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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 20
Jul
2007

The revolution will be televised in low-resolution

Max One thing that’s always bothered me about sci-fi movies is how bad everybody’s communications technology is. Well, that and the costumes. Seriously, if the future is Spandex, I take back what I said about never wanting to die. But anyway, every brave new vision of the future you see, the phone system has gone to hell. Alien, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, you name it: people are flying around, firing laser guns, and talking through intercoms that make them sound like Stephen Hawking gargling. Even a simple video link spits and fuzzes as if they’re tuning it through a coathanger. Will the future really be filled with technological marvels that enhance every area of our lives but this?

Now I realize: yes. We’re already on the way. I used to listen to music on CD, watch TV on a television, take photos with a camera, and talk to people on a phone with a cord. Now I have internet radio, MP3s, YouTube, VoIP and a cellphone. Even my home landline is a wireless thing that makes people sound as if they’re calling from inside an empty beer can. I don’t yet watch TV on my cellphone, but my phone company wants me to, even though the screen is one inch wide. I do take photos and videos on it, and that’s what I’ll have to look back on: a bunch of 8x6 pixel images and footage so jerky everyone seems to be having a seizure.

You know where this started? Vinyl. Oh yes, we laughed, when the purists said CDs didn’t sound as good. Well, maybe you didn’t, you weren’t born. But ask your Dad. Those long-haired freaks were right.

Tue 10
Jul
2007

Free Money for Everyone

What Max Reckons I was going to let this slide, because calls for schools to chase the corporate dollar are nothing new. And I like to reserve my outrage for really odious new forms of marketing. Not just whacking ads on anything that moves, but the truly insidious slime you don’t really notice until it’s smiling you in the face. Like the “charm offensive” aimed at making the French more polite to tourists: now that gives me the heebie-jeebies. Polite French people? That’s just wrong. I like my French arrogant. If I ever step off a French airplane and hear, “Missing you already!,” I will take that as a sign of the Apocalypse.

But to schools. This particular push for big business to step in to educate young minds comes from Professor Brian Caldwell, who calls the public funding model “outdated thinking”:

He says partnerships with business could be valuable for both parties, for example in areas of science and technology.

“With a company like Rolls Royce you’re getting not only cash support but you’re also getting the opportunity of having top engineers work side by side with your teachers and your students and who also can provide marvellous work experience so yes there is self interest but it’s a self interest that matches the public interest,” he said.

Phew, that’s lucky. For a minute I was worried that the public interest in delivering quality education to children might not completely overlap with Rolls-Royce’s interest in stuffing great wads of cash into the pockets of its shareholders. Actually, I had thought that if we were brainstorming for large organizations with scads of money and an interest in public education, we might have thought of, you know, the frickin’ government. I mean, I don’t want to blow their cover, but government does occasionally provide services for the national good. Roads, bombing things, education; there’s a whole package.

What really bothers me here is the persistent idea that you can get money from companies for nothing:

Professor Caldwell doesn’t believe there is danger of too much interference, such as for example fast food companies influencing students’ diets.

Corporations are the most ruthlessly rational economic entities on the planet. They have to be, because if they aren’t, they die. They are subject to intense competitive pressure, and the evolutionary effect is that today’s corporate giants are the sharpest, most efficient wealth-generators in history. Anything they do, it’s because there’s a return.

I’m fine with that. But I’m not letting one loose in a school without asking: What does it get out of this? Or put another way: What are we selling?

Advertising is so pervasive is because everyone thinks it’s money for nothing: you put up some ads, you get paid, what’s the harm? The non-monetary side of the transaction can’t be measured. What’s the undivided attention of a twelve-year old worth? What’s the real cost of making our police dependent on ad revenue? What’s the final invoice on installing corporate patriotism in our kids?

I don’t know. But I bet it ends with smiling French people.

Mon 02
Jul
2007

Killer phone

What Max Reckons Regular site defacer Shahab writes:

We need Max’s comments about the iPhone launch!

I think if I was writing Jennifer Government today, it would be phones, not sneakers.

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