Archive for May 2009
A few years ago, I formed a light long-distance friendship with a successful screenwriter out in LA.
After launching a barrage of questions that all boiled down to, “How can Duff get famous?” I put the narcissism aside and started asking about the interesting stuff.
I wanted to know the inside story. How do million-dollar deals get made? Who decides when a script is good enough to get funded? Where do the gatekeepers go to decide the future of the entertainment industry?
These decisions used to be made in person but increasingly they’re being made on Internet message boards. My friend let it slip and tried to move on to other topics but I made him go back.
I said, “Wait a minute. You’re telling me there are secret Internet message boards where the Hollywood elite gather to decide the future of the industry?”
He said, “Pretty much, yeah.”
I asked if he’d let me see one and he laughed in my webcam-transmitted face.
I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracies, secret societies or the Illuminati but I find the idea romantic. I want to live in a world ruled by an elite conspiracy of supergeniuses, but surely if someone was ruling the world it would make more sense.
I suspect that the world is run by a collection of tedious workaholics, like characters on the West Wing who’ve had all their charm and sex-appeal removed.
But the dream remains.
Not all “elite” web sites are secret. Black Card Circle.com made waves last year by sending out special black cards to invite high-profile people to their “8-8-08″ launch. Unfortunately, many users thought the invites looked like marketing material and threw them in the trash.
I’m not cool enough to be invited to Black Card Circle but their marketing materials are unabashedly elitist: “Black Card Circle’s community is comprised of ‘Influential Individuals’ whom are defined as ‘CIAs’ – ‘Connectors, Influencers, and Alphas’. CIAs possess either financial capital, social capital, or both, and include, but are not limited to, respected professionals, upstanding community leaders and inspiring entrepreneurs.”
I love the use of the word “Alphas” here. It makes me think of Bill Gates with his foot planted on the face of a defeated enemy, beating his chest like Tarzan.
It sounds like a great opportunity, a secret message board where you can mingle with the rich and powerful. But in my experience, the more powerful a person is in real life, the less likely they are to have computer skills.
We’ve seen it over and over again — respected politicians and celebrities reduced to gibbering rage when they see what people on the Internet are saying about them.
Swapping message board chatter with the rich and famous may sound like fun, but I suspect the result would be less impressive in real life.
I suspect it would look something like this:
“New to this Internet thing but thought I’d say hi. What is everybody doing?” — owinfrey
“MY SON MADE ME PLUG THIS IN. DOES IT COST MONEY WHEN I TYPE HERE?” — jbiden
“This board is free but watch out for spammers. And look for me on Twitter!” — ngingrich
“‘Sup, Newt. Bill wanted me to invite you for barbecue next week.” — hclinton
“CAN I COME?” — jbiden
“Is it just politicians here or can normal people post?” — stillbono
“Who are you calling ‘normal?'” — sting99
“Any TV people here?” — rphilbin
“Reeeeeeeeeeg!” — kgifford
“Is that Regis Philbin? I thought he was dead.” — dhasselhoff
“OMG, it’s the Knight Ridder!” — mcyrus
“Oh for god’s sake. It’s Knight RIDER. How old are you? And I wasn’t THE Knight Rider. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. It was just the name of the show. God, I hate when people do that.” — dhasselhoff
“You got off easy, Hoff. Twenty years since my show went off the air and people still treat me like an illiterate thug. Oh, BTW, the Blizzard people asked me for your number. You wanna be a Death Knight or a Priest?” — mistert
“Nice work, Hoff. Pick on a teenage girl. That’s it, you and me are done professionally.” — cbale
“Hey guys, check this out. It’s a photo of a cat, but it’s got words printed on it like the cat is talking. It’s saying something cute, like a person would, but it’s spelled wrong because it’s a cat, get it?” — shawking
“Oh god, more Ron Paul spam. Anybody know how to get yourself off a mailing list?” — hclinton
“You could always fake your death.” — rnixon
Here’s a video from Sony’s new game The Agency.
At first glance it’s a James Bond-style superspy and mercenaries game that you can play in a persistent world with other players, but it’s got some innovations that I’m really looking forward to.
In this game you’re not just managing your character, you’re actually building your own spy agency, collecting NPC operatives who will work for you and perform missions while you’re offline.
That’s the part that really grabbed me. The notion that you can assign tasks to your operatives right before you log off the game. You can assign sub-agents can infiltrate enemy bases or set your Q-Section to work on an amazing gadget and they’ll make progress on that goal while you’re at work.
Your agents can even “phone home” and reach you in the real world, sending emails or text messages to alert you when those tasks are done.
That’s a powerful concept that I haven’t seen done before. You know your guildies are still playing when you log off World of Warcraft, but when you introduce the NPC labor element, you end up with a game that never ends.
