Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Friday Night Smoke on 5G Boris
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Julie near Chicago on Cat news
Rob Fisher on Round headlights equals an old car
Rob Fisher on ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
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- 5G Boris
- Out from under the weather
- Smaller Old Thing in front of Big New Things
- A Sunday ramble
- ASI Boat Trip 8: Bridges
- Cat news
- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
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Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
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Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
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Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
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Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
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From The Barrel of a Gun
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Here Comes Everybody
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Media and journalism
Here’s a piece entitled Google Glass:10 reasons Brits won’t buy it. The basic argument is: it’s creepy, it’s uncool, it has various other more specific disadvantages.
I think that the writer of this piece, Robyn Vinter, makes the very common error of saying that a piece of kit won’t catch on because, in her opinion it is, in a general sort of way, not nice or not good. I know it’s only a jokey piece, pandering to ignorant prejudice and general technophobia, but it contains a serious and wrong idea about how technology gets established in the wider world.
Technology doesn’t catch on because people like Robyn Vinter think that it’s cool.
Technology or software, or whatever, catches on because it solves a particular problem for a particular group of people, and they start using it. People like Robyn Vinter then say: ooh, how very uncool you are. And the people using the thing say: guess what Robyn Vinter, we don’t care what you think, we are finding it extremely useful, to do what we want to do. If you don’t think we look cool, this is entirely your problem and absolutely not our problem at all. Gradually other uses for the thing in question accumulate, and quite a few people use it for several different things and get really excited and try to use it for everything, because they now like it so much. If enough uses are found, then the alleged uncoolness of the thing just gets overwhelmed by people using it, in public, in full view, and to hell with the coolists. If the coolists still want to write articles about how uncool this thing is, even though thousands of their potential readers are now using it, then they are pushed aside and other writers willing to say that it’s cool after all are told to write that instead.
So the question is: will Google Glass be useful enough? Basically, it would appear to be a screen that you can use while you are doing something else, to do computer stuff and regular stuff at the same time. Sounds extremely useful to me, for ... various things that I now know not of. But I am sure things will turn up that it is very useful for, even essential for. Work, basically. Not strutting about in the street. No. Getting worthwhile things done, more efficiently, faster. That kind of thing. We’ll soon see, anyway.
This guy is much more optimistic. Better, he understands how Google Glass will or will not catch on. What can it do? Not enough, yet, seems to be his answer. But that may change. My guess is it will change.
See also, this piece by me from way back, about another sort of coolist with delusions of grandeur.
And see also these pictures of another useful thing being used in an allegedly very uncool way, namely people taking photos with tablets. This tendency has in no way abated since I took those snaps. Quite the opposite.
There is also a definite whiff, in Robyn Vinter’s piece, of the status anxiety I wrote about in this recent piece here, if not in Vinter herself then in the readers she is appealing to. What if this gizmo makes us look and feel stupid? What if it demotes us in the pecking order? The answer is: if it does, it does. That won’t stop it being used.
In 2013, on September 5th, 18th, 24th and 29th, I visited the area in and around London Gateway, the new container port they’re building on the north side of the Thames Estuary, first to see if I could photo the cranes, and then to photo them again, and again, and again. And everything else amusing I saw on my wanderings. (I would never have remembered these dates if my camera hadn’t.)
I showed a couple of photos here of one of those expeditions at the time, but that was only the tip of the photographic iceberg.
These were undoubtedly among my best photo-expeditions of 2013, right up there with visiting Beckton Sewage Works with Goddaughter One, a superb day which I see that I seem never to have mentioned here at all.
My problem is, when I sit down at my computer and try to pick out a few good snaps from one of these huge photo-perambulations, I just don’t know which to pick. There are just so many nice ones. I end up picking none at all and write about something else entirely.
So, I now pick another one, from one of my four trips to London Gateway, to show you, which I just found when trawling through them all, again. One. Just the one. It features me, but not looking good. No, looking appalling, with my appallingly flabby chin all scrunched up as I look downwards at my twiddly camera screen, which is how I actually do look when wandering around doing this kind of thing.
But, showoffy though it is, I think it’s a rather effective photo:
See also the first five cranes, of the twenty four that will finally be at London Gateway. That snap was snapped on September 24th.
When all those twenty four cranes are up and running and the place really gets into its stride, I will definitely return to check them out, as will all the world and its digital cameras. Mark my words. When they open this thing for business, the media, mainstream and irregular, social and anti-social, will be flooded with it. Flooded I tell you.
