The Null Device


I saw Live Forever this afternoon. This is a recent documentary from the BBC about the rise and fall of the Britpop scene in the 1990s; it starts off with the bleak, homogenised days of Thatcherism, and the non-starter that was the Stone Roses' Spike Island gig, goes on to cover contributions from Blur, Oasis and Pulp, Tony Blair's attempt to appropriate Britpop (with some success; and no little irony, given that Britpop arose partly as a reaction to American cultural supremacy in McWorld), and dates Britpop's death at about the time Diana died, ushering everybody into the saccharine embrace of Robbie Williams and S Club 7. (And so, the cycle repeats itself.)

Live Forever features footage of gigs, fragments of music videos (some of which were quite clever), and a lot of interview footage. Damon Albarn (dressed in workman's overalls in a grungy pub) comes across as protesting a bit too much, Liam Gallagher comes across as an idiot, Noel Gallagher's somewhat more savvy though a bit egotistical, and Jarvis Cocker (in his glasses and velvet suit) seems like quite a clever guy. Then there's Louise Wener from Sleeper (who comes across as quite intelligent), Robert "3D" Del Naja of Massive Attack (interviewed at the beginning, middle and end of the movement of which they weren't a part, with their music dubbed over footage of driving at night), James Brown (of lad mag Loaded), Damien Hirst (filmed reclining on a Union Jack bedspread!), John Savage, and Wonderwall, the Oasis cover band, seen overdoing the laddism with pints and fags all round.

If you missed this documentary, it's playing again (I think it's next weekend). I strongly recommend seeing it.

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A fascinating article from Clay Shirky on why A Group Is Its Own Enemy, exploring some of the patterns of human behaviour in groups (in the context of "social software").

The article makes some interesting points: there are 3 patterns which pop up in groups: sex talk/flirting, vilification of external enemies (e.g., Penguinheads railing against Microsoft, or indeed left-wing and right-wing bloggers accusing each other of eating babies) and quasi-religious veneration of figures beyond criticism (i.e., try criticising part of an author's work on a group full of his fans and you'll get flamed for your diligence). Also, anarchy doesn't scale, and neither does naïve direct democracy; any group beyond the limits of a small social group (which Shirky doesn't mention, but which Malcolm Gladwell places at 150 people in The Tipping Point) needs a constitution, some form of hierarchy with different strata of participation and decidedly undemocratic and perhaps authoritarian powers for the core group (the "Listmoms" of a certain mailing list I'm on would be one example), in the interest of defending the group and its culture. Examples of the failure of egalitarian direct democracy include a 1970s bulletin board having been shut down after becoming infested with high-schoolers, and a campaign by Chinese Internet users to vote down the creation of soc.culture.tibet:

Imagine today if, in the United States, Internet users had to be polled before any anti-war group could be created. Or French users had to be polled before any pro-war group could be created. The people who want to have those discussions are the people who matter. And absolute citizenship, with the idea that if you can log in, you are a citizen, is a harmful pattern, because it is the tyranny of the majority.

Shirky also makes the point that users should have identities (or "handles") they can invest reputation in, that there be some sort of member-in-good-standing mechanism, and that there be barriers to participation. And he knows; having been on Usenet since the early nineties, he watched it implode under the influx of The September That Never Ended.

All in all, an article well worth reading, whether you're a social-software/smart-mobs digerato, an anarchist/libertarian social theorist, a scifi writer looking to build a plausible fictional utopia, or just a student of human psychology. (via Graham)

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The street finds its own uses for audio recording hardware, it seems. Miniaturised audio recorders and hidden microphones designed for naturalists and anthropologists are being adopted by music fans to surreptitiously record live gigs. (via TechDirt)

The equipment has legitimate purposes too, being used by naturalists to tape the sounds of tree frogs or researchers to record indigenous rituals without calling attention to themselves, but it has been embraced by tapers who see a band's "no taping" policy as a challenge.

"The fan community sees no-taping policies as damage and routes around it", to paraphrase a Grateful Dead lyricist. Meanwhile, some tapers are devising their own tricks of the trade.

Some who secretly tape frequently have special "taping clothes." One taper in the upholstery business "made himself a fancy-looking vest," said Oade. He sewed the cables and the microphone into it, and put the DAT recorder in a fanny pack.

Surreptitiously taping a gig isn't hard; doing so and getting decent sound is the tricky thing. (I've got a rather dodgy-sounding minidisc of last year's Morrissey gig to vouch for that.)

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