Send me an SMS about the Apocalypse

Below is the link that says almost all in its title (there are more details on the landing page): New York Times is about to announce they will start charging for the access to their site. It seems that we are entering a dangerous zone regarding the world media. You have heard already that Rupert Murdoch has already decided to charge for the access to his publications, and they are many, and they are important. Some of the British newspapers are toying with the same idea, but are waiting to see how it will go for Murdoch. What all this means?

We live in times when Twitter is a significant means of information for a large number of people, and it is also a perfect metaphor for the way we are consuming our information today: give me a story in 140 characters, give me the news in a SMS form, tell me about the Apocalypse in short. I know that you will bullshit me, so at last don’t waste my time while doing that. On the one hand, we need that speed. On the other, that is a channel that should be consumed only in times of crisis, not on a daily basis, not as a main source of information.

Amateurs do not produce good information, period. If someone believes that a good blog, or a thousand good blogs, or a million great blogs can replace a source such as the Times, or the Wall Street Journal, they are delusional. If someone really believes that a million monkeys typing for a million years can produce Shakespeare—I wish them to get all their education, news and entertainment from that same workshop.

We need professional journalists, writers, editors. Now it seems that their product on the Internet will get behind a pay wall. Junkies like me will pay to enter, but there are hundreds of thousands of smart young people, or smart old people, who would love to be able to get the Times content, but won’t be able to pay for it (take the name of the newspaper here only as a symbol; I’m not crying for NYT!). What they will have to do is get their info from unreliable sources, get their news from Twitter, learn about life from Facebook. This, of course, will guarantee an increased number of those who will be prime targets for easy manipulation of all sorts: religious, political, sexual—you name it.

In case you stopped buying printed news and are reading the Internet versions exclusively, you are probably getting about 20 percent of the content, and you are missing the best commentaries and in-depth articles. In short, you are missing the vitamins and are being fed on burgers. But those burgers are still filling the empty stomachs on rainy days, and arm you with enough knowledge to protect you from malicious politicians, insurance companies, multinationals, pharmaceuticals. Or if not protect you, then at least give you some chance to fight. You did not get the whole picture, but those 20 percent of the pixels were enough to create a sketch. In the future, it will be one percent or a hundred percent.

Essentially, this business model already exists on the Inernet. Go to RapidShare site and try downloading something. You will be served with two options: free and paid. In the paid version, your download is coming from ultra-fast servers and it is really flying; once you click the ‘free’ button, you are exposed to a humiliating torture consisting of (combined) a waiting period, a choked server, pauses in downloading, denied access, etc. If they could find you, they would probably slap you, too. And very soon, you learn: when you pay, you get a powerful tool; when it’s free, it’s only a plastic toy.

Suddenly, state-funded institutions like BBC or CBC become very important. Suddenly, countries that have strong, healthy institutions of this kind, like the UK and Canada, find themselves more influential on the international scene than before. And my prediction is that this is the only chance we’ve got: that the new state-funded behemoths will start to pop-up. I simply don’t see how Putin can live without RBC.

New York Times Ready to Charge Online Readers — Daily Intel.

The Story of Unhappy Leaves

All oppressive regimes have it. In fact, one can recognize if a regime is autocratic by that style of communication. I’m not sure how to call it, so let me show it. Here is a picture from Yugoslavia (I’ve found it on the site of the National Library of Serbia):

A poster for the official celebration of the Youth Day 1987

A poster for the official celebration of the Youth Day 1987

This poster was done by Slovenian designers (design Jani Bav?er ; photo Dragan Arrigler), in 1987.  Slovenia was well on the way out of Yugoslavia, its separatist forces had already won the leading media and almost all political institutions in the tiny republic by that time. “Dan mladosti” (Youth Day) was celebrated as Tito’s birthday while he was alive — but this was several years after he had died and at the time when the first champions of nationalism were taking the stage.

A tricky prelude for the designers of a political poster, such as this one. They couldn’t say ‘no’, because the posters for this holiday always had a huge circulation (hundreds of thousands) and no artist woud run away from such promotion. Also, the budget for that event was always generous and the sums paid for such work dizzying. The carrots were large and fresh. What were the sticks?
Well, the notion of Yugoslavia was losing its popularity fast. In Slovenia, it was ‘in’ to be on the separatist side, not to work for the unitarists. So, some sort of social and artistic excommunication was to be expected.

Now, take a good look into the design:

  • The background is red, it symbolizes communism, the large canvas against everything in the country (and this poster) is painted; regime — happy.
  • The title is large, with a very good contrast, visible from afar and unambiguous; regime — happy.
  • The leaf is fresh, it’s ultra-green, the symbol of youth. It is large, it is central; regime —happy.
  • There is the element of the red star, entering the area of the leaf. As in ‘communism and youth become one, they are inseparable’; regime — happy.

But:

  • It is not a happy leaf. It is thorn away from its tree. In other words, it is separated. Separatists — happy.
  • It is positioned at 45 degrees down, not up. It is a graph of fall, not of success. Separatists — happy.
  • Something is eating into the leaf. That something is a red star. Communism is damaging its youth. Separatists — happy.

In the end, both sides seem to win. The regime can always say, “Look, we found the artists from the separatist side who are proud to do this for our cause!”, while the other side can claim, “You really stuck it to them, boys!”

That is the form of communication I am talking about. The content is both within and between the lines. It is prostitution and sainthood in one. But it is doubtlessly deep  and poetic in its twisted, immoral way. And it’s great for the brain games. So, is everyone winning here?

Go back to the beginning of this essay: this is a sure sign of an oppressive regime. Wherever you see this form of public communication, know that all sorts of abominations can (and will) follow. Such regime might send you to war, it might take your money away, it might cheat you and it doesn’t care if you die for its purposes.

Now take a look into the following pictures. And think for yourself.

With a flag in his hand and a tear in his eye

HOH works every time (Hand on Heart)

HOH* works every time (*Hand on Heart)

Putin fishing (for compliments)

Fishing (for compliments)