Air Date 9/9/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we shall take a look at platforms' goods and business models in the modern landscape of the digital marketplace. We start by questioning the morality of engaging in given platforms that cause harm, cryptocurrencies role in crime, Facebook's role in destabilizing society for instance, and then examine virtual products and virtual talents, the movement demanding the right to repair, and the coming world of digital art produced by artificial intelligence.
Clips today are from The United States of Anxiety, There Are No Girls on the Internet, Factually! with Adam Conover, What Next, Hoeg Law, and a TEDx Talk, with an additional members-only clip from Vox. And stay tuned at the end of the show for my description of a decidedly non-digital project, whose inventor once hoped [00:01:00] it could replace the televisions in every home in the United States.
Digital Life Is a Moral Mess - The United States of Anxiety - Air Date 8-22-22
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: Folks in my courses all the time will come to me with questions, like, I feel bad about participating in a capitalist society, or I feel bad about eating meat, or I feel bad about buying this clothing line.
And it's more than just "I feel bad," right? But behind that is this I think pretty deep question, which is where do we draw the line for ourselves when we know in some sense that we're a vector of suffering, that we in some way contribute to it by participating.
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: Yeah. And crypto seems especially tricky, because for a lot of people, it appears, at least the promise of it is a way to take back financial power.
During the episode we did last month, I'd say we found a lot of tension. Like a lot of people saying, Hey, listen, this is a way for me to get ahead in this financial world that isn't really set up for me. Maybe it is for others, but not for me. Does that factor tip the scales one way or the other?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: So it's pretty easy to say I'm gonna take a moral stand on something because it has no benefit for me anyways, and I don't wanna do it. Right? Other people don't [00:02:00] have those sorts of choices.
But what you're introducing is the thought that, well, for some people investing in crypto, say, really does come with some promise of some benefits.
But I do think that if you really do believe, for instance with crypto, that it does contribute to some really morally horrific things, that's gotta go into the calculation. I mean, the deep question -- I promised you for better or worse, this is the sort of thing that I do -- the deep question here is, do moral reasons trump all reasons? If we sort of step back and be like, whatever else is true, morally, this would be the wrong thing, then that settles it. You're done. For other people, they're like, no, that just goes into the calculation, right? It could help me personally, it could benefit society in other ways, it's also morally wrong. I sort of fold that all together and come up with a result on what to do. I think that it's up to each individual to ask what they think comes with the conclusion, this is morally wrong. For some that's gonna be the end of the conversation;, for others it might just be the beginning.
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: So can we take a step back a little bit maybe. I'm thinking about somebody listening to this and they're like, well, what does [00:03:00] morality even mean for money?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: I mean, money per se is to me just a means of exchange. I think really the question we might be asking is, what are moral ways in which to exchange goods and services and what are some immoral ways to exchange goods and services? So I could imagine us saying, well, maybe the system of exchange that we're currently in, with the concentration of wealth amongst very few and everyone else struggling, that is immoral.
But money itself to me is maybe a distraction.
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: Hmm. And so if currency -- let's call it -- on its face is amoral, should we think about crypto differently than maybe the dollar bill?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: It's a great question. You know, I feel a little bit unqualified to answer that question. I think like anything else, something that really promises to be liberating has something very positive and has something very negative. I mean, I constantly think in terms of analogies. I'm old enough now to remember the birth of the internet. And I remember the early promise of it, which is everyone's gonna be connected. You're gonna be able to hear from everyone. [00:04:00] Yay! And now the problem is that everyone is connected and you can hear from everyone, right? And with the positive comes from real negative. And I think it's healthy to always be stepping back and asking, all right, let's at least try to make the goods outweigh the bads.
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: You know, I love that comparison to the internet cuz it feels so similar to the conversation we're having now, right? I mean, even in the way that you just phrased it with that liberation.
One thing I love about your work is how you try to do it through analogies, and specifically superheroes. When you talk about this idea of liberation and its promise and the two sides of the coin, does that evoke any example of maybe a superhero?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: Sure. I'll point to the obvious, but I think it's obvious because it's so powerful. The last panel of Amazing Fantasy Number 15, where we're introduced to Spider-Man comes, Stanley writing the famous line: "With great power there must also come great responsibility."
CLIP FROM SPIDERMAN: Pete, look, you're changing. I know; I [00:05:00] went through exactly the same thing at your age. Remember: With great power comes great responsibility.
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: I really think it's important for us to know that the line is not "with great power comes great responsibility." It's "with great power there must also come, or there must come, great responsibility." Now the powers, the liberating part, Peter Parker is a, quite honestly, poor nerdy geek. He doesn't have a lot of options in front of him. And suddenly he's Spider-Man. Suddenly he can do amazing things. Suddenly has a lot more opportunities in front of him. Stan Lee immediately comes in with, okay, well you have a lot more power now you have a lot more opportunities. Don't forget that there must come responsibility with the exercise of that.
I think that money is one way, and one obvious way, in which one can gain some freedoms. I think in some ways the entire narrative of superheroes is looking at individuals with tremendous power and asking ourselves, are they living a responsible life with [00:06:00] this power?
I'm old enough to remember when Facebook was being invented in the promise of that was, here's a way to get people connected, meet up with your high school friends, et cetera, et cetera. And now we're at a point where we're asking serious questions about whether Facebook and other social networks, but this one seems to stand out, is it eroding democracy? Did we use this new power, this new freedom, responsibly?
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: What that makes me wonder -- and this might be reducing it a bit too far, but -- isn't the moral thing to do maybe to get involved and steer it in a way that promotes good for society?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: Well, I'm always hesitant a little bit to say what's the moral thing to do, right? The thing I will always warn about -- and this is true of all of us -- we often go into some things thinking I'm gonna be the one to use this tremendous power wisely and I'm gonna be directing it towards great ends. And then, they usually write tragedies about those people. And then they wake up one day and they're like, how did I end up an accomplice all these horrible things? How did I -- and of course the story's never like this one moment; it's always [00:07:00] this gradual erosion of one's moral character. And I think this is true for people that serve in government or anything else as well. It's like, you could always justify and rationalize something by saying, "Look, I'm just gonna stay on the inside because there needs to be good done in here" -- and we do need good people on the inside, but that should come with a big warning that we are very easily seduced into thinking that we're doing good from the inside when we're actually just part of the problem. And it's hard to know without friends, family and other support networks to help keep us honest about the role that we're playing.
KOUSHA NAVIDAR: Let's bring it down to the individual, I guess, 'cause that makes me think of Tim and the voicemail that he sent.
So for Tim or somebody listening to this, who might be thinking about how to navigate crypto or maybe eating meat, how do they operate?
DR. CHRISTOPHER ROBICHAUD: I start by saying, well, do you think that this is as morally reprehensible as you think? If the answer is yes I'd say like, alright, you know, are there costs for you not doing it? If the answer is there's high costs, I'd be like, all right, now it's time to think about weighing costs and benefits. I guess the best way to put it, I believe that a moral life is [00:08:00] constant work, really hard, and we're gonna fail more often than we're gonna succeed. I think that's okay. That's not meant to be doom. I think that most of the religious traditions say something like that. I think that the moral life is a hard life. And I think that when you raise moral questions, you should not run away from where they lead you to examining other parts of your life. And if they lead you to places where you go, my God, I might really need to change some stuff, don't run away from that.
