For months I've fought to get the number of marketing messages I receive down to a manageable number. I tried just to get to a countable number... I ran naked through my house with a tape deck, ranting. I ranted:
“There's a Kenmore 20 fridge, a Sharp Carosel microwave, a Rival Electronic can opener, envelopes from Working Assets and SBC, Whole Foods Soy Protein powder, Hershey's Cocoa, some Safeway Select Original Decaffinated Coffee, Peet's Coffee and a Miletta Mill coffee machine. “
Hmm. I need some tea - there's a mug I use. A man in full armor's on it, saying:“Practice Safe Sex”. Oh, damn, the brand's underneath - Shoebox Greetings.
I open the food closet.
Inside: Dole, Safeway, Del Monte. There's S&W Kidney beans, Red & White Sauerkraut, Maria artichoke hearts... There's stuff in here that goes back to the Plestocine; some's stuck to the shelf. Schilling black pepper, MORTON salt, LIZANO Salsa... If I had an AK-47 I could sit out the first month of civilization's collapse. The brand name on some jars is bigger than the content's name... I have to squint to make out what the heck the Heinze jar is. Ah. Vinegar.
I look, really look, at the contents of the closet. Holy shit. There's 62 marketing messages in this closet alone. 110 + repeats. The brand names become more and more clear and suddenly... dominate everything else in the room.
Now: I get a sick, twisted feeling for what brand awareness really is. In horror I jump back and slide that door shut. I sit down at the kitchen table, try to relax, and notice a transparent cabinet across the room filled with things I shouldn't eat. Stop & Shop ROTELLE Enriched macaroni product, Krusteaz Buttermilk pancake mix.
I'm a walking thesarus. I tested off the charts on associative memory as a kid. – If you need a rhyme – I'll have one just in time. I get a tingle when I hear a jingle. Any phrase that's repeated a lot sets off an unstoppable association train in my mind. I'd be a marketeer's wet dream - if only I didn't remember all the messages - all the messages - that everyone had ever burned into my brain. If only I could function long enough to actually buy something, anything that could make their voices stop.
There's a bag of coffee on the counter.
One look at Peets...
...and I'm reminded of the store in Los Gatos where I bought my first bag. I'm also reminded of Starbucks and of how much I hate their for-pay wireless internet service, and of the movie Goldmember and of the trip I take to work through Scott's Valley, past Starbucks, past ACE hardware, past ICS Creative where I really should get Rick a get well soon card, past Nob Hill, past Abouche' where 802.11 is still free, past ... I suffer through five frozen minutes of parkensonian remembrances - the caffine beans drip out of my hands – as I stand there, helplessly entranced in the series of flashbacks. Mentally I get on the route 17 exit and my... the... Cluetrain runs off the rails.
What was I thinking about originally? I can't remember. I hit rewind on the tape deck.... Oh yea... brands bother me. And that: I don't drink coffee anymore, I really should put the bags and coffee maker away.
You've been trying to type this rant up for three weeks, but you screamed too much into it. It's too much... I can't take the tape out, I'd lose it. I can't take the tape deck out, I'm certain I'd lose that too. I lose tape decks at a rate proportional to the stress I'm under. Recently? One a month. On the tape I'm shouting so loud -
To try and get the outside world to shut up.
I know I must be sick. I know it because this lady told me she filters all this crap out, and just gets on with life. She's in great shape. She exercises, she seems normal. She told me that I must be sick... as her 2 year old suckled at her breast. She had a beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. While the kid was kind of yellow, silent, and dysfunctional, and his pupils spun from the secondary nicotine injection, I could see him building up a tolerance for all this crap.
That's my problem. I didn't get the right dosage of bad influences when I was a kid. I didn't watch television until I was five, I was logged on when the pod people landed and took over all the broadcast media, I wasn't paying attention during the last election, I canceled cable, I was pushing out product when they putsched around the penguin at my company. Now my filters have failed. I'm vulnerable.
There were 97 separate marketing messages in my kitchen, 97 - 200+ duplicates, and I didn't know. I didn't know. I had to process these messages, and then block them out, every morning, just to get breakfast and plan my day!
Your eye is helplessly drawn to text. You remember standing in front of the grand canyon, that magnificent hole in the ground, and you were drawn, compulsively, towards reading the sign in front of the cliff - Warning - cliffs are dangerous - stay back!. You couldn't see the canyon itself, you spent the three weeks on that trip roaming the Ringworld, instead, head in a book, blocking everything else out.
