“Mock trials,” Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan and Gawker

“Yet unlike Denton, Thiel wasn’t content to simply ballpark his odds. He wanted proof that the case had the legs to go the distance. What can we know that they don’t know? Where’s our edge? He spent nearly $100,000 for his lawyers to conduct not one but two mock trials in Florida. Gather up a bunch of prospective jurors, pay them by the hour, and run the case in front of them. Judge every reaction, learn everything they like and don’t like. No self-serving assumptions, no generous assessment of our strengths. The purpose? As Harder presents their case to these jurors in a nondescript hotel conference room—he wants the hard facts. What’s our worst case and how does it stack up against their best case? Where is Gawker strong and where are we weak? What do we have to do to beat them? What they find is that even ceding certain advantages to Gawker, Hogan’s case plays very well.

It is with a kind of nasty glee, more characteristic of Gawker than anyone else, that Thiel’s team would recount to me, several times, a discovery which they would exploit, which very well might have been the deciding factor in the entire case. In those expensive mock juries, they had discovered that their case played exceedingly well to a very specific type of person. ‘It became very clear that the kind of jurors we wanted were overweight women. Most people can’t empathize with a sex tape, but overweight women are sensitive about their bodies and feel like they have been bullied on the internet. …'”

Political oratory and communications media

“How, for instance, did the vast multitudes that Daniel O’Connell drew to Mullaghmast manage to hear his speech when there were no microphones? ‘It was this way,’ said one of the old men, who was there. The people said there was half a million of men, not counting women. It was a mighty gathering. Everybody heard Dan. For Dan raised his hand and told all about the platform to repeat his words. He said ‘Silence’, and silence came to us as the wind upon the barley. Then each man spoke after Dan, and every other man said the words, and out to us all on the edge of the crowd came the speech of Dan O’Connell.'”

“…all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg address. Those 272 words rendered obsolete the style of Everett and forged a new, lean language to redeem the first modern war. As has happened with each generational change in the style of oratory, it was that ‘new’ language, used as Lincoln adapted to the development of telegraphy, that undoubtedly baffled his contemporary critics…”

“As Lloyd George, Churchill and Roosevelt adapted subsequently to the age of the wireless, critics again mourned the state of oratory, as they do today in the age of global television, even though it is this age that has brought us John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and given more powerful worldwide power and effect to their speeches than Chatham or Webster or Lincoln could have dreamed of.”

William J. Mitchell on mass media, context independence and facilitated immersion

“…the mass media of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed the global information dissemination system by radically separating the contexts of message transmission and reception. Novelists writing for thousands of readers, musicians in recording studios, and radio performers at their microphones could not know all of the potential reception sites for their productions, and could not assume uniformity among these sites, so they could not count on site features to help clarify or elaborate their meaning. This condition favored the production of works that were not only repeated exactly at different times or in different places, but were also as self-contained and independent of the context of reception as possible.

A closely related outcome was a growing demand for places and devices that masked the consumer’s immediate surroundings in order to facilitate immersion in standardized, modular, mostly self-sufficient information structures: quiet places for undistracted reading; darkened movie theaters where all attention is focused on the screen; the white-walled, minimalist art gallery; the Walkman or iPod that plugs into your ear; and—at the logical limit—the immersive virtual reality installation. Open a book, enter a movie theater, or dial up a track on your iPod and your attention is instantly shifted to another place or time. The dense embedding of these discrete media spaces in the urban fabric yields a city that, like a film with jump cuts and flashbacks, is experienced and understood as a sequence of spatially and temporally discontinuous scenes—some of them expressions of the current, local reality, and others ephemeral media constructions.”

Notes: with smartphones, endless media spaces of one? (Williams’ mobile privatization?) “Addiction by Design” the ultimate immersive media space?