And I know you might say, "All of that from a question about crypto?" But of course, because the question that we heard was not just about crypto. Of course it was a deep question about what we should do when we think we might be involving ourselves in something that's really morally problematic by our own lights, even if it would bring us some good. That question's gonna show up again and again and again in our lives. And we can't run from it.
Digital rapper FN Meka and the new era of digital Blackface - There Are No Girls on the Internet - Air Date 8-30-22
BRIDGET TODD - HOST, THERE ARE NO GIRLS ON THE INTERNET: Last week, Capitol Records announced that they signed a record deal with a digital rapper called FN Meka, who became the first ever digital artist to sign with a major recording label. But the deal also came with accusations of digital blackface, cultural appropriation, and the digital exploitation of [00:09:00] Blackness.
So just 11 short days later, the deal was terminated and the label said it was cutting ties with the rapper because pretty much everybody's reaction was like, Wait, no, this is bad. So FN Meka was designed to look like a very specific type of rapper. He rocks bright green braids, half of a shaved head, face tattoos, and a gold grill over his teeth. Kind of like the rapper 6ix9ine. He raps about cars and cash and diamonds and expensive watches and other pretty stereotypical trappings of rap music. He also uses the N word in his raps and has posted content on his social media platforms that just did not sit right with people, because he's not Black. I mean, he's not anything, he's not a human at all. So just in case it's not clear FN Meka is not real. He's an avatar, a digital creation of a media company called Factory New started by Anthony [00:10:00] Martini and Brandon Le, neither of whom are Black. They describe Factory New as "a first of its kind next generation of music company specializing in virtual beings".
So, kind of like a talent agency for digital creations and avatars. They've also created a crypto rapper called Lil Bitcoin, which, side note, kind of sounds like a project designed in a lab specifically for me to hate it. But back to FN Meka, while he may not be real, he does still have a very real, big digital footprint. With 10.3 million followers on TikTok and 222,000 followers on his verified Instagram account.
So, how did FN come to be? Well, in a 2021 interview with Music Business Weekly, Anthony Martini, the executive at New Factory [sic] explained, saying "not to get all philosophical, but what is an artist today? Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?"
So, what he's basically arguing is that if we mostly engage [00:11:00] with artists via screens then they don't really need to exist outside of those screens to be relevant. He also talked about how scouting for fresh, new human talent involves a lot of work, scouring the internet for fresh talent, flying out to concerts and meetings, and if you just create a digital avatar, you cut out all of that work. Anthony Martini goes on to explain how their avatar talents are made using thousands of data points, compiled from video games and social media. And that Factory New has developed a proprietary AI technology that analyzes certain popular songs and generates recommendations for various elements of song construction, like lyrical content, chords, melodies, tempo sounds, et cetera.
You get the idea. FN Meka's debut single called "Florida Water" features the actual human rapper Gunna and human gaming streamer Clix. But the reaction to FN Meka has been not good, to say the very least. In addition to his [00:12:00] use of the N word in his songs, because the whole idea is to make it seem like FN Meka has a real life, despite not being a real human, they've really fleshed out his universe with images and videos, including one pretty cringy image of himself being assaulted by a police officer while in prison posted on his Instagram account with the caption, "Police brutality. What should I do? Prison guards keep beating me with the baton because I won't snitch. I ain't no rat". So I have to say, I just do not like this at all. It feels like a media venture that is not run by Black people, capitalizing off of Black trauma, Black pain, and harmful stereotypes about Blackness in this really shallow and stereotypical way.
And it also raises questions about digital blackface. Digital blackface is a term popularized by Lauren Michele Jackson, a feminist scholar and writer in the Departments of English and African American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of the book on cultural appropriation called "White Negroes". She describes digital [00:13:00] blackface as using the relative anonymity of a online identity to embody Blackness. It can be things like using reaction gifs of Black people on social media if you yourself are not Black, or, in some cases, adopting an entire Black online persona, like the owners of the popular vegan cooking website, formally called "Thug Kitchen", who built an entire successful online brand off of adopting a really stereotypical blaccent in their recipes before eventually changing the name.
And I guess that's kind of what doesn't sit right with me about this AI rapper. If FN isn't a human, why go out of your way to depict him in such highly racialized ways if you're not trying to capitalize on a perceived proximity to Blackness? It just feels really exploitative. Industry Blackout, a collective of Black people in the entertainment industry committed to changing the community, also didn't love it. You might recall that we've actually talked about Industry Blackout once before during our episode about Blackout Day back in 2020. [00:14:00] Industry Blackout responded to the news of FN being signed to Capitol in an open letter, writing, "While we applaud the innovation in tech that connects listeners to music and enhances the experience, we find fault with the lack of awareness in how offensive this caricature is. It is a direct insult to the Black community and our culture, an amalgamation of gross stereotypes, appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists, complete with slurs infused in lyric. This digital effigy is a careless abomination and disrespectful to real people who face real consequences in real life. For example, Gunna, a Black artist who is featured on a song with FN Meka, is currently incarcerated for rapping the same type of lyrics this robot mimics. The difference is your artificial rapper will not be subject to federal charges for such. For your company to approve this shows a serious lack of diversity and a resounding amount of tone-deaf leadership. This is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated". Which prompted Capitol to respond [00:15:00] by cutting ties with FN and releasing a statement saying "We offer our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it. We thank those of you who reached out to us with constructive feedback in the past couple of days. Your input was invaluable as we came to the decision to end our association with this project." In response to all this, Anthony Martini, the New Factory [sic] executive behind FN Meka, did an interview with the New York Times, and it really just made me feel like he did not get it. Initially, he told the times that "blogs latched onto a clickbait headline and created this narrative". And in response to that cringy photo of FN Meka being roughed up by police, he said, "Some of the early content, now, if you take it out of context, it obviously looks worse or different than it was intended". And even though in that earlier interview that he did with Music Business Weekly, where he was really hyping [00:16:00] up that Meka's lyrics were generated using the company's proprietary AI software, in the interview he did with the New York Times after the controversy, Anthony Martini really walked that back, saying that "FN Meka was, in fact, primarily an anonymous human rapper who was Black. It's not this malicious plan of White executives. It's literally no different from managing a human artist, except it's digital", he added. He also said that the team behind FN Meka was "actually one of the most diverse teams you can get. I'm the only White person involved". So, this explanation was further complicated by the fact that the anonymous Black rapper that he was talking about FN Meka being based on has actually spoken up and said that Martini's company basically just stole his likeness and his voice without credit or compensation. Rapper Kyle the Hooligan said that New Factory [sic] approached him to be the voice of FN Meka in exchange for equity in the company [00:17:00] and then basically ghosted him. "Like use my voice, use my sound, use the culture and literally just left me high and dry. I didn't get a dime off of nothing. And they got record deals, all this stuff. I wasn't involved in no meetings or none of that", he said. So after really defending this project to the New York Times, Martini must have had a change of heart. Because just a few days later, he announced that he was also cutting ties with the project, writing, "It's become apparent that I should have done more diligence before joining. In the past few days, I've learned of Kyle the Hooligan's experience with Meka, which is deeply at odds with my core values. I believe that artists must always be at the center of the creative process and must be fairly compensated.