But just now, they are busy building it, and the last thing they want is people like me wandering around photoing it. So, they keep quiet about it. Seriously, I’d be willing to bet that there are quite a lot of PR persons whose entire job consists of persuading journalists not to mention this thing until it’s finished, but then to mention it big time. Silence now will be rewarded with access later.
Before I forget to link to it, here, very belatedly, is a link to four pictures of central London in the Guardian, which, if you left-click on them, suddenly become populated with soon-to-be-built new Big Things.
This, for example, …:
… turns, when you left-click on it, into this:
That’s the changing picture of the south bank of the river, just upstream from me.
My personal opinion is: it looks great! By which I mean not that the second of these pictures looks great, but that the development it attempts to picture will look great, or at least much better than this picture.
This is a general fact about the new Big Things of London of the last decade and more, I think. All of them have ended up looking, to my eye, better for real than the models and photos of them beforehand looked, which are just too boxy and bland and unrealistic to capture the feeling of how new Big Things will really look.
In particular, the Walkie Talkie looked, to me, terrible, when it was only a faked up computer image. Now, I like it more and more. It’s odd. It’s not beautiful exactly, but it has character. Once you see it, you don’t forget it. In short, it is like London.
These new Big Things will, I predict, be like that also. You can bet that all the architects involved will be trying desperately to upstage each other, by making at least half of these new Big Things systematically more interesting and oddly shaped than these computer mock-ups now make them look.
It occurs to me also to wonder how much difference the ubiquity of such imagery before Big Things get built affects the chances of such Big Things being built. Could such widely-viewed-in-advance pictures perhaps make Big Thing building easier, by mobilising the support of those who, like me, would like such new buildings a lot, but don’t see it as a life-and-death struggle, the way many opponents of such Big Things perhaps do. If that’s right, the opponents keep themselves and each other informed even when that is hard, and fight like hell to stop such Things, either out of aesthetic hatred or because some particular Big Thing will, they reckon, wreck their back yard. Now, we less rabid supporters can all say Go Ahead Build It, but without busting our guts and doing lots of complicated research and politicking, because finding out and saying GABI is now so much easier.
I love this, from AndrewZ at Samizdata, commenting on this piece by Natalie Solent, which quotes a couple of particularly demented pieces of writing in the Guardian, about cupcake fascism (this phrase should never be forgotten) and about the horrors of tourism. (Natalie has been agreeably busy at Samizdata of late.)
The online edition of any newspaper that isn’t behind a paywall relies on advertising to generate income and this depends on maximising the number of page views. The simplest way to do that is to publish outrageous and provocative opinions that will attract links from elsewhere and start a blazing row among the regular commenters. The great liberal newspaper of old is now little more than a group blog that trolls its own readers for advertising revenue.
No link from here to the original pieces, about cupcake fascism or tourism. Oh no. BmdotCOM is not falling into that trap.
Now that I have read the rest of them, I can report that all the comments at Samizdata on this posting are pretty good and worth a look.
The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.
The bones come from a cemetery for the wealthy in Hierakonpolis, which served as the capital of Upper Egypt in the era before the pharaohs. The cemetery was the resting place not just for human bones, but also for animals, which perhaps were buried as part of religious rituals or sacrifices. Archaeologists searching the burial grounds have found everything from baboons to leopards to hippopotamuses.
Three policemen in Pakistan guarding the prime minister’s home have been suspended for negligence after a cat devoured one of the premier’s peacocks, it seems.
It seems? Well, did it or did it not?
This Japanese gum commercial makes me wish I had a super fluffy gigantic cat to help navigate the horrors of public transportation and carry me around, avoiding traffic and other pedestrian suckers who don’t have adorable cat chauffeurs. Then I remember that if a cat that big existed, it would probably just maul me to death, ...
Why are there so many cats on the internet?
The problem is that they are asking the wrong question, which should not be “Why cats?” so much as “Why not dogs?” And the answer is that dogs are trying too hard. When a dog gets in a box or hides under the duvet or wears a funny hat, it is because he is desperately trying to impress you – longing for your validation and approval. When a cat does one of those things, it is because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. And it usually was. It is cool, and effortless, and devoid of any concern about what you might think about it. It is art for art’s sake.
This, at any rate, is one of the theories (of which there are an awful lot) about why content related to cats seems to gain so much traction online.
Maybe. I guess that’s part of it.