Harold Innis on “decentralization” way before Bitcoin

“The concepts of time and space reflect the significance of media to civilization. Media that emphasize time are those that are durable in character, such as parchment, clay, and stone…. Media that emphasize space are apt to be less durable and light in character, such as papyrus and paper. The latter are suited to wide areas in administration and trade….Materials that emphasize time favour decentralization and hierarchical types of institutions, while those that emphasize space favour centralization and systems of government less hierarchical in character. Large-scale political organizations such as empires must be considered from the standpoint of two dimensions, those of space and time. Empires persist by overcoming the bias of media which overemphasizes either dimension. They have tended to flourish under conditions in which civilization reflects the influence of more than one medium, and in which the bias of one medium towards decentralization is offset by the bias of another medium towards centralization.”

Marshall McLuhan on Karl Marx, communism and “service environments”

“The mechanizing process that began in the eighteenth century and led to the development of new service environmentsthe press, the highway, the postal routes—was soon augmented by steam and rail. By the middle of the nineteenth century the extent of environmental services available to the workers of the community greatly exceeded the scale of services that could be monopolized by individual wealth. By Karl Marx’s time, a “communism” resulting from such services so far surpassed the older private wealth and services contained within the new communal environment that it was quite natural for Marx to use it as a rear-view mirror for his Utopian hopes. The paradox of poverty amidst plenty had begun. Even the pauper lived, and lives, in an environment of multi-billion dollar communal services. Yet communal wealth developed by the mechanical extensions of man was soon outstripped by the electric services that began with the telegraph and which steadily enhanced the information environment. With the advent of an electric information environment, all the territorial aims and objectives of business and politics tended to become illusory. By now Communism is something that lies more than a century behind us, and we are deep into the new age of tribal involvement.”

Frantz Fanon on radio in the Algerian War

“Since 1956 the purchase of a radio in Algeria has meant, not the adoption of a modern technique for getting news, but the obtaining of access to the only means of entering into communication with the Revolution, of living with it. In the special case of the portable battery set, an improved form of the standard receiver operating on current, the specialist in technical changes in underdeveloped countries might see a sign of a radical mutation. The Algerian, in fact, gives the impression of finding short cuts and of achieving the most modern forms of new-communication without passing through the intermediary stages. In reality, we have seen that this “progress” is to be explained by the absence of electric current in the Algerian douars.

The French authorities did not immediately realize the exceptional importance of this change in attitude of the Algerian people with regard to the radio. Traditional resistances broke down and one could see in a douar groups of families in which fathers, mothers, daughters, elbow to elbow, would scrutinize the radio dial, waiting for the Voice of Algeria. Suddenly indifferent to the sterile, archaic modesty and antique social arrangements devoid of brotherhood, the Algerian family discovered itself to be immune to the off-color jokes and the libidinous references that the announcer occasionally let drop.

Almost magically—but we have seen the rapid and dialectical progression of the new national requirements—the technical instrument of the radio receiver lost its identity as an enemy object. The radio set was no longer a part of the occupier’s arsenal of cultural oppression. In making of the radio a primary means of resisting the increasingly overwhelming psychological and military pressures of the occupant, Algerian society made an autonomous decision to embrace the new technique and thus tune itself in on the new signaling systems brought into being by the Revolution.

The Voice of Fighting Algeria was to be of capital importance in consolidating and unifying the people . . . the use of the Arab, Kabyle and French languages which, as colonialism was obliged to recognize, was the expression of a non-racial conception, had the advantage of developing and of strengthening the unity of the people, of making the fighting Djurdjura area real for the Algerian patriots of Batna or of Nemours.”

At the end of the first paragraph Fanon alludes to a concept called “technological leapfrogging.” The “absence of electrical current” in Fanon’s Algeria is something like the many regions worldwide that never had landline phones but have seen mass uptake of cellphones in the last 15 years.

Marshall McLuhan on the return to “acoustic space,” writing, civilization and “our electrically-configured world”

“Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bog.

The goose quill put an end to talk. It abolished mystery; it gave architecture and towns; it brought roads and armies, bureaucracy. It was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of civilization began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. The hand that filled the parchment page built a city.”

“Time” has ceased, “space” has vanished. We now live in a global village . . . a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us.

Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously. As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information. Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience coexist in a state of active interplay.”