Hmm. Let's do some triage on that opening sentence: “In my kitchen there's a fridge, microwave, can opener, two phone bills, soy protein powder, cocoa, decaf and regular coffee, and a coffee grinder. “
That's 40% less words. If I write the same sentence with the just the brands intact: “In my kitchen there's a Kenmore 20, Sharp Carosel, Rival Electronic, envelopes from Working Assets and SBC, Whole Foods, Hershey's, Safeway Select Original & Peet's, and a Miletta Mill. “ only the most consumed members of our consumer society would have any idea what I'm talking about.
If I write: “In my kitchen there's a white fridge, a black microwave, a yellowed can opener, two unpaid phone bills, grey soy protein powder, cocoa, two brown bags of decaf and regular coffee, and a coffee grinder. “ your esthetic sense might kick in. Nothing matches in my kitchen; many of the brand names match, but the colors don't.
AHA!. It does take mental processing time to have all these brands around...
I paste Post-Its over every brand name in sight in MY kitchen - killing off Kenmore, masking Miletta Mill & Grill. I even cover up the clock... I shoved every visible food and supply down into places where I couldn't see them, then sat back in my kitchen chair and relaxed somewhat. I could look around my kitchen, and have a thought-train almost complete - it was... it was... there was still something else wrong - maybe it was the colors, or the clashing styles... the different colored post-its, the shelf made of not quite the right wood...
You employ a Jedi mind trick. You look in the mirror and say, five times. “I love me. I love me. I love me. I love me. I love me.”
Then you look into the mirror and say: “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
After saying that - this time...
You glare back from the mirror, beat your shrinking belly with both hands and bellow:
In the corner of a half opened drawer, you spot:
New! Irish Spring Icy Blast deodordant soap, and: Dep7 shaping gel extra super hold, Edge Pro Gel shaving cream, and 3, 3!! Colgate toothpaste containers.
You glare from the mirror again. You beat your belly again, harder, longer, louder, and visualize “v37.85” stitched on the back of your neck. Again - You scream out: “I am the Anti-Brand!”
Back to the drawer. There's White rain hair spray. Salon style gel. You don't use this shit. You didn't even buy most of it - it's the refuse roomates left behind. It's just occupying mental and physical space that you need for you... you.. you.. You....
A tiny trash can stolen from Holiday Inn - turn that brand to the wall. Damnit - there's another Holiday Inn on the other side. You resolve to throw out everything you can and then throw out the can.
I can feel my brain shutting down. I can barely stay concious long enough to read through and toss:
Park-Davis Caladryl Clear External analgesic skin protectant lotion - with drying action plus itch relief , Gaia herbs allergy cleanse... I'm allergic. Curad ouchless plastic strips... what the heck is that? Oh, they're plastic bandages. Band-aids. Everybody knows what a band-aid is. Plastic strips. Riight. Trashed.
Deep down, buried in the same drawer, treasure: some plain red sissors, and some cheap razors - no sign of a brand. You cherish them for a while. You do a little indian dance of victory and triumph, then put them away.
You open the medicine cabinet. Out goes the unused bottle of unused American Fare Salon Formua polish remover, and wedge the Sharper Image Ultra Groomer out where you can't see it. There's dust on the 12 pack of Trojan condoms that you bought them one overly-optimistic evening a year ago, but you vow, you swear, you're gonna use up all 12 of them soon. There's a Sanford Super Sharpy permanent marker - dried out – trashed.
Ahh... and behind one door... Thank god your medication's generic -
You open the Economist and end up counting the pages of advertising vs information: 36 out of 72 and - wow - 8 pages of advertisements for HP. 8 pages about how great HP is - yea, the same company that put 17,000+ people on the street then buys months and months of 8 page ads in the Economist. I have two busted printers from the same HP sitting in my garage, unfixed, unfixable. That HP. I can't possibly be alone in remembering these facts simultaneously. Is one thought supposed to drive out the other in normal people? You always weigh the text, and commentary, higher than the ad.
You sit, and read the Economist, and question the text, too. If it wasn't for the web archive you wouldn't recognise that this pub has been running a decade-long infomercial for fuel cells. The delivery date: Real Soon Now. Jerry Pournelle just abbreviates this: RSN. Too bad RSN's not a TLA everyone knows. Too bad not everyone knows what a TLA is.