The original reason for my Feline Friday cat chat is that cat chat on the internet, at first only at inconsequential blogs such as this one but now everywhere, illustrates that the number one impact of the internet is that there is now a new way to be amused, and cats are amusing. The serious political impact of this is that with the internet it is easier to concentrate on what you consider amusing, and to ignore what people who consider themselves to be more important than you consider to be more important. This really ticks them off. Which is nice. The internet puts politicians, for instance, in their proper place, on the sidelines. Cats may or may not be important, depending on how mad you are, but they are amusing.
The willingness of the big old Mainstream Media to tell frequent cat stories, as they now show and do, illustrates that these organs have now accepted that they no longer control the news agenda. If the people of the world decide that it is news that an angry 22-pound cat that trapped a family of three and prompted a frantic 911 call has been sent to an animal shelter, then news it is, and the big old media now accept this.
And here is a photo I took yesterday. I once thought that these Evening Standard headlines would by now be a thing of the quite distant past, but they are still with us, for the time being anyway, along with the Evening Standard itself, which has survived being given away and as of now shows no sign of disappearing.
There is something charmingly antiquated about the word “swoop”, isn’t there? This swoop took place - when else? - at dawn, yesterday morning.
Yes, welcome to Operation Octopod. Truly:
Detectives set up a specialist team which worked in secret for months to gather evidence against the gang in an inquiry codenamed Operation Octopod. Most of the 200 officers involved in the raids were not even told of the targets, only given the addresses they were raiding.
This sounds like it might eventually become quite a good story.
Interestingly, this Evening Standard story goes out of its way to say that the family being arrested have not been named. But the link to the story contains these words:
And later they changed the headline above the story on the website, to include the word “Adams”. And indeed, it seems that the arrested family really is called Adams. Expect the phrase Adams Family Values to crop up a lot in the next few days and weeks.
And in a few years, another movie, about London’s own Adams Family and their dastardly deeds.
As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received. I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it. No links, no photos, no extras. (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:
I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng. I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.
This time I don’t know the answers. I merely want to know the answers. What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us? Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some. Tonight I expect to make further progress.
Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to. Has anyone here not taken a digital photo? Just as I thought. (It actually says that here. And this.)
I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands. I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting. He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera. As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place. But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine. Said he to his family: “Come on, come on! We’ll look at it when we get home!”
This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new. Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century. But it is more than that.
Even setting the scale of the phenomenon aside, digital photography is different from the old sort. It was first applied to the real world by NASA, to solve the problem not so much of taking photographs, but of communicating them, from robot spaceships back to earth, without the vast additional expense of getting the robots to fly back home themselves, like World War 2 photo reconnaissance planes. Central to digital photography is that digital photographs are easy to communicate. It is no accident that digital photography has only now become ubiquitous in our culture with the arrival and mass success of the smartphone, which can, just like those first NASA digital space cameras, both take pictures and communicate them. When we speak of “digital photography”, what are the boundaries of the concept? The “digital” bit means that this is photography that goes beyond merely being photography in the sense experienced by that American on the Acropolis all those years ago. Digital photography, as computer insiders have long understood, is only a part of a bigger multi-media picture, and that was always the idea.
One of the ways I have prepared for this talk has simply been to talk with people, both friends and people I just happened recently to bump into. How do you use digital photography? What do you think its impact is?
In the answers I have so far garnered, a number of themes recurred.
Only a tiny few did not use digital photography at all. In one case, this was because he had suffered a particularly painful digital camera robbery, and he just couldn’t make himself resume the activity. All the others who refrained were old, little-rolls-of-film photography devotees. They loved this technology and consequently hated the successor technology that had destroyed the object of their love, in rather the same way that some devotees of vinyl gramophone records hate CDs. This was exceptional.
In all other cases, my respondents used digital cameras with enthusiasm, and often downright joy. They used them in some or all of the regular ways, to take holiday snaps, to take photos at weddings, family reunions, parties, and so on. But another recurring theme also asserted itself. This is the digital photography killer app, different for each person. Everyone does particular work, has particular hobbies, and in almost every case of such a personal angle on the world, digital photography was making a contribution, to their effectiveness or their pleasure or both.
A fine example is a killer app described to me by a gentleman at the previous 6/20 meeting, on the 6th of this month. He regretted being unable to attend tonight, but I will try to recall what he said, briefly but accurately. Basically, he is a butterfly fan. He likes to scrutinise the patterns on the wings of butterflies, which, to him, are of extraordinary beauty and interest. I am sure you can understand.