The Right to Repair with Aaron Perzanowski - Factually! with Adam Conover - Air Date 5-10-22
ADAM CONOVER - HOST, FACTUALLY!: How do companies try to take away our right to repair and why is that a problem?
AARON PERZANOWSKI: So, companies have developed a whole range of strategies to make repair more difficult, more expensive, and to really exert control over when and how and whether [00:18:00] consumers can repair their devices.
So, that starts with the design of the hardware itself, um, choosing to use screws and fasteners that make it difficult to disassemble a product. Using software restrictions that make it difficult for you to, uh, access the components that you need to replace or disabling components, uh, when they have been replaced.
And so they use this range of tools in a way that really makes it challenging for consumers to exert the kind of control that we've become used to, uh, over the years when we're repairing the devices we own. So that's true for, uh, our vehicles, our smartphones, it's true for the, um, agricultural equipment that farmers rely on. It's true for medical equipment. And so we're seeing these kinds of barriers being thrown up, uh, really all across the economy in a way that has like really dramatic effects.
ADAM CONOVER - HOST, FACTUALLY!: So, you [00:19:00] said that, uh, this sort of violates what we've grown used to as consumers, but I would actually posit that we've grown not used to repairing our old devices. I mean, when I see an image of a guy with, uh, you know, a guy or a gal in their front driveway with the hood of their car open and you know, their elbow deep in motor oil, uh, you know, fixing their car, I'm like, that's an old timey image. That's like from, you know, America in the 1950s or whatever, that's not from today. If you pop the hood of, you know, even the 2010 Prius that me and my girlfriend had for many years, there's not a lot you can get into in there, right? Um, so I mean, this seems like it's been a trend over many decades that we've been moving away from. People have become unused to repairing their devices in a lot of ways.
AARON PERZANOWSKI: So, I think you're absolutely right, that this is a trend and a trend that has really, uh, developed a lot of momentum over the past two or three decades in particular. Um, it really depends on the [00:20:00] kind of historical scale at which you wanna have the conversation. Repair has really been essential to human technology as long as there has been human technology. So, we can go all the way back, you know, millions of years to, you know, hand axes that, you know, that proto-humans were repairing and we see, you know, every stage in human technological development, repair gets more sophisticated, uh, along with the technology. And that trend really continues up until the early part of the 20th century, when we start to see companies realize that it's in their economic best interest to make repair more difficult. So, this is really a phenomenon of the last century or so, and as I said, it's really sped up with the introduction of software and kind of network connectivity into our devices. That's really the key suite of tools that have [00:21:00] enabled these repair restrictions to emerge in more recent years.
ADAM CONOVER - HOST, FACTUALLY!: Well, so, let's talk about, briefly, before, I have so many questions about this and I find this topic fascinating, but before we get anywhere, I just wanna talk about what we are losing by losing the ability to repair our devices. Like what is bad about that? I mean, because let's be honest, a lot of people who are consumers would not wanna repair their own devices. Uh, you know, they're not technically inclined and we want technology to be usable by those people as well. And so they maybe don't have a problem just going to the genius bar or whatever. So, what are the knock-on effects of these devices becoming less repairable?
AARON PERZANOWSKI: So, the first thing I would say is even if you're not like mechanically inclined yourself, you're not the kind of person that wants to like, you know, pop open the hood of your car and figure out what's wrong with it in your own garage, or you don't wanna swap out the broken screen on your iPhone yourself, the right to repair still matters to you because it's going to [00:22:00] influence the degree to which you have choices in the marketplace about which repair services to rely on.
Do you only have to go, or do you only have the ability to go to, uh, the Apple store to repair your phone or to the dealer to repair your car? Or can you shop around for an independent repair provider who might be able to do, uh, just as good of a job, but, you know, at a lower price or more quickly? So, I think the most direct way this impacts consumers day-to-day is just in terms of price. It's really expensive, uh, to have devices repaired in a market where repair services have essentially been monopolized rather than a market where we've got a lot of competition. You know, the guy at the kiosk at the mall is gonna charge you a lot less than Apple is for the same repair. And I just think people ought to have that choice.
And so we're talking about, you know, repair markets for consumer goods that total tens of billions [00:23:00] of dollars a year, and that's money coming directly out of the pockets of consumers. It also means that, you know, your devices will last longer if repair is available. So instead of, you know, replacing your phone every two years, maybe you can make that phone last for three or four or five years. Over time that saves people a lot of money.
Um, so I think the economics here are really important. We see that in some markets, I think more starkly than others. So when you look at, you know, farmers, um, you know, you spend $800,000-$900,000 on a tractor for your livelihood, right? To do the work that, you know, that puts food on your family's table. And farmers in a lot of ways are kind of held hostage by the manufacturers of these devices because when it becomes necessary to have them repaired, um, they don't have the freedom to just go out and have the local mom and pop shop do it themselves, or to do it on [00:24:00] their own as farmers have done, you know, for centuries. They've gotta pay these really high prices.
So, that's a big piece of the puzzle. Um, the other thing that I think people don't take into account to the extent they should, is just the massive amount of environmental damage that comes from the lack of repair. So, we're replacing products more frequently. That leads to just mountains of electronic waste, you know, tens of millions of tons of electronic waste being produced every year. And a big part of that is because we are replacing things rather than repairing them. And that's in the economic interest of these companies, right? Apple is profitable because it sells a couple hundred million iPhones a year. And that only works if people are getting rid of the old ones to buy new ones. And so repair kind of helps disrupt that.
ADAM CONOVER - HOST, FACTUALLY!: Yeah. If it's difficult to repair that phone, or let's say, you know, your iPhone starts to have [00:25:00] problems, if there's a local repair shop where just a guy with a screwdriver can, uh, swap something in or out on your phone to fix it very easily, you're a lot less likely to go buy a new phone. You're more likely to go pay that guy 50 bucks rather than go wait in the line at the Apple store at the mall, or buying a brand new expensive phone. Let's talk about tractors cuz it's an example that's often used here and it's one that I'm, uh, really curious about. And it's very easy to imagine, Hey, you're a farmer, your tractor breaks down, the tractor guy comes and fix it. That that's like seems like a very obvious thing that would've existed for like a century in American life. So what are tractor companies, John Deere and et cetera, doing to prevent those farmers from repairing? I mean, is it really that nefarious, where they are specifically blocking the process of repair itself or is there some other, you know, reason that they're doing it?
