The real threat to manhood: remaining children

    This is an interesting article that, to be honest, I expected a bit more from. It comments on some obvious things such as how problematic a rigid and joyless form of ultra-masculinity can be, as well as being careful not to say that discipline isn’t important.

    While I appreciate that the author, Dave Holmes, doesn’t use the term ‘toxic masculinity’ (which I think doesn’t really mean anything any more) what I do think he could have developed further is the very last line. In it, he mentions that the real threat to manhood is us “staying children” which is a much more interesting area to explore.

    The world is more individualised, gamified, and commercialised than ever before. Masculinity, as a concept, is therefore an idea to be bought and sold. The version we need to fix the world is not the version that gains the most likes on social media; it’s one that is confident, self-reflective, and biased towards helping others.

    You can be forgiven for not noticing that men aren’t men anymore, because men are always not men anymore. “Men aren’t men anymore”—like “nobody younger than me wants to work” and “this isn’t real music”—has been said every day in every language since we’ve had days and languages. It’s a particular concern in America, where men haven’t been men anymore from the jump. Almost certainly one of our founding fathers told his son, “Don’t leave this house without your wig, stockings, and frock coat—I didn’t raise a sissy.”

    […]

    “Men are not men anymore” is ancient; “men are not men anymore, buy this and fix that,” slightly newer. But this is a much bleaker time, a time of “men are not men anymore, smash that subscribe button.” A generation of boys looking for rules has met a generation of creeps looking for an audience: Jordan Peterson, Steven Crowder, Andrew Tate. Guys who offer a rigid and joyless version of masculinity. Guys whose brand says, “I have learned how to throttle everything that is exuberant and playful within myself to become someone else’s version of what a man is; what’s wrong with you?” Guys who have chosen a car for its color and will never forgive themselves for it.

    […]

    This is not to say you should throw away rules, or that playing to a person’s insecurity isn’t sometimes the right move. I quit smoking at 30, cold turkey, unless I was in a bar, or walking home after a good meal, or near someone who asked, “Would you like a cigarette?” My friend Lee picked up on this. “For someone who has quit smoking,” he said, “you are doing a lot of smoking.” I protested, “It’s just hard in certain situations.” Lee looked me in the eye and said, “Have you tried being a man?” Haven’t had a cigarette since.

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Lee aren’t saying independent thinking and discipline are virtues for men as opposed to women. They are just virtues. Rules for good living. Like we aim to provide in the Esquire of 2023. It’s time we stop being so worried about becoming women and start focusing on the real threat to manhood: staying children.

    Source: Can You Still Say ‘Be A Man’? | Esquire

    Stonehenge had nothing to do with druids

    I’ve only ever driven past Stonehenge, as it’s a long way from where I grew up, and by the time I was old enough to go independently there were all sorts of restrictions around it.

    It’s been interesting over my lifetime to see how the understanding of its significance has changed, especially as other henges and monuments have been found nearby.

    Seventeenth-century English antiquarians thought that Stonehenge was built by Celtic Druids. They were relying on the earliest written history they had: Julius Caesar’s narrative of his two unsuccessful invasions of Britain in 54 and 55 BC. Caesar had said the local priests were called Druids. John Aubrey (1626–1697) and William Stukeley (1687–1765) cemented the Stonehenge/Druid connection, while self-styled bard Edward Williams (1747–1826), who changed his name to Iolo Morganwg, invented “authentic” Druidic rituals.

    […]

    “The false association of [Stonehenge] with the Druids has persisted to the present day,” [historian Carole M.] Cusak writes, “and has become a form of folklore or folk-memory that has enabled modern Druids to obtain access and a degree of respect in their interactions with Stonehenge and other megalithic sites.”

    Meanwhile, archaeologists continue to explore the centuries of construction at Stonehenge and related sites like Durrington Walls and the Avenue that connects Stonehenge to the River Avon. Neolithic Britons seem to have come together to transform Stonehenge into the ring of giant stones—some from 180 miles away—we know today. Questions about construction and chronology continue, but current archeological thinking is dominated by findings and analyses of the Stonehenge Riverside Project of 2004–2009. The Stonehenge Riverside Project’s surveys and excavations made up the first major archeological explorations of Stonehenge and surroundings since the 1980s. The project archaeologists postulate that Stonehenge was a long-term cemetery for cremated remains, with Durrington Walls serving as the residencies and feasting center for its builders.

