Categories
Media diet

My media diet

Books read

I don’t spend as much time as I would like reading books as I find longform journalism often filling this space. That being said, books do provide a depth you can’t hope to get from a newspaper column or magazine article. You can find my incomplete reading list over on Goodreads.

Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored

by Jeffrey Boakye: A personal look at the language used by and about black people in the UK by a South London born teacher. Far from providing a definitive account but interesting to hear his take from the position as a first generation Ghanian in the city I now live in.

Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture

by Jace Clayton: I’ve been a long standing fan of Jace Clayton both as a DJ (his Solar Life Raft with Matt Shadetek being a particular favourite) as well as a writer. Uproot brings together a collection of his writings acting as something of a travelogue as he visits various music communities looking particularly where technology has re-shaped  music particularly from non Western creators. 

Nobber

by Oisín Fagan: I tend to favour fiction written in the present or the future so a book set in 14th century Ireland during the Black Death is something of an outlier. I appreciated the prose but didn’t find it a particularly easy read.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

by Gretchen McCulloch: inspired by an interview with Gretchen on the Ezra Klein Show. It’s great to hear how language has been shaped by communities on the internet and also provided the opportunity to brush up on my own digital etiquette.

Films

Find below films that I’ve seen relatively recently that I have appreciated even if it hasn’t necessarily left a smile on my face. You will find a more complete picture of what I have watched now and in the past on my Letterboxd profile.

Parasite

It seems almost another era when I was able to catch Parasite at the cinema but I would still describe it as a classic and something I am looking forward to revisiting. There’s some great explainer videos on YouTube which point to why the film makes such a great impact including ones from Thomas Flight and Nerdwriter.

Beanpole

I have had a growing fascination with the old Eastern Bloc helped along by occasional visits, the work of the Calvert 22 Foundation and representations on the silver screen (Leviathan,
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Tangerines spring to mind). Beanpole definitely fits at the bleaker end of the cinematic spectrum following the lives of a couple of women in Leningrad soon after the end of World War II.

Come and See

Another film that’s probably best not viewed if you’re on a downer. A Belarusian film set in World War II that is now considered something of a classic. Whilst the film definitely ticks some of the usual boxers associated with a war film, it also has an ethereal quality at times that definitely left a strong impression.

A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers are long standing favourites of mine with the wood chipper scene from Fargo remaining indelibly imprinted on my memory. A Serious Man isn’t as flashy as some of their other films but definitely has a healthy dose of black humour.

Dark Waters

The film brought to mind Michael Mann’s The Insider with a David versus Goliath battle (in this case with DuPont rather than the tobacco industry). Mark Ruffalo puts in a strong performance as a lawyer who switches sides from corporate defender to consumer plaintiff.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

I’m not the greatest fan of French cinema or period drama but I read enough recommendations to persevere and the film impressed with its beauty.

Dheepan

Another French film that like La Haine, focuses on the experience of some of the marginalised that inhabit Paris’ banlieue. Dheepan focuses on a trio of Sri Lankan refugees thrown together in an environment that appears almost as toxic as the country they fled.

Queen & Slim

It’s interesting contrasting this film with Green Book. Both are road movies looking at racism in Southern America but Green Book is set in 1962 whereas Queen & Slim suggests there’s still plenty of need for #blacklivesmatter.

Memories of Murder

Watching Parasite inspired me to take a closer look at one of director Bong Joon-ho’s earlier works. You definitely a sense of Bong’s feel for the absurd but Parasite feels like a more accomplished work.

The Assistant

Drama following the experiences of a young graduate in a film production company with strong echoes of accounts from The Weinstein Company. Julia Garner cements her position as one of my favourite actresses with scene stealing role in Ozark.

Television

If there was one thing I’d like to see changed with Letterboxd, it would be the inclusion of television as well as film. Whilst I understand purists arguments for the uniqueness of film, in the age of streaming media I would argue the delineation between between the two mediums is tenuous at best.

Babylon Berlin

I have a something of a crush on Berlin which I put down to growing up there for a period with a particular fascination with the city’s Cold War history. Babylon Berlin is actually set in the earlier Weimar Germany and provides a much more fraught environment than you associate with many British period dramas. The production is stunning and the rising tide of fascism definitely provides something to reflect on as we see the growth of the far right around the world.

Ozark

For those of you looking to fill the slot left by Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, this series follows a family involved in laundering drug money in the American Ozarks. Series three recently went live on Netflix and reflects a return to the earlier form with some great acting and character journeys.

The Plot Against America

HBO series based on an adaption of a Philip Roth novel in an alternative reality where Charles Lindbergh is elected president and tilts USA towards fascism and antisemitism. The series doesn’t match up to creator David Simons’ strongest work (The Wire, Treme, Show me a Hero), but it provides another warning of how easily politics can be derailed in the wrong circumstances.

Homeland

I haven’t always got on with Homeland sometimes coming across as islamophobic and at times preposterous. That being said said the series often quickly responded to issues of the day. Series eight represents a return to form for the series centring on a potential peace process in Afghanistan with the usual mix of spycraft and international politics.

