Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Girlpants and Gasoline' Reviewed by Phi Beta Kappa!

Phi Beta Kappa's newsletter The Key Reporter reviewed my book Girlpants and Gasoline!

Zucker’s observations hit the mark precisely.…Girlpants and Gasoline sheds light on our collective (self-)consciousness."

Makes me think all those years of collegiate honors are finally paying off. I'm getting all teary.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

U2 LITERALLY Cannot Give Away Their New Album

Let's just discuss this for one minute and then we can let it fade away as we live our actual lives.

Apple, with the introduction of iOS 8 and the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus revealed that all iTunes users would be treated to a free digital album download of U2's newest release "Songs of Innocence."

Except instead of a download available, the way iTunes functions meant the album magically appeared in every user's library with the little cloud icon meaning "download me." Being someone who works in tech support, I can imagine many older users becoming concerned that they unwittingly paid for the album. A portion of these users, however, are actually young enough to still like U2, so the concern might be more pleasant surprise than financial confusion.

The bad press here is that users found this intrusive. Many people forget that, as far as digital media sales are concerned, most state and federal laws view your "purchases" of digital content as a license to rent for the duration of your life. With the recent exception of Delaware and campaigns by Bruce Willis of all people, distributors are within their rights to close your accounts and delete your content when you croak. Other side of the coin: this means Apple technically has the ability to add content to your library at will, regardless of payment. That should make people happy, right?

Well, no, because you just did a 'nice' thing that reminded people that
  1. they don't have agency over their own (digital) lives in this sugared corporate delusion they've swallowed, and 
  2. nothing free is ever particularly good.
That's really the crux of this argument. Id you gave people a free something they liked, even somewhat intrusively, the thought was still nice. Barnes & Noble recently released a new Nook cobranded with Samsung and offers "$200 of free content" with each device. Yeah, it's a few interchanging books and a choice of any record-club-style magazine subscriptions, but the most engaging content is curated television programs: currently Veep, Orphan Black, and Hannibal first episodes. Orphan Black is a major thing right now. People love it. They are glad to have it, even if they wouldn't have bought it or resent the lack of choice. Some people will delete it, sure, but most people just see it as a free sample for signing up rather than an intrusion of their personal, private possessions.

Apple didn't do that.

Apple, regardless of taste or willingness, gave every user a free copy of something that hadn't existed before that day, and no one had seen coming. People were shocked that Beyoncé could record and entire album without news of it leaking to the media.

No one is surprised that U2 could record and entire album without anyone caring.

So yes, people were annoyed. And yes, many people dislike U2, or at least they don't care enough to want their album. Is that really deserving of the negative media attention, though? Apple had to go out of their way to release an opt-out website just for people who found highlighting and deleting the album from their libraries too difficult.

Let me repeat that: Apple paid for hosting a website expressly for signing into your iTunes account to click a button to permanently delete "Songs of Innocence" from your iTunes, when it is possible to simply click on the tracks and hit the "delete" key. Same effect. Exponentially less time. Apple still gave an option for people who felt that that process didn't adequately describe their distaste for the cancerous, nigh contagious tracks. Heaven forbid they contaminate their cursors by clicking on the vile things.

I remember reading an article when iOS 6 came out with the much-hated Maps app that suggested a failure on Apples part spurred Google to create a free stand-alone Google Maps app for iOS that was even better than its Android counterpart as a sort of "screw you" to Apple, who had innitially demanded the built-in Maps app, originally powered by Google, be given the same updates as Android without charging a heavy premium. Apple took the hit in the press, but got exactly what it wanted. One could be forgiven for imagining a Cupertino West Wing-like backroom deal between Tim Cook and some P.R. engineers about purposefully looking a fool if it got their pet project funded.

This was not one of those moments.

Let's for a moment ignore the "3 million downloads" in however many days Apple says U2 received. We have to. Digital download sales for this album will never be accurate. Between automatic downloads of purchased content and confused users clicking, hell even people in-the-know listening once before they delete it, every copy that wasn't paid for is worthless to sales reporting. It's a media hype. U2 gave away an album for free. That's what happened. And still nobody wants to own it.

I honestly cannot think of a relevant sentence to form about U2 that isn't directly tied to a joke from South Park, "I Love You, Man," or Bo Burnham stand-up. Congratulations on becoming both musically and culturally irrelevant, and pissing off the general public in the process.