Tuesday, April 20, 2010


--- Wikileaks and video games converge, the intricacies of virtual morality

---Mexico considers banning Twitter

---the seven wonders of Preston Sturges and a homage to Kubrick

---Nathaniel R. can't wait for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere

---the rise of the supercities

---the scourge of Farmville:

"While this may sound like a relatively banal game, over seventy-three million people play Farmville. Twenty-six million people play Farmville every day. More people play Farmville than World of Warcraft, and Farmville users outnumber those who own a Nintendo Wii. This popularity is not surprising per se; even in the current recession, video game revenues reached nearly twenty billion dollars in America last year. The video games industry is a vibrant one, and there is certainly room in it for more good games.

Farmville is not a good game. While Caillois tells us that games offer a break from responsibility and routine, Farmville is defined by responsibility and routine. Users advance through the game by harvesting crops at scheduled intervals; if you plant a field of pumpkins at noon, for example, you must return to harvest at eight o’clock that evening or risk losing the crop. Each pumpkin costs thirty coins and occupies one square of your farm, so if you own a fourteen by fourteen farm a field of pumpkins costs nearly six thousand coins to plant. Planting requires the user to click on each square three times: once to harvest the previous crop, once to re-plow the square of land, and once to plant the new seeds. This means that a fourteen by fourteen plot of land—which is relatively small for Farmville—takes almost six hundred mouse-clicks to farm, and obligates you to return in a few hours to do it again. This doesn’t sound like much fun, Mr. Caillois. Why would anyone do this?"

---thanks to Tama, more links about the increasingly sinister nature of Facebook

---one way to get attention for your band--unleash the deranged panda bears

---With Erik Davis, Lethem discusses Philip K. Dick and the weird technology of novels:

"ED: For proponents of the Singularity, we are on the verge of massive technological transformations that involve some version of artificial or machine intelligence. Dick had a very particular take on intelligent machines, like Joe Chip‘s conapt or suitcase psychiatrists. While these devices are clearly fantastic and absurd, they also express some real insight and concerns about the cultural consequences of machine intelligence. Does Dick‘s take seem relevant now, thirty years later? What would he say to our contemporary gadget fetishism and addiction to information machines?

My best guess about such matters is that each technological transformation, up to and perhaps including the Singularity, is going to work itself out vis-à-vis “the human” according to the deep principles of all media. Defined in its largest sense, as including things like cinema, theory, drugs, computing, moving type, music, etcetera, media is utterly consciousness-transforming in ways we can no longer competently examine, given how deeply they‘ve pervaded and altered the collective and individual consciousness that would be the only possible method for making that judgment. And yet -— we still feel so utterly human to ourselves, and the proof is in the anthropomorphic homeliness that pervades the ostensibly exalted “media” in return. We humanize them, shame them, colonize and debunk them with our persistent modes of sex and neurosis and community and commerce. We turn them into advertisements for ourselves, rather than opportunities for shedding ourselves. At least so far."

---James Dean and Ronald Reagan, together at last in a cheesy TV show

---Jaron Lanier and others brood over the pros and cons of web 2.0 tools:

"The basic problem is that web 2.0 tools are not supportive of democracy by design. They are tools designed to gather spy-agency-like data in a seductive way, first and foremost, but as a side effect they tend to provide software support for mob-like phenomena. There are some nice mob effects, but the intensity of the failures is more profound than the delights of the successes. A flash mob in San Francisco in which people suddenly hold a pose and disperse doesn't compensate for a flash mob in Philadelphia in which people are beaten up."

---the signifying depths of tampon ads and Godardian after-shave

---when it comes to selling mobile homes, Robert Lee just doesn't care

---the mysterious Jonah Hex

---Congratulations to political cartoonist Mark Fiore for winning a Pulitzer

---Thompson predicts Iron Man 2 will dominate the tentpoles. I'm mostly looking forward to Inception.

---the long history of the short film (with thanks to @kylesbarnett)

---Alice in Wonderland on the iPad

---Tyler Perry and the camp canon

---lastly, a nation distracted:

"Attention is “the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought,” wrote psychologist and philosopher William James in 1890. “It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction.”

James came tantalizingly close to understanding at least one aspect of this mysterious phenomenon whose inner workings eluded philosophers, artists, historians, and scientists for centuries. But today, we know much more about attention, and all that we are learning underscores its irrefutable importance in life.

Attention is an organ system, akin to our respiratory or circulatory systems, according to cognitive neuroscientist Michael Posner. It is the brain’s conductor, leading the orchestration of our minds. Its various networks—orienting, alerting, and the executive—are key not only to higher thinking but also to morality and even happiness.

Yet increasingly, we are shaped by distraction. James described a vivid possessing of the mind, an ordering, and a withdrawal. We easily recognize that these states of mind are becoming less and less a given in our lives. The seduction of virtual universes, the allure of multitasking, our allegiance to a constant state of motion: These are markers of a land of distraction. This is why we are less and less able to see, hear, and comprehend what’s relevant and permanent, why so many of us feel that we can barely keep our heads above water, and why our days are marked by perpetual loose ends."

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