But he has a problem. Butterflies are notoriously unwilling to stay for any length of time in the same spot. Their wings will often repay long minutes and ever hours of attention, but your typical butterfly only hangs around for a few seconds and certainly cannot be relied upon to stay longer. No problem. Snap. He can then scrutinise the beautiful creature’s wings at his leisure. He can, you might say, look at it when he gets home.
It’s an aside, but I recall the days when butterfly “lovers” could only contemplate the objects of their devotion for any big length of time by killing them. They used to catch butterflies in nets, and pin them onto boards and keep vast collections of dead butterflies in trays with glass tops. I remember such gruesome collections, perpetrated by male relatives long dead, in my grandmother’s house when as a boy I visited her vast home. That the weapon of choice of an ever higher proportion of human hunters of animals – entirely so in the case of rare or endangered animals - is now the camera, rather than the rifle, is surely a step in the right direction for civilisation. Taken literally, my butterfly man’s use of digital photography to immobilise his butterflies was the very opposite of a killer app. It was a let them live app.
Other killer apps spring to mind. My own digital camera killer app, the app that got me started with digital photography, was contriving computer printable photographs of authors whose writings I was engaged in publishing, for the Libertarian Alliance. One of these authors was Christian, as I recall. About fifteen short years ago, using desktop computers to print photographs was as slow and unwieldy as using computers to display photographs on computer screens is easy now, but I was very happy about that. I could do it. All I needed was quite crude black and white pictures, which were not nearly as slow as better pictures would have been to play with, and anyway, all that slowness deterred the competition and made my products look far less domestic in origin than they really were. Later, I used and still use pictures of prominent libertarian personalities to spice up my blog postings, and to boost their prestige and raise their morale.
Intrinsic to digital photography is that digital photographs can be easily processed. This was also why NASA was so keen to develop this technology. Remember those videos of a hopeless image being slowly but miraculously transformed into a miraculous image. I used to muck about with my author photos to make them more photocopier-friendly. Many of my interviewees have talked about how they create images, rather than merely snap them.
Tonight I hope that I will hear of many more killer apps.
One of my favourite digital photography apps is the photographing of other information. An example of this was told to me by Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, who works in computers, in some capacity or other. He and his colleagues, in the course of their collective deliberations, are in the habit of covering white boards with verbiage and diagrams and such, often including yellow stick-on notes with further cleverness. And, before the meeting adjourns, photos of all this cleverness are taken, for later pondering. Simon and his colleagues are definitely not the only ones behaving like this, and nor are they the only ones who photograph the resulting writing on the wall, so to speak, for later reflection. A merely temporary piece of scribbled brainstorming becomes as permanent as anyone wants it to be.
Time was when the only people in the world using small cameras to photograph complicated verbiage and complicated diagrams were spies in movies, and presumably spies for real. And to anyone who says that photocopiers have been around for decades, I say, true, but good luck photocopying a vertical surface several yards wide. Digital cameras are actually now better than photocopiers were. Notice, however, that this was not nearly so true just a few years back, because cheap digital cameras couldn’t then handle the detail. Now, they can.
The more people tell me about their personal, particular, digital photography apps, and about the other apps they have heard about other people using, the more I think that digital photography is like literacy, something that is capable of contributing, always significantly and often crucially, to pretty much any project you care to think of. Of course it has to be done right, used intelligently. Any tool can be misused, applied stupidly or excessively. But seriously, is there any area of work or play to which a bit of shrewdly deployed digital photography can not now contribute?
The pleasure that people get from digital photography is obvious, and often highly visible. But the impact of digital photography on work is just as dramatic if not more so, which is one of the reasons I so like Simon’s photoed brainstorm boards. Where would internet selling be without digital photography? How many pictures are taken per day by the construction industry, to record progress, satisfactory or not? Think of all those Russian cars with their permanently active video cameras, ready to record accidents, and incidentally recording meteor strikes for the evening news.
As for the more conventional uses of digital cameras, to take snaps when on holiday or out of hours when on business trips, at weddings and at funerals and school reunions and at Christmas, well, hear this. Several people volunteered that, were they to suffer a computer calamity and lose all their data, the only losses that would really hurt – really, really hurt – would be the loss of their photo archives.
There were grumbles. Just now a big grumble about digital photography, if my recent conversations are anything to go by, concerns people using tablet cameras (a very recent arrival on the scene) to make bad video recordings of live events, thereby spoiling the view for everyone else. This does not mean that it is silly to photograph Big Ben using a tablet, as I myself have had the pleasure of photographing many people do. On the contrary, a tablet is a very sensible way to take photographs or make videos, because with such a big screen, you know, as never before, the kind of picture you are going to get. But yes, tablets can be used in a way that is annoying to others. More fundamentally, what is the point of going to an event, and then not experiencing it, on account of instead making a bad video of it?
