Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday January 28 2007

Patrick Crozier just did some blogging for me:

Brian Micklethwait has a theory.  He hasn’t actually written it down yet and he may not so you’re going to have to put up with my version which may, in all manner of ways, be wrong.  If it is then, well, Brian, my apologies.

Noted.

Brian’s observation is that while in the past everything got an average of three stars, these days everything gets four and a half.  His theory about this is that in the bad old days newspaper reviewers got sent a lot of things they didn’t want to review but had to anyway.  But these days reviewers are amateurs, they only encounter things they are probably going to like, so their reviews tend to be good ones.

That says it about right, but let me do some polishing.  The problem is that old school media reviewers were sent books (and things generally) to review which they didn’t want to read (or generally to be bothering with), but which they had to anyway, which made them write grumpy reviews.  Unpaid, amateur reviewers don’t read books right through that they don’t like, and are hence in no position to review them, even if they were inclined.  By definition, amateurs only concern themselves in any depth with things they love.  “Encounter” is the wrong word.  We all encounter all kinds of things we don’t like, but we mostly walk on by, unless we enjoy moaning, as most of us don’t.  It is what we pay attention to, or are made to pay attention to, that matters, for this argument.

Most of that is pretty clear in Patrick’s version of what I’ve been saying, but you can see why I only give him four stars out of five.  An important topic, but it could have been somewhat more exactly expressed.

It’s more than mere newspaper reviewers who exemplify this contrast.  Something similar used to happen, in the bad old days, to the mere consumers, and for many it still does.  The mass media being the only media there were, all of us used to be bombarded with messages that only spoke to a few of us.  Watching the old school media, we all had to sit through adverts for posh new cars, for example, which only a tiny few of us were receptive to.  Most of us were made grumpy by old school adverts, most of the time.  Worse, because the messages bored into our souls with such skill and in such volume, we found that a lot of our psychic energy went into concocting grumpy answers, about why we didn’t want the damn car.  Grumpiness got fixed inside our heads.  But in a world where those wanting cars go looking for them on the internet, and leave the rest of us in peace to contemplate only those messages that we like, we are all less grumpy.  We only get angry if we want to get angry.

Because the hatred of new cars and new car adverts felt by mere TV viewers tended not to get written down, the grumpiness of everyday life in front of the TV was rather less visible than the grumpiness of newspaper reviewers, which was and is plain for all to see.  But it was surely there.

On the internet, if you get grumpy, you aren’t doing it right.

A lot of the people who used to complain most about advertising were the oldies.  We oldies have our lives sorted, for better or worse, which means that most adverts are definitely not of interest to us.  Which might explain why so many of us oldies now take so happily to the internet, despite it being all new and technologically confusing in a way that you might expect us to be put off by.

One of the questions that Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet was devised to answer was: Why did people, during the Cold War, become so grumpy about capitalism?  Wasn’t it obvious to them that capitalism was just hugely better than communism?  Well, not exactly.  Capitalism’s adverts aggressively shoved too much stuff in front of too many people who weren’t going to buy it.  When you are in the thick of old school capitalism and all its irrelevant purchasing messages, communism, viewed from a distance, seems like a blessed relief.  Not blessed enough to actually go and live there, but blessed neverthtless.

Patrick mentions other groups of people who now get exactly what they want from the internet:

The point about this is that the online world is fragmenting existing societies.  We are starting to form into our little groups which have almost nothing to do with one another.  Instapundit readers have little to do with their IndyMedia or Kos counter-parts.  There are for all I know, Muslim discussion groups out there in which the participants earnestly but politely debate the merits of killing infidels by hanging or boiling.

Actually, I think that the intrusiveness of the old school, mass-advertising-based media is a lot of the reason why those angry Muslims have become so angry.  They too feel themselves to be penetrated, and made sick to their souls by, all this talk about new cars and clothes and the sexy girls you’ll get if you buy the new cars and clothes.

(I keep meaning to dig out and republish here a piece of writing by George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, which reads exactly like something you might now read from a Muslim fundamentalist.  The point is, the first Quakers were the children of tradesmen.  They were born into the thick of (the beginnings of) Western consumerism.  Eventually they went back to their trading roots and formulated a morality that made the Quakers, man for man, the most effective and influential group of tradesmen ever to walk the earth.  But in the meantime, at first, they were disgusted by consumerism.)

Meanwhile, I use Micklethwait’s Four Star Theory of the Internet to explain why people used to be grumpier and now are more content.  But Patrick uses it to explain why we are now about to have new and horribly bloody wars with our next door neighbours.

The frightening thing is the historical parallels.  It is not as if this hasn’t happened before.  During the Reformation, as new religious beliefs started to spread, many people must have found themselves totally alienated from their neighbours.  The lucky ones, like the passengers on the Mayflower, were able to up sticks and found their own settlements, the unlucky found themselves imbroiled in the mother and father of all religious wars.

Is it to be the same again?  If so, is there any way to escape the carnage?

Each to his own.

I just caught myself yelling at a particularly silly TV advert for recycling bottles.  So if recycling bottles saves resources, then why, mad bitch, aren’t you offering to pay me for my bottles?

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