You are the product

John Lanchester:

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

I finally got round to reading this—I currently, and temporarily, have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m reading everything—and it’s fantastic. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the nascent subject of web platforms (in fact this piece is reminiscent at times of John Herrman, who is currently the writer of the most interesting and relevant articles on the topic).

Nothing to do with abdominal glandular organs

1: Timelike

Another time-travel based short. Because why break the habit of a lifetime?

Madeline and her boyfriend are enjoying a quiet evening at home when they are interrupted by a visit from a stranger bearing a message from Madeline’s future self. (An explanation of sorts?)

2: How London’s terminal stations got their names

St Pancras International: The international part is fairly obvious, given that this is the London home of Eurostar services to the continent. But who was this St Pancras? London’s most magnificent station and the surrounding area take their name from a Roman teenager, who was beheaded for converting to Christianity at a time when this was outlawed (c. 304 AD). Young master Pancras had probably never even heard of Londinium, and it’s unclear exactly why the founders of the first church on the site should choose him as their dedicatee. It may be that Pancratic relics found their way to the region, or perhaps his memory was promoted by members of a nearby Roman camp, established at a date when Christianity was more widespread within the Roman Empire. Either way, this is thought to be one of the most ancient sites of Christian worship in the country. The name has nothing to do with abdominal glandular organs.

3: 2 kinds of people

There are only 2 kinds of people in this world, those that find this blog hilarious and those that have no sense of humor whatsoever.

4: Something fishy

The true story behind four curiosities of everyday sushi.

5: Design a cover for the twentieth anniversary edition of Infinite Jest

There are two routes to literary immortality:

  • Slave for years—if not decades—over a work of fiction so searingly sui generis, so well and truly fused with an authentic zeitgeist, so deeply attuned to life’s vicissitudes and the mysteries of the soul, that establishment and nonestablishment figures alike have no choice but to revere you and send you soaring toward the firmament, never to be forgotten.

  • Hitch your wagon to David Foster Wallace’s star.

6: Time is a privacy setting

John Herrman on the ephemerality of Twitter and Facebook posts. Social networks change with such frequency, and the passing of time removes context and meaning from our posts. How do we deal with this? Herman deletes things after a week.

Facebook’s Timehop-esque feature was interesting to me at first until it started showing me things from my early days on the service that made me shudder and squirm. I initially used it as a prompt to delete old stuff that was just awful. Now I can barely use that feature. Seeing the ‘You have memories’ notification is enough to send waves of undiluted cringe flowing through my body.

7: Inside the manipulative world of film color correction

Professional colorists reveal their secrets—and a neuroscientist explains why they work.

8: All hail the Ned Flanders-themed metal band Okilly Dokilly

Nekrogoblikon, a band with a goblin mascot, once famously sang “We Need a Gimmick.” Phoenix band Okilly Dokilly have found one, and it’s blowing up the internet. The five-piece band are entirely inspired by and about Homer Simpson’s neighbor Ned Flanders. They’re hardly the first band to be inspired by The Simpsons (hello, Fall Out Boy), or even the first metal band to take their name from the show (what’s up, Evergreen Terrace?), but the world’s only “Nedal” band are fully committed to their shtick. All five of them dress like Homer’s nemesis (green sweaters, gray pants and spectacles, and three of them even have mustaches.