More generally, the grumble is that digital photography does not so much record experience as postpone, diminish, and not infrequently utterly destroy it.
But such grumbles are not new. I would say that they are a consequence of the fact that technology is always now developing, which means that at any particular moment mistakes are going to be made. We are all familiar with the nouveau riche phenomenon, which is people who need to learn how to handle money in quantities they are not familiar with, and in particular not to spend it all. Constantly progressing technology gives rise to a similar effect. At any given technological moment there will be people overdoing it with this or that latest piece of kit. Just now tablet computers are being overused at public events. Suddenly people can record absolutely everything, and some do, excessively and inconsiderately, not even maximising their own pleasure let alone anyone else’s. In the eighties, you may recall, the complaints concerned mobile phones, being misused in trains by people shouting endless gushes of banality into them, concerning the progress of their train journeys, in a way that enraged other passengers. But people learned not to behave like this. The tablet wavers at concerts will likewise learn to mend their manners.
As for the claim that photography is an alternative to visual experience rather than an enhancement of it, my own personal experience has been the exact opposite. I have seen far more of London in the last decade than I would have done had there been no digital photography. And thanks to my photo archives I remember far more of what I have seen, with past photos often vividly triggering past visual memories that would otherwise have gone utterly. My most vivid visual recollection of 2013 was seeing, in the far distance, the first few giant cranes of London Gateway, London’s new container port now being constructed on the north bank of the Thames Estuary. They reminded me of my first sighting of Chartres Cathedral from a similarly great distance, which I spied on one of my sketching expeditions in my teens. Had there been no digital photography, I would never have gone anywhere near London Gateway, let alone now have had such vivid mental (as well as digital) pictures of it. My experience is that digital photography is not a substitute for seeing things. It is an intensification of seeing things.
And as I often like to joke, my camera has better eyesight than I do. One of the most pleasurable moments of my photographic expeditions is when I get home, and fling my pictures up on my big home computer screen. I see all sorts of things in them that I did not see at the time, as perhaps my friend Simon sees in his photos of meetings notes. Just as the butterfly man does not have time to see everything he can later see in his photos, I do not have the eyesight to see what I later see in my photos. Ah, the joy of looking at them when I get home! And yes, I am a bit nouveau riche about digital photography myself. Guilty as charged. But far better to be nouveau riche than not riche at all!
It is because of all the varied pleasures to be had from digital photography that it has become such a mass enthusiasm. All mass enthusiasms give rise to grumbles and sneers, from people who accentuate the negative and prefer to ignore or take for granted the positive.
Some negatives, concerning the impact of digital photography and the new media in general on old school journalism have been much complained about, mostly by old school photographers and journalists. Daily news has been replaced by instant news. Boo. Many people prefer looking at each other’s bad photos instead of looking at good photos taken by the old school photographer complaining in his old school newspaper article. I will not spend time on these grumbles, if only because so many others have done nothing but write about such things. Suffice it to say that the news hasn’t ended. The means of communicating it has changed a lot lately, just as it always has.
One of the many plusses of digital photography is that, by supplying an endless stream of humdrum photos of humdrum people doing humdrum things all over the world, it corrects the impression given by the news that the rest of the world is a crazy place inhabited only by crazy people doing crazily newsworthy and disastrous things, all the time.
One of the bigger negatives associated with digital photography is surely surveillance, both by big organisations like governments and the owners of shopping centres and amusement parks and transport networks, and by individuals, just taking photos, moving or still, of friends or strangers, and then internetting them. And of course the latter activity, as Edward Snowden has now confirmed, feeds massively back into the former one. There was a recent 6/20 talk devoted entirely to this topic a few months back, just before it suddenly became a hot news story.
Surveillance has caught on in the rich world, I am convinced, because it really does do a lot of good, in deterring crime and in supplying evidence for prosecution in crimes that it fails to deter. It also, surely, really does diminish speedy and dangerous driving. The question is not whether there are any benefits to mass surveillance, but whether those benefits are worth the potentially horrible costs. It has been much discussed that Britain has the largest population of surveillance cameras in the world, per head of population being surveilled. I think that one reason for this is that in Britain we have (again: many of my libertarian friends will be disgusted by this claim) some of the – quite possibly the - most trusted public officials in the world. (If my libertarian friends would prefer “least distrusted”, I am happy to let them have that concession, but only that.) Trust in public officials everywhere is probably in decline, including in Britain, but in Britain it still remains very high. There is a lot of ruin in a civil service that started out genuinely civil. Thus, the costs in Britain of public surveillance are considered less burdensome than elsewhere, and the cameras escalate, both in number and in effectiveness.
