5 things about this week (9 June 2018)

by Stephen Tall on June 9, 2018

I’ve been reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It’s a denunciation from a Silicon Valley insider of what he calls BUMMER (‘Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent’) – ie, anything on the internet which hoovers up your data to sell stuff to you.

It’s an interesting enough marshalling of familiar arguments. The one which resonates most with me is the coarsening effect of the outrage-emitter that is Twitter (see last week). I’m more blase about the doubtless pernicious impact of ads popping up scraped from my browsing history or my emails – it doesn’t seem a bad trade-off to me. They get to guess what I might want to buy in return for offering me useful services, gratis. (One of the reasons that my once icy opposition to ID cards has melted away; Google knows way more about me that the state does.)

Lanier argues that BUMMER companies need to re-invent their business model – to stop relying on advertising to stay free (which is what impels them to suck up all our data, dementor-style) and to focus on developing services people will be willing to pay for, including search engines and social media. Seems ridiculous at first, but he makes the point that the renaissance of television has come about not by offering free-to-view, advertising-paid shows — the commercial norm until a decade ago — but through companies like Netflix and HBO persuading punters to pay monthly subscriptions.

I’m a little sceptical the analogy with social media works. Lanier is, too, hence his argument we should delete our social media accounts, thus forcing the tech giants to develop something better. You first…

I’ve been watching BBC1’s A Very English Scandal, with Hugh Grant as former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, whose career was ended by his alleged involvement in a plot to kill an alleged former lover, Norman Scott (played by Ben Whishaw). As well as brilliantly acted, it’s impressively written (Russell T Davies) and directed (Stephen Frears).

I watched it a little uneasily, though, as it confidently presented plausible conjecture as historical fact. We don’t know if Thorpe did actually order Scott’s murder. We don’t absolutely know if he and Scott actually were lovers (though they almost certainly were). What we do know is there were conflicting testimonies from a cast of varyingly unreliable witnesses — and, in Thorpe’s case, no testimony at all — which meant it wasn’t much of a surprise when he was cleared of the charges.

Ambivalence is hard to dramatise, but I rather wish Davies and Frears had entertained even a smidgeon of the doubt which still exists.

I’ve been listening to John le Carre’s A Legacy of Spies, the final (?) George Smiley novel. My prior view, based on n=1 of reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is that le Carre’s books are dully stodgy, but make stonkingly good adaptations. Yes, the Alec Guinness TV series and the Gary Oldman film; but especially the BBC Radio 4 adaptations, of which the best is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold — to which Legacy is the prequel/sequel/spin-off. Tom Hollander is its pitch-perfect narrator (if it’s filmed I hope he plays the sly MI6 lawyer, Bunny). It lacks the thrilling denouement/reveal of the best le Carres — instead we get a sightly preachy paean to Europe from old George — but its clever interleaving of plot and characters from novels written half a century apart is pretty remarkable.

I’m eagerly anticipating the World Cup. I’ve drawn Peru in the office sweepstake, which I had presumed was a no-hope cause. But apparently, ranked 11th in the world (who knew?), they’ve a better chance of winning the trophy than England. So it’s only an almost no-hope cause.

IMG-20180604-WA0000I’m half-way through my 8 weeks’ shared parental leave. Summary: it’s going quickly. Sidenote: if you do take shared parental leave can I recommend timing your baby such that your leave falls during the summer when the World Cup is on?

This week was especially notable for our trip to the Sussex seaside, half an hour’s drive away. It was one of those glorious, happy, sunny days I hope my kids come to remember as being what every day was like in summer. Footnote spoiler: actually, neither of their prefrontal cortexes are sufficiently developed yet to remember the day.