    Source: Stonehenge Before the Druids (Long, Long, Before The Druids) | JSTOR Daily

    Is this the end of the 'extremely online' era?

    As I mentioned in a recent post, you can’t win a war against system designed to destroy your attention. You have to try a different strategy. One of those is disengaging, which is what Thomas J Bevan is noticing, and advocating for, in this post.

    I like his mention of going to a place where he noticed there was “something off” and he realised nobody was using their phone. Not because they weren’t allowed to, but because they were having too much of a good time to bother with them.

    <img class=“alignnone size-full wp-image-8855” src=“https://thoughtshrapnel.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/DALL·E-2023-10-26-21.10.14-Vector-art-showing-a-massive-pile-of-smartphones-stacked-high-with-a-single-small-flower-growing-from-the-top-symbolising-hope-and-a-return-to-auth-1.png” alt=“Vector art showing a massive pile of smartphones stacked high, with a single, small flower growing from the top, symbolising hope and a return to authenticity.

    " width=“1024” height=“1024” />

    The consequences of life lived online have bled through into the real world and this has happened because we have allowed them to. It’s a cliché to say that real life is now a temporary reprieve from the online, as opposed to the other way around. We pay the price for all of this via boarded up shops, closing pubs, empty playgrounds and silent streets as each individual stays at home each night, enchanted by the blue flicker of their own little screen feeding them their own walled in world of news and content and edutainment.

    I believe it will end, this so-called way of life. Not through the Silicon Valley oligarchs spontaneously developing a conscience or being legislated into acting with a modicum less sociopathy. I don’t believe people will be frightened into changing how they act or suddenly shamed into putting their phones down for once in their lives. Such interventions don’t work with most addicts and more and more people are legitimately hooked on their devices than we are currently willing to countenance. No, I think this will all end, as T.S Eliot said, with a whimper. People will simply lose interest and walk away. Because the internet now is boring. People spend all day scrolling because they are trying to find what isn’t there anymore. The authenticity, the genuinely human moments, the fun.

    Source: The End of the Extremely Online Era | Thomas J Bevan

    Image: Created with DALL-E 3

    Piracy and the art of cultural archiving

    Shortly before Daft Punk’s album Discovery was released, I managed to download a version of it which must have been exfiltrated from the studio. It was subtly different to the version that was released and, to be honest, I preferred it. Sadly, I’ve long since lost the MP3s, and the chance of me finding anything other than the official version these days is minimal.

    This article is about the preservation of music, movies, and books. What copyright maximalists don’t realise is that piracy is actually amazing at ensuring that cultural diversity flourishes and is preserved. It’s definitely worth a read.

    (It’s also interesting to me how this intersects what I posted earlier about AI-generated music and fandom, because both intersect with ‘official’ narratives and our current understanding of copyright.)

    "Your local bookseller cannot creep into your home in the middle of the night and reclaim the contents of your bookshelf," the legal scholars Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz observe in their 2016 book The End of Ownership. "But Amazon exercises a very different kind of practical power over your digital library. Your Kindle runs software written by Amazon, and it features a persistent network connection. That means Amazon can send it instructions—to delete a book or even replace it with a new version—without any intervention from you." The potential for mischief was clear as early as 2009, when someone started selling bootleg Kindle editions of George Orwell's 1984 and Amazon reacted by dispatching even some purchased copies to the memory hole.

    The fearful mood intensifies whenever politics enters the picture. When books by Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, and other long-dead authors were reedited to reflect what are said to be “contemporary sensitivities,” many e-books were automatically updated even for readers who had bought them long before. During the George Floyd protests of 2020, several streaming services, unable to stop the abusive policing that set off the unrest, decided instead to edit or eliminate TV episodes where characters appeared in blackface. (This wasn’t an anti-racist gesture so much as a cargo-cult copy of an anti-racist gesture—an elaborate imitation built without figuring out the functions of the component parts—and so it mostly affected shows that had presented blackface with obvious disapproval.) Several songs with words that might offend listeners have gone missing from Spotify or (as with Lizzo’s “Grrrls,” which originally included the term spaz) were replaced with new versions.

