Saturday, April 30, 2005

Living Differently According to iTunes

My friend referred me to this article on Wired News titled "iTunes Undermines Social Security", about what I'd observed a few days ago with people being able to share playlists. (Written in November 2003, the article reveals how slow I've been in joining the digital revolution. Knowing how the New York Times operates, I predict that an article on this phenomenon won't show up in its Style section until later this year.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More Connected Than We Thought

This whole wireless thing is very odd. Maybe if I had more of an understanding of the technology, I wouldn't be so amused by the fact that I can pick up network "stephen" in my apartment. Or that now -- sitting in the school library -- I can share music with "Dave" (everything from Britney Spears to Yo-Yo Ma) and "Eren" (a lot of rock and alternative).

I look through my iTunes playlist as a stranger might. What kinds of assumptions are other users making about my music? One person connected to my playlist, though only briefly. Did this person see Kylie Minogue -- sandwiched between Kurt Elling and Les Savy Fav -- and think, there's nothing to work with here?

I see a lot of top 40 stuff, like N'Sync and Avril Lavigne, in other people's playlists. Some other bands that are popular right now, like everyone seems to have some songs from The Killers or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I assume that the people with music from bands like Weezer, Blur or 311 are older, music that I listened to in high school.

And there seems to be an art to the naming of one's playlist. Not just generic stuff like So-and-So's Music (the iTunes default) but "Music from the 8th floor" or "Gloves found owner missing?" There was even one -- and I should have noted the specific wording -- that seemed to be a message to someone telling him where to go.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

When Indie Goes Network

I thought I might have heard wrong when Seth, on last week's episode of "The O.C." -- which I happened upon while flipping through the channels, I swear -- said something about Death Cab for Cutie playing on stage. I didn't recognize the band (I've only seen them once in concert), but the music sounded familiar.

The next day, an article titled "Death Shows for Cuties: Why can't indie bands stay on the soundtrack -- and off the stage -- of trendy TV teen shows?" appeared on Salon.

When I realized it had been them on the show, I was really bothered. It's not even that I think the band sold out with their appearance, or that I begrudge them more fans and further success (though the tiniest part of me does feel that way). But seeing this great indie band on this slick, superficial TV show was like seeing spilled blood. I felt this sense of revulsion at seeing something that shouldn't be, whether blood outside skin or indie band on FOX. At the very least, it's distasteful.

In her article, writer Hillary Frey makes the following point: "On the stage, there's no drama. A band is nothing more than a prop, a song is never loud enough, the very cute guitar player is never visible. The setup takes all the joy out of a live performance, and all the excitement out of a truly dramatic moment. It's a waste."

Gotta love those mutants:

Thursday, April 21, 2005

PR Making Media

Here's a really thought-provoking essay written by a Paul Graham on the influence of PR firms on journalism. Someone mentioned the essay on the graduate journalism listserv. Will try to comment on it later.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Making Media Transparent

In an article in Slate, Jack Shafer argues that Jim Romenesko's Web site is making journalism more transparent by publicizing journalistic transgressions that would otherwise not have gotten much attention in the media. He cites the example of Mitch Albom, whose column in the Detroit Free Press has been suspended pending an investigation into an article that he wrote. According to Shafer, Romenesko's coverage of the incident allowed it to become a national story. Might be a site worth checking out regularly.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Singing and Dancing

A few friends and I have been conjecturing lately on why Asians like karaoke so much. My theory was that creativity is not cultivated in Asian cultures to the extent that it is in America. Emphasis tends to be on academic and professional success. So instead of dreaming about becoming pop stars or rock musicians, Asians save their dreams for when they go out to karaoke. But then I mentioned to another friend how Asians also like Dance Dance Revolution. His interpretation: "They seem to like following directions. Asians are a very orderly people." And I realized he's right. Karaoke and DDR both involve following directions in the act of creativity. Okay, so Asians do like to go clubbing, where no directions are involved, but I think my friend might be on to something.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Questionable Advertising and Race in America

There's an ad from a major pharmaceutical company in the latest issue of Newsweek. The ad begins, "Recently the FDA ordered three medicines from 'Canada.' When they arrived one thing was clear. They weren't from Canada." Below this text is a diagram showing what happened.