Remember that Star Trek teaser that began with a ship about to crash into a sun? The Enterprise crew races to the rescue but they aren't going to make it in time. They establish radio contact with the pilot. He's insane. They try to reason with him. He rants and raves incoherently, like me, like rageboy. Finally you hear him say with a sense of peace, and relief:
“At last I'm free. “
The radio crackles: “Thttttt.”The ship impacts the sun. The horrified Enterprise crew doesn't know why he crashed into the sun... you, the viewer, don't know why either... you're going to have to spend the next hour, with them, chained to your couch, unable to legally even go to the bathroom as they enter the same peril and somehow escape, shy a few red shirts.
The show cuts to the introductory credits and takes a commercial break.
I'm battling with a blind spot so big I can barely describe it to myself.
Yea, yea, you push past the ad pages of the Economist as fast as you can, and shout the marketing message dead, dead, dead. Ads in paper magazines? DOA. Why do the pod people keep pulling on the same levers harder and harder? Their monkey - Ham, call him - back seat pilots our spaceship. You're diving into the sun to escape him. He's flipping levers, eating food pellets, taking electric shocks in his feet.
Ham's on the radio back to the Closed Software Foundation:
Ham's top monkey. Scientists have cut open the brains of monkeys in a tribe and found that the head monkey has the most balanced serotonin levels; the bottom monkey's levels are seriously depleted. You've got Millionth monkey syndrome and you're diving into the sun to escape.
The radio crackles: "Thttttt"".
My desk came as a kit from Bush. It doesn't have any brands or logos on it, but I remember the box it came in and all the sticky papers I had to pull of it. On my desk is a Compaq Ipaq PocketPC. It doesn't run the PocketPC operating system. It runs a version of Linux.
If the view out my window wasn't marred by power lines and broken down cars I'd find some peace in it. I remember fondly the years before I had eye surgery, when I could take off my glasses and have the world blur. It helped me think.
For months I've what I call Paxil moments. I call them Paxil moments because the one ad I've seen for the stuff shows a guy like me, stuck at home, sad, looking out at the rain wistfully – and the next scene – presumably post paxil, the same guy is smiling, laughing, having a nice dinner with a bunch of attractive friends. There's a girl no doubt fondling his feet under the table...
But me, I'm not willing to leave the house because I can't subject myself to the full sensory saturation bombing that's out there in the ad-filled real world. Ever since I was a kid I've been on the Net under one login or another. More people know me by "mtaht" than by my real name. I like that handle - it's one of only three I know of in the entire world. 76 spammers a day like it too. The server "mtaht" is on crashed last week and I can't bring yourself to care enough to bring it back to life.
You sit in front of the keyboard for a few minutes and your body temperature drops to 95.1F. Your brain freezes up, and you have to get up, and do something, anything, else. That's bad: your job is to sit in front of a keyboard and create software. Everyone you know's job is to sit in front of a keyboard... and yet you remember growing up and nobody was chained to a monitor when you were 10, nobody.
There's a coffee mug filled with tea. And a Radio Shack tape deck with this rant on it. A lava lamp sits beside the Viewsonic VG15 monitor – there's branding on three corners of the LCD – 3 parrots decorate the top left - there's a Logitech keyboard and mouse - but there's no sign of a logo or brand on the lamp. You revel in the bubbles for a while. The lamp's in front of a painting of boats in Venice, docked, signed by the artist. The houses have magnificent yellow/red and blue hues to them, reflected in the water. There's a happy boat, a serene boat, and a sullen boat.
Resume,Songs, My new blog, NeX-6, My facebook page
Orgs I like
The EFF - keeping free speech in the world
Musical stuff I like
Jeff, Rick, Ardour, Jack
Prior Rants - Designing for the disconnect Email lists going down the memory hole Instituting saner, professional source code manage... Wireless and Wifi in 2015 - not what I dreamed of Saving wifi! Fixing Bufferbloat! Fighting the vend... Virgin Media - Fixing the epidemic of bufferbloat ... 49... and trying to find my navel Wheels down on mars! Tracking the landing of Curiosity, from Seattle spotting NEOs from around venus's orbit
Best of the blog:
Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
The Cubic Dog
The Bay Area is talking
Unlocking The Air
BroadBand & Me
Bear Waller Hollar