AARON PERZANOWSKI: So, there are a couple of things that are going on. And I think a lot of people probably assume, you know, the farm equipment is, while complicated, fairly low tech. But the reality is, like, a modern [00:26:00] John Deere tractor, just like a modern car or truck, has dozens of computers built into it. It's got all these electronic control units and sensors that, um, capture diagnostic information about how the tractor's performing. And so one problem that farmers run into is, you know, there will be some malfunction and, um, they don't have access to the diagnostic codes to understand what that malfunction actually means unless they use John Deere's proprietary software, which John Deere is very eager to keep in its own hands, exclusively.
So you have a difficulty just in diagnosing what the problem really is and how to fix it. Assuming you know how to fix it, or you find someone who knows how to fix it. You go out and you buy the appropriate parts and you install them. And in many cases, John Deere's software will actually prevent a [00:27:00] correctly installed component from functioning until they initialize it with their own computer software code. So, they have to send, they send a John Deere technician out from the dealer and you're paying for their travel time at, you know, $150 an hour or whatever it costs. They come to your farm, they connect their laptop to your device. Uh, they generate this payload file, which then has to be transferred to your tractor. And only then does the, you know, the original manufacturer part that you installed actually work. And so even if you wanna rely on self-repair or independent repair, you can't get around paying John Deere. It's essentially a tax that they're imposing on farmers who wanna repair things themselves.
ADAM CONOVER - HOST, FACTUALLY!: And let me guess, let me guess: this special software that the hardware needs to work is proprietary to John Deere and no one else can get a copy of it and if you were to [00:28:00] reverse engineer it or somehow get a copy of the software and try to use it independently, they would sue you or perhaps criminally investigate you.
AARON PERZANOWSKI: So, yeah, there's real risk here if you go out and try to find the software through other means and farmers have been doing it. Um, you know, there's, there's some great reporting a couple of years ago about farmers who were, um, you know, desperate to get their machinery working because, you know, oftentimes these are time sensitive repairs, right? Your crops need to come out of the ground. They need to be harvested. And if they're telling you it's gonna be a week or two until the John Deere guy can come out, you need to fix it quickly. So, they were going on the dark web and finding this John Deere software from Ukrainian hackers and downloading it from, you know, these password protected invite only websites as a workaround. And that does create some potential legal liability.
The Streaming TV Bloodbath - What Next - Air Date 8-28-22
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: HBO Max reportedly laid off 70 people this month. The Daily Beast said that included 13 [00:29:00] non-white executives. Netflix fired 150 people this spring, and many of them were women and people of color who were helping make and amplify content that was targeting more diverse audiences.
JULIA ALEXANDER: I can’t speak to the individuals that they have let go. What I can speak to is kind of strategic shifts in the areas that they’ve targeted. And so animation is a key one. Certain types of film is another one. And if you’re Netflix and you’re looking at cutting costs really for kind of almost the first time in a major way, you’re really trying to appease, well, one, you’re trying to help your balance sheet as a company. But two, you’re a publicly traded company. You’re really trying to appease investors, especially as you have activist investors who come on board and they come on, they buy a whole chunk of stock, and then they think that they have the ear of the CEOs or in Netflix, the co-CEOs.
Netflix is teams are massive. They’re massive teams. And so you’re looking at what’s working with them, what’s not, and you’re going to maybe target one that’s not. So if you’re saying, [00:30:00] independent films at the $15 to $20 million level that don’t really do anything for us prestige-wise, they don’t do anything for us revenue-wise, they don’t do anything for us franchise level-wise, we don’t really need those teams. So we can let those teams go, especially if they’re US-focused. We feel like we’ve kind of tapped out in the U.S. a little bit. So now we need to really be figuring out how to reach international markets.
But the reality is Netflix has to make decisions now. They were working like they were operating like a tech company, like an Apple. And now they have to operate like an NBC, right? Like they have to look at their expenses. They have the cost of labor that they have and find a way to balance that. And layoffs are never, ever a fun story. But Netflix is course correcting in the way that it should have been doing years ago and is now being forced to do now.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: Does that mean when a company is course correcting or figuring out what it’s doing now, that it’s making bets that are more of a sure thing or that have an audience built in? I’m thinking [00:31:00] about House of the Dragon on HBO Max. There’s a huge audience that maybe misses Game of Thrones and is ready to watch something similar again. Maybe no matter how violent it is in the first episode.
JULIA ALEXANDER: House of the Dragon, which is a $200 million show, which is pretty much a guaranteed bet for HBO, but is still a costly bet, happens. And then they use a bunch of other different shows that they think might be guaranteed best but might be a slightly cheaper cost. Something like Sex, Lies with college girls, something like a Gossip Girl, which are like we think there’s an audience here for it’s not going to cost as much. And alongside House of the Dragon, this is going to allow us to create strong enough revenue that we can then invest in shows that we think might perform down the line, but we’re not sure. And we really need these guaranteed bets both at the cheap level and at the expensive level to bring audiences in.
The thing that’s happening over the last decade and we can think -- whether you love or hate this -- Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios team is that IP intellectual property [00:32:00] franchises have just become the dominant thing. Everybody wants a franchise.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: Marvel after Marvel, after Marvel after Marvel.
JULIA ALEXANDER: And if you are Warner Brothers and if you are Disney, you are lucking out because you have them to the moon and back. Disney has Star Wars, Marvel, Warner Brothers has DC, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter. They’ve got all the ones over there. And so you’re seeing a lot of investment in that space because, one, it’s guaranteed; two, if you think about how these companies are built, it’s really easy to siphon them into like into one category. Like this is movies and this is TV. If you look at a DC or if you look at a Game of Thrones, you can make games on that, which is an entry way for people to come in. You can make merge, you can do experiences, all this type of stuff that’s really hard to do with a drama or a comedy that does not have that same kind of audience built in.
So when you see Netflix doing $200 Million in the Green Men, it’s this idea of like getting to a point where everyone has franchise that then acts as a revenue or a borrow. It should pay for itself eventually.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: But doesn’t that also risk, I don’t know, [00:33:00] content becoming boring?
JULIA ALEXANDER: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I think again, I think if you asked people about their -- and I say this as someone who really loves this company and loves the series. But I think if you ask people about Marvel now, versus Marvel circa 2011 and 2012, I think you’d get a lot of people saying like, oh, I don’t know, like I’m not as invested in it as I used to be. And I think part of that is an oversaturation, and there’s only so much of it that you can do.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: Warner Brothers and Discovery. In this merger, it means so much for investors. It means so much for people who write about this industry. What does it mean for viewers? Like what are you going to see or not see because of this merger?
JULIA ALEXANDER: Yeah. You know, I was talking to a friend about this yesterday and they are specifically focusing on titles, right? And they said, okay, Infinity Train's gone. OK KO's gone. 200 episodes of Sesame Street are gone.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: That’s a big concern in my house, by the way.