Normal People

I’ve seen too many fawning reviews of this BBC adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel with Jessa Crispin’s takedown echoing many of my own thoughts. That being said, it makes for easy escapist viewing with half hour episodes making for bite sized morsels.

Podcasts

I’m struggling to keep up with my podcast feed now that I’m no longer commuting to work. That being said, I find podcasts provide an important respite from the here and now of more traditional online news sources.

regular shows
Anthropocene Reviewed

A look at the world with John Green’s idiosyncratic view of the world.

Worldly

A regular review of international relations from Vox.

Guardian Audio Long Reads

A chance to catch up with The Guardian’s more cerebral journalism.

Reset

A look at the impact of technology on society.

Flash Forward

Part science fiction, part sociology looking at where our world is heading as well as reflecting on the present.

Stephanomics

A look at the world through the lens of economics from Stephanie Flanders.

Planet Money

Long running series from NPR taking a deep dive on economic issues through a consumer lens (US).

The Indicator from Planet Money

Bite sized spin off from Planet Money looking at different economic indicators through the week (US).

More or Less: behind the statistics

BBC show taking a critical look at statistics reported by the news media.

interview podcasts
The Ezra Klein Show

Interviews led by Vox founder Ezra Klein

Conversations with Tyler

Interviews led by Marginal Revolution author Tyler Cowen.

Longform Podcast

Interviews with high profile journalists from the team at Longform.

limited run series
Floodlines: the story of an unnatural disaster

A series looking at the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans from the team at The Atlantic.

1619

A look at the lasting impact of slavery on contemporary American society from the New York Times.

Nice Try!

Avery Trufelman looks at different attempts to create utopian societies from around the world and across history.

Dolly Parton’s America

This series uses Dolly Parton as a filter to look at American culture wars.

The Missing Crypto Queen

BBC series where focus is more on greed and deceit rather than cryptography.

The Chernobyl Podcast

Series best consumed as a companion to HBO’s much loved Chernobyl programme.

Running from Cops

Series that pulls apart the Cops television series providing a valuable antidote to this pioneer in reality television.

Header image: Akumulator by Marcin Dudek at Edel Assanti gallery.

Categories
Thought Starters

Thought Starters: the outlook for the global and the Chinese economy, India’s middle class, the growing importance of migration and publishing in the digital age

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through articles, research and opinion pieces, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition looks at forecasts for the year ahead, China’s economy and India’s middle class, migration’s growing role in contemporary societies, publishing in the digital age and lots more.

The Economist has published its forecast for the global economy which sees a further shift in momentum from emerging to developed markets, although India, China and Indonesia are seen as top performers:

Emerging markets losing their grips

Malcolm Scott takes a closer look at the slowdown in China’s economy, suggesting that it’s not nearly as significant as some of the more vociferous critics are suggesting:

China's slowdown in context

India as The Economist’s figures above suggest, is one of the powerhouses of the global economy and the country’s growing middle class is seen as providing enormous opportunities for local and international brands. The problem is there are wide variations in estimates of India’s middle class depending on the spending power you apportion to the Indian rupee as the Research Unit for Political Economy shows:

Some estimates of India's middle class

The Wall Street Journal in its profile of demographic trends has taken a closer look at the globe’s growing migrant population. Kim Mackrael and Charles Forelle in their broader analysis of immigration contrast Canada’s more assimilationist and economically driven policies with those of Europe. Whilst I’d argue that Europe is currently in a very different position to Canada due to its proximity to Syria, it does provide some valuable pointers as the continent faces an ageing population:

A growing migrant pool

Angus Hervey provides an important reminder that for many important human development indicators things are on the up (although this is certainly no argument for complacency). Among the indicators he points to are reductions in poverty, malnutrition, polio, infant mortality and AIDS deaths and improvements in universal education, internet access and financial inclusion:

Global poverty has reached a record low

Felix Salmon looks at the maturing of the fintech sector as it  focuses on providing tangible improvements on services offered rather than rhetoric about turning the financial sector upside down:

The problems such fintech companies are trying to solve aren’t the type that can be tackled by a few hyperactive coders in a garage. Rather, they require dozens of different skillsets, not to mention the ability to manage them all. In that sense, the startups are becoming much more like the banks they’re seeking to disrupt. That’s Lunn’s Great Convergence. No one believes the banks are going to solve these problems. The trillion-dollar question is, can the fintech companies do something important and socially useful before they, like the banks, become bogged down in regulation and bureaucracy.

Om Malik reports on how the movement towards a software enabled world has moved a lot of business categories into a winner takes all market (eg Amazon, Uber, Google). It’s also worth adding that innovations in technology and business strategy can see even these advantages quickly fall over time if management aren’t vigilant:

This loop of algorithms, infrastructure, and data is potent. Add what are called network effects to the mix, and you start to see virtual monopolies emerge almost overnight. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service goes up with the number of people using it. The Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe called it Metcalfe’s Law. Telephone services, eBay, and Skype are good examples of the network effects at work. The more people who are on Skype, the more people you can call, and thus the more likely it is that someone will join.

