Distributing You

Mark Weidenbaum writing for Disquiet:

Social media is “social.” Blogs are “web logs.” Social media expects feedback (not just comments, but likes and follows). Blogs are you getting your ideas down; feedback is a byproduct, not a goal.

As a content creator on social media, you do not really control the channel. You do not make the rules. YouTube has a limitless list of videos railing about changes to YouTube policies curtailing creators’ ability to monetize their content, editing that content, and various other seeming treacheries.

At the end of the day, social media content creators signed up for the built-in community that platform fostered, under rules defined by the platform. And to my knowledge, if those same creators leave the platform, there is not a fluid means of taking those followers with them.

It’s your content, but it is their platform. More, it may be their audience, too.

Blocked and Broken

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Gerrit De Vynck reporting for the Washington Post:

Experts in free speech and technology said … issues are connected to a broader problem: overzealous software algorithms that are designed to protect but end up wrongly penalizing marginalized groups that rely on social media to build support. Black Americans, for example, have complained for years that posts discussing race are incorrectly flagged as problematic by AI software on a routine basis, with little recourse for those affected.

How do you edit the world? Social media companies have taken to the load-bearing response of using algorithms based on keywords and various other techniques but the fact remains: people are creative. They learn how to game the system in place. And algorithms are notoriously stoic in response.

Work fast and break things may be an inspiring mantra for a start-up, but when you’re the largest social media company in the world, you suddenly find yourself in the unique position of further breaking an already broken world.

Educating Obsolescence

We have a generation that is growing up with modern computing interfaces. Instead of creating new tools for education, we are still pushing the “classic” models onto them. Why?

Om Malik, from his blog article The Paradigm Shift

That Ivory Orbit

The Authenticity of ‘Got Milk’

Back in 1993, the California Milk Processor Board needed a fix. The problem? Improve milk sales. Dairy was in a slump. Focus groups conducted by Jon Steel — a partner at advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners — painted a fevered picture of an emotional connection to milk in its absence. Testimonials gave pitch and tenor to this portraiture. Milk was a ‘thing’ and if it wasn’t sitting in the fridge, was breakfast (never mind cereal) even an option?

Steel walked his findings back to the advertising group, reporting that the problem was “about running out of milk”. Jeff Goodby, another partner, casually mentioned

Why don’t we call it ‘Got Milk’ with a question mark?

That’s the part of the story people focus on — that simple, concentrated beam of inspiration wherein two words define a campaign and that campaign scrawls an indelible scar across the collective cultural face. ‘What was in his head when inspiration struck,’ is the cat call of countless advertising students. Or at least, those who were around in 1993 or studied the campaign’s impact in higher ed. It’s all romance and theater.

Yet the invisible part of the story is that milk is not essential to our diet. Calcium, sure. But calcium comes in numerous shapes and sizes, you can get it (as you could in 1993) as a supplement. So the advertising firm couldn’t exactly claim calcium essential nutrition like vitamins A or B.

Instead, the bright folks at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners decided to hit you in the heart. Everyone can relate to the classic milk mustache you had as a kid after taking a swig in the morning, before social niceties interfered with the great, big morning gulp. ‘Got Milk’ takes us back to the simple days of childhood, illustrated by this celebrity on this month, that celebrity the next. It gently tugs on your childhood memories while altering to the celebrity du jour, showing just how malleable a brand can be when it wants to be, when it needs to be.

Almost three decades later, ‘Got Milk’ still defines what an authentic approach to brand is while cat calling from the red seats, ‘you have to be flexible, you have to be supple’.

Most importantly, you have to be honest.

The Cost of Narrative

In 2004, HBO aired a series called Deadwood, a Western-style show by creator David Milch. Milch’s vision of Deadwood trafficked in all the traditional tropes of the Wild West, but applied contemporary sensibilities to its numerous subplots, making for a compelling narrative.

At the time, HBO was well on its way to transforming into a premium programming channel with the help of shows like The Sopranos, David Chase’s crime masterpiece about family, money, and trust. The Sopranos changed the way American audiences viewed television, leveraging long-form narratives in ways that echoed prior network shows like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue 1 yet reflected contemporary social dilemmas viewers could relate to.

As a result, The Sopranos won numerous Emmy and Peabody awards, combining razor-sharp writing with excellent casting and direction. Deadwood, gritty, dusty, followed in those same footsteps, redefining the Western and capturing award after award.

Then, after three seasons, it ended2.

Brian Boone, writing for Looper, offers a litany of reasons for Deadwood’s cancellation: expense, lower viewership numbers, corporate infighting, managerial chaos.