    Every time news breaks of one of these deletions, a refrain echoes online: Buy physical media! The internet is too impermanent, the argument goes: The real cultural cornucopia was in the outside world.

    As is often the case with nostalgia, this leaves out a lot. We still have access to far more media than we did in the days before the mass internet. Yes, this includes that politically controversial material: It takes less than a minute to dig up the unredacted version of “Grrrls” on YouTube (just search for lizzo grrrls spaz), and it’s not hard to find material that was withdrawn from circulation long before the internet era. (I’m told the ’90s were a less politically correct time than today, but back then you needed to track down a bootleg DVD or videotape if you were curious about Song of the South. Now it’s posted on the Internet Archive.) It’s too easy to take the internet’s riches for granted and to forget how much was inaccessible just a few decades ago.

    But while we shouldn’t want to return to those pre-web days, there’s something to be said for that online-offline hybrid space where my old tape-trading network dwelled—if not as a world to recreate, then as a way to think about cultural preservation. And there’s something to be said for the bootleggers and pirates. Whether or not they mean to do it, they’re salvaging pieces of our heritage.

    Source: Online Outlaws Preserve the History of Music, Movies, and Books | Reason

    Ask culture vs guess culture

    I’ve seen this culture clash outlined before, although I wouldn’t necessarily use the labels ‘ask’ and ‘guess for the different approaches. I was raised by a mother who very much (still!) relies on inference to live her life. I’ve found being much more direct useful in living my own.

    (I’d also note that the author seems to be playing fast-and-loose with the term ‘Western’ to mean ‘American’ here as British people are much more likely to be guessers than askers in my experience.)

    Ask culture and guess culture are vastly different in behavior and expectations. Here are some highlights:

    Ask culture expectations

    • Ask for what you want, even if it seems out of reach or like a big unreasonable request
    • Take care of your own needs, and others will take care of theirs
    • It’s fine to make requests that people will probably say no to
    • People say yes to requests that you truly feel good about, say no to ones they don’t
    Guess culture expectations
    • Only ask for something if you’re already pretty sure the other person will say yes
    • Read an abundance of indirect contextual cues to determine if your request is reasonable to make
    • It’s rude to put someone in a position where they have to say no to you
    • If the appropriate feelers and context are set, you will never have to make your request at all.
    [...]

    If you’re more a guess-culture person, asking people for help without knowing their circumstances can feel rude or intrusive. Broadcasting publicly your need for help can feel awkward and vulnerable.

    […]

    Western society is very much ask culture. A classic example can be found in proverbs. “A squeaky wheel gets the grease” is an American proverb, enforcing the ideas of individualism and that asking for what you want will benefit you.

    Source: Ask vs guess culture | Tech and Tea

    Getting serious

    This is a great article by Katherine Boyle that talks about the lack of ‘seriousness’ in the USA, but also considers the wider geopolitical situation. We’re living at a time when world leaders are ever-older, and people between the ages of 18 and 29 just don’t have… that much to do with their time?

    The Boomer ascendancy in America and industrialized nations has left us with a global gerontocracy and a languishing generation waiting in the wings. Not only does extended adolescence—what psychologist Erik Erikson first referred to as a “psychosocial moratorium” or the interim years between childhood and adulthood— affect the public life of younger generations, but their private lives as well.

    […]

    In many ways, the emergence of extended adolescence was designed both to coddle the young and to conceal an obvious fact: that the usual leadership turnover across institutions is no longer happening. That the old are quite happy to continue delaying aging and the finality it brings, while the young dither away their prime years with convenient excuses and even better TikTok videos.

    […]

    So in 2023, here we are: in a tri-polar geopolitical order led by septuagenarians and octogenarians. Xi Jinping, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have little in common, but all three are entering their 70s and 80s, orchestrating the final acts of their political careers and frankly, their lives. That we are beholden to the decisions of leaders whose worldviews were shaped by the wars, famines, and innovations of a bygone world, pre-Internet and before widespread mass education, is in part why our political culture feels so stale. That the gerontocracy is a global phenomenon and not just an American quirk should concern us: younger generations who are native to technological strength, modern science and emerging cultural ailments are still sidelined and pursuing status markers they should have achieved a decade ago.

