Cars, Cell Phones & The (Sponsored) Culture of Narcissism

Raymond Williams called it “mobile privatization.”

I think of it as “life behind screens,” or “bubble life.”

It — experiencing life predominantly through video screens, work sconces, and automobile glass — is not just part-and-parcel of corporate capitalism, but perhaps its #1 intention and requirement vis-a-vis the organization of the lives of the masses.

The latest bubble life news confirms, in spades, that the private automobile may be, as Plan C author Pat Murphy posits, “the greatest creator of alienation between humans that has ever existed.”

To wit, some excellent reportage from a July 18 New York Times story:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I’ll let the excellent CARtoonist Andy Singer have the last “word” on this totally unsurprising phenomenon:


A Decent Proposal: No More Olympics

Seems the “Bird’s Nest” stadium, built in Beijing for last summer’s Olympics, is now unused and will be knocked down and replaced with — of course — a new shopping mall.  Wikipedia cites sources saying China spent $423 million building this monstrosity, and that that staggering figure is a mere “one-tenth the cost that it would have cost to build the Bird’s Nest in the West.”

And what do the people of China and the world get in exchange for tolerating the construction of these $4 billion disposable boondoggles?  The usual Olympics agenda — another dose of extreme distraction, commercialism, and nationalism.

The world can hardly tolerate much more of those increasingly dangerous things, to say nothing of the colossal ecological wastefulness of things like building more Bird’s Nests and flying the world’s game-players and upscale spectators into thoroughly pointless, quickly forgotten quadrennial crypto-fascist schlockfests.

Let’s stop this madness, shall we?

Truth in Advertising: Bill Gates is a Clown

Bill Gates and Microsoft have always been poster boys for the connection between being first (a.k.a. lucky timing) and having power. Those who accumulate advantages before others tend to keep them, not least because they also tend to divert some of their advantages to pre-empting and crushing those who come along later.

I can also swear as a heavy word processor that Microsoft Word is sharply inferior for the purpose of writing a social science book manuscript to both of its main rivals, Word Perfect and Open Office Writer. The latter, in fact, is distinctly superior to both WP and MS Word, neither of which possess OO Writer’s power and flexibility in the vital tasks surrounding footnote and endnote management.

Open Office Writer, by the way, is open-source and absolutely free. As such, its superiority is a powerful refutation of Bill Gates’ infamous claim that excellent open-source software [and, by extension, all public-spirited, not-for-profit industry] is an impossibility.

I mention all this as background for observing that Microsoft and Gates are now attempting to rescue their horrendously bloated, hiccup-riddled Windows Vista operating system software by means of what has to be one of the worst advertisements in modern television history.

As the business and techie presses have been reporting, the core idea behind this unfunny, irrelevant, woefully leaden effort is distraction from the product in question:

According to a leaked internal email from Redmond’s senior vice president Bill Veghte, this first installment in what will be a series of commercials is meant to function as an “Icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context.” It seems that the company is following the path they’ve stamped out with their previous media burst, the Mojave Experiment, which appears to be less concerned with changing the product (Windows), and more concerned with changing consumers’ perception of the product. In Veghte’s words, “Telling our story means making significant investments to improve the way consumers experience Windows.”

Worse yet, the main distraction strategy seems to be heaping massively counter-factual “genius” praise on Bill Gates.

The ad attempts its odious misdirection by means of this long-in-coming exchange between Gates and the epically over-rated and unfunny Jerry Seinfeld:

Jerry: “You now, I imagine over the years you’ve mind-melded your magnum Jupiter brain to those other Saturn-ringed brains at Microsoft.”

Bill: “I have.”

The viewer, of course, is supposed to “know” that Gates is the mega-brain who invented personal computer software.

The truth, of course, is that, to the small extent he’s noteworthy at all for anything other than his Satanic “personal” fortune, Gates has always been much more a shrewd deal-maker than a computer innovator. Chasing cash and wielding monopoly power is his game. Mundane business maneuvers, however, are hardly the stuff of genius.

And, besides, what genius would ever have authorized release of this D.O.A. turd of a marketing campaign?