The Guardian’s Laurie Penny agrees with me. Unlike me, Penny travels a lot to many other cities besides London, and she notes that London – especially London’s trains – are now remarkably free of graffiti, compared to other major cities, and in particular compared to the trains in other major cities. She gives surveillance cameras much of the credit for this. Which makes sense to me. Although, as usual, we have to say that just shoving up surveillance cameras and not paying any attention to their output is utterly insufficient. As with all other digital camera apps, surveillance cameras can be deployed both excessively and incompetently. Cameras only work if part of an effective (and uncorrupt) system of crime prosecution and prevention.
But what if the definition of crime gets expanded? What if British public officials are now becoming less trustworthy so fast that the British public, now so supportive of surveillance cameras, later changes its mind?
And what else are all these surveillance cameras already deterring? Penny speculates that we have entered a new age of self-censorship, of stuffy social decorum, of watching what we say to anyone, not unlike the one that was abandoned in the 1960s by the Beatles generation, i.e. mine. I think I agree about that also, although another big part of the reason for that is that the economy is not what it was. Would young people now fret about pictures of themselves behaving rowdily in the street, or for that matter at private parties where privately owned smartphones are hoovering up pictures and showing the worst of them to the whole world, if jobs for young people were as easy to come by as they were in the 1960s? Personally I don’t think such pictures are much of a reason to not employ someone, but they do make a fine excuse if you are looking for one.
Going back to that graffiti that Laurie Penny observes the lack of in London (and she is rather regretful), I think I observe another impact of digital photography on graffiti, at any rate in London. Yes, surveillance cameras may have diminished the quantity of low grade graffiti, the sort that is hardly better than dogs pissing on lamp-posts to mark their territory, and which is done – or feels as if it is done - to maximise annoyance to property owners, and urban dread in the minds of more sober and timid and elderly citizens like me. But at the top end of the graffiti food chain, at any rate to my eye, things have greatly improved. The quality of the best graffiti art is now dramatically better than it has ever been before, so much so that art galleries now fall over themselves to sign up street artists, instead of patronising the more usual sort of artists, who are now being left behind by their more populist competitors with their defiantly realistic and demagogicly communicative imagery.
Digital photography is definitely part of this story, in fact I think somewhere in my photo archives I have pictures to prove it, of street artists photoing their works in progress. Think about it. If you have just done an elaborate work of street art, in a place where you know from experience you are allowed to do it, and won’t be prosecuted for doing it, and you can immediately record an approximate likeness of it for posterity, that has to gain you more kudos and social media attention than if you couldn’t do that. Street art is all too temporary, replaced almost at once by more street art. A digital photo of a piece of street art is far more permanent. Does anyone here present think that digital photography means less high quality street art?
The weekend before last, there was another art event in London which surely also owed much to digital photography, which was a festival of ice sculpture. How demoralising it must be to sculpt a masterpiece, and then immediately watch it melt, in London’s demoralisingly moderate “winter” climate. How much more fun if you can photo it in all its temporary glory. That fact has resulted in a deluge of photos in recent years of such ice sculptures, and that results (it certainly did the weekend before last) in a whole new mob of people who have never seen such a thing before (because before, nobody in London bothered) assembling themselves to witness these miraculously kitchy objects. And to photo them with their cameras. I actually went to this ice sculpture exhibition, which was held in Docklands. I had hoped for a decent number of ice sculptures and a decent number of photographers, some of them the artists themselves, for me to photograph photoing them. Alas for my hopes. I only got as far as photoing the truly gigantic and (to me) totally offputting queue of people who had all had the same idea about where to go as me.
I’ll end this very soon. Melting sculptures and excessive crowds of people wanting to see them and to photo them may seem like a pretty downbeat conclusion to this talk, but actually it isn’t really my conclusion. That will come when I finally sort out in mind what that is. Meanwhile, I am greatly enjoying the process. Talking with people about how they use digital photography, and about what they think its impact has been and is and will be, as opposed to merely reading about this on the internet and musing about how I use digital photography myself, has also been, quite aside (I hope) from being somewhat informative, great fun. Asking someone how they use digital photography is a great conversation starter, I have found. And I intend to continue with my investigations.