First, "After receiving a spam e-mail from a Web site offering to sell cheaper 'generic' drugs from Canada, the FDA ordered Ambien, Lipitor and Viagra." The diagram goes through four more steps before concluding, "The FDA tested the products and found significant quality problems. The fake Ambien had too much medicine. The fake Lipitor and Viagra had too little medicine and had too many impurities." At the bottom of this ad is the following text: "Where did all these medicines really come from? And what exactly is in them? Getting medicines from 'Canada' isn't the answer. But it does raise a lot of questions."

Like did this major pharmaceutical company really think this ad would work?

First of all, I would hope most people today are aware of the perils of responding to unsolicited e-mail. I would hope anyone seeking cheaper medication from Canada would be a savvy enough consumer to know, like anyone who shops online, that you should be wary of what you find on the Internet.

What irritates me is how this major pharmaceutical company can't make a substantiated case against buying medication from Canada. Because the fact is, pharmacies in Canada receive their supplies from America. Same exact thing that we get here, except we pay more for it. So this major pharmaceutical company resorts to scare tactics, and it doesn't even do it very well. What about the senior citizens on fixed incomes who travel into Canada and buy their medication at an actual, brick-and-mortar pharmacy? Can this major pharmaceutical company convince them that they're buying fraudulent medication?

On another topic, I ran into a former co-worker of mine, Sudhir, who's headed to India at the end of this semester to do dissertation. He talked about how he's really looking forward to it because he's just so sick of being here at this point. We got to talking about race, and he said how, since he came to America a few years ago, he's assimilated himself into the culture. Almost all his friends are white hipsters from Brooklyn, and he finds that sort of odd, how, being in New York City, almost all his friends would be white.

I told him how on Saturday, I suddenly found myself in a group of seven Asians (friends of friends of friends joining up), and I became very uncomfortable. Several of my closest friends are Asian, but I have a few who are not and have typically not had a circle of friends that was completely one race or another.

Sudhir made the observation that everything in America has a racial bent, which made me wonder whether or not I intentionally avoid being in an all-Asian group for fear of looking unassimilated, looking like an outsider in a majority white population.

My thoughts tied in nicely with a segment on The Leonard Lopate Show today, an interview with Adam Mansbach, author of Angry Black White Boy. I particularly liked this experience Mansbach related to illustrate the arbitrariness of race:

I was looking for an apartment in Brooklyn. And I was calling all these brokers, and I got a call back from this British woman. And she was telling me about an apartment in Bed-Stuy. And I said, well, you know, I'm looking in Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy is a little boondocks (?) for me, but thank you. And she says, No, no, no, really, you should check it out. Bed-Stuy's changing, it's very safe, a lot of white people are moving there. And I'm like, okay, I don't want to have this conversation. I don't want to be that guy.

So I say, well you know what, I don't really like white people. And there's a pause, she doesn't know what to say to me, and then she says to me, Sir, I didn't mean to offend you. I can tell from your voice you're obviously African-American. And I say, no, you've got me all wrong -- I'm white! ...

There's further silence. And she says, And you don't want to live around white people? And I say, no, it's like I said, they've got a real sense of entitlement, they're real complacent, no offense. And she says, Well I'm not offended, I'm black. And because of that British accent and my own messed up system of racial identification, this had never occurred to me. So all we could do was laugh. I mean, there are these ways that race is constantly a factor that we don't quite know how to understand or talk about.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Related Pain

Leaya is a friend of mine, but I also thought her article, "Famous and Hungry," about her Taiwanese pop star cousin who has an eating disorder, was well written and interesting.

[Update 4/6/05] I forgot to link to her article, but it also seems that she took it down from the site. I know she already felt nervous about posting something so personal online, but when she told her family about what she'd written, I think their reaction made her regret her posting.