Roll Your Own William Gibson

Rather plain, really.

Every revolution only creates itself, by how it defines itself.

And if we gave up on these constrictive, self-serving definitions of revolt, we could have a revolution every day of the week, if we wanted to.

My neighbour William Gibson once cautioned people not to underestimate the bandwidth of a Fed-Ex truck. I caution you now not to underestimate the bandwidth of a video store that lets you rent two DVDs for a week for three bucks, and that’s moving seasons of your favourite shows in as fast as you can scream out their names. Which, I guess: is the same bandwidth a Fed-Ex truck has.

Which is a lot.

Video on demand?

Man, it’s here already. And it’s about trucks.

So refuse your boxes, and deny your ID!

Let video do what it does best: deliver live programming. Like sports. Or legislative proceedings. Let community and public broadcasting channels continue to show stuff no one even knows they want, until they see it. Let TV be for guiding the eye, and inflaming the interest. And then go down and get the rest at the store. Or watch it on YouTube. Stay ahead of the curve. Or behind it. Whatever works. Hey, take back the sight.

Cause great stock market losses. Ruin great fortunes. Go ahead; I give you permission.

These are my words, for so long as the device known as the antenna survives. Hey, and if you’re sick of waiting for the Eighties to arrive, after all this time: they’re here.



So don’t switch phone companies, don’t switch media channels; switch culture delivery systems. Face it, you don’t want a world where you can get any one of a hundred episodes of Friends for ninety-nine cents; because then ten bucks later it’s dinnertime, and then what have you learned since noon? That you can buy five seasons of Friends like a bag of groceries from the store down the street (if that’s what you want) for half the cost of ordering them in like a bunch of greasy pizza slices while you sit in your La-Z-Boy and suck molten American cheese out of a bun?

Hey, what if they brought the world to your doorstep through a fiber-optic cable, but nobody came to answer their knock?

Not that I’m saying it will happen, or even that I want it to happen…

But it could happen. In fact it could happen — or at least start to happen — right now.

And you know…I’d love to see their faces if it did.

There will always be reasonably cheap, reasonably low-key, reasonably high-fidelity, reasonably high-quality culture delivery systems that reward your patronage.
There will always be disgustingly expensive, shitty, fuzzy, sexy culture delivery systems that try to rip you off six ways from Sunday, and don’t give a damn if they do.

And you could actually pick what kind of delivery you want, right now!

Why, it’s just like choosing between potatoes, and potato chips.

It’s really the same thing, really.


Word to the wise. The time to pick a side may be today. Anyway it couldn’t hurt to pick the right one, even if you’re a bit early.


8 responses to “Roll Your Own William Gibson

  1. What are comic book readers but people who have chosen, at some physical inconvenience and social expense, a specific, often difficult, and sometimes problematic in other ways, culture delivery system?

  2. Actually, I think I got it better with “every system of social control is essentially a system of social consensus, designed to shield just a few widely-believed but patently false propositions from being tested.”

  3. “every system of social control is essentially a system of social consensus, designed to shield just a few widely-believed but patently false propositions from being tested.”

    I thought I had an example of this but it turns out that I don’t; I have an example of not-this. So either I’ve countered your argument or I’ve misunderstood it.

    Example: Laws against drunk driving.

    Let’s face it: nobody cares if anyone drives drunk *per se*. What we care about is whether they cause harm to people or property. So we have laws against drunk driving, which exist as a protective layer around the laws against causing harm to people or property. The assumption is that if you’re drunk while driving you’re a lot more likely to cause such harm. The laws allow the cops to take preventative action against such a driver before things get to the point of harm-causing.

    So: our proposition is that we have laws against people careering around, bouncing off bridge abutments and mowing down pedestrians through a haze of liquor. Those laws are being shielded by a system of social control consisting of other laws, breathalyzers, RIDE programs, designated drivers, and so on.

    But what about all this is patently false?

    Similar example, which I won’t detail unless asked: baseball’s rules about players gambling.

  4. Well, I’d love to hear that baseball thing! Wasn’t Pete Rose’s defence that he only bet on his own team to win, anyway?

    I misremember that, no doubt.