    Source: It’s Time to Get Serious | The Free Press

    Artificial metrics are flying by instrument

    We had a conversation earlier this week about how we’re going to measure the progress of some community work we’re doing. In the end, we decided that there were no metrics that would make sense. It’s a vibe.

    This post says much the same thing. Sometimes there are no  objective measurements for things that matter. And that’s OK.

    Flight deck controls

    Artificial metrics are flying by instrument. They're individual "better/worse" dials that in amalgamation are supposed to tell you which way things are going, as long you are paying attention to the correct combination of them at the correct moment, and don't over-react to the feedback loops and crash the whole thing via a PIO. Instrument-only flight is harder than visual flight, it takes extensive practice, and the mistakes have worse repercussions.

    You can instead choose to just fly visually. It’s easier, it’s safer, and it’ll get you where you’re trying to go. The thing is, your entire industry thinks it’s impossible, and worse, they think it is irresponsible. They’re kinda right. You have to be good at the innate skill of flying, instead of the skill of navigating by instrument. Guess which one the “become a manager in tech” system produces. Bonus points: recognize how that is itself a PIO.

    Bonus Bonus Bonus points: Consider that if you’ve learned the skillset of visual flight poorly, and you don’t use the instruments to correct yourself, how will you ever know it’s going wrong in time?

    […]

    What matters for your team/org’s success is the fundamental human relationships, comradery, esprit de corps, support and space-curation, and especially, all of the prior while treating-em-like-adults. Those things make up the totality of why people want to work on your team and are excited about working with and supporting their peers. These are not invisible things. These are things you can pay attention to, structurally. These are not things you can quantify with numbers. You’re going to have to get comfortable with forming, expressing, and defending opinions based on things besides “data.” Not because you don’t have data, but because you don’t have quantifiable numbers that represent themselves, and our industry is poisoned into believing that only such things are data. We’ve got thousands of years of evolution helping us understand how group dynamics are flowing. Yes, using that is a skill set. That’s my point. Build and use that skill set. Learn how to read people’s reactions. Learn how to understand people’s motivations. Learn how to see how people work in groups and as individuals. Do the work.

    Source: How to build orgs that achieve your goals, by absolutely never doing that | Graham says wrong things

    Image: Jp Valery

    Signalling that you're AFK in a world where you can never really be AFK

    *AFK = ‘Away From Keyboard’

    I used AIM and MSN Messenger as a teenager, from around 1996 to about 2001. It was great, and I remember messaging with friends and the woman who is now my wife using it.

    Part of the whole experience of it was that you were using the service on a shared device, a computer that the rest of the family would use. In that sense, it was more like a text-based landline phone. It wasn’t personal like the smart devices that live in our pockets these days.

    There a lot of nostalgia about how things used to be, and we’re certainly not going back to shared devices as a primary means of getting online anytime soon. So that means that we need other ways of respecting one another’s boundaries. This is something we can actually reclaim ourselves by responding to messages on our own terms.

    Sometimes you had to step away. So you threw up an Away Message: I’m not here. I’m in class/at the game/my dad needs to use the comp. I’ve left you with an emo quote that demonstrates how deep I am. Or, here’s a song lyric that signals I am so over you. Never mind that my Away Message is aimed at you.

    I miss Away Messages. This nostalgia is layered in abstraction; I probably miss the newness of the internet of the 1990s, and I also miss just being … away. But this is about Away Messages themselves—the bits of code that constructed Maginot Lines around our availability. An Away Message was a text box full of possibilities, a mini-MySpace profile or a Facebook status update years before either existed. It was also a boundary: An Away Message not only popped up as a response after someone IM’d you, it was wholly visible to that person b they IM’d you.

    Nothing like this exists in our modern messaging apps.

    […]

    People send too many messages. I send too many messages. The first step in making messaging amends is to admit that you, too, are an inconsiderate messaging maniac.

    But I’ll never stop, and neither will you. Quick messaging is a utility. It is, in many cases, the most efficient and meaningful form of communication we have. It’s crucial for relationship building, for organizing, for supporting others through hard times. It can be joyful.

    […]

    Would something like the Away Message, a relic from an era when we just didn’t message so darn much, actually put up the guardrails we need? Maybe not. But I’m willing to try anything at this point. If we can’t ever get away from messages, at the very least we can create a digital simulacrum of ourselves that appears to be away. What else is the internet for?

