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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2006/10/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Five Little Thoughts (It’s a Scientific Lifestyle)

BRAIN TUBA: Five Little Thoughts (It’s a Scientific Lifestyle)
I really liked Malcolm Gladwell’s article "The Formula," in the October 16th issue of the New Yorker, and I wanted to share it with some friends. Thankfully, it was online and a few copy/pastes later, they had it. The exchange, though, highlights what is great about both traditional print magazines (treeware, I suppose) and the web. I like the New Yorker, as a whole, because they regularly present collections of articles I’m interested in reading. I’m happy subscribing (or asking my grandmother to re-subscribe me for Hanukah) and even looking at their ads, because they do this every week. It would be presumptuous to assume my friends are as interested in the New Yorker as I might be, so instead of telling them to go out and buy copies of their own, I just send them the link. Easy. There’s room for both.
Every few weeks, it seems like there is a new service that will tell me what I want to hear. My friends have been telling me about Pandora, which will make scientific recommendations (sort of like the Platinum Blue service Gladwell details in ‘The Formula,’ though less strictly mathematical). Another friend has convinced me that SoulSeek is the way to go for crate-digging, teaching me all kinds of obsessive search tips (though he’s also turned me on to the way more traditional Turntable Lab catalog). Then there are aggregators like HypeMachine, and notated lists of blogs. It’s all overwhelming, and there’s gold everywhere. Like the song says, it’s a scientific lifestyle.
Google’s recent purchase of YouTube is pretty mindblowing, when it comes right down to it. Beyond even the $1.65 billion (in stock, at that), the legal implications are staggering. With Google’s fortune now legally liable for any copyright infringements, libelous materials, or otherwise illegal activities that might occur in the ethersphere-2.0, one can safely bet that anybody who ever considered a lawsuit against YouTube is getting ready to loose the nastygrams. Thing is, though, it’s also impossible to believe that Google would throw that much money at YouTube if they didn’t think they had a sound legal defense against the ensuing madness. And that is exciting, because if Google wins the suits set against them, they might go a long way towards legally justifying the grey market of bootlegs, mash-ups, and pretty much every other great piece of digi-art you’ve seen, heard, or downloaded in the past few years.
Google is having an interesting effect on the naming of things, which is one of those odd side effects of technology that ends up changing the landscape in literal ways. It might’ve seemed hip and modern to name your band "the Paintings" at one point, but now Google-searching that term would put the would-be blog-darlings into a sea of queries (though, I suppose, MySpace might alleviate that problem). Likewise, there are businesses that have accidentally gotten in the way of 2.0 meme-hogs. In one case, the website for the Universal Tube and Rollform Equipment was veritably shutdown due to heavy traffic. A small marketing firm in Oregon, too, named AdSense, has been overrun with phone calls. On the other hand, there are companies that can thrive, so long as they come up with something catchy and Googlable. ‘Ask your doctor about Crestor!’ the ad on the Mets game rang last night. Crestor? And don’t forget Bonnaroo, which consisted of an annoying viral campaign before announcing their existence by officially establishing a web presence.
I’m not sure if it’s true, but sometimes it feels that if we — and by "we," I mean any net-dweller who feels the least bit disaffected by the mainstream of American culture — are building a sturdy, alternative media. It does not supplant the need for the New York Times or CNN, but it creates an equally significant meta-commentary. This only becomes credible when the alternative reaches critical mass, though. But it is. As Patrick Goldstein pointed out in a recent LA Times column, people know to go YouTube for their under-the-radar news, and everything else. Looking for a band? MySpace is your Yellow Pages. An up-the-minute (if sometimes in accurate) index of everything? Wikipedia. You’ve heard all this before — hell, you’re already on the fringes of the cyberweb just by being here — but the shape of the sum gets more oblique and powerful with each passing day. The reports from the front are coming so fast and furious that we almost know where the front is.

Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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