    This stretches the point a little, but as far as drinking and driving goes — something I hope we can all agree is a very very bad practice indeed, that ought to be eliminated, much like twelve-year olds taking up smoking — it isn’t that the social controls (i.e. the laws) shield the irrationality of the social controls, it’s that the socially-authoritative nature of the controls shield (read: are also given their motive force by) an underlying proposition that can’t stand up too well under investigation.

    Which is (although as I’ve said: stretching the point) that the negative consequences of legal drug use are a shameful failing of persons, that the larger society need take no responsibility for causing or enabling. Oh, sure, right: the users are to blame, not the pushers. Of course. The pushers are blameless. Now, I don’t believe that smoking causes cancer in non-smokers right across the board regardless of circumstantial factors, but it says right on the pack that Health Canada does believe this, as an official governmental position…

    So then, why isn’t tobacco a controlled substance?

    I smoke and drink, and I think drinking and driving is a horror. I support initiatives to curtail the social acceptability of drinking and driving. But let’s not be fooled by the outward forms: as proved in a relatively recent Supreme Court case, drunkenness is an acceptable defence in a criminal proceeding, meaning it’s a defence which is mountable even if not necessarily successful (a lot like “not guilty by reason of insanity”), and yet looking around at the cultural messages we’re getting you would think loadedness was a universal evil, that right-thinking people simply scorn. That right-thinking people will never allow alcohol consumption to impair their judgement.

    But of course, that’s really the only thing that alcohol ever does: impair judgement. That’s just a fact; that’s why we drink it. That’s why we’ve kept it around, lo these many millenia.

    So…we’re the weak ones, for allowing it to do what it unpreventably does, whenever it’s taken?

    There’s hypocrisy here. Drinking and driving is an awful practice, and we ought to intend seriously to get rid of it, wipe it out. But what’re we really prepared to do about it?

    Sorry, Matthew, I’ve only scratched the surface of this, I apologize; and I’m no Prohibitionist! So I will come back to it later, and marshal more complete arguments. But the essence of what I’m saying is: sure, we could stretch the point this far, I guess. How do you solve the problem of drinking and driving? The current idea seems to be that you shame drinkers. But, does that really work? The government of Canada tells us that the definition of a “heavy drinker” is a person who takes three drinks at a sitting, twelve times in a year.

    To my mind, that’s a transparent attempt to offload responsibility onto “weak” people. But of course we’re all of us weak.

    There must be a better way.

  5. I could see all of that. It reminds me of a couple of things that I’ve read: one guy, writing about the 1970s and touching on cocaine (“The white powder was a [motorscooter] but it wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was why did everyone want to do it so badly?”), and Kate Fox’s (highly recommended) anthropological work Watching the English, where she notes that in England, alcohol is regarded as an agent of social chaos and violence… but that this says more about the English than it does about alcohol, because there are European nations nearby where such a notion would be alien and laughable.

    The baseball thing. It’s quite parallel to the drunk-driving example, in my mind:

    Baseball has rules that players are not allowed to bet on baseball. Actually there are lots of such rules; they aren’t supposed to go to the track and bet on horse-racing either, they aren’t supposed to consort with gamblers or bookmakers, things like that. But betting on baseball is the big thing.

    But let’s face it. Nobody cares if someone, let’s call him Pete Rose, bets on baseball per se. What they care about is whether the competitive nature of the game has been violated. The premise is that if you start betting on baseball, you’ll give the gamblers a hold over you, and they’ll eventually get you to throw games. And it’s not a false premise: if gamblers get their hooks into you, that’s exactly what they’ll do. That’s (part of) what happened in 1919. So baseball has instituted the no-betting rule as a first line of defense for the rule they’re really concerned about.

    To my mind, Pete Rose has no defense that will stand up. His original ban from baseball was officially with no finding that he had bet on baseball, although many people were convinced that he had, but since there had been no such finding, one could conceive of a way that he and baseball could eventually be reconciled. Since then, though, he’s admitted to betting on baseball, so that’s out the window.

    It’s clearly in the interests of baseball, and also in the interests of Rose, that there be a reconciliation eventually. But it’s not at all in the interests of baseball to make it easy for Rose. He was a star, and he spent a long time in the major leagues, hearing over and over and over that if you’re caught betting on baseball, you will be banned forever, and he’s not a stupid man. He knows the rule applies to him; he just wants to get away with it anyway. And baseball can’t afford for that rule to become toothless.