JULIA ALEXANDER: And that’s really devastating, as someone who desperately loves something like a Succession or What We Do in the Shadows. If that was [00:34:00] gone forever, I’d be very, very upset. If we look at the 36 titles that they removed, it is all, for the most part, kids animation, right? It’s kids life programming, kids animation. Some other animation thrown into there. But it’s really that. So if I’m a fan of something and I’m looking at it, my immediate takeaway is they’re not investing in kids, and they’re not investing in animation. They’re backing away from it. It’s really hard to tell creatives and fans who are right brain, who are very enthusiastic and are very like obsessive with their shows, because it’s their art, really it's their life’s work. It’s really hard to tell them "for accounting purposes, it makes more sense for us not to have this on the platform" and people don’t understand what that means. And what happens with something like streaming, where these are referred to as intangible assets -- tangible asset, DVD, you can touch it. It’s a tangible asset. The value of that is pretty apparent. Intangible asset, really hard to determine the value of that three years down the road. We don’t know. It’s really hard to do.
So what [00:35:00] the teams at these companies do, the financial planning analysis teams, they go through and they basically do a cost-to-value formula in Excel. Their whole thing is what is the likelihood that this show in 3 to 4 years is going to be worth more than it is right now? And right now, if it’s worth the highest it’s ever going to be, they can choose to remove that show and take almost like a tax write down, tax write off on it. Really boring way of saying these decisions are not just being made from a creative perspective where they’re saying, okay, we’re going to move away from kids and animation, like that’s a creative decision. It’s also saying we have this financial aspect that we can save high tens of millions dollars a year. None of that matters to fans. None of that matters.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: None of that matters.
JULIA ALEXANDER: And especially, again, we came from an age where we told consumers, we told fans over and over and over again via our actions taken as an industry, that there was going to be more and more and more. Everything about how we think of television and we [00:36:00] thought of it for 60 years, disappeared in a decade. And now it’s like I have these expectations. A show will come out in 13 episodes all at once, and then I might get a second season a year later. And that’s kind of how television works. My shows are going to be there in some capacity, on some service, I’ll be able to access this. It’s really hard to change fundamental, irrevocable human behavior. And that is where fans are coming in and saying like, what is happening?
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: Sure, you can always protest a show being axed from a platform by canceling your subscription. But there isn’t much other recourse if you love something. There might be a chance that it’s gone forever, or at least really difficult to find. That’s alarming, both for consumers who have fallen out of the habit of, say, buying DVDs they’ll own forever, and for the people who make these shows.
JULIA ALEXANDER: But the big question right now is: I want guarantees or guaranteed that I’m going to have this show at least be available on iTunes. This show is going to [00:37:00] be available on Amazon. Fans can at least spend ten bucks and they can buy the season --
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: And they can buy it.
JULIA ALEXANDER: You’re right. It’s their quest for permanence in an increasingly ethereal moment. It’s their way of saying this will exist.
Now, these companies are not going to put out DVDs necessarily, because why would they do that? It’s declining business. They don’t even have a business unit really for it anymore. Their home video entertainment is not DVD focused, it’s VOD focused. And so you’re not going to get physical. But you see that fans are doing this. You know, over the last week, Infinity Train, all four seasons, shot up to like the top ten on the Apple TV or iTunes chart. People went out and bought it.
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: Wow.
JULIA ALEXANDER: We also saw, though, that that’s not permanent. If we remember last year, I believe it was, maybe two years ago -- COVID time, I don’t remember, but I think it was last year -- and there was all this, the episodes that were deemed either outright racist or problematic. There was episodes like 30 Rock. I think there was an episode of like Golden Girls or something. And what we saw happen was those episodes disappear from iTunes, it disappeared from Amazon. And on the one hand you’re [00:38:00] like, okay, I mean, I get what they’re trying to do. Like they’re very much saying, like, we were wrong about this and we’re going to remove it. On the other hand, if you are someone who is deeply worried, like I am, about things just disappearing because that is what happens when we’re in an increasingly digital age, this is where the creators come in and they’re saying, we don’t even know if Warner Brothers/Discovery is going to do this for us. We don’t even know if we’re going to have guaranteed Amazon, iTunes or if this disappears. And then at that point, all you can do really as a creator -- and this is what Owen Dennis said -- is like not promote piracy, but you’re like, I also I get it, if you remove availability and accessibility, this is what happens.
But I think what is increasingly clear, both from a talent side and from a fan side, is that as the market continues to consolidate -- and it’s not done, we’ll see way more consolidation happen at the major level -- the power imbalance grows. It’s a divide. And all of a sudden, if you’re a creator and you can only pitch three different companies, I mean, this is, you know, 1948 all over again. You only pitched [00:39:00] these many companies --
LIZZIE O'LEARY -HOST, WHAT NEXT: With the studio system?
JULIA ALEXANDER: With the studio system, you’re basically like, they hold all the power and now we’re kind of moving back towards that. There’s not much you can do. You kind of just hope that what you like is something that the companies are also invested in. But I think there’s an acceptance that people have to have that they don’t have control over this, that the industry is no longer more and more and more. The industry is now back to basic show business. It is we have to make money. And it is increasingly difficult to do that right now.
CAN THEY DO THAT? | PlayStation to Remove "Owned" Movies (VL687) - Hoeg Law - Air Date 7-7-22
RICHARD HOEG - HOST, HOEG LAW: In a move that will undoubtedly draw severe criticism, movies from StudioCanal that customers have purchased on the PlayStation store will be completely removed next month.
The legal notice is published on PlayStation's German and Austrian websites, where it reads, "As of August 31st, 2022, due to our evolving licensing agreements with content providers, you will no longer be able to view your previously purchased StudioCanal content, and it will be removed from your video [00:40:00] library".
Now, as you can imagine, this is something of an apocalypse for fans of digital content. It has always been the case that we know things are licensed and not sold. We've talked about it a lot in "Virtual Legality", but for the most part, these platform providers, be they PlayStation or Xbox or Vudu or wherever else you get your movies, songs, video games, elsewise, even when facing a contractual discontinuation, have allowed people that paid them money to continue to download and otherwise use the content that they have "purchased". This appears to be one of the major instances where that will not be the case, at least in Germany and Austria, for PlayStation store customers. And this is a big enough deal to the entertainment community at large, that Variety itself went out with an article just over an hour ago, entitled "Sony's PlayStation Store Pulling Access to Purchased Studiocanal Movies Next Month" with the same kind of news acknowledgement and then [00:41:00] a statement: "The move comes a year after Sony's PlayStation group stopped offering movie and TV show purchases and rentals as of August 31st, 2021, citing the rise of streaming video services. At the time, Sony assured customers that they can still access movie and TV content they have purchased through PlayStation store for on-demand playback on their PS4, PS5, and mobile devices. But clearly", Variety notes, "that didn't mean forever."