If forced to offer a conclusion now, I think I would describe digital photography historically, by talking about how future historians might choose to describe the little episode of technological history that we happen to be living through. And I think, like me, that they will emphasise the multi-media nature of digital photography, the way that it operates in combination with other methods of information storage and communication. When will they date the beginning of this story? Perhaps a date they will mention is May 11th 1844, which was the day when the first Morse Code message was transmitted between two different cities, Washington and Baltimore.
Or, they may go back to the origins of the printing press, or even of literacy, or even of talking itself. I have already emphasised the way that digital photography, among many other things, adds a dose of turbo-charging to old fashioned writing, by photographing it. For this is a story with no very fixed moment of beginning, and as of now there is no end in sight. It is a story of the gradual and accelerating increase in the power of us humans to interact with our world, to remember things, and to communicate things. In almost no time, from the evolutionary point of view, we have gone from creatures who struggled to make noises that communicated different kinds of danger to the tribe, to creatures who may very soon be making elaborate objects simply by thinking about them and emitting telepathic waves to magic machines, telepathy being a word I used in the title of a recent blog posting about the kinds of things I would be talking about this evening. Future historians will talk of shared experience, and gaze at our absurdly flat photographs, perhaps on an antique “computer screen”, with the same impressed but slightly patronising amusement and bemusement that we now bestow upon stained glass windows.
But enough. Thanks for listening, and please tell me more.
Post pictures of cats, they said. Seriously, if you’re not going to be able to write much, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture of a cat is worth, well, Six Thousand. Do it.
So, with that in mind, here’s a picture of a cat, ...
I also found myself referring recently to the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think that one of the consequences of digital photography is that this is probably no longer true. Not unless it’s a very good picture. And to be fair to 6000, it is a pretty good cat picture. Also, he was not saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, merely referring to the notion, by saying “if” it is, as an excuse for a quota cat.
One of the things that used to make pictures count for so much was that everyone knew what a bother it was to contrive them. Now, everyone knows that contriving pictures has become very easy.
The reason I can never make myself care about just shoving hundreds of snaps up on the internet using something like Flickr, and why I prefer to put them here (or here), in much smaller numbers, is that I prefer my pictures to be accompanied by words, words that explain what I am trying to say with the pictures, or what I think is interesting about them.
The same principle applied to the old newspaper photographs, where this phrase presumably originated. A picture may then have been worth a thousand words, but there were usually also plenty of actual words attached.
Often, the pictures here are pictures of words. If following a link does not appeal, consider only the previous two postings.
Friend on telly
Broad thrives properly on getting abuse
Alex on Quentin
Guido in the Spectator (and in Free Life)
The Times of May 24th 1940
Photoing each other - and photoing stuff in the canal
The Alex Singleton blog
A Fleet Street lunch
Bad times for the NHS
Australia v South Africa starts now
American election talk
Pollsters can’t say where things are but they can say which way they’re going
“No one has to know!”
On how being linked to enables you to tell your story as you wish and why long titles are good
Pat Caddell on mainstream media bias
Reasons to think Romney is going to win big
“I just came across this fascinating photo …”
I’m Charia Hebdo!
Jarrod Kimber on biased cricket commentators
Kevin Dowd last night
Alex Singleton has a new blog
More shiny new headquarters buildings
Does Kevin Pietersen have a weakness against bowlers?
Release Ai Weiwei
Out to lunch with Alex Singleton
Why I prefer blogging to writing for a magazine
Wagga Wagga has been flooded by the Murrumbidgee River
Obamanomics dod not work
Cats only seem smart and dogs only seem dumb
Scientology enthusiast is now Climate Change Minister
A blog posting linking to a science article
Photoing the World Cup
Balls balls up
Three Gorges Dam picture
A demonstration I could join
This is not Mohammed
Alex Singleton on Photoshop CS5
Gordon Brown proves Guido was right about him from the start and Ed Balls not nice either shock
We’ll always have Chelsea
Why David Hepworth is wrong about podcasting
Does Google now rule the world of computing?
Will I ever tire of writing about the relationship between the new media and the old?
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom understatement of the day
Antoine Clarke on the Massachusetts election and the online effect
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
The right to photograph
Those angry Americans
Cricket talk tonight
Three more headlines and how the internet remembers it all
Yet more ramblings about Guesswhatgate
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
India looking good against Sri Lanka
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Rude Ian Morbin should have a blog
Was it Sweeney? And what else were they trying to suppress?
