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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Friday, January 14, 2005
A jumble of bits and pieces today. "The iPod Shuffle is the latest entrant in a field of devices which are tending towards a beautiful simplicity, as culture seems to be careering towards a beautiful complexity," from City of Sound's lengthy exposition on the rise and rise of shuffle mode. So do we like our culture to be served up in random? Or is new technology all about refining choices? Or is it about the illusion of choice?

Perhaps, in a neat bit of synergy, the iPod, in all its various incarnations and imitations, is part of the phenomenon identified by the author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink as 'thin-slicing', or "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and people based on very narrow 'slices' of experience." (link originally via me-fi).

Not everyone thinks Gladwell's ideas - essentially that we live in a culture when snap judgements and face value are all we have time for, and that we can learn to identify and even change such impulses - are new or even helpful. But the fact remains that digital technology facilitates such 'slicing', enabling consumers to skip, or 'shuffle', through vast swathes of media at high speed. We are all learning to edit playlists in our head: how many times have you skipped past a track that began quietly when the ambient noise drowned it out? Or switched off something loud and punchy in favour of a more atmospheric personal soundtrack? The time it takes to make these decisions is miniscule - more time is spent wrestling with touch pads and volume controls.

Perhaps any association between Gladwell's book and the digital media phenomenon is a bit stretched. But from the reviews, Gladwell seems to be making a case for thin-slicing as an evolutionary advance, "rapid cognition" as a way of dealing with social and cultural complexity. The danger is that manufacturers, marketers and all those other nebulous professions that oversee cultural production will ensnare the secrets of rapid cognition and use it to sell stuff, an even more covert means of subliminal advertising (which seemed like a great idea at the time to some, but has proved to be more myth than reality in the long run).

To a certain extent, consumer culture has always worked on the thin-slice principle; the way supermarkets set out their freshest goods first, setting up an aroma and expectation that follows you into the packaged stuff, or the psychology of sales and discounting. The twenty-first century is beginning with a political and commercial battle for the consumer's subconscious impulses, and "beautiful complexity" will be increasingly distilled into simplicity.

Related, Turn your iPod into an iPod shuffle... (it won't exactly save you money if you don't already own the iPod). Other things. Shipshape, the nautical art of James Dodds / Tiger Tales,a collection of linocuts by Rew Hanks / weird-sounding site corner: fishbucket, a weblog, and Bogleech, (via me-fi) / Oyster Christ, the latest in a long line of religious simulacra / those amazing Tokyo drains, again.

Stalin Era Posters, when the fields were appeared to be brim full of wheat and Uncle Joe was everyone's friend (via Life in the Present). Related, The Commissar Vanishes, 'the falsification of photographs in Stalin's Russia' / was the Palace of Knossos an ancient megastructure? / the earthquake in action, via New Scientist / a short film about the celebrated Villa Floirac, Rem Koolhaas' iconic fin de siecle mansion (thanks Benoit).

Yet more retro futures at Yesterday's Tomorrows / Those Crazy 1980s, a site devoted to the excesses of that decade's car tuning and customisation / a plush Jawa / artist Toby Zeigler's exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery / Sensory Impact, a weblog about objects.