Now, I do wanna point out something here. In this paragraph I saw in a number of articles, not all of which I've included in this video, this is a little bit tricky of the way this has been quoted out in Variety and was equally quoted out in other outlets. "At the time, Sony assured customers that they can still access movie and TV content" is accurate, but only technically so, which I know some of you are gonna say is the best kind, but it can be a problem when reporting on something. So here's the PlayStation blog from, uh, early last year, March 2021, [00:42:00] gave a little bit of a heads up, said, "At SIE, we strive to provide the best entertainment experience for PlayStation fans. And that means evolving our offerings as customer needs change. We've seen tremendous growth from PlayStation fans using subscription based and ad-based entertainment streaming services on our consoles. With this shift in customer behavior, we have decided to no longer offer movie and TV purchases and rentals through PlayStation store as of August 30. 2021. When this change takes effect, users can still access movie and TV content they have purchased through PlayStation store for on-demand playback on their PS4, PS5, and mobile devices". And it's the second portion of this sentence that is quoted in Variety and these other outlets. But as a lawyer, I have to point out that this still does something in the sentence. "When this change takes effect", as I read it, really only applies to the situation as of August 31st, 2021. Now, obviously PlayStation and [00:43:00] Sony wants you to keep considering buying things from their store and otherwise to assure you, back in March of 2021, that we didn't just rob you and take your money and are now killing all access to your movies even though that's exactly the scenario they are dealing with now. Still, I think it's a bit unfair for Variety to elide the top of the sentence here and only quote the back half. And I think this is unfair, not just in Variety, I'm not throwing them solely under the bus, but in other articles that I have read on this topic, when PlayStation, as much as you might not like it, really did limit the effects of that sentence soley to that August 31st, 2021 window.
Now, the other thing I note as part of this particular news item is that August 31st is an important date. They cut off their video service items in the PlayStation store as of that date. And then when we look at what's happening right now, the cutoff for StudioCanal is exactly one year thereafter, which as a contract lawyer myself [00:44:00] reads to me as some kind of contract term, right? Sony licenses in the right to sell you StudioCanal features. It seems to me likely that in their contract, at some point, in some provision, it says if you ever stop offering our content, if you ever cease your store entirely, perhaps, then one year thereafter, we can discontinue access through that storefront through your servers, because frankly we don't trust you. We're not making money off you anymore, and so we don't have to support you. Which makes this a bit of a StudioCanal problem. Sure. But also a Sony problem, because at some level we are depending when we purchased digital content, including video games, on these various platforms, publishers, or other parties to get the licenses right.
You've heard me say in "Virtual Legality" at times before that from a consumer perspective, it's not my problem. And this seems to be one of those times. If you have your game pulled and I can no longer access it because you didn't license your music right: not my problem. If you sold me [00:45:00] something and then lose the rights to that so that I can no longer use that which I paid for: at some level it's not my problem. But what people ask me about on these topics, why they ask for my thoughts at all, is really the question of, Is this a legal problem? First and foremost, I think it's a business problem. I think it's a public relations problem. I'm entirely against this kind of behavior and I'm entirely against, in all honesties, the way that they describe what is purchased and what is owned.
I did a video last year called "Lawsuit: Are Digital Stores Perpetuating Fraud? Are You Buying It?", about a lawsuit that was effectively premised I believe on Vudu using a buy button for when they want to sell you TV shows or movies, but in their terms of service saying, Hey, they can resin these, you can lose them. And is that, is it something that is an acceptable market practice for these particular markets? And I said, look, I can go tell you all these things as a lawyer. You're not buying the movie. You're not even buying access to the movie. You are buying a license right, and that license right is conditioned on X, Y, and Z. That's what we're gonna look at in the PlayStation network terms of service. But I can also tell you that that isn't the reasonable person's understanding of what is happening here.
When they say you purchase a movie or purchase a television show, or that PlayStation users, when they use a buy button, [00:47:00] all these various things, people aren't thinking that they are purchasing a revocable license to this particular content that can be revoked at virtually any time and is largely dependent on your trust in the person that you've purchased it from, that they signed their contracts correctly and didn't have only a one year tail on when they decided to stop selling you movies.
Rethinking ownership in the digital age | Siân Lindley -TEDxEastEnd - Air Date 2-20-15
SIÂN LINDLEY: So when we think about the digital, we often imagine a lack of borders. And today I want to challenge that. I want to ask where the borders lie when it comes to our digital content and what they mean for our sense of ownership over it.
I want to begin with a story about books. So in 2009 hundreds of Kindle owners, who had bought certain ebook editions of George Orwell's Animal Farm, and for more ironically, 1984, found that these books had been removed from their libraries. Now these were books, they were refunded their money. And for many of them that refund was what prompted them to notice that their [00:48:00] access to those books had changed. And these are books that they, broadly speaking, thought that they owned.
The ownership, when it comes to digital content, has many complexities. Having access to an ebook just isn't the same as owning a paperback. Indeed, a quick read through of Kindle's terms and conditions makes it quite clear that you are essentially buying a license. You are able to access to view, display, use that content on the Kindle device itself. And it's only when, for example, a company's ability to license that content is called into question, or if a reader wants to do something that falls outside the terms of that license -- maybe they want to transfer any book from one device to another -- that the boundaries that kind of underpin our access to this content come to the fore.
Now, of course, this may not be news to you. I mean, we all know that digital content is bound up with new and different access models, books, video, music, [00:49:00] they're all subject to digital rights management. And of course these new services bring many advantages. I mean, music streaming services enable us access to huge music libraries for the price of just a handful of songs per month.
I don't think that ownership is something that people who use those services are really worried about. I mean, I think it's obvious that if you use a music streaming service, you're paying to access rather than to be in possession of music.
But I do wonder if there are other things on those services that maybe those people do consider to be their own.
What about the things that they make, for example? So many music streaming services allow their listeners to create playlists, to mark their favorites, to capture their listening histories. And these things are all products of the efforts and the actions of those listeners. In the same way that I would struggle to transfer an ebook from one device to another, I might struggle to download my playlists or [00:50:00] my listening history or my favorites. These things are just not packaged up in a way that allows me to act upon them. So again, boundaries assert their influence in terms of what can be moved, where, and by whom.
But what I don't want to do today is make an argument against boundaries. I think boundaries bring complexities, but they also offer advantages. And in many ways, boundaries are inherent to what our concept of ownership is.
So, what I want to do is ask how we might rethink boundaries to understand, to underpin a richer concept of ownership of our digital content.
I want to suggest we might do this in two ways.
Firstly, I want to think about how we package up digital content, the boundaries that we draw around it. Now I've already kind of argued that a playlist or your favorites or your histories, these are not things that are bound up, packaged up in a way that we can act upon them. They're not like how we might think of as a traditional [00:51:00] file.
And this applies to other content too. So photos, for example. Now I think we think of photos as file-like, as image files. But increasingly by putting our photos online, where they acquire likes, comments, they spark conversations. These things which kind of show the history of the object have in some ways been compared by people writing in my field to the kind of patina that a material object might acquire.
So in the same way that a leather jacket might darken and soften over time, or a book might fall open at a particular page, or it might contain the notes to a TEDx talk, these things kind of show the history of the object. They kind of add to its meaning for us.
But increasingly with our digital content, these things are divorced from the thing itself. So the comments, the likes, they're not wrapped up with the photo. They're not part of that object.
So I'd [00:52:00] want to suggest is if we could draw new boundaries around that digital content, if we could wrap it up in new ways so that the comments were kind of embodied with the image, or perhaps if my playlist could be something that I could bundle up, I could turn this into something that would be more capable and that might have greater meaning to me.
