The Null Device
Not that long ago, the Hummer was king of America's roads; a ex-military truck, chromed for the consumer and with all the aggressive ugliness of a pit bull, it soon became synonymous with a certain form of all-American assholery, a combination of machismo, belligerence and callous indifference worn like armour. Then the price of oil went up, and the dealers' yards started filling up with unsellable Hummers. And then General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection, and decided to sell off a number of marques to raise some desperately needed money to keep the wolf from the door. A construction equipment manufacturer in China (that's Communist China, by the way, not Taiwan) was found who was willing to buy the brand and start making Hummers. Joe Sixpack and NASCAR Dad could rest assured that they would still be able to buy a Hummer, though in future, this icon of all-American triumphalism would be made in China, like a cheap Wal-Mart DVD player.
Now, it trns out that the Chinese government's planning agency has blocked the takeover of the Hummer brand, on environmental grounds.
Now that's got to hurt.
Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.
Before the company's servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that "Michael Jackson" appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.And Farrah Fawcett (whom one really has to feel sorry for; what a way to go) wasn't the only one eclipsed by the "King of Pop" going supernova; the entire Iranian protest movement was as well.
That put news of Jackson's death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.(It's probably, in the Blairite parlance, a good day to bury bad news; I wonder whether the Iranian government has taken advantage of this to hastily machine-gun all those pesky protesters into freshly dug trenches while the world's mourning a pop star.)
Michael Jackson's death will almost certainly go down in history as one of those iconic events that everyone remembers where they were when they heard of it, like the Kennedy assassination or the passing of his erstwhile father-in-law some three decades earlier. Only, this time, it happened in a highly networked world, so the recollections will surely reflect this. I first heard of it when I saw someone log into an instant messaging service with "RIP Michael Jackson" as their status. Though one may well have found out about it by reading Wikipedia's revisions page:
(cur) (prev) 22:49, 25 June 2009 TexasAndroid (talk | contribs) m (119,637 bytes) (Removed category Living people (using HotCat))Which is somewhat less ignominious than Wikipedia's summary judgment of non-notability on Steven Wells. (Wikipedia appears to be locked in a deletionist spiral of radicalism these days, as editors prove their hard-headedness and ideological purity by being increasingly ruthless with what is deemed "notable".)
And the Register' article on the Michael Jackson Twitter meltdown ends with some speculation about what's likely to happen in the days and weeks following his death:
We can expect floods of tributes, detailing how Jackson changed the face of pop music (a reasonable claim) was the biggest record seller in history (probably) and invented the moonwalk (absolutely not).
This will be quickly followed by floods of revelations about the singer's murky private life, now that libel restrictions no longer reply - at least in the UK.
But first of all, we can expect a flood of malware spam, likely promising post-mortem pictures of the star's body.The spam, it seems, didn't take long.
One of the major problems with Facebook, in the past, has been its one-size-fits-all privacy settings. You could decide, once and for all, who sees your status updates, but could not do so on a post-by-post basis. Which is fine and dandy when all your friends there know you in the same context, but becomes a problem once you have people from different spheres. You might not want to bore your generalist friends with detailed discussion of your more specialised interests, or share your personal life with your coworkers, so the only option is to self-censor down to the lowest common denominator, and hope that those who want more can be bothered with LiveJournal.
Not for much longer, though, because Facebook are soon rolling out post-by-post privacy options, which will let you decide, with each status update who sees it.
The options will include "everyone" (i.e., anyone who goes to your public Facebook page), friends, friends and friends thereof, or, most usefully, custom groups of friends. The devil is, of course, in the details, but it looks like it will make Facebook a lot more useful as a fine-grained social communications tool.