For some reason I always assumed that part of aging meant developing a certain cynicism to the machinations of our ever changing world. I assumed that time would imbue us each with a “Been there, done that” attitude.
When I was much younger I fully embraced the spirit of the old Dylan tune The Times They Are A-Changing since, like most boomers, I was raised to believe change meant progress which in turn meant things continually improved. The future I envisioned in the 1950s and 1960s had more food, less pollution, more equality, less war, cooler cars, zippier airplanes, cures for all diseases and the Tigers winning the World Series year after year. Now I appreciate that change just means something is different than it was, for better or also for worse.
And therein lie the roots of my cynicism.
Trying to separate the wheat of progress from the chaff of change seems more difficult each year. And whereas once my belief was that all movement was forward movement, I’ve come to understand that even true progress is burdened with the kind of compromise that inspired the saying, “Two steps forward, and one step back”.
The open arms embrace of all things digital is a case in point. Not the hardware itself, of course, but the mischievous, even malevolent bytes that have crept into the zeroes and ones that move the world.
Our first signs of evil arrived when the internet was new; Alta Vista was the big name in search, and something called a virus somehow migrated into into your system, a gift from someone unknown, for reasons unknown.
Then one day the viruses came of age as hackers and hucksters planted worms, crumbs, PUPs, and Trojan horses into your system to do everything from spy on your every keystroke to disrupting your computer with some bad code so that you’d need to purchase the correct $29.95 antidote they just happened to know you needed.
The digital paradise was lost.
Today, the fifty shades of mischief aren’t solely concentrated on mayhem and petty theft, but some are courtesy of a few of the biggest names in the stock market. They argue that their intentions are honorable, their means only marginally invasive. Even better, some innocently ask for permission to poke their nose into your business. Just to enhance your experience, don’t you know.
One of my first caution flags was raised some years ago when I was watching an ad on television for Progressive Insurance featuring their gal Flo preaching the benefits of letting Progressive monitor your driving by plugging a device called Snapshot into your car. “No way will anyone be stupid enough to let them plug one of those into their car,” I chortled. And while my gut feeling that evil is afoot is shared by other cynics, a group of young whippersnappers calling themselves “Millennials” could care less if their every driving maneuver is tracked and recorded by a corporation that has a vested interest in taking as much of their money as they can get away with while returning the least amount possible when circumstances require their payment.
Now I find out that as of last year “black boxes” are required in all new cars. These boxes begin recording data when they sense potentially hazardous situations by tracking speed, direction, hard braking, stability and, of course, the inflation of the airbags. Since any accident my family or I have ever been involved in could be explained within the usual parameters of causation, I wondered who cared so deeply about our driving faux pas?
Turns out that in the event of an accident, your insurance company has the right to legally remove the “black box” for analysis from the car that you had, until that point in time, thought belonged totally to you. While there may exist some quasi-legal dodges to enforce rights of ownership, I don’t think this Supreme Court would be on the citizen’s side should push come to shove.
And then there’s the wonderful free apps for your smartphone that are giving numerous organizations enough data about you that they could form a pretty accurate description of your life should the need arise. It turns out that by analyzing as few as 300 “likes” on your Facebook page, your personality is revealed so thoroughly to Facebook data accumulators that they understand your personality better than your spouse.
I wonder if all of this is really necessary.
Last month, while traveling out West, we thought we’d order food and have it delivered to our room because it was already pitch black outside and we weren’t familiar with the town. It may have been a small town but of course there was a Domino’s Pizza. Since ordering food online didn’t sound too cutting edge (although I’d never tried to before), I fired up the laptop, but things quickly got out of hand. First, the Domino’s site wanted a zip code to know which “store” (not restaurant) we’d be using. That made sense, but a scramble for the motel stationary turned up nothing, nothing on the room key, but finally a flip though the phone book in the night stand bailed me out. Then I was asked to start my Domino’s Profile, which would add another user name, password and email account (I have a few) to my already overflowing file cabinet of secret words and handshakes. I closed my laptop’s lid. I mean, I don’t even know where the closest Domino’s is back home in Brighton, but I need a profile to order a pizza?
Last year I learned that the same computer server that stores Amazon Prime’s (and every other bit of Amazon’s) transaction information also holds data for the CIA; now what could possibly go wrong there? I’m just thankful that thus far I’ve led a very boring, uninteresting life. I hope.
None of these facts seems to rile up the group known as Millennials. Most of them accept the tradeoff that by using Google as your search engine, Google Maps as your GPS, a local cell tower pinpointing your location with every phone call made or received, and tracking every video ever watched on YouTube, you have less privacy than any Cold War spy sneaking through the back alleys of Moscow.
The Millennials were raised with a keyboard on their lap and a mouse in their hand, surfing the web while talking or texting on their phones. All of this digitized inter-connectedness is neither new nor threatening in the least to them.
As Butch asked Sundance, “Who are those guys?”
Hebdo vs. Apple
When discussions about selling French magazine Charlie Hebdo on iTunes fell apart in 2010 due to censorship concerns, publisher Stephane Charbonnier turned his satirical sights on Apple and especially Steve Jobs.
French Printer Held Hostage by Kouachis
After murdering the editors and writers at Charlie Hebdo, the killers sought refuge in a suburban Paris print shop. Ignoring the irony of hiding in a print shop, where content is actually given form for distribution, the brothers did get their wish to die for their cause.
Like unvisited web sites, there are thousands of new titles offered every year that never find an audience. Do all of these titles dilute the market or simply ensure that a sort of “literary evolution” will provide a steady stream of quality writing?
Kindle Unlimited Disappoints Authors
As ebook subscription services gain traction, the exception is Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service which is becoming known for obscure titles. Are ebook subscriptions to blame for falling ebook sales?
Authors United vs the Digerati
A reaction to the Amazon vs Hachette tiff was the formation of Authors United, a consequence decried by the “all digital, all the time” disciples of Jeff Bezos. A former Random House editor considers the current landscape.
Printers Continue to Struggle
Printers continue to struggle with flat sales posting a disappointing final quarter for 2014 that was essentially the same as 2013. Forecasts for 2015 warn that print growth will weakly follow a rising GDP with plants running at about 70% capacity.
Unlimited Digital Magazine Subscriptions Last month we showed how to get 150 digital domestic magazines for $10/month. How about 2,000 local and international monthlies for $9.99?
eBook Sales Stall, Print Posts Gains
The sales of printed books cratered in 2012 and has been steadily, if slowly, rising since then. Ebook sales, however, seem to have plateaued. And students who had used both preferred printed text books 2:1.
B&N Has a Pulse
Barnes & Noble surprised industry watchers with a stronger than expected holiday sales report. While digital content and Nook sales fell, overall sales were up very slightly over the previous year.
Your ebook reader reports not only on what you read but also on what you don’t read, even the very page you quit reading on in Fifty Shades of Gray. Publishers are paying attention to all of this data but are wondering how to act on it.
Giving an artist a seemingly arbitrary constraint can often focus the artist’s creativity. Book covers that are designed using the first initial of an author’s surname form the basis of a unique and attractive set of 26 books (for sale at Barnes & Noble as single volumes or as Nook editions.((?))).
UK eBook Platform Closing
English mega-retailer Tesco has announced it will be closing its ebook division blinkbox Books. The division was just about to celebrate its first year of operations. Publishers had hailed its creation as an alternative to Amazon’s dominance in the market.