Why I vote against AGW
Another London lump?
Photo by me in a newspaper!
Edinburgh’s skyline doesn’t suck
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Thoughts on the Go Gordon petition
Globalisation Guido – and other Bright Young Things
Two Samizdata comments on the sinking of Brown and on the sinking of the Daily Telegraph
“What did you just say?”
James Tyler’s speech at Policy Exchange
What the previous two postings here have in common
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
Clay Shirky on newspaper doom
Headlines of the times
It all depends on whether there is anything worth Twittering
Photoing the Police
Actually quite a big cat
You don’t wait for it – you go looking for it
Billion Monkeys liked photoing the nastiest poster!
The impossibility of God but the possibility of Michael Flatley’s cure and of super-super-flees
Evening Standard hand-done billboards go printed shock
P. J. O’Rourke confuses the average with the significant
Why Willem Buiter blogs and why I do
First picture posted to this blog from the wild
Photo-ing the news in Evening Standard headlines
An abstract view of Kings Place
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
Not the same thing
Ken Livingstone was beaten by the billboards!
Gramophone are putting their back catalogue of articles online for free
Even if people fake them the government still likes them
Smog returns to Beijing
Portable copiers and copying jokes
The writing on the wall
Mainstream media bloggers and the problem of my blogroll
Seven Napiers – three Ansaris - Gilchrist
Voice of God journalism
The new Lowe look
I predict that Germany will win
Brown leapfrogs Cameron with 36 point jump
Permanent Bold Disease strikes Brassneck
Oddities and specialisms
I really should stop buying newspapers and magazines
The absurdly derided excellence of British weather forecasts
News Media Coalition versus Indian Premier League
Travis Perkins of Pimlico Road are not good at delivering timber
A blogger mutates towards being a journalist
A better than average press release
Girls these days flashing their cleavages it’s disgusting don’t know what the world’s coming to …
A soundbite to describe Britain a hundred years ago
Obama a loser?
Paris Hilton and the Something Else First rule
Photo that hits the mark
Blogging – the end of the beginning
Pictures of the year
Treating the internet like the printing press
Billion Monkeys and a Real Photographer at the Golden Umbrellas
When the penny drops
Chanelle and Ziggy - romance in the age of total surveillance
For Skimbleshanks read Tizer
Digital Camera Review error
It’s the decline of old-school advertising that’s really hurting old-school journalism
Three … thirty six … sixty one … a hundred a forty eight …
Blogs are not cacophonous
Real Photographers worship the Logo
Richard Dawkins on the Muhammad cartoons affair
Back lit Billion Monkey lady and back lit Saturn!
Tom Wolfe on the only real fun of writing
Assorted London quota photos
Billion Monkeys photo their own demo!
Some plain English
Magic Andy makes magic dragon
The Mainstream Media finally get around to noticing Andy and his sand sculptures
The Great Global Warming Swindle debate now begins
Will twentieth century aerial warfare be repeated by toys?
Susan Hill on not having to be up-to-the-minute about book blogging
When “it’s” becomes “it is” – plus a picture of some Mac users
Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet
Storms rip through London
Screwed by Google – and Google screwed by the kitten-bloggers?
More G&S - and some strange Times errors
Me on 18DSTV
A breezy day in London
Spreading the word for free
Me on the intertelly tonight
Antoine Clarke and I don’t talk about elections
A dangerous development
Editing as falsifying
Me on 18 Doughty Street tonight
29th and 14th
Patrick and Brian talk about the War on Terror - thoughts about podcasting
Kristine writes down some of what Adriana said
Jeffrey Archer - blogger
Lords pictures from last Monday
Billion Monkey flash strikes twice! - 7/7 a year later - Office Space on TV even though I own it
Big Media crap and football cock-ups
Dnalgne no emoc! - Billion Monkey snaps mental Maradona!
Latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3
Wisden on the back foot
Billion Monkeys stop cover-ups!
Giving up rouge for Lisbon
The latest Brian and Antoine Election Watch podcast and some thoughts on democratic nastiness
Lightning strikes twice
The internet is creating new video stars
How links have weakened the mainstream media
Quoted but not linked to
Blogging fun and blogging profit
I won’t be doing any television myself in the near future but in the meantime have a watch of this
Fake but true?
“What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for?”
The problem of long blog postings
Deep fried eyelids anyone?
“The Internet has also brought a new class of people into politics”
Talking about my generation
The Great Gulf War?
Ted told you and I told you Ted told you