You can break up your real world life with updates from the game and (hopefully) get real-time info about what rival agencies are doing. At the highest level, this could turn the game into a kind of active-passive balancing act, where you turn your non-game time into a kind of passive NPC chess match and back it up with real time raids when you get home.
I’m not particularly interested in first-person shooters, but I love the idea of being a spider in the center of this web, dispatching agents via text message to sabotage my enemies while I work on TPS reports.
I’ll be curious to see how well this is implemented, and what it will look like when other companies take it to the next level.
JACK: Okay Claire, we need you to walk out into the jungle alone so the creepy madman can capture you again.
CLAIRE: I’m Australian! I’m having a baby!
JACK: I’m gonna take that as a yes. Now Locke and I are going to retrieve the guns that we really should have used the first time. Hey Sawyer, have a gun!
SAWYER: Already got one. Got all kinds of things back here — food, guns, three generators… Come back for lunch and I’ll have a complete Sizzler buffet.
JACK: Whatever. Just come with us.
WALT is trapped in an improvised shelter by the POLAR BEAR.
POLAR BEAR: Finally, some screen time. Roar! Slaver! Bite! Slash!
MICHAEL: We’re coming son! Locke and I just have to navigate this improvised obstacle course!
POLAR BEAR: *reading script* What? Me again? ROAR!
WALT: Stay away from my dad! *stab*
POLAR BEAR: I am the Animal Incarnation of Fear, kid. You can’t just *stab* me!
MICHAEL: Stay away from my boy! *stab*
POLAR BEAR: What did I just say? Screw this, I’m gonna go try and eat the French chick again.
CLAIRE: I’m Australian! I’m having a baby!
CHARLIE: I won’t let anyone hurt you. Your total dependence and lack of personality feels like reciprocal love to me.
CLAIRE: I’m Australian! I’m having a baby! Wait…I remember… Hospital gowns and bright lights, an army of men chanting “Aaron!” as they march to war…
JACK: Oh lord, not again. Can somebody reset Claire?
CHARLIE presses a button on the back of Claire’s neck.
CLAIRE: I’m Australian! I’m having a baby!
JACK: Okay, reverse-ambush time. GO!
ETHAN: Do you like my creepy makeup?
JACK tackles ETHAN
ETHAN: I have the strength of five men but I am overcome by your Righteous Doctor Fighting Skills.
LOCKE: Jack’s got him!
ETHAN: Hey Locke, what’s up? It’s me, Ethan. Dharma company picnic, 1976? Me and Randall Flagg won the sack race?
SAWYER: You’re busted, pal. Hey Sayid, you got any bamboo shoots left?
ETHAN: Curses! Captured by the enemy! I’ll have no choice but to reveal all my evil plans, laying out cruicial plot points for the next five…
CHARLIE: Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!
ETHAN: Ugh! Six bullets to the chest! My secret supervillain weakness! I die!
JACK: Charlie, what the hell?
CHARLIE: Television is a rough business, Jack. One premature plot reveal and I’m back to playing Victorian Thug #3 on Doctor Who.
KATE: I don’t have any lines in this scene. I’m just here to provide an unrealistic standard of female beauty. Oops, my t-shirt is stretching across my chest again! Why does that keep happening?
ABRAMS: Cut! I love this job.
Fortunately, it failed.
A hubbub broke out on cyberspace earlier in the day after a Jacksonville, Florida radio station sent out an instant message on the popular Twitter social-networking site saying the 56-year-old actor had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. 97.9 KISS-FM, sent out a Twitter message about Swayze to its 309 followers after seeing a report on another Web site. The report spread like wildfire across the Internet as concerned cybercitizens forwarded it to their friends.
I found a Twitter site for 97.9 but I found no reports of Swayze’s death and no report of injury to any member of the “Dirty Dancing” cast.
Did they remove it? Are they innocent?
Either way, Swayze is one of the hottest topics on Twitter right now.
As a fan of the movie “Roadhouse” I would like to start the counter-rumor that although Swayze was stalked in the woods and attacked by cancer, he was able to use advanced Taoist martial arts techniques to rip its throat out and deliver a righteous beating to the evil corporate land developers who tried to infect him.
Hang in there, Patrick. Nobody puts Swayze in a corner.
UPDATE 5-20: Our sister paper in Jacksonville has more detail on this story, although they can’t confirm or deny the role of WFKS KISS-FM in the rumor.
My friends and I made an unfortunate choice for lunch today. We decided to eat in a place that was across from Lubbock High.
We didn’t notice the proximity when we first sat down, but as we were waiting for our order, the giant bells rang and a couple hundred teenagers came pouring out of the building.
