are smart, so here I pass it onto you - The Beef and Dairy Network is a comedy podcast about, er, beef and dairy farming. It’s apparently quite famous and has won awards and stuff. I don’t know, just listen. FFS.
- Van Gogh’s Japanese Prints: I had no idea whatsoever that Vincent Van Gogh was a passionate collector of Japanese art, or indeed that this passion informed and infliuenced his own work over the course of his life. I do now, though, thanks to this new section of the Van Gogh museum’s website which showcases his collection of Japanese art and the manner in which it affected his output. This is a really nice presentation of both the work and associated ideas - is it just me, or do Dutch art institutions do digital stuff so much better than most other places?
- Sphoon Phork: We’re all now wise to the fact that ‘make people angry on the internet’ is now a legitimate PR tactic in 2019, right? Good. Now look at this Kickstarter through that prism. These people are OBVIOUSLY going to launch a podcast or comedy show or a career as digital strategists or something off the back of this, right? That’s the only potential explanation for this idea - turning your phone into an eating utensil via the medium of plug-in fork and spoon attachments so that you can...no, actually there’s no conceivable point to this at all, which is why it fails as a gag imho; it’s just too obviously stupid. God, what a joyless pr1ck I appear to have become (ha!); sorry, I will try and be more FUN.
- Domain Price Game: Simple and yet weirdly addictive - you’re presented with two domain names, and asked to guess which of them is more expensive. Not only sort-of fun, but an excellent source of ‘wow, I would NEVER have thought of that but I can totally imagine what I would do with it given the opportunity’ business ideas - go on, someone buy ‘iSprayer.com’ for the knockdown price of $3k and make the tubgirl 3.0 website the world needs.
- Cuddleclones: The most creepy thing about this is the name - honestly, doesn’t it put you in mind of some sort of awful ‘preemies-but-actual-cloned-children’-type futurehorrrobusiness? No? - but the whole business is quite weird. The site allows you to commission realistic replicas of your pets - you want a stuffed toy of your dog that looks exactly like your dog? You want a pair of slippers that look like your cat? You want to confuse the everliving fcuk out of your actual, living pets? GREAT! How would your cat react were you to take delivery of a lifesize replica of it? If it’s anything like my girlfriend’s SPECIAL LITTLE GUY he would almost immediately try to fcuk it, but why not buy one and find out for yourself?
- Bury Me My Love: Part game, part interactive fiction, this is the demo version of the recently-released full game which puts you in the shoes of a Syrian refugee. Playing out through simulated messages and texts - and as such, MUCH better when played on a phone - this is a beautifully-written and very much atypical representation of the refugee story, and a wonderful example of how you can use conventions of form and design in interesting ways when telling stories.
- Soft Earth: Finally this week, another beautiful, narrative, literary, mysterious game which is part ghost story, part reminiscence and part something else entirely. Due to certain themes it contains it’s also startlingly contemporary - I don’t want to spoil anything in here, but it very much supports the view that Graham Linehan is wrong about quite a lot of stuff, if you see what I mean. I think this is lovely - do have a play, it takes under an hour and is better than anything else you’re likely to do in the office today.
By Stas Kalasnikov
LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, SOME VERY LISTENABLE D’N’B TO CLOSE OUT THE AFTERNOON!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Erika Lee Sears: An artist from the US (I think) who paints still-life-type scenes and whose style I really find rather lovely.
- Imma.gram: I’m not entirely sure why the concept of the ‘virtual influencer’ is getting another runout in the media now, a full year after Lil Miquela and the other, problematic one whose name I forget came to prominence. Anyway, here’s another one! This is ‘Imma’ and, well, Jesus, the CG here is pretty astonishing. Can someone make a male one soon, though, please, as I’m getting slightly sick of the weirdly fetishy uncannyvalleyness of all the female CG.
- 56 Black Men: An Instagram account accompanying the project of the same name, in which Cephas Williams is presenting representations of young British black men to seek to counter the misrepresentation of them so prevalent in the media and elsewhere. A really nice idea, and the portraits on Insta here are awesome.
- Collectors Weekly: Do you like weird or unusual old stuff? Would you like to see some of it in your Insta feed? GREAT!
- Ocean Ramsey: You may have seen photos and footage in the past week or so of that MASSIVE great white shark, and those frankly mental people swimming next to it, as though it wasn’t several tonnes of tooth and imminent death. This is the Insta account of one of the divers, the spectacularly-named Ocean Ramsey - a woman far braver than I (or you, stop being smug) will ever be, and whose feed will make you want to spend two months in the Cayman Islands learning to freedive (or avoiding tax).