This is one of Marshall McLuhan’s famous claims about media and social change. Electric technology has created a “global village” defined by “acoustic space.” Writing—a visual medium—supplanted the “primordial” acoustic world and was subsequently dispatched by electricity, a return to the ear.

McLuhan’s claim rings true in the context of podcasts, audio books, voice ordering/assistants, voice/text services, ASMR and all the other superficially visual media experiences like video calling, streaming, TikTok etc. that are ultimately more defined by audio. All the above consumed on smartphones in every manner of intimate environment, ensuring maximum “involvement.”

daily notes #3: The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (book review)

This book is a “highlight reel” of Marshall McLuhan’s major works and a good introduction to his thought. Quentin Fiore’s photo layouts and graphic design hold up well.

Some content and summary: “All media work us over completely.” The conflict between electronic and linear print mediums is generational and has particular implications for education. The printing press created a new era of book authorship which “Xerography” is bringing to a close. “Visual space is uniform, continuous and connected,” creating fragmentation and specialism. Gone are “jobs,” the kids want “roles” in the context of simultaneous audio. We are now -as of 1967- in “a global village.” Electronic communication “profoundly involves men with one another.” “Print technology created the public. Electronic technology created the mass.”

I’m personally very conflicted about McLuhan and whether or not to pursue him. There was a McLuhan revival in the 90’s and many attempts to do “Digital McLuhan” since. Media discourse is oversaturated and becoming banal as the social media era drags on. Much of it is preoccupied with “content” as opposed to social environment, scale and the medium itself. In that context McLuhan’s major insights are still extremely important. There you have it.

Tyndale’s influence, the English Bible, Luther’s German Bible and colloquial speech

Quoted from The Reformation by Patrick Collinson

“Up to the mid-seventeenth century there were proportionally more Bibles printed and sold in England than anywhere else in Europe. The poetics of the seventeenth century, from John Donne to John Milton, is saturated with the richly tentacular tropes and metaphors of the Bible, while the speech of every day became peppered with scriptural phrases that rivaled Erasmus’s proverbs: ‘the burden and heat of the day,’ ‘filthy lucre,’ ‘God forbid,’ ‘the salt of the earth,’ ‘the powers that be,’ ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ —all are Tyndale’s inventions.

Luther’s German Bible was as large a landmark in the history of the German language as Tyndale’s was in English, the first work of art in German prose. Like Tyndale’s, Luther’s achievement was to pitch on a literary language that was close to colloquial speech, settling somewhere between the crudities of dialect and a language too elevated for ordinary mortals. He wrote, ‘One must ask the mother at home, the children in the street, the man at the market, and listen to how they speak, and translate accordingly.'”

Walter Lippmann anticipates Kenneth Gergen’s Saturated Self

“Novelties crowd the consciousness of modern men. The machinery of intelligence, the press, the radio, the moving picture, have enormously multiplied the number of unseen events and strange people and queer doings with which he has to be concerned. They compel him to pay attention to facts that are detached from their backgrounds, their causes and their consequences, and are only half known because they are not seen or touched or actually heard. These experiences come to him having no beginning, no middle, and no end, mere flashes of publicity playing fitfully upon a dark tangle of circumstances. I pick up a newspaper at the start of the day and I am depressed and rejoiced to learn that: anthracite miners have struck in Pennsylvania; that a price boost plot is charged; that Mr. Ziegfeld has imported a blonde from England who weighs 112 pounds and has pretty legs; that the Pope, on the other hand, has refused to receive women in low-necked dress and with their arms bare; that airplanes are flying to Hawaii; and that the Mayor says that the would-be Mayor is a liar…

Now in an ordered universe there ought to be place for all human experiences. But it is not strange that the modern newspaper-reader finds it increasingly difficult to believe that through it all there is order, permanence, and connecting principle. Such experience as comes to him from the outside is a dissonance composed of a thousand noises. And amidst these noises he has for inner guidance only a conscience which consists, as he half-suspects, of the confused echoes of earlier tunes.”