Monthly Archives: May 2009

Could one answer to paid content be found in a bottle of water?


Is news content gasoline, or is it bottled water?

That is, is online news a necessary commodity that people will begrudgingly pay for, because they have to, or is it a necessary commodity that’s packaged in a way that finds a happy and willing customer base?

The growth of bottled water in the past decade — a commodity available free pretty much everywhere in the developed world — is the story of consumers willingly shelling out real dollars in exchange for convenience and branding. Can the news industry — which also sells a largely commoditized product — learn anything from the success of Aquafina and its ilk? Why is it that consumers cheerfully pay more for thirst-quenchers than we do for the fuel that moves our vehicles and our economy?

Such a freeing of virtual pocket-change has been suggested within the news industry to be an iTunes challenge: If people will pay a buck for a song, surely they’ll pay a few pennies for the sweat and shoe-leather of America’s newsrooms.

But news, like gas and water both, is a consumable: Once it’s used, it’s used. Unlike a song on iTunes, yesterday’s news report is not a moment to be savored over and over throughout the years. Which is why the bottle water example is so intriguing

The digital age of rights

Earlier this month Vivian Reding, the European Commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media, spoke of “a right to Internet access” and pointed out that the EU’s new telecommunications rules “recognise explicitly that Internet access is a fundamental right such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information”.

But if the argument against extra-judicial disconnection is so strong then surely a policy that lets network service providers keep millions of people from having a usable, fast and reliable connection to the internet must also be morally indefensible?

If it is unacceptable to cut people off from the network because their actions are commercially damaging to the record companies, why is it acceptable to offer them poor or no access to broadband and mobile internet just because providing the service is commercially unattractive to ISPs or network operators?

And if we are to be encouraged to think of access to the internet as a fundamental human right, a prerequisite of having freedom of expression, should we not be prosecuting ISPs over the ‘notspots’ in their mobile or wi-fi coverage, the communities with no access to ADSL because of the telephone network was repaired with aluminium instead of copper, or the areas bypassed by the cable providers?

Do parties need philosophies?

Progressives cast themselves as the soul of the Democratic Party, with moderates seen as pragmatic compromisers at best, sell-outs or traitors at worst. More as a thought experiment than a serious proposal, I got to wondering: What if we simply dispensed with the notion that a political party ought to have any kind of coherent philosophy to go with its electoral coalition? The American political system all but guarantees dominance by two stable parties over time, but there’s no sound reason to think that two basic ideological frameworks adequately represent the diversity of citizens’ political views, even in a very rough sense. And, of course, the actual platforms of the two “modern” parties—which is to say, the parties boasting the names “Republican” and “Democratic”—have fluctuated wildly over time. What if we dispensed with any pretense of ideological content and simply branded them “Party A” and “Party B”?

[It’s] odd to see smart people talking as though the set of planks that make up each party’s platform are bound together in some coherent way that flows from the two timeless essences of American political thought. It seems equally true to say simply that the mix of positions held by each party is the equilibrium response to the mix adopted by the other. As these debates over party identity show, this isn’t necessarily the case in the short term, but the very identity to which purists want to hew is itself necessarily the product of the harsh evolutionary pressures of the electoral system. “Republicanism” just means “the combination of views that were historically capable of securing a majority often enough to establish one of the two governing coalitions”. Juggle the initial conditions—the demographic facts or the issues that are salient—and you almost certainly get a different coalition mix. I understand why one segment of the coalition would be eager to see their own views determine the direction of the party as a whole, but it seems silly to express this in terms of the language of authenticity.

Monde en crise, besoin de fiction :
Étonnants Voyageurs (Saint-Malo), Festival International du Livre et du Film

du 30 mai au 1er juin

« Retour de l’aventure », « retour de la fiction », « retour du récit » : la presse a fortement salué ce qui lui paraissait un vent nouveau en cette rentrée littéraire : « Adieu Paris, l’autofiction nombriliste, les petits problèmes de couple du XXIè siècle et vive l’aventure ! Les écrivains français prennent le large » (Le Figaro Magazine). « Adieu aux frileuses autofictions » (Le Soir de Bruxelles). « Le retour du roman d’aventure […] L’exploration après l’introspection. Des livres qui ouvrent portes et fenêtres et font souffler le grand vent » (AFP) « Des romans qui prennent corps à mille lieues de la Terrasse des deux Magots », (le Figaro Littéraire) « Le roman d’aventures : nouvelle tendance 2008 ? » (Transfuge). Ne crions pas trop vite au miracle : disons, simplement, des signes avant-coureurs. Comme si de plus en plus d’auteurs osaient enfin prendre le monde à bras le corps, retrouvaient les puissances du récit, avaient de nouveau des histoires à raconter.

Romanciers, poètes, écrivains-voyageurs, cinéastes, photographes arpenteurs de mondes, fous des pôles et des océans, aventuriers-savants à l’intersection de la littérature et de l’ethnologie (une belle occasion de les retrouver, à l’occasion du centenaire de Lévi-Strauss et de s’interroger sur le « regard ethnologique ») ou simplement fabricants de fictions, romanciers, feuilletonnistes ou scénaristes, sans distinction de genres, littérature classique, romans noirs ou de science-fiction, tout à leur passion d’enclore de nouveau le monde dans leurs récits, un peu comme les marins jadis savaient enclore un trois-mâts dans une bouteille : ils seront tous au rendez-vous. L’aventure revient, la fiction revient, et nous avons envie de centrer le festival, en cette année anniversaire, sur les figures multiples de ce retour.

Le Roi et l’Oiseau

Le roi Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI (Charles Cinq et Trois font Huit et Huit font Seize) est un tyran qui gouverne le royaume de Takicardie. Ce roi est amoureux d’une charmante bergère, mais le cœur de la jeune fille est pris par un petit ramoneur « de rien du tout » (ces deux personnages sont sortis de tableaux présents dans la chambre royale, ainsi que le roi qui règne après que la police a pris en chasse le ramoneur et la bergère). Grâce à l’aide d’un oiseau, qui a l’habitude de narguer le roi, ceux-ci arrivent à s’enfuir du palais royal, poursuivis par la police. Le film évoque cette poursuite avec poésie et douceur.

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