While physical book sales in the US are on the up according to Nielsen BookScan figures, ebooks are heading in the opposite direction with a consolidation around the Kindle and Kobo platforms according to Michael Kozlowski’s report:

In a few short years most digital bookstores will be out of business and Amazon and Kobo will likely be the only players left standing.  The only digital bookstores that will survive will be companies offering both hardware/software solutions to encapsulate people into their walled gardens.  The destruction of the digital book market has already been set in motion and nothing will stop from the industry from collapsing.

In 2013 Amazon created a media storm by announcing they were working on drone delivery with commentators debating whether this was a real story or a public relations stunt. Two years on and the pathway to drone delivery looks clearer. Dan Wang looks at where drone logistics have proven successful and where we’re likely to see it make real inroads in the near future:

Amazon Drones vs Current Delivery Options

As we start a new year we’re seeing various commentators giving their prognosis for the year ahead. Fred Wilson and Bob O’Donnell make good starting points.

Finally, it’s worth watching Extra Credit’s review of China’s Sesame Credit which has seen the Chinese Government collaborate with Tencent and Alibaba on gamifying good behaviour by Chinese citizens. A case of Nudge theory heading in a distinctly dystopian direction:

The featured image is an INTI mural from the Artesano Project in Nagua, Dominican Republic.

Categories
Thought Starters

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 20

With the recent Google I/O developers conference, there’s been no shortage of coverage of the mobile sector which is reflected in this blog posting. You will also find a critical look at the sharing economy, shopping malls, teens use of social media and the use of longform advertising among other matters.

Figures from PWC forecast that the UK economy will retain its strength over the next fifteen years  driven by a less rapidly ageing population and strong labour force participation when compared to its European counterparts.

April Siese takes a critical look at the sharing economy, pointing out that the benefits are likely to be unequally distributed:

Sharing-economy supporters see services as ways to disrupt the currently ineffective system, though their attempts are firmly targeted at a demographic with a disposable income—and with little regard for the underserved communities that they’re affecting.

James Greiff looks at the decline of the shopping mall in the US, pointing to the growth of ecommerce and social media’s role as social media as meeting place.Missing Mallrats

Monitise have pulled together a report looking at the growing use of mobile technologies and associated financial services globally, with a particular focus  on UK and USA. Mobile payments globally

Digital identity is growing in importance as consumers look to means of connecting a growing array of digital devices and services. In the UK the Government Digital Service is pushing forward with its Identity Assurance programme using third parties to authenticate consumers’ identity. Bob O’Donnell profiles current attempts in a sector that is still only in its early stages of development.

As more of our reading shifts to smartphones, Kevin Roose points to the book as becoming increasingly marginalised as we move away from the printed words and ereaders:

The silver lining of the app-ification of books is that it has increased the potential audience for e-books. Now, everyone with a smartphone has the ability to download and read any e-book from any publisher with a few taps. The bad news is that, if current trends hold, fewer and fewer people will have a device that is strictly for reading. Books are becoming just another app, and the publishing industry’s glorious e-reader future seems to be fading from view.

Bob Lefsetz looks to the future of the music industry as it continues its inexorable move from ownership to streaming.

Kantar have a web resource which allows users to assess changes in smartphone OS market share over time in key markets including UK, France, Germany, USA, China and Japan. BGR reports on collapsing market share on the part of Windows Phone which is looking less and less like a contender in the smartphone marketplace.

Smartphone OS Marketshare

Providing a contrasting approach is Benedict Evans who looks at the marketshare of different mobile operating systems across different market types as well as comparing mobile app revenues from iOS and Android.

Mobile Marketshare

Ben Bajarin contrasts the different approaches of Apple and Google in the smartphone marketplace.

To put it simply, Google’s strategy is dumb glass + smart cloud. Apple’s strategy is smart glass + deep cloud integration/synchronization. This is the clear departure in hardware philosophy the two companies will take. And it will dictate the types of customers each ecosystem has.

In a related piece, Benedict Evans takes a critical look at Amazon and Facebook’s attempts to take a more involved role in the mobile ecosystem.

Samsung is likely to feel the financial squeeze as it faces increasing competition from emerging Android handset manufacturers and an inability to deliver differentiation in other parts of the mobile value chain according to Jan Dawson.

The launch of the Amazon Fire Phone has left a few analysts intrigued or puzzled, particularly given the price point. Michael Mace portrays the move as a market experiment rather than a concerted effort to gain market share within the smartphone sector.

Facebook still dominates among US teenagers despite talk of an exodus as reported in eMarketer and Forrester.

teensocialscatter

Contently talking about short films/longform advertising as a better engage with consumers  who are spending more time with online video and provide opportunities for content that entertains rather than simply disrupts.

The featured image is a piece by Momo for the  Bien Urbain festival in Besançon and was photographed by Laure Saint Hillier & David Demougeot for Ekosystem.

The featured image is a piece by Momo for the  Bien Urbain festival in Besançon and was photographed by Laure Saint Hillier & David Demougeot for Ekosystem.