Episode Two Hundred and Eight: 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

I tried to start this yesterday, at around 10pm in the middle of the week’s family viewing of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (of which: the suspense! So stressful! What’s going to happen next! Why must people keep secrets?!) and in the end gave up. So here’s me trying again, on Friday, March 27, with thirty minutes on the clock.

1.0 Corp-Lit

I tweeted about this, but let’s just get it out of the way and say that Venkatesh Rao’s Art of the Gig[1, 2] is a hilarious and wonderfully readable entry in what I’m calling the burgeoning genre of Corp-Lit. Note that because this is my newsletter and my reckons, it’s entirely possible that the genre of Corp-Lit burgeoned quite a while ago and instead at the top of its s-curve and I’m just late to notice it. But whatever, here are the things that I like about the genre of Corp-Lit:

– it takes the twentieth and twenty-first century world of the corporation and working life as its backdrop, taking for granted the reader’s knowledge of the systems, protocols and cultural dances that surround white collar work. In the same way that Tom Clancy novels were the spearhead of the MILSPEC thriller genre and overload you with subject matter specific terms, jargon and practices, Corp-Lit overloads you with and expects you to be familiar with expensing, international business travel and the experience of not knowing where you’re going but trusting that your assistant has given you the right boarding pass and that there’ll be a person at the airport waiting for you with your name on an iPad

– it’s such a rich world! There’s so much going on!

More examples of Corp-Lit:

– as pointed out by Nick Paryshnikov, The Mezzanine[3] by Nicholson Baker in 1988 is the ur-corp-lit story;

– Max Barry’s Company[4] is one of my favourite books and an excellent follow-up to his earlier Jennifer Government, which book has been directly relevant now to *two* of my careers.

– Charlie Stross’ The Merchant Princes series, re-issued as The Bloodline Feud[5], The Traders’ War and The Revolution Trade which are more on the side of Corp-Lit than science fiction/fantasy to me mainly because they involve a journalist who Knows Business, And Isn’t Afraid To Wield It

– Michael Crichton’s 1994 Disclosure[6] hits lots of my Corp-Lit buttons because a) it’s about a CD-ROM drive, b) it’s about office politics and c) it also has virtual reality. And there are emails in it.

Some Corp-Lit fan-fiction:

– Pretend Office[7], by friends of this newsletter, which is a bunch of people (nominally those freelancers) play-acting at what it’s like to be on the all-staff mailing list of a company.

Some examples that are almost, but not quite, Corp-Lit:

– I’m always partial to a bit of Iain Banks, and his non-culture novel The Business[8] nearly counts as Corp-Lit apart from the bit where, well… spoilers.

– William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition[9] series *would* be Corp-Lit if the were books solely about Bigend and Blue Ant, but they’re not, and instead they’re more like Freelancer-Lit, and by that point, I don’t think you have a defined subgenre because this is my descriptivist newsletter and not yours. Note: I would read those books.

– The Office (whether the UK version or the American remake, which remake I prefer to the original because it’s just too painful) I don’t feel completely count because whilst they’ve got the setting, they just don’t necessarily go deep enough. They’re like corp-lit-lite.

– Similarly, there’s a bunch of UK satirical television like Twenty Twelve[10] and Absolute Power[11] that are also nearly but not quite corp-lit because they’re spending more fun making fun and skewering the situation rather than joyously submerging themselves in it and coming out of the other side.

I bet you all have lots of great examples of corp-lit. Please send them to me!

[1] The Art of Gig / Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao
[2] The Art of Gig II / Ribbonfarm, Venkatesh Rao
[3] The Mezzanine – Wikipedia (Amazon)
[4] Company (novel) – Wikipedia (Amazon)
[5] Charles Stross – Wikipedia (The Bloodline FeudThe Traders’ War and The Revolution Trade from Amazon)
[6] Disclosure (novel) – Wikipedia (Amazon)
[7] Pretend Office – Almost certainly among the best companies in the field that it’s in
[8] The Business (novel) – Wikipedia (Amazon)
[9] Really?
[10] Twenty Twelve – Wikipedia (buy from Amazon)
[11] Absolute Power – Wikipedia (buy from Amazon)

2.0 Odds

Some odds and ends that have stuck in my head over the past week.

With Periscope and Meerkat (honestly, the latter is still confusing me as every time it appears in my stream I keep thinking people are freaking out about finding a great car insurance deal) (re)introducing live streaming to a new(er) audience, two thoughts. That the traditional “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” is instead, or as well, “everyone is famous to 15 people” in that *for the vast majority of people*, *most of the time*, they’ll be doing mundane stuff that probably 15 people in their “graph of social relationships” will care about.

The second thought, in response to people pointing out how soon we forget the live-streaming path paved by Justin.tv, is that you can still have the right idea at the wrong time, or, more accurately, the right idea at a less-right time. Justin.tv did quite well in the end, turning into Twitch.tv and figuring out what it was good for *at the time* and finding a deep and broad audience. In the meantime, it’s probably true that there’s *an* audience for massive scale live-streaming of video from practically anyone, but that has more to do with the ubiquity of the networked lens than it has about “the right idea”.

This was also the week that Layout, by Instagram came out[1], to which my only response is: if you choose a name for your product and want it to be strongly protected in law, then choose a name that can be strongly (and ideally, most strongly) protected in law. That means, in most cases, going for a Registered Trademark, which comes with a bunch of rules about the *kinds* of words that can be trade marked. If you’re going to choose a word that probably *can’t* be trademarked, like “Paper” or “Layout” or, god forbid, Windows[2], then yes, you can and should complain that it’s a dick move when someone comes in and also calls *their* product Paper or Layout or Lindows, but hey, those are the breaks.

And then there was this list[3] of the first batch of Apple Watch apps that at first glance (ha), appeared to be more along the lines of “shit, we’d better figure out what to do with this” and use-cases that aren’t strictly suited to having a 42mm display strapped to your wrist. But hey: I don’t have an Apple Watch, and until I’ve got one and have, um, had my needs delivered against by a Redfin app giving me a push notification on my wrist whilst I’m on my morning walk, then I should probably reserve judgment.

What is cool, though, and what I remain interested in, is the idea of an app like Dark Sky, which tries to do just one thing well (is it going to rain now) and it notifying you via push to your watch and tactile feedback. A soft knocking on your wrist to let you know that it’s going to rain? This kind of thing, a new sense in a non-visual manner, brings to mind what Quinn Norton was doing with body hacking back in 2006 (nearly 10 years ago!), implanting a magnet in her fingertip[4] to add electro-magnetic fields to her range of stimuli.

If you combine *that* sort of stuff with what the Taptic Engine might be able to do, and throw in a bit of what the Japanese are gleefully throwing in the face of the developed world still thinking that real-time transit notifications are pretty nifty (ie: not just telling you if your train is on time, but what the temperature and passenger density is inside each car[5]) and *feeling* information like that instead of having to visually parse it, well. That’s super fun.

[1] Daring Fireball: Layout vs. Layout
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Corp._v._Lindows.com,_Inc.
[3] Apple Watch Apps Begin Showing Up in the App Store Ahead of Apple Watch Launch – Mac Rumors
[4] Implanting magnets for a sixth sense « Mind Hacks
[5] Cabel Sasser on Twitter: “Japan Railway’s app has live data, sure… including the crowdedness and inside temperature of EACH TRAIN CAR. 😍/😭 http://t.co/ySz1oTuIbF”

10:04pm. That’s it for me. Have a good weekend, all.

Best,

Dan