Navel Gazing

For one of her classes last year, D. wrote a paper which analyzes an effect of the self-absorption of the media, in response to one of the unfounded assertions in the class’s text, that the rise of the Internet and “thousands” of cable channels had fragmented society. She asked, “Do Our Unlimited Choices Limit Our Shared Experiences?” Her expectation was that the text would be correct. It wasn’t. We’ve been led to believe that everybody watched the popular shows, and really only a small fraction of the population did.

I find this topic fascinating, and eagerly assisted with research and editing. My experience of “pop culture” was somewhat isolated, by choice and by my parents, so I felt out of place in the Big World at college. I wonder how many people there were familiar with all of the things they’d said they were, and how many were poseurs.

(Meanwhile, I’m seriously considering stopping our DirecTV subscription and removing the television, but do not yet have the support of other members of the household. Maybe we can compromise and keep Netflix.)

All Kinds of Jargon

After reading The Austrian Economists site for a while now, I notice it shares some features with some papers Niall Ferguson posted on his website. Namely, name-dropping.

I’ve been out of academia for 15 years now, since I graduated from Fordham, and haven’t really read much “academic” work since I started reading Mr. Ferguson’s papers last year. While they were on the whole interesting, I was struck by how many references he made to his references. Often times it seemed that instead of writing about history, he was writing about writing about history. (And, really, I’ve never found reviews of “the literature” to be very enlightening; though they may reveal other avenues of investigation, they have no place in an expository essay.) Mostly this was a distraction, but in some cases it was downright harmful, since he would explain something only by reference to someone else’s work with which I was not familiar.

The authors at the aforementioned site do the same. They use authors’ names as shorthand for that author’s entire body of work, with which one is assumed to be familiar. Well, I’m not.

Counterdisintermediation, in an attempt to remain relevant

A famous character once opined, Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. The executives at ABC are determined to prove that axiom by launching a video-on-demand product that does not include the ability to skip the commercials.

But those of us who think that we, the viewers, are ABC’s customers are sadly mistaken. We are not. The advertisers are. Our interests and those of the advertisers conflict, or appear to. We want to watch a 20 minute show in 20 minutes, not 30. The advertisers want us to buy their products. The broadcasters want us to watch the commercials, since that’s time they sold to the advertisers. The means which ABC, and other broadcasters, tend to take to resolve this ostensible conflict demonstrate that they are entirely concerned with the desires of their advertising customers — and not with those of the audience.

They have not realized that there is no conflict between our desires and those of the advertisers, merely that the broadcast product being sold to the advertisers is no longer as valuable.

Telephony Substitutes for Transportation

One oddity of visiting my family in Virginia is that there’s little to no cellular phone coverage in Highland County. This is partially due to the landscape, and partially to the lack of antennae, though some claim it is because of the proximity to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia and another listening post in Sugar Grove. Normally, this is not such a problem, as most residences in the county do have landlines, thanks to the Universal Service Fund. It is a problem if, for example, you’re late to meet your sister three mountains and 30 minutes away just to exchange kids, but then your dad will pass the meeting point at the time you originally planned. But since there’s no cellular coverage, you can’t call to ask him to stop, so you’ll make what would be a duplicate trip.

Robert Jensen, in The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector (Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2007) [via The Economist], notes that a significant limitation to fish marketing is that while at sea, fishermen are unable to observe prices at any of the numerous markets spread out along the coast. Further, fishermen can typically visit only one market per day because of high transportation costs and the limited duration of the market. As a result, fishermen sell their catch almost exclusively in their local market. This led to inconsistent supplies along the coast. Some markets would have an abundance of fish, while others none at all. That all changed after the introduction of cell phones. Now the fishermen call ahead to find the most profitable market before they head to shore, and can make course corrections in transit. Supply meets demand, and everyone’s happy.

Use English, not Jargon

My elder daughter is in first grade. She loves to read almost as much as she loves math. She’s just started the thirty-third book in The Magic Tree House series, Carnival at Candlelight. She was reading Misty of Chincoteague, but Carnival at Candlelight was more important.

The New York State Parent-Teacher Association has a reading program called Parents as Reading Partners, or, as everyone else calls it, PARP. This program encourages parents to read with their children, by making a game of it, for the simple reason that

Studies show that children who read at home are better prepared to succeed in formal education.

What they mean to say is that practice makes perfect.

The school system here, and the one in Mahopac, has trouble using English. Instead, they use a mish-mash of English and Bullshit. Blather among yourselves with your crapronyms if you’d like, but don’t inflict them on the children.

Not the TiVo!

DirecTV is effectively removing the impediment to my changing video providers.

“We’ll support our existing TiVo customers,” a spokesman for DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite TV operator said. “But our core initiatives and new customer acquisition will focus on our new DVR.”

I mentioned this before, but I’m a TiVo customer now, even though a second-class one. I don’t care who feeds my Idiot Box, but I love my TiVo.

Andrew Sullivan: In fact, I’d argue, blogs could well be a milestone in the long history of journalism. By empowering individual writers, by reducing the costs of entry into publishing to close to zero, the blog revolution has only begun to transform the media world.


To write, the costs of entry are low, as soon as you become literate. To publish, however, the costs were high: ink, paper, and distribution. And so relatively few published. Now, the challenge is not to be published, but to be read.