    Source: It's Time to Bring Back the AIM Away Message | WIRED

    Popular culture has become an endless parade of sequels

    Once you start recognising colour schemes and sound effects, every new film ends up looking and sounding the same.

    Yes, I’m getting old, but as Adam Mastroianni from Experimental History explains, there’s shifts happening in everything from books to video games.

    The problem isn’t that the mean has decreased. It’s that the variance has shrunk. Movies, TV, music, books, and video games should expand our consciousness, jumpstart our imaginations, and introduce us to new worlds and stories and feelings. They should alienate us sometimes, or make us mad, or make us think. But they can’t do any of that if they only feed us sequels and spinoffs. It’s like eating macaroni and cheese every single night forever: it may be comfortable, but eventually you’re going to get scurvy.

    […]

    Fortunately, there’s a cure for our cultural anemia. While the top of the charts has been oligopolized, the bottom remains a vibrant anarchy. There are weird books and funky movies and bangers from across the sea. Two of the most interesting video games of the past decade put you in the role of an immigration officer and an insurance claims adjuster. Every strange thing, wonderful and terrible, is available to you, but they’ll die out if you don’t nourish them with your attention. Finding them takes some foraging and digging, and then you’ll have to stomach some very odd, unfamiliar flavors. That’s good. Learning to like unfamiliar things is one of the noblest human pursuits; it builds our empathy for unfamiliar people. And it kindles that delicate, precious fire inside us––without it, we might as well be algorithms. Humankind does not live on bread alone, nor can our spirits long survive on a diet of reruns.

    Source: Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly | Experimental History

    Some fairy tales may be 6,000 years old

    It’s fascinating to think that children’s stories may have been told and re-told across languages and cultures for millennia. It just goes to show the power of narrative structure!

    Fairy tales are transmitted through language, and the shoots and branches of the Indo-European language tree are well-defined, so the scientists could trace a tale's history back up the tree—and thus back in time. If both Slavic languages and Celtic languages had a version of Jack and the Beanstalk (and the analysis revealed they might), for example, chances are the story can be traced back to the "last common ancestor." That would be the Proto-Western-Indo-Europeans from whom both lineages split at least 6800 years ago. The approach mirrors how an evolutionary biologist might conclude that two species came from a common ancestor if their genes both contain the same mutation not found in other modern animals.

    […]

    Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re “minimally counterintuitive narratives.” That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend. Beauty and the Beast, for example, contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance. The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.

    Source: Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old | AAAS

    Your attention was stolen

    I still find it hard to trust Johann Hari’s writing, but this is more introspective and covers a subject that we all know is an issue: attention.

    For me, despite being ‘verified’ on Twitter and having what used to be considered a decent number of followers, I’ve deactivated my account. I think it’s for the last time. I’m so much calmer when not using it.

    I realised that to heal my attention, it was not enough simply to strip out distractions. That makes you feel good at first – but then it creates a vacuum where all the noise was. I realised I had to fill the vacuum. To do that, I started to think a lot about an area of psychology I had learned about years before – the science of flow states. Almost everyone reading this will have experienced a flow state at some point. It’s when you are doing something meaningful to you, and you really get into it, and time falls away, and your ego seems to vanish, and you find yourself focusing deeply and effortlessly. Flow is the deepest form of attention human beings can offer. But how do we get there?
    Source: Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen | The Guardian

    Does Not Translate 

    I enjoyed some of these untranslatable words from languages other than English.

    Sturmfrei (German) When all the people you live with are gone for a while and you have the whole place to yourself.

    Gyakugire (Japanese) Getting mad at somebody because they got mad at you for something you did.

    Bear favour (Swedish) To do something for someone with good intentions, but it actually has negative consequences instead.

    Source: Does Not Translate – Words that don’t translate to other languages

    Kith and kin

    This is a great article about how the internet was going to save us from TV and now we’re looking for something to save us from the internet. What we actually need are stronger and deeper relationships with the people around us — our kith and kin.

    We are conditioned to care about kin, to take life’s meaning from the relationships with those we know and love. But the psychological experience of fame, like a virus invading a cell, takes all of the mechanisms for human relations and puts them to work seeking more fame. In fact, this fundamental paradox—the pursuit through fame of a thing that fame cannot provide—is more or less the story of Donald Trump’s life: wanting recognition, instead getting attention, and then becoming addicted to attention itself, because he can’t quite understand the difference, even though deep in his psyche there’s a howling vortex that fame can never fill.