- Turn Studio: By way of an antidote to the sharky terror, this is SUCH beautiful and soothing pottery. Honestly, you will watch some of these videos on a loop, I promise.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Digital Pollution: We’re not, it’s fair to say, short of ‘wow, hasn’t the web sort of ruined everything, eh?’ takes at the moment - Web Curios obviously doesn’t subscribe to this point of view, as, well, without the web its author would almost certainly be resentfully chafing against middle management in a dead-end white collar job somewhere instead of, er, typing thousands of words into the void every week for no personal gain whatsoever - but I rather liked the detail in this one. The basic premise is that the manner in which online systems and services have evolved have led to a point where there is an overwhelming and near-infinite amount of stuff, and the scale of it is damaging in a number of different ways which, really, we need to do something about. “Human society now faces a critical choice: Will we treat the effects of digital technology and digital experience as something to be managed collectively? Right now, the answer being provided by those with the greatest concentration of power is no.”
- Secrecy and Facebook Paranoia: This, on the questions which still surround the effect that Facebook has had, and can have, on the democratic process, is a fascinating piece - not so much for the content as the questions it raises. If we accept that there's a degree to which we cannot ever really understand exactly how FB works (partly because of economic imperatives to secrecy on their part, partly because of the inherent ineffability of black-box algorithms), and if we also accept that questions about tracking and privacy mean it's increasingly hard to track the actual effects of online content on secondary online behaviour (how often do users who see certain content on FB go on to perform other, defined actions, for example), then we also have to accept that we're never going to be able to know exactly what they fcuk systems and platforms like this are actually doing to people and society. Which is, when you think about it, perhaps sub-optimal.
- The Purpose Paradigm: 2018 was the year in which purpose-led marketing became a huge and widespread thing, and 2019 kicked off with more of the same with the Gillette ad. Of course, as this piece rightly points out, it’s all rubbish - a publicly-traded company has its primary duty towards its shareholders, not some amorphous idea of ‘society’, and as such will only ever consider doing the ‘right’ thing if it has some likely bottom-line benefit. Meanwhile, the procession of platitudinous commitments to ‘initiatives’ and ‘pledges’ of support for causes are doing an excellent job of making it look as though actual, practical action is being taken when, in fact, it’s often nothing more than surface-deep. I’m not for a second suggesting that brand’s shouldn’t stand for something - and obviously as a pinko lefty snowflake, I’m all for them saying ‘feminism good, racism and ignorance bad’ and suchlike, but, please, let’s not pretend that a) brands care; or b) that brands are going to be the ones fixing the world. They really aren’t.
- You Can’t Escape Amazon: Gizmodo is running a series of articles this week in which its staff attempt to avoid the big 5 tech firms entirely and write up their experiences; this kicked off with Kashmir Hill trying to not use Amazon for a week and, well, you can guess how that went. This piece does an excellent job of demonstrating how deeply Amazon is plugged in to literally every aspect of modern life - not through its retail services but through AWS, which basically seems to be involved on some level with 80+% of the world’s web pages. Which is, honestly, insane. Out of interest, any journalists want to look into the number of sites hosting BAD STUFF are on AWS or related servers? I reckon there’s something in that if you want to p1ss off Amazon’s PR team for a few days.
- The Soros Conspiracy: A fascinating explanation of the various forces that have spent the past few years using George Soros as shorthand for ‘everything that’s bad about a globalised world’, and how the Hungarian has been been demonised by ‘populist’ (or, if you prefer, racist) politicians in Italy, Hungary and elsewhere. Most depressing of all is the fact that it’s basically some fcuking political consultants behind all of this - imagine being so removed from humanity that you see elections as nothing more than interesting machines for you to play with rather than, you know, important mechanisms for human self determination that aren’t designed for you to fiddle with ‘just to see if you can’.
- Masa World: Brilliant profile of Softbank’s Masayoshi Son, the man who’s intuition is seemingly providing a large part of the direction for the world’s business and economy. The numbers in this are astonishing - HOW many billions does Softbank have?! There’s not much in the way of hard questions being asked here, fine, and the lack of any sort of enquiry into the ethics of this all basically being Saudi cash is depressingly predictable, but as a look at what is possibly the most influential organisation in the world right now it’s certainly eye-opening.
- The AOC Phenomenon: Is she the Messiah? Is she a good long bet for President in 2032? Or is she an intelligent young woman who it’s too early to judge, but who’s a welcome breath of fresh air in the otherwise fetid world of US politics? This is a good Rolling Stone piece which mainly takes the latter point of view, but does an excellent job of pointing out quite how discomfiting the establishment on both sides of the divide have found her.
