The twisted fence

Blakeney Marsh, this afternoon. We parked on the staithe and walked out on the dyke towards the sea in a pretty brisk wind. On the way out I passed this fence, distorted by a recent storm (which had also thrown a yacht and a few other boats onto the marsh) but didn’t stop. On the way back, though, I was struck by the strange symmetry between the tortured curves of the fence and the twisting creeks through which the tide flows when coming in to Blakeney harbour — so stopped to try and capture it.

Click on the image to get the larger size.

Bitcoin’s silver lining?

This morning’s Observer column:

The downside of the media feeding frenzy around bitcoin is the way it obscures the fact that the technology underpinning it, the blockchain, or the public distributed ledger – a database securely recording financial, physical or electronic assets for sharing across a network through transparent updates of information – is potentially very important. This is because it may have more useful applications than supporting speculative bubbles or money laundering. In 2016, for example, Mark Walport, the government’s chief scientific adviser issued a report, arguing that the technology “could transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity”.

Which indeed it could, but that would be small beer if the messages I’m picking up from across the tech world are accurate. For the real significance of blockchain technology might be its capacity to retool the internet itself to make it secure enough for modern use and return it to its decentralised essence, in the process possibly liberating it from the tech companies that currently have a stranglehold on it…

Read on

Countering the wisdom of hindsight

We went to see Darkest Hour last night. Spellbinding performance by Gary Oldman as Churchill. The only parallel I can think of is Bruno Ganz’s evocation of Hitler in Downfall. There are a couple of dramatic-licence slips which are understandable in terms of the script dynamics but overall it’s a fascinating and occasionally moving film. Its most redeeming features are (i) countering the complacency of hindsight by conjuring up the desperation of the British plight after the invasion of France (and before US aid kicked in); and (ii) its revisionist interpretation of the peacemongering activities of Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain in the early days of the War Cabinet.

Well worth seeing IMHO.

ps: Makes me realise that I need to read Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six Days in May. No rest for the wicked.

Why Facebook has abandoned news for the important business of trivia

Today’s Observer column:

Connoisseurs of corporate cant have a new collector’s item: Mark Zuckerberg’s latest Epistle to his Disciples. “We built Facebook,” it begins, “to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our wellbeing and happiness.”

Quite so. But all is not well, it seems. “Recently,” continues Zuck, sorrowfully, “we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

Well, well. How did this happen? Simple: it turns out that “video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in news feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do – help us connect with each other.”

Note the impersonality of all this. Somehow, this pestilential content has “exploded” on Facebook. Which is odd, is it not, given that nothing appears in a user’s news feed that isn’t decided by Facebook?

Read on

Social media are performative spaces – even when you’re torturing your kids

Social media are performative spaces in which people try — and succeed — to project images of themselves as they want to be seen by others. We also see this in schools and even elite universities — where students are reluctant to meet face-to-face with their tutors. They want to communicate via electronic messaging — email, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, whatever. Why? Because they are scared of F2F encounters which will reveal their doubts, insecurities, failings, ignorance. Instead they want always to project their ‘edited selves’.

None of this is new. What is really extraordinary, though, about the case of the Californian parents who imprisoned their 13 children (and shackled three of them to furniture) is that they managed to project happy-clappy images of their family on social media.