Cultural Criticism

The NO TECH MAGAZINE reader shared some intriguing links worth checking out:

  • Slate published an article comparing button and touchscreen use in cars.
  • Alex Murrell wrote an essay about how visual culture all looks the same. However, the essay should have mentioned the potential impact of generative artificial intelligence on the uniformity of visual, textual, and other media.

This article from the Financial Times provides some funny criticisms on the “invention” of Italian food traditions based on the work of Alberto Grandi. The article also points out a link with food and nationalistic politics:

Today, Italian food is as much a leitmotif for rightwing politicians as beautiful young women and football were in the Berlusconi era. As part of her election campaign in 2022, prime minister Giorgia Meloni posted a TikTok video in which an old lady taught her how to seal tortellini parcels by hand. This month, Meloni’s minister of agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, suggested establishing a task force to monitor quality standards in Italian restaurants around the world. He fears that chefs may get recipes wrong, or use ingredients that aren’t Italian. (Officially listed “traditional food products” now number a staggering 4,820.)

After the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk the whole platform seems to be in disarray and to have an uncertain future. Ian Bogost writing at The Atlantic provides some perspectives on the rise of Twitter and change from social networking to social media:

The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system—a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active—hyperactive, really—spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.

Twitter, which launched in 2006, was probably the first true social-media site, even if nobody called it that at the time. Instead of focusing on connecting people, the site amounted to a giant, asynchronous chat room for the world.

Read the full article here.

This article from an Italian newspaper gives a good analysis of the dilemmas presented by the idealized and romanticized images of Italy that foreigners post on social media.

The following is a video from Youtube channel Pop Culture Detective discussing the recruitment methods used by the US in Holywood films:

The sequel to the 1996 mega-blockbuster “Independence Day” hit theaters this summer but there was something a little strange about many of the trailers. What looks like a clever marketing campaign centered on joining the fictional “Earth Space Defense” was actually a cross-branded recruitment tool for the US Army. It’s part of a multi-million dollar joint advertising venture between 20th Century Fox and the United States Military.

In an opinion piece at The Financial Times, Izabella Kaminska compares the creation of Meta/Facebook’s metaverse to the creation of Las Vegas during The Great Depression of the 1930:

In the long run, if there is any moral to the Las Vegas story it’s that if you want to bootstrap a fantasy realm for the purpose of enriching a small elite at the expense of users, it helps to have a repressed, desperate and captured demographic within your proximity. With the metaverse it’s unlikely to be any different. You’re still going to be the product. You may be more accepting of it, but only because base reality is getting more and more like historic Boulder City by the day.

In a blog post on Medium Lee Vinsek writes about journalist and academics uncritically using and reproducing the claims of technologies. He further believes that this focus distracts from more current issues with at more mundane technologies such as their maintenance and repair:

But it’s not just uncritical journalists and fringe writers who hype technologies in order to criticize them. Academic researchers have gotten in on the game. At least since the 1990s, university researchers have done work on the social, political, and moral aspects of wave after wave of “emerging technologies” and received significant grants from public and private bodies to do so. As I’ll detail below, many (though certainly not all) of these researchers reproduced and even increased hype, the most dramatic promotional claims of future change put forward by industry executives, scientists, and engineers working on these technologies. Again, at the worst, what these researchers do is take the sensational claims of boosters and entrepreneurs, flip them, and start talking about “risks.” They become the professional concern trolls of technoculture.

In an article at The Atlantic Ian Bogost comments on a recent episode of Amazon’s use of social media in a campaign to influence opinion regarding criticisms of the company’s exploitative labour and business practices. Interestingly, he notes a change in the corporations communicate:

Previously, companies could speak only through formal messages on billboards; by mail, radio, or television; or via media coverage of their actions. The web had shifted that control a bit, but websites were still mostly marketing and service portals. Social media and smartphones changed everything. They made corporate speech functionally identical to human speech. Case law might have given companies legal personhood, but the internet made corporations feel like people.

It also allowed companies to behave like people. As their social-media posts were woven into people’s feeds between actual humans’ jokes, gripes, and celebrations, brands started talking with customers directly. They offered support right inside people’s favorite apps. They did favors, issued giveaways, and even raised money for the downtrodden. Brands became #brands.

A blog post at Boardgamegeek collects some recent links discussion changes in boardgames. Some of the points mentioned concern how the industry has changed because of crowd-funded games through the Kickstarter platform and reference an interesting article from Wired that discussed how the company behind the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is dealing with racial stereotypes in the game. From the article:

In its post, WotC detailed the changes it planned to make to Dungeons & Dragons. This included overhauling the way its books talked about orcs, drow, and other “evil” races, updating past books like Curse of Strahd with an eye to removing racially charged language and stereotypes, releasing new rules that deemphasize racial negatives during character construction, hiring sensitivity readers, and hiring a more diverse pool of freelance writers and artists.

A humorous article from The Economist explains how “Netflix is creating a common European culture” through their efforts of promoting shows from different European and translating/subtitling in all languages:

Umberto Eco, an Italian writer, was right when he said the language of Europe is translation. Netflix and other deep-pocketed global firms speak it well. Just as the eu employs a small army of translators and interpreters to turn intricate laws or impassioned speeches of Romanian meps into the eu’s 24 official languages, so do the likes of Netflix. It now offers dubbing in 34 languages and subtitling in a few more.

Read the full article here.