Within a couple minutes, the dining room was full of teenagers and my friends and I ended up trapped, a lonely Circle of Old in the middle of the room.
I want to stress that the kids didn’t do anything to irritate us. They weren’t screaming or throwing things or being rude. Just the sheer weight of numbers made us uncomfortable. I was torn between a desire to be 16 again, with no responsibilities beyond sitting in classrooms all day and no worries beyond whether or not I still had my lunch money, and a strange curiosity about the kids themselves.
They didn’t look like “thugs” or “gansters.” Nobody was dressed wildly or indecently. They were just kids, in jeans and baggy t-shirts. If anything, they looked more respectable than we did in the ’80s, simply because they were wearing darker colors.
I couldn’t really spot the nerds, although one girl did have a Harry Potter lunch box. That endeared me to her, somehow, and to the whole generation, to know that someone could carry a Harry Potter lunch box to high school and not get mocked for it.
People weren’t quite as forgiving of my Return of the Jedi lunchbox in 1986.
So there we were, three grown men with jobs and homes and kids of our own, and when the teenagers invaded…we ran away.
I wish I could spin this as some kind of judicious retreat, but the fact is, we ran. We grabbed our food and ran like hell, looking over our shoulders in case the kids decided to attack.
We ended up eating lunch on the benches outside the A-J, scarfing down food as our plates tried to blow away. All because we couldn’t stand to sit in a dining room with 30 harmless teenagers.
I’m sure being 16 sucks, and if I had it to do over again I’d hate it as much as I did the first time, but watching the kids sit and talk and joke around with each other today, I missed it, just a little, and wished there was a way to tell them how lucky they are.
Lubbock Online has decided to discontinue its forum service for now.
We apologize for the inconvenience and we still welcome reader feedback in the form of story comments, blog comments, email and letters to the editor.
Responding to lawsuits and public outrage following the murder of a Boston-area masseuse, Craigslist has agreed to drop “erotic services” ads and have staff members screen ads posted to its “adult” category.
Part of me is sad to read this, even though I think Craigslist is doing the right thing. Craigslist’s capitulation represents the latest intrusion of “real world” values into unfettered libertarian cyberspace. It represents an unfortunate coming of age for a medium that used to operate beyond the reach of speech codes and vice law.
For years, the Internet has been a kind of libertarian reservation, existing in a parallel universe where taxes, copyright laws, speech codes and community standards did not apply. Government was content to ignore the Internet for a decade or two, but I’m afraid this was more a function of ignorance than tolerance. Regulators stayed away from the Internet because they didn’t understand it and because it wasn’t big enough to bother with.
Generally these things don’t become legislative priorities until somebody makes money or until somebody gets hurt.
The Internet is on our legislative radar now, and the real world is slowly invading utopia. The party’s not over yet, but people are starting to fidget and look for their coats.
The Internet may have started as a government program, but it gave birth to a uniquely libertarian culture, inspired by the hacker ethic of the early ’80s. These early adopters were dedicated to free speech, free software and the unrestrained flow of information.
Not a big deal when the network was restricted to a few thousand computer geeks, but now the Net is starting to disrupt the lives of “respectable” people.
Craigslist started as a pure expression of hacker values, a free service facilitating free trade and free expression. But now Craigslist is making money. Once you start making money off a community, you enter into an unspoken agreement to protect and support that community.
This obligation isn’t always stated explicitly, but that’s the assumption under these laws. That assumption of community responsibility is at odds with the freewheeling spirit of the Internet where anything goes and every user is expected to be responsible for himself.
Americans like to talk about freedom, individuality and personal responsibility, but these values assume a fundamental respect for community and shared values. The Republicans advocating free markets and the Democrats advocating free speech assume that those freedoms will be restrained by an unspoken sense of decency and respect for the community.
We assume that people will honor social conventions of their own free will, and when they don’t, somebody has to make a law.
You can’t have freedom without responsibility, and the Internet makes it very easy for people to avoid responsibility for their words and actions.
The clerk at the corner store is expected to run off children who come to look at adult magazines, even when there’s not a law on the books to forbid it. But on the Internet there is no clerk. There is no sure mechanism for enforcing community standards and no social cost for breaking them.
The fundamental problem here is a lack of social feedback. In the real world, a person who tried to crash a funeral and say rude things about the deceased would be thrown out of the building and ostracized by his peers. But on the Internet, a commenter can be anonymous and post anything he or she wants without suffering a social cost.
This lack of accountability puts the Internet in a unique category. In the real world, social conventions can be enforced by peer pressure. On the Internet, we have to take a brute force approach.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need laws to make people take responsibility for themselves, but we’re living in a world where government is expected to care for us and social conventions must be spelled out in 20 pages of legalese.