Archive for December, 2011
Tilda Swinton’s last two lines here are stunningly perceptive:
“For me that is grace,” she says of her character’s dumbstruck confusion in the face of her irrevocably altered life. “I am really interested in silence. In inarticulacy also, which isn’t the same as silence. As a performer I like looking at the gaps between what people want to communicate and what they can communicate,” she adds. “I love good filmmaking that isn’t just about really proficient writers of dialogue, who think that everybody’s really articulate and everybody can hear each other really well. That doesn’t feel true to me, actually. I mean, that’s a fantastical universe.”
Two links to think about together:
First, Peggy Nelson’s interview with Douglas Rushkoff over at HiLoBrow. In general I find Rushkoff pretty tendentious in this conversation, but I can’t deny that his reading of Middle Ages economics is provocative (emphasis mine):
PN: They didn’t get money from Rome to fund their cathedrals?
DR: They did not. The Vatican and central Rome did not build the cathedrals. The funds came from local currency, which was very different than money as we use it now. It was based on grain, which lost value over time. The grain would slowly rot or get eaten by rats or cost money to store, so the money needed to be spent as quickly as possible before it became devalued. And when people spend and spend and spend a lot of money, you end up with an economy that grows very quickly.
Now unlike a capitalist economy where money is hoarded, with local currency, money is moving. The same dollar can end up being the salary for three people rather than just one. There was so much money circulating that they had to figure out what to do with it, how to reinvest it. Saving money was not an option, you couldn’t just stick it in the bank and have it grow because it would not grow there, it would shrink. So they paid the workers really well and they shortened the work week to four and in some cases three days per week.
Now I have no idea if this is true, but it is true that many of our modern economic woes arise when money doesn’t move, and the vision of a marketplace full of dollars getting spent and spent and spent again—use ‘em or lose ‘em—especially within real communities, is pretty enticing.
Now cross-reference that with Matt Yglesias’ pitch for a cashless economy. By way of background: nowadays, when money doesn’t move, central bankers’ primary lever to get it going again is the interest rate. Lower the interest rate, and you make it cheaper for banks and companies to “buy” money, which means (you hope) more money gets spent by those companies, which means more people get paid, which means more money gets spent by those people, and so on.
But sometimes you push the interest rate all the way down, close to zero, and… nothing happens. Your lever is slammed to the bottom of the slot and you’re still not getting the effect you expected. Orthodox economics doesn’t really have a solution to this problem… but Yglesias does (again, emphasis mine):
Now we come to the miracle of the cashless society. Stop for a moment and ask yourself why the interest rate can’t be reduced much below 1 percent. The trouble is cash. At any given time, relatively little paper currency circulates in the United States. Instead, most of the American money supply consists of bank accounts and other electronic stores of value. People prefer to keep money in bank accounts because it’s convenient and because you get interest on it. If the rates were driven below zero—in effect a tax on holding cash in the bank—people would just withdraw money and store it in shoeboxes instead. But what if you couldn’t withdraw cash? What if all transactions were electronic, so the only way to avoid keeping money in a negative-rate account was to go out and buy something with the money? Well, then, we would have solved our depression problem. Too much unemployment? Lower interest rates below zero, Americans will start spending and investing again, the economic will grow, and unemployment will go back down to its “natural rate.”
There’s a lot of good detail in his piece, and he does a good job explaining all the mechanics, so it’s worth a read. The important thing is: he’s serious. Let’s keep that money moving.
Update: Or see also Louis C.K.:
I never viewed money as being “my money” I always saw it as “The money” It’s a resource. if it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.
I’m always fascinated to see real concrete sales numbers attached to pop-culture artifacts that you actually pay for—books, movies, video games, music. So I thought the most interesting part of this NYT piece on Cee-Lo Green was this graf:
“Forget You,” released in August 2010, reached No. 2 and has sold 5.3 million downloads in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the 12th most downloaded track of all time. (By comparison, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” the top song of 2011, has sold 5.7 million.)
If you had asked me to guess how many times the top-selling track of 2011 had been downloaded—and remember, this is bigger than any of Lady Gaga’s songs—I would have guessed at least 10 million, maybe 20. Really, 5.7 million downloads for the top song—a song supported by a basically unfathomable media monsoon, by omnipresent playback on the radio, on TV, in real places like coffee shops and car dealerships—that ain’t so many.
So on one hand, it just makes me realize how truly fragmented music is these days.
On the other hand, it makes me realize how many of a pop song’s plays aren’t paid for by listeners like us. Rather, the song gets licensed, soundtracked, muzacked, and just generally rolled out across the walls of the world. That all drives downloads, sure, but I’ll bet it also accounts for a huge fraction of the total lifetime listens. And it distorts our instincts—it makes pop songs seem bigger than they are.
And on the third mutant hand, it makes me hopeful that we might build that bridge between Kickstarter and Louis CK-level success after all. If the absolute top of the scale—the speed of light and commerce—is 5.7 million, then suddenly the number of purchases and plays a musician might get through a smash-hit Kickstarter campaign (50,000? 0.01 RITDs?) seems pretty meaningful.
Can you guys even believe how much great Tim Carmody writing we all get to read these days? I feel like I ought to set up some sort of aggregator bot that just collects and posts Carmody links in little bundles back here to Snarkmarket. Constellation-like, the man’s output is dispersed but glorious.
In any case, don’t miss Tim’s 2012 prediction post over at Nieman Lab. It’s my favorite of the series, in terms of both content and tone; I feel like Tim is starting to talk about technology (and reading technology specifically) with the cadence of a sportswriter.
And what a kicker:
It seems like we made big leaps forward only because we don’t actually know what the real leap forward looks like yet.
To the great dispersed snarkmatrix, all of you listening in on this quiet but persistent channel: may your 2012 be the leap forward you didn’t even know enough to imagine.
I was at a conference called NewsFoo this past weekend. In sessions and in conversations throughout the event, folks shared a number of impressive or memorable cultural artifacts they’d encountered; I wrote down as many as I could. I often stupidly neglected to note who pointed out what. Where I’ve remembered the source, I’ve included her. Thanks to everyone who shared!
This is just about my favorite kind of internet writing: the deep nerd-out, gracefully written, but without any real expectation of, or capitulation to, a general-interest audience. This one is about the past, present, and future of digital projection in movie theaters and I totally enjoyed it.
(I think my favorite part is the picture of the Digital Cinema Package in its red plastic carrying case, and the accompanying description of the all the crazy DRM surrounding it. You have to get the password over the phone!)