The unseen bruise, purple and malformed, is trust in the HBO brand. Premium narratives require conjunct faith: if you’re going to be dignified in your storytelling, if you’re going to maintain intricate plot structures and characterization (such as The Wire 3), viewers need assurances the show is going to breathe until its story is finished. After all, audiences are committing the time of their lives — the only real currency in the world — to these stories.

1 NYPD Blue was also created by David Milch and garnered much acclaim for its gritty portrayal of the life of New York City police officers, both professionally and privately.

2 Not terribly surprising, shows end all the time. The challenge with Deadwood stems from its then popularity, launching the careers of Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane. One could make numerous parallels with shows such as Arrested Development, a postmodernist comedy about a dysfunctional family in real estate, or even Firefly, a space Western about being on the wrong side of a war.

3 I’d argue that The Wire still remains the most elegantly crafted crime narrative on modern American television with a very close second going to Breaking Bad. It seems important to note that capitalism yields an unseemly hitchhiker called ‘brand’. Brand influence conflates truth with elements of fiction. Sadly, consumers are mostly untrained in filtering brand truthiness.

Writing Meet Wall

“You’ve gotta see some of the new stuff we’ve got. Dustin, show him the wall. I’m just calling it the wall.”

– Mark Zuckerberg character as written by Aaron Sorkin in The Social Network

Kevin Roose’s new book, Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation sits in that marketing sweet spot — compelling idea inoculated with just the right amount of fear to stimulate a purchase. After all, show of hands — who can relate to the fear of being replaced at your job by technology? One invisible challenge with living in a Technological Revolution is it’s hard to identify a Technological Revolution when you’re living through it. History is a better sleuth at that sort of thing.

One of the clearer insights in Futureproof: A.I. cannot replace mankind’s capacity for creativity. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are among this year’s buzzwords pulsing Vegas-like from Silicon Valley. But like Vegas, the promise of both is less relevant right now. Just take a look at Facebook’s failed efforts at relegating content moderation to algorithms rather than people. Turns out, people are better at editing, better at connecting socio-cultural contexts and content’s intertextuality.

ProRAW

Kirk McElhearn has an excellent deconstruction of Apple’s new photographic format, ProRAW, which turns out to be mostly overzealous marketing lingo.

More, McElhearn comprehensively unpacks what RAW is, how it works, and how ProRAW differs from the more traditional RAW formats used in modern DLSRs and mirrorless cameras.

One of the key elements of raw files is that they are not demosaiced. Demoisaicing is when an algorithm interprets the colors of the various pixels according to how light is recorded after traversing color filters, applies white balance settings, and more. This is complex, and this article from the developers of the Halide camera app explains the process.

One Week In…

“One Week In…” with the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens

One week into self-isolation due to the coronavirus, COVID-19, and I’m working on learning my new Fujifilm lenses — the immaculate 16mm f/1.4 and the 55–200mm variable telescopic lens.

Fujinon 55–200mm lens

Before the great work-from-home experiment began, I also recorded sample interview footage from my X-T3 with a colleague.

It was an amazingly educational experience for our first effort. Here are a few of the pieces of this we learned:

  • always clean the computer screen before you shoot
  • verify your leading lines are properly situated
  • make certain your light sources are properly adjusted
  • while I love the variable 18–55m Fujinon lens for video, I would rather have used either a 23mm or a 35mm lens so I could exploit a better bokeh (the plant should have been blurred). One of those will be the next lens I purchase
  • I would like to have an inexpensive reflector for better facial lighting
  • since this was a test, I didn’t ask Michael to sit up properly and professionally rather than his relaxed manner. Relaxed is fine, but there are better ways we could have engaged the audience, I think; again, just a test
  • the Aperture lav mic we used worked wonderfully and was fairly easy to correct the waveform, though I would normally hide it beneath his dress shirt
  • I think more depth in the shot is necessary, so maybe books (or at least their bindings illustrating the titles in the foreground — again, the bokeh would help in that instance)
  • I managed to simulate 2 camera shots: one medium and one close-up, even though I only had one camera by recording in 4K and then extending the image in post-production. Next time, I’ll set up my iPhone with a V-Log profile and record from a second location (not ideal for color correction, but I’m on a budget)
  • I learned a tremendous amount of information about post-production that I did not know

And finally, I took some time recently to work a bit with my Zhiyun Crane Plus gimbal while my fiance’s son was playing Minecraft on her iPad. This also presented the opportunity to fiddle about with the warp correction tool in Adobe Premiere Pro.

As I eclipse 51 years on this little blue pearl of a planet, it’s increasingly clear that all things are art — we just need to modify the lens through which we view everything to better understand that.