- The Young Left’s Anti-Capitalism Manifesto: The above is an excellent companion piece to this, which is a broader look at the ‘new anticapitalism’ of which AOC herself is a part. Focusing on a few activists and organisers across the US, this presents a picture of an interesting and distinct and vocal cadre of young Americans who genuinely believe they can stop ‘socialism’ being quite the dirty word it’s been for so long in the US. It’s interesting to read this with one eye on the UK; part of me think it’s almost a shame that the parallel conversation here has been so totally coopted by Momentum which is in many ways a tricky and unpopular and offputting vehicle for lots of ideas which one feels ought to have broader appeal here at the pointy end of late-period capitalism.
- Killing a Goat With a Stun Gun: You read that other Jack Dorsey article, right? The one in which he once again comes across so badly that you wonder whether he’s doing it on purpose, but then realise that it’s because he long ago stopped ever hanging out with anyone who’s not a super-rich, self-proclaimed genius and therefore noone’s said ‘hey, Jack, you sound like an absolute tool and, as it happens, not actually very bright’? Anyway, this is a wonderfully baffled piece about how WEIRD everything is now and I think you will find it very relatable.
- Geocities and the Internet Suburbs: A lovely bit of internet nostalgia, looking back at the Geocities era - the nice thing about this piece is that it doesn’t focus on the aesthetics of the time as they usually do, but instead the very odd early-web habit of attempting to make virtual space somehow mimic physical space through the use of terms like ‘neighbourhoods’ and the like. The section on the original Amsterdam website - which was arranged as ‘flats’ within which people could have their own webpages - was honestly fascinating, and the way in which digital architecture impacts the evolution of content is a really interesting area of enquiry.
- Recording The Stradivarius: In Cremona, they are working to preserve the sounds of Stradivarius violins. This is a lovely little piece about the challenges inherent in capturing such deep and layered sounds in the modern world; honestly, it feels a bit like reading a short documentary film, in the best way.
- Clean Musicians: This piece combines interviews with a selection of musicians who once weren’t sober but now are; it covers their addictions, their rock bottoms, the oddity of creating sober when once you would only ever create whilst fcuked, and some truly great anecdotes. Steven Tyler is a man who I imagine could keep this schtick up for literally weeks, but the standout quote in here is the one from the Eagles’ Joe Walsh: “When I stopped doing cocaine, it was amazing to me that I didn’t need to carry a gun anymore. I just didn’t need one!”. Life lesson right there, kids.
- Caroline Calloway, Redux: You may recall Caroline Calloway and her influencer workshop ‘scam’ from last week - this week this piece dropped, in which a reporter from New York Magazine attended one of said workshops and wrote up the experience. This is just delicious - the evident antipathy between Calloway and the attendant media, the correction at the end...it’s all just perfect. It’s also worth noting, though, that the non-media attendees seemed to think that the $170-odd that they spent on a day of listening to some Instaperson’s life anecdotes in what was essentially a really, really expensive meet-and-greet was money well spent so, well, more fool us.
- Meme and Theme Accounts: The latest in a long line of articles about ‘things that kids are doing on Insta which you will see brands co-opt in a few weeks’ time and which won’t be cool in two months’, this is about the rising phenomenon of ‘meme and theme’ accounts (which, honestly, I can’t be bothered to explain - just read the piece) and, more interestingly, the ways in which young people are twisting Insta’s features to make them work for them. The idea of using a ‘Cover’ image on an Insta post with a bunch of subsequent images for ‘depth’ is a really smart one, and I can think of LOADS of genuinely quite good brand-ish applications (SOMEONE PAY ME FOR THEM PLEASE).
- An Oral History of Office Space: I love the film Office Space, which contains the single line which most-effectively encapsulates my personal attitude to working life - to whit, “I don’t like it...I’m not going to go any more”. If you’re a fan of the film, this will be a great reminder of why you ought to watch it again; if you’re not, LEARN.
- Hagfish Slime: You wouldn’t necessarily think that an article about the inauspiciously-named hagfish would be this interesting, but you would be WRONG. MARVEL at the fact that hagfish slime is 10,000 softer than Jello-O! RECOIL at the video of what happens to the slime when it’s removed from water! IMAGINE the fun you’d have if you could get your mitts on a bucket of this stuff! Anyone know a friendly aquarium?
- Super Patriotic Anime Youth Wars!: Thanks to Wilson, Curios’ China Correspondent, for sending me this, a brilliantly odd story about how the historical rivalry/conflict between Japan and China is now being played out through Manga, an increasingly popular medium in the People’s Republic and one which is causing a degree of consternation at its potential to erode or subvert ‘traditional’ values. I just vanished into a pleasing 90-second reverie about a parallel universe in which we enact soft war with Europe through our smuggling of The Beano into their schools, which tells you a little about how INCREDIBLY tired I am right now. 11:26. One hour left. ONWARDS!
