Tag: culture (page 1 of 12)

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

Attempting to quantify the unquantifiable

This article, which I discovered via Sentiers, discusses the rise of ‘Quantitative Aesthetics’, or putting numbers on things you like to prove other people wrong. It’s basically numbers as a shorthand for status, and once you realise it, you see it everywhere. It’s the social media-ification of all of the things.

[T]here’s something called the McNamara Fallacy, a.k.a. the Quantitative Fallacy. It is summarized as “if it cannot be measured, it is not important.” The Heller article made me reflect on how a version of it is now very present, and growing, at the grassroots of taste.

On one level, this is seen in a rise of a kind of wonky obsession with business stats in fandoms, invoked as a way to convey the rightness of artistic opinions—what I want to call Quantitative Aesthetics. (There are actually scientists who study aesthetic preference in labs and use the term “quantitative aesthetics.” I am using it in a more diffuse way.)

It manifests in music. As the New York Times wrote in 2020 of the new age of pop fandom, “devotees compare No. 1s and streaming statistics like sports fans do batting averages, championship, wins and shooting percentages.” Last year, another music writer talked about fans internalizing the number-as-proof-of-value mindset to extreme levels: “I see people forcing themselves to listen to certain songs or albums over and over and over just to raise those numbers, to the point they don’t even get enjoyment out of it anymore.”

The same goes for film lovers, who now seem to strangely know a lot about opening-day grosses and foreign box office, and use the stats to argue for the merits of their preferred product. There was an entire campaign by Marvel super-fans to get Avengers: Endgame to outgross Avatar, as if that would prove that comic-book movies really were the best thing in the world.

On the flip side, indie director James Gray, of Ad Astra fame, recently complained about ordinary cinema-goers using business stats as a proxy for artistic merit: “It tells you something of how indoctrinated we are with capitalism that somebody will say, like, ‘His movies haven’t made a dime!’ It’s like, well, do you own stock in Comcast? Or are you just such a lemming that you think that actually has value to anybody?”

Source: How We Ended Up in the Era of ‘Quantitative Aesthetics,’ Where Data Points Dictate Taste | Artnet