    This is why famous people as a rule are obsessed with what people say about them and stew and rage and rant about it. I can tell you that a thousand kind words from strangers will bounce off you, while a single harsh criticism will linger. And, if you pay attention, you’ll find all kinds of people—but particularly, quite often, famous people—having public fits on social media, at any time of the day or night. You might find Kevin Durant, one of the greatest basketball players on the planet, possibly in the history of the game—a multimillionaire who is better at the thing he does than almost any other person will ever be at anything—in the D.M.s of some twenty something fan who’s talking trash about his free-agency decisions. Not just once—routinely! And he’s not the only one at all.

    There’s no reason, really, for anyone to care about the inner turmoil of the famous. But I’ve come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.

    Source: On the Internet, We’re Always Famous | The New Yorker

    Why commute to an office to work remotely?

    This piece by Anne Helen Petersen is so good about the return to work. It’s ostensibly about US universities, but is so much widely applicable.

    As I’ve said to several people over the past few weeks, the idea of needing staff to be in a physical office most of the time for ‘serendipitous interactions’ is ridiculous. Working openly allows for much greater serendipity surface than any forced physical co-location might achieve.

    On college campuses across the United States, staff are back in the office. More specifically, they’re back in their own, individual offices, with their doors closed, meeting with one another over Zoom or Teams, battling low internet speeds, and reminding each other to mute themselves so that the sound of the meeting doesn’t create a deafening echo effect for everyone else.

    For some, the office is just a quick walk or bike ride away. But for many, coming into the office requires a distinctly unromantic commute. It means cobbling together childcare plans, particularly with the nationwide bus driver shortages and school quarantine regulations after illness or a potential exposure. It means paying for parking, and packing or paying for their lunches, and handing over anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours of their day. They are enduring the worst parts of a “traditional” job, only to go into the office and essentially work remote, with worse conditions and fewer amenities (and, in many cases, less comfort) than they had at home. It’s the worst of both work worlds.

    […]

    The university might seem like a weird example of an “office,” but it’s a pretty vivid illustration of one. You have leadership who are obsessed with image, cost cutting, and often deeply out of touch with the day-to-day operations of the organization (administration); a group of “creatives” (tenured faculty) who form the outward core of the organization and thus have significant self-import but dwindling power; full-time employees of various levels who are fundamental to the operation of the organization and chronically under-appreciated (staff) ; an underclass of contingent and contract workers who perform similar jobs to full-time employees but for less pay, fewer protections, less job security, and are held in far less esteem (grad students, adjuncts, and sub-contracted staff, including building, maintenance, food service, security). And then there’s the all-important customer, whose imagined needs, preferences, whims, demands, and supply of capital serve are the axis around which the rest of the organization rotates (students and their parents).

    Source: The Worst of Both Work Worlds | Culture Study

    Culture is in a state of constant flux

    My parents, the son of a factory worker and assistant baker and the daughter of domestic servants, were both the first in their families to go to university. As such, they wanted to ensure that their children, my sister and I, knew our way around ‘culture’.

    Hence, for me, a childhood punctuated not only piano lessons and visits to National Trust properties but visits to the cheapest seats at the theatre to see ballets and plays. In their mind, at least back then, there was ‘Culture’ (with a capital ‘C’) to which we had to be introduced.

    As Kojo Koram from the School of Law at Birkbeck, University of London, writes, however, culture is something that is continually remade by the people living it. These different conceptions mark the boundaries of the culture wars currently being played out in British politics and society.

    In the 1960s and 70s, when [Stuart] Hall was writing, most British intellectuals dismissed the new mass culture taking hold in the country as a passing fad that did not deserve the attention given to Shakespeare, Elgar or Hogarth. But Hall recognised how it offered an increasingly multicultural British population the opportunity to interpret and experience life as it was lived on the ground. Rather than seeing culture as something fixed and unchanging that needed constant protection, Hall saw it as something that underwent “constant transformation” and was always being made and remade by the people living it, a moving force that perpetually created new identities.