A second way of rethinking boundaries might be to look at those that exist between the devices and the services that we use. So if we continue with this example of a photo, this photo that might be online, that might be attracting this kind of patina that I've talked about. It may have counterparts elsewhere, but these counterparts are completely disconnected. So there may be a version on my computer. There may be a version that's backed up to a private cloud service. And at the minute these things are disconnected. So if we could link these things, if we could draw connections across these boundaries between devices and services, we might have a better sense of where the digital content that we care about is, and what's happening to it.[00:53:00]
So if we rethink how we draw boundaries around the digital, if we package it up in new ways and work against these boundaries that exist between devices and services, what new actions might we underpin?
Now this book, if we come back to it, although it's -- although simple, I can do a number of actions with this book that can underpin quite a rich set of experiences.
So for example, I could gift this book to a friend, or I could loan it to them. I could swap it with them. I could bequeath it to a family member. I could throw it into this audience or I could leave it on the tube. I'm not gonna throw it at anyone.
These actions, while simple, they just don't translate with digital content. So it can be very difficult to gift digital content, to lend it, to bequeath it, transferring ownership, relinquishing possession, these things become complicated. And I think this is because the actions that we designed [00:54:00] around our computer files, the grammar of action that was designed for the computer file, was designed for a world that didn't have the internet, that didn't have cloud computing, that didn't have social network services. So actions that we're so familiar with -- copy, delete -- become complex in a networked world. They don't readily translate. Copies proliferate; they're seen as cheapened. Delete really loses its salience in an online context.
So if we rethink how we package up our digital content, we might also need to think about what new actions we want to design to go alongside it.
And today, I just wanna give one really simple example, which is about giving. What if I could give you, transfer ownership, some digital content to you, such that I didn't have it anymore for myself; what would that mean? And perhaps that would make sense if our digital content carried its own patina, carried its own history. I could give you a digital object that was unique, that I didn't have [00:55:00] anymore for myself. And it could be simple things. It could be books or music. It could be something I'd made. It could be a playlist that's wrapped up with photos instead of album artwork, a modern mix tape.
And I think if I could do simple actions like this with my digital content, maybe the ways that we started to think about our digital possessions might change. We might see them a bit more richly.
So I just wanna leave you with a question: If we could repackage our digital content in new ways, we draw new boundaries around it, what actions would you wish to support, and how would those actions underpin your sense of ownership over it and play into the ways that we can interact with each other?
It's my belief that it's time to redraw the boundaries around our digital content, such that some are open to all, some are close to oneself, and some are available for giving and receiving. It's my belief it's time to redesign the file and what we can do with it.[00:56:00]
The AI that creates any picture you want, explained - Vox - Air Date 6-1-22
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: Seven years ago, back in 2015, one major development in AI research was automated image captioning. Machine learning algorithms could already label objects in images, and now they learn to put those labels into natural language descriptions. And it made one group of researchers curious, what, if you flipped that process around?
ELMAN MANISMOV: We could do image to text, why not try doing text to image as well and see how it works.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: It was a more difficult task. They didn't want to retrieve existing images the way Google search does. They wanted to generate entirely novel scenes that didn't happen in the real world. So they asked their computer model for something that it would have never seen before.
ELMAN MANISMOV: Like all the school buses you've seen are yellow, but if you write the red or green school bus, would it actually try to generate something green? And it did that. It was a 32 by 32 tiny image, and then all you could see is like a blob of something on top of something.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: They tried some other prompts, like a [00:57:00] herd of elephants flying in the blue skies. A vintage photo of a cat. A toilet seat sits open in the grass field. And a bowl of bananas is on the table. Maybe not something to hang on your wall, but the 2016 paper from those researchers showed the potential for what might become possible in the future. And, uh, the future has arrived.
KALIYUGA: It is almost impossible to overstate how far the technology has come in just one year.
BOKAR N'DIAYE: Leaps and bounds.
TED UNDERWOOD: Oh, it's yeah, it's been quite dramatic.
ROB SHERIDAN: I don't know anyone who hasn't immediately been like, "what is this? What is happening here?"
STREET INTERVIEWS: Could I say like waves crash watching waves crashing?
Party hat guy.
Sea foam dreams.
A coral reef.
My prompt is Salvador deli painting the skyline of New York city. [00:58:00]
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: You may be thinking, wait, AI generated images aren't new. You might have heard about this generated portrait going for over $400,000 at auction back in 2018, or this installation of morphing portraits, which sought to be sold the following year. It was created by Mario Klingman, who explained to me that that type of AI art required him to collect a specific data set of images and train his own model to mimic that data.
MARIO KLINGMANN: Let's say I want to create landscapes, so I collect a lot of landscape images. I want to create portraits, I trained it on portraits, but then the portrait model would not really be able to create landscapes.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: And same with those hyper realistic fake faces that have been plaguing LinkedIn and Facebook. Those come from a model that only knows how to make faces. Generating a scene from any combination of words requires a different, newer, bigger approach.
MARIO KLINGMANN: Now, we have these huge models, which are so huge that somebody like me actually cannot train them anymore on their own computer, but once they are there, they contain [00:59:00] everything, I mean, to a certain extent.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: What this means is that we can now create images without having to actually execute them with paint or cameras or pen tools or code. The input is just a simple line of text. The ability of deep learning to extract patterns from data means that you can copy an artist's style without copying their images, just by putting their name in the prompt.
James Gurney is an American illustrator who quickly became a popular reference for users of text to image models. I asked him what kind of norms he would like to see as prompting becomes widespread.
JAMES GURNEY: I think it's only fair to people looking at this work that they should know what the prompt was and also what software was used. Also, I think the artist should be allowed to opt in or opt out of having their work that they worked so hard on by hand, be used as a data set for creating this other artwork.
VANESSA ROSA: James Gurney, I think he was a great example of being someone who was open to it, started talking with their artists, but [01:00:00] I also heard of other artists who got, actually, extremely upset.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: The copyright questions regarding the images that go into training the models and the images that come out of them are completely unresolved. And those aren't the only questions that this technology will provoke. The latent space of these models contain some dark corners that get scarier as outputs become photo realistic. It also holds an untold number of associations that we wouldn't teach our children, but that it learned from the internet.
LIA COLEMAN: If you ask for an image of a CEO it's like an old white guy. If you ask for images of nurses, they're all women.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: We don't know exactly what's in the datasets used by Open AI or Midjourney, but we know the internet is biased toward the English language and Western concepts, with whole culture is not represented at all. In one open source dataset the word Asian is represented first and foremost by an avalanche of porn.
KALIYUGA: Yeah, it really is just a infinitely complex mirror held up to our society and what we deem worthy enough [01:01:00] to put on the internet in the first place and how we think about what we do put up.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: But what makes this technology so unique is that it enables any of us to direct the machine to imagine what we want it to see.
STREET INTERVIEWS: A party hat guy, space invader, caterpillar, and a ramen bowl.
