ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

You Are Fuel —

Last year, I got a sudden burst of referrer links to my Great Failure of Wikipedia speech. In fact, the links were all variant amounts of criticial attacks, some strong-willed, others mis-informed. I started to respond to a few until I realized that they were doing it for a class, a class in Blogging, actually.

As it turned out, the class was being held within a couple hours of my house, so I called the teacher and asked if I could show up to that evening’s class and talk about my speech. He accepted.

The whole dynamic of this is probably worth going into; here people were just posting stuff according to the class’s requirements, writing their dashed-off thoughts on a speech, and suddenly the asshole who gave the presentation is there in class. I wish I knew what went through their minds about that.

Well, obviously I know what some of them thought about it, because they weblogged it (blogging class, right?) one of them even decided to speculate on her weblog about my lack of a date for the prom and got a response from me disputing her guesses. Her helpful response? Delete the entire weblog entry. Luckily, there’s such a thing as a browser cache, so I saved her entry for posterity. Isn’t the client-server model great? The best part is that she’s a schoolteacher; great lesson there for your students!

Luckily, I followed my own rule of never speaking in public without having a digital recorder going, and I have the entire exchange recorded to MP3. It made it a lot easier to refute someone saying ‘He interrupted people” to go “Well, I have the tape, and that never happened.”

It was a great time (for me, anyway). I think it’s a case that as I get older, the face-to-face dynamic is becoming just as enjoyable as the online one, and brings different joys. During my “face-to-face” time, however, an exchange happened that shows my (perhaps overly cynical) take on things. Let’s throw that out there.

The teacher was also, when not teaching a class on blogging, a radio show host. There’s an exchange in there where we were discussing using Wikipedia, and he mentioned using it on his radio show during breaks to be able to look up something quickly. After all, he said “My job as a radio show host is to inform my audience.”

No, I said. Your job as a radio show host is to keep your audience listening steadily through a number of commercials and keep their numbers large enough to allow your station to charge more for those commercials.

Maybe people know this, and maybe they don’t; I see a lot of different reactions from people that imply that they don’t. The purpose of a television channel is to make you watch that channel’s advertisements. The purpose of a newspaper is to make you read the advertisements. The purpose of a radio talk show host is to keep you listening long enough to hear the advertisements.

This is a critical thing to understand if you’re listening to, say, a show in which there is “controversy”. Media that is commercially driven has no incentive to end controversy. If it is required to do horrible, illogical things to maintain that controversy, it will do so. If two sides came to an “agreement” at the end, and could see each other’s side, why would you keep listening? There’s no sparks, no attacks.

When watching entertainment, the entertainment’s job is to keep you satisfied long enough to have thought you got a good deal. If you are seeing the entertainment for free, then that entertainment is likely doing “stuff” to ensure its existence; either selling commercial time, or gearing the activities into a direction of worth for a commercial entity. (Product placement comes to mind, but there’s also Opinion placement and other “placements” in effect).

You are, essentially, Fuel that is driving an engine, an engine that has no interest in stopping. To maintain you as fuel, it needs to keep your interest. Keeping someone’s interest is not the same as working in their interest. Once this understanding is clear, you can save a lot of time: of course this talk show host is going to be skeptical and stupid about internet technology! Of course this interviewer is going to ask unfair questions to get a rise out of the interviewee, or, ask insane softball questions to get the interviewee (who you can’t help but look at because they’re famous or beautiful) to sit there longer so the audience will stay around longer. Holy crap! We’re all fuel!

There is nothing wrong with being fuel! Just don’t act all surprised when you’re treated as such.

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  1. Frank says:

    You are, essentially, Fuel that is driving an engine

    Where’s a red pill when you need it?!

  2. Kizzle says:

    So where is this mythical mp3 Mr.Scott?

  3. Jason Scott says:

    For the moment, I’m not comfortable putting it online, because I didn’t ask permission for people to be recorded, and it may not have been clear to all parties that that thing in front of me was a digital recorder (it’s quiet, has no moving parts and from a distance may seem like a laptop). I suppose, if things came down to it, I could excerpt parts of it to prove a point, but as it stands it’s in my records and nowhere else.

  4. Stacia says:

    I recently went on a lengthy LiveJournal rant (classy!) about the entertainment media, and how those complaining about certain celebrities were fueling the entertainment media because they were consuming the product. They were viewing pages, watching shows, then blogging about it, and even if their blogging was disparaging, they were still part of the money-making process for the entertainment shows. That the media was misrepresenting or exaggerating things for attention and effect was obvious to me; it’s how they make their money.

    No one got it, and no one agreed with me. I think a couple people stopped reading my blog because of it, as well. Very disheartening.

    As for the schoolteacher… yeah. I used to be an assistant teacher, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that she wrote that asinine post. However, I’m somewhat pleased to see she could construct a viable sentence and could spell. Lord knows half the English teachers I worked with couldn’t spell the word “grammar”.

    Not that her post makes much sense. If she was in a class on blogging, shouldn’t she have learned that “hacking on an internet site” doesn’t make any sense? Her comments about nerds and Pokemon are tired old yarns straight from a Leno monologue.

    The cracks about your GPA and prom dates, though, are key to understanding her complaints. She’s stuck in school, probably high school. Everything around her is judged in terms of what’s important in high school because, at her high school, she’s authority. Of course someone’s GPA is of great importance to her: she’s the one who gives students their GPA. It doesn’t matter that one hasn’t actually had a GPA for many years, or that a GPA is often no indication of a student’s abilities. It’s the fact that over 15 years ago you once had a “low” GPA, which goes on your permanent record, and determines the path your whole life takes. At least, she’d like to think that’s the way it is. Sad.

  5. People tend to forget that the Internet is, you know, global. Every time I post a blog entry I try to imagine who in the world I would least like to read that post, and then I think about the repercussions of that before posting. I don’t know how it works for you, but there seems to be some undocumented Internet magnetic pull that draws that person directly to that blog post. A couple of months ago I wrote a blog entry commenting on a friend’s co-worker that committed suicide; a week or so later, I was getting e-mails and comments from the deceased’s fiance. I’ve made anti-smoking comments in my blog before, only to get chastized later by smoking relatives. I’m not recommending people not post those posts, but I am saying that by talking about people in your blog you are drawing them closer to you in some cosmic way.

    If you don’t believe me, check out this post from Penny Arcade earlier this week. After posting a sarcastic “letter to the parents” of a 15-year-old kid who killed a homeless person and said “it reminded him of playing violent video games,” it only took a day or two for the step-mother of said 15-year-old to contact the site and write them a letter.

    Anyway, as for being fuel, I’m surprised that it takes people that long to figure it out. I learned that lesson as a college journalism student, interning at a local newspaper. The staff consisted of 1 editor/writer, 1 photographer, myself, and a sales/ad staff of 20+. The ad people layed out the paper based on what ads had sold, and then told us to “fill the remaining white space.”

  6. sclozza says:

    Has anyone else been following the tales from the ex-admin here: ?

  7. pjm says:

    Oh, yes – I used to say, when I ran websites for a national magazine, that my job was to capture people’s attention and hold it as long as possible, so we could sell it. That’s the business model. It’s the most cynical way possible to phrase it, but it captures the facts.