    It is no coincidence that so many of the primary battlegrounds where today’s culture wars are being staged are the elite institutions that represent a traditional British hierarchy: stately homes, Oxford university common rooms, the Last Night of the Proms. To culture warriors on the right, these institutions best represent Britain’s national culture as a whole. That they are exclusive is part of their appeal: when culture is defined as something that only a few people can access or control, its preservation is best entrusted to high-ranking authorities.

    Source: Here’s what the right gets wrong about culture: it’s not a monument, but a living thing | The Guardian

    Parasocial relationships through digital media

    I think we’ve all felt a close affinity and, dare I say, relationship with people who wouldn’t know who we were if we met them in real life. In fact, I’ve kind of experienced the other side of this due to my TEDx Talk and the TIDE podcast. People at events would come and talk to me as if they knew me.

    It’s nice, in a way, although it makes for very one-sided conversations until you get to know people. I think it’s likely to happen again with the Tao of WAO podcast

    Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common for people to develop intense one-sided relationships with famous people on the internet. What are called parasocial relationships (meaning almost social, or perversely social) have spread almost everywhere. For example, John Mulaney fans share concern over his recently messy personal life as much as they laugh at his jokes. Fans of K-pop groups like Blackpink (called Blinks) and Twice (called Onces) flood YouTube videos with millions of comments in support of their favorite performers. (“Rosé has worked so hard for this moment, let’s support her as much as we can!!”) Zoomers goof off in the chat for hours watching Twitch livestreamers play Minecraft or PUBG. Even Peloton trainers are marketed as supporting us on our fitness journeys rather than coaches who simply encourage us to sweat.

    The hosts of podcasts in particular are the subject of these intense feelings of connection, as many observers, like Rachel Aroesti in this Guardian piece for instance, have pointed out. I have a few parasocial podcast obsessions myself, particularly the podcasting family the McElroy Brothers, who make the comedy advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me and the “actual play” Dungeons and Dragons podcast The Adventure Zone, among other things. I follow fan subreddits, chuckle at McElroy memes, and buy merch to support the good good boys (as they are called). I have become as much a fan of the McElroys “themselves” as I am a fan of their content. I know their childhood nicknames, their struggles with depression and social anxiety, and I know about the time Justin got fired from Blockbuster for stealing a Fight Club DVD.

    Source: Why Can’t We Be Friends | Real Life

    The album is no longer the unit of musical currency

    I’m sitting listening to the new Kings of Convenience album while writing this. As this article points out, listening to albums is an increasingly unlikely thing to in the era of streaming music services.

    This isn’t accidental: it’s easy to hop between services when the unit of currency is an ‘album’. But when it’s a regularly-updated playlist that’s only available on a particular platform (e.g. Spotify) that’s a different proposition altogether.

    To help listeners find their way in the endless aisles of digital music, streaming providers created playlists — but this new way of listening has created unintended consequences for artists and songwriters. Today, three services make up two-thirds of the streaming economy: Spotify, which has an estimated 32 percent of the market, Apple Music (18 percent), and Amazon Music (14 percent). But Spotify dominates the conversation both because of its market power and its immensely popular playlists. In 2017, 68 percent of all listening on Spotify was from a company or user playlist, according to the company’s 2018 Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Its platform has more than 4 billion playlists, 3,000 of which are owned by Spotify, curated by a mix of algorithms and editors.

    Its most prominent playlists have serious cultural power. RapCaviar shapes the sound of hip-hop, and can turn indie rappers into household names. The genre-agnostic, slightly quirky playlist Lorem curates the vibe for Spotify’s Gen Z listeners. In 2020, listeners ages 16 to 40 used playlists as their primary source for discovering new music on the platform, according to the company. So today, a placement atop one of its playlists can make or break a song.

    Spotify isn’t shy about the marketing power of its playlists. In its SEC filing, the company wrote as much, crediting Lorde’s breakout global success to her placement on a single playlist: Sean Parker’s Hipster International. But her example may be an outlier. The challenge for most artists is that playlist listeners frequently don’t know who they’re listening to. A song with high completion rates on a playlist might end up on more playlists, accumulating millions of streams for an artist who remains effectively nameless. In the best-case scenario, these streams, which pay very low royalties compared to radio, could help land the song a coveted advertisement, or better yet, pique the attention of Top 40 radio programmers.

    Source: How streaming made hit songs more important than the pop stars who sing them | Vox

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