JOSS FONG - HOST, VOX: Prompting removes the obstacles between our ideas and images and eventually videos, animations, and whole virtual worlds.
TED UNDERWOOD: We are on a voyage here that is... it's a bigger deal than just one decade or the immediate technical consequences. It's a change in the way humans imagine, communicate, work with their own culture and that will have long range good and bad consequences that we are just by definition, not gonna be capable of completely anticipating.
Final comments on how the world was lost and the Dream Machine
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with The United States of Anxiety examining the ethics of engaging with digital platforms that cause harm. [01:02:00] There Are No Girls on the Internet discussed the exploitation and appropriation of a narrow slice of Black culture to create a deeply problematic virtual rapper. Factually! with Adam Conover looked into the right to repair movement. What Next explained the shifting business models at play in the streaming wars. Hoeg Law looked at how customers have been systematically mislead by tech companies to believe that they've been purchasing digital goods while it's more accurate to say that they've been purchasing temporary licenses to those goods. And the TEDx Talk from Siân Lindley questioned the current boundaries we put around digital items and suggested that it's time for a redesign.
That's what everyone heard about also members also heard a bonus clip from Vox looking into the world of artificial intelligence, creating art based on the work of real human artist. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only [01:03:00] podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
Now to wrap up today, I have a couple of things to discuss. The first is a story related to the question that was posed or the idea that was discussed in the very first clip of today's show. Can you help fix a broken or evil or destructive system from the inside, or do you more often just end up being part of the problem?
Well, that ethical question described in the first clip today got me thinking about another story related to the Nazis, since I've been reading up about them this summer. Not to equate Facebook employees to Nazis, obviously, but the human dynamics that play out in extreme situations are often indicative of those same dynamics under less high stake scenarios.
So, once again, Nazi Germany is an extreme [01:04:00] example of an evil system and, unsurprisingly, there were people who opposed the system but hoped that they may be able to do more good from within it than by opposing it directly. And here is one such person's story as described in the book They Thought They Were Free.
Quoting, "the world was lost one day in 1935 here in Germany. It was I who lost it, and I will tell you how. Under the law I was required to take the oath of fidelity. I said I would not. I opposed it in conscience. I was given 24 hours to think it over. In those 24 hours I lost the world. What I tried to think of was the people to whom I might be of some help later on if things got worse, as I believed they would. The next day, after thinking it over, I said I would take the oath with the mental reservation that, by the words, with which the oath began, I swear by God, I understood that no human being and no [01:05:00] government had the rights to override my conscience. My mental reservations did not interest the official who administered the oath. He said, 'do you take the oath?', and I took it. That day the world was lost, and it was I who lost it. For the sake of the argument he said, I will agree that I saved many later on."
And then he goes on to describe why he should not have taken the oath, even though he managed to save lives. And then he explains, "first of all, there is the problem of the lesser evil, taking the oath was not so evil as being unable to help my friends later on would have been, but the evil of the oath was certain and immediate, and the helping of my friends was in the future and therefore uncertain. I had to commit a positive evil there and then in the hopes of a possible good later on. The good outweighed the evil, but the good was only a hope. The evil, a fact."
"There I was in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth [01:06:00] and education and imposition, rules or might easily rule in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would've meant that thousands and thousands like me all over Germany were refusing to take it. Their refusal would've heartened millions, thus the regime would've been overthrown, or indeed would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist in 1935 meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands like me in Germany were also unprepared. And each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus, the world was lost."
"If my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil. The day I said no, I had faith. In the process of thinking it over in the next 24 hours, my faith failed me."
So once again, obviously there's no direct comparison. There's no way to equate [01:07:00] Nazis with the people who work at Facebook, that's not what we're trying to do, but it does sort of describe the systemic way in which, if enough people collectively were to stand up against a system, demand that a system be run better, or, if it's purely evil, to be abolished, it could be done. But because an individual can't do it, they lose faith in their ability to make a difference, and one by one, the dominoes fall.
And then secondly, today I wanted to tell you about the machine that the inventor once hoped would replace the television with what is just about the polar opposite of licensing digital mass produced products that you can purchase, but not truly own. And that is personal experiences that take place behind your eyelids and are completely unknowable and non-transferable.
So quoting a description of the machine, "In [01:08:00] 1959 Gysin developed the Dreamachine. The creation saw a cylinder with slits fixed around a suspended light bulb placed on a record turntable. As it rotated, it projected light at a frequency that corresponded to waves present in the brain during relaxation, creating a kaleidoscopic, technicolor experience inside the mind of the viewer. Designed to be the 'first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed', Gysin had a vision for his invention to replace the TV in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass produced media, viewers of the Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences."
"The invention was fascinating to members of the beat generation, including William Burrows, Allen Ginsburg, Timothy Leary, and others."
"Gysin died before his vision could be realized, but his idea to use technology to reconnect us with our inner lives remains just [01:09:00] as radical, and relevant, today."
And just a quick history on this whole concept, it said that as far back as Nostradamus would use this basic technique, it was just described that instead of using a a turntable and a piece of paper with slits in it, and a light bulb, obviously, Nostradamus would stare at the sun with his eyes closed and then quickly, wave his hand with his spread fingers in front of his eyes to create that patterned effect of light and dark, flashing light effect, and that would create visions in his mind that he believed to be visions of the future, obviously.
And then just one more description. This is from a New York Times article from 2005 "Décor" by Timothy Leary. The article writer describes it this way, "Days after my experience, I found myself craving the Dreamachine, and the vivid imagery and sense of calm it had produced... having lived through the experience, it was not hard to [01:10:00] think about Mr. Gysin's vision of an alternate-universe America in which every home would tune in to internal landscapes instead of commercial programming."
But of course there's the rub, right? The inventor took his idea to major corporations at the time, but none were interested. The problem, as I think it might be obvious now, is that it would be way too difficult to get advertising into a person's internal landscape. What's the good of selling a single object that people could just use continuously and experience their inner landscape and inner peace in place of commercial broadcasting that would promise to deliver perpetual profits to the corporations as long as it could attract attention. And yes, I recognize the irony and appreciate you coming back and listening episode after episode to this podcast to keep me gainfully employed. And don't forget to sign up for Express VPN and a Libro audiobook subscription [01:11:00] using our affiliate links, all in the show notes.
But as long as you promise to keep listening to podcasts, you can also check out a simulation of the Dreamachine yourself. There's an iOS app named Dreamachine that you should be able to find pretty easily. It's not that amazing to be honest, but it is functional. And then you can also find a Dreamachine simulations on YouTube, which again, I think are not amazing but are functional. And just be aware that about one in 10,000 adults and one in 5,000 children may experience epileptic seizures, so be aware of that if you have any symptoms along those lines, I suspect that purpose built lights to create the Dreamachine effect would be better than a flashing computer or phone screen, but they're probably still worth checking out, so enjoy.
As always keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected]. That is gonna be it [01:12:00] for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Brian for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. And thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show cohosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app.
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So coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of [01:13:00] Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to twice weekly, thinks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.