    But still: Rose is not Shoeless Joe Jackson. He didn’t throw any games. At least, nobody’s ever accused him of it. So baseball’s competitive nature was not violated. There could, someday, be some kind of arrangement made. Maybe. But baseball has to make Rose work for it.

    Now, I can apply your logic of the drunk-driving example to the baseball example. You could say, the gambling and throwing games and stuff is not the real problem. The real problem is the financial importance that’s placed on a recreational pastime, and the nature of gambling and organized crime, but instead of addressing that, the rule focuses on the players’ behaviour. And it’s quite true: the underlying problem in 1919 was that the White Sox owner had done his best to screw the players out of everything they could, and they felt no loyalty to him. Baseball writer Bill James has written that it was a decade in which every big baseball story was about money, and that the players didn’t actually have any of this money; that generation of players had had a lot of promises to them broken. The Black Sox players must have been thinking, everyone else is cheating, everyone else is cashing in, why shouldn’t we?

    So there may be something to it.

  6. Well, like I said, it’s stretching somewhat…the observation’s meant to apply to propositions like “if I follow the social script being handed down to me, I will be happy and safe”, “some people are naturally of a criminal inclination”, “statistical predictions are useful when applied to individual cases”, “greed is good”, etc. etc…

    It is amazing how that “greed is good” thing just keeps hanging in there, actually…

    But I think maybe you’re onto something with the baseball connection. Well, all big-time North American leagues, really, but isn’t baseball the one that’s most bound up with the myth of America? Anyway it seems pretty clear that owners have historically been interested in protecting their turf far more than they’ve ever been interested in anything else, and more than willing to put very tough pressures onto players to preserve the sanctity of that bottom line. If I felt like being cynical, I’d say the players are little more than cane toads to the owners — they’re there to be licked, not revered for their beauty. Not that there are no good owners to be found in the history of our pro leagues, but we can all name a good double handful of bastards, so that cat’s pretty much out of the bag…and the whole thing reminds me parenthetically of Olympic athletes caught doping: of course no one can approve of cheating, and the athletes do bear a responsibility…but what responsibility do they bear, exactly, and how did they end up with it? Structurally it makes more sense to call these people victims: even though they’ve lied and they’ve cheated, who is it that ends up with the brain cancer from the steroid use? Not me and you; not little Bobby who’s had his faith in heroes shattered. We’re talking medical bills, here, bereaved families. Serious stuff. And yet it goes on, and on, and on, Dick Pound notwithstanding. It’s a bit like people talking about anorexia: they all agree that Cosmo’s to blame, but then Cosmo’s still in business, right?

    Sorry, off-topic. Anyway, baseball: the idea of players as role models isn’t a fiction, but in sufficiently unscrupulous hands it can be very like a weapon, and this can only result (it seems to me) in the generation of a boatload of cognitive dissonance. Am I a guy with a job swinging a bat, or am I a Hero of the Nation? I’m sure the owners see it: it’s a hell of a lot easier to scapegoat a millionaire/hero than it is to scapegoat a mill-worker.

    Wow, I sound like a watered-down version of Billy Bragg, or something. But as you point out, there’s money in baseball, and that makes all the difference. Making players into role models means that you can draw a line in the sand anywhere you like, and if they cross it you’ve got perfect deniability. You can be shocked, outraged, whatever you like…it’s a perfect deflection. Meanwhile you know damn well the line is being crossed all the time…but then why should you care about that?

    And so here’s a thing about second-hand smoke which seems like Question #1 to me: if what it says on the cigarette packages is true, then the incidence of cancer in non-smokers ought to be plummeting. But is it? Right now Vancouver’s engaged in crafting a bylaw that’ll forbid smoking outside within twenty feet of a doorway or bus stop — and the reason given for the necessity of this measure is public safety. But if non-smokers’ cancer rates aren’t plummeting, then that stated reason is surely a lie, isn’t it?

    Quite a lot of that going around, these days.

    Boy, I hope that didn’t wander too far from the topic…

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