- An Interview With Leigh Alexander: This accompanies a scifi short story she wrote for VICE, which is linked to in the piece - I found the interview more interesting than the fiction, though, not least for observations such as this one: “I think the social media environment creates a compulsion to be connected, and I think it is gradually training some of us to expect more stimulation, more interaction, and more “reward” than we once would have been comfortable with in a similar period of time. It often feels like I’m frying circuits or something by going through so many things, with so many people.”
- Does Journalism Have a Future?: A question which will raise a miserable smile from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post staffers this week. This essay in the New Yorker covers a couple of books on the topic published recently, including Rusbridger’s, and serves as a decent overview of the past 40 years in news. I did particularly like its slightly sniffy observation that The Guardian, whilst having done an excellent job of refinancing itself through donations, doesn’t actually contain very much actual reporting any more so much as a series of impassioned op-eds along predictable political lines (and I say that as someone who likes and backs the Guardian).
- Maze: I had NEVER heard of this puzzlebook, but I absolutely adored this piece about it - go in cold, it really is beautifully-written.
- Precocious Puberty: Puberty is HARD. I imagine it’s even harder when it happens to you when you’re two. This is the incredible story of Patrick Burleigh, whose early life was dominated and defined by his condition, which meant he was a tall, muscular teen with all the expected and attendant sexual urges at the age of about 5. The writing is brilliant, and Burleigh does an excellent job of conveying the guilt and confusion that he must have felt throughout his extended adolescence. Honestly amazing.
- Deliverooing: Laura Seaton in the LRB on being a Deliveroo driver. Such wonderful writing, about “a future in which people sit alone in tall apartment blocks, eating homogenous food prepared by workers in black boxes scattered through public spaces made ghostly by disuse.”
- Sad By Design: This is a bit of a hard read - the writing’s in (poor) translation, I think, or the author’s not writing in their native language (I think they are Dutch) - but the ideas in here make it worth persevering with. “Omnipresent social media places a claim on our elapsed time, our fractured lives. We’re all sad in our very own way. As there are no lulls or quiet moments anymore, the result is fatigue, depletion and loss of energy. We’re becoming obsessed with waiting. How long have you been forgotten by your love ones? Time, meticulously measured on every app, tells us right to our face. Chronos hurts. Should I post something to attract attention and show I’m still here? Nobody likes me anymore.” Well quite.
- The Body That Says I’m Here: Finally in this week’s longreads, Carmen Maria Machado writes about her body and all the things she feels about it as a large woman. I loved this - brutal, unsentimental, unrepentant, this is worth a million ‘love my curves’ posts on Insta. Superb.
By Oriana Ingber
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Take 5 minutes to watch this short animation. I promise you it is worth your time, and you will feel better about everything by the end of it. It’s called ‘One Small Step’:
2) Meet Barry Beats. Introduced to me by Internet Oddity Sadeagle, this is a Cornish man who likes making beats. This is his £1 Beat Challenge - he has £1 to spend in the charity shops of Cornwall to make into an excellent beat - and it is UTTERLY CHARMING; Barry is lovely and gentle and obviously an absolute fcuking expert when it comes to cratedigging, and the whole thing is made immeasurably better by his gentle West Country burr and, honestly, if the BBC can keep making Doctors then surely they can chuck £50k at making a series out of this for BBC3 ffs:
3) This is an animation done entirely in Google Earth (it makes more sense when you watch it, promise) and it is AMAZING:
4) ‘Popular song remade with clips cut together from films’ is not a new thing, but I think this version of MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ is the most impressive I’ve ever seen - they absolutely nail the cadence of some of these lines, and I can’t begin to imagine the work that went into this., Enjoy:
5) Finally this week, have a truly wonderful piece of verse by Mikael Techane - if you only watch one of these, please make it this one; it’s beautiful, and not a little heartbreaking, and is called ‘Boys Like Us’. THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK BYE BYE BYE HAVE FUN BYE I HOPE THAT YOU HAVE A LOVELY FEW DAYS OFF AND THAT IT’S NOT TOO COLD BUT JUST COLD ENOUGH IN THAT NICE, CRISP WAY THAT’S SO PLEASANT IF THE SUN SHINES AND THAT YOU GET TO GO ON A NICE WALK OR EAT A GOOD MEAL OR GET ABSOLUTELY BANJAXED ON WHATEVER COMBINATION OF SUBSTANCES YOU LIKE BEST, BASICALLY WHAT I’M TRYING TO SAY IS THAT I WANT YOU TO HAVE A NICE TIME AND BE HAPPY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU THANKS FOR READING BYE BYE!: