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wtf? where’s my gmail?

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So there seems to be some sort of massive gmail outage going on. Tomorrow we’ll perhaps hear about the billions and trillions of dollars worth of damage this has done. But of course, the financial figures miss so much, as they always do. All the bitchy gossip that will go unsaid. Lovers aiming to chat across oceans will have to take the night off or find another way. Baby pictures will rest on hard drives, unable to travel for another night. Think of the lost hours of trying and trying to open the millions of accounts.

I’ve been meaning to write a post for awhile about the increasingly significant role played by entities that we might call quasi-utilities. Mostly web-based, these free or almost free services come to seem like a kind of human right, an automatic endowment that we receive simply for being alive. We feel entitled to decent email access (once we’re on the web in the first place of course), free chat, free books (albeit not in paper form). We feels ourselves to possess the right to look at the photographs of friends and family. Maps, likewise, guide us from place to place without apparent cost. Of late, even scaled down versions of expensive programs like Microsoft Word have been added to Google’s pseudo-public empire.

We don’t notice the advertisements, though we do see them. We are familiar with the model from television which was perhaps the first of the quasi-utilities.

In a sense – and much to their dismay, from a profit-making angle, newspapers have evolved in this direction as well. I pay for a subscription to the IHT, because I like newsprint and it’s page for page probably one of the better papers in the world, but I don’t really need it to keep up with the NYT, which is right there waiting for me anytime I like and for free. Reading the papers for anyone who came of age just after I did has perhaps always seemed like something that you ought to be able to do for free, if you want to do it in the first place. When you scroll through the news on your computer or your phone it is easy to have the sense that you live in a world in which content is below and beyond value at once, something there for the taking. And of course the entire sector of media capitalists have never been panicked by anything like they have been by the dawning sense that music and tv programs and films too exist as non-commodities, items to be freely shared rather than bought and sold.

Now, there’s lots to be said about this. It is important to remind ourselves at the getgo that the publicness of the services and information provided by google and similar corporations only appears to be a public utility rather than a private business. Administrators at some libraries, thankfully, are beginning to catch on to the fact that google’s book scanning business is in fact a business – is not a frictionless gift to the world in the utopian form of “every book, every page, any time or way you like.”

That said, that said – what is perhaps the point to take away from these for-profit services is that they bring to the public a taste of the free and easy that comes of efficient public provisioning. They are, that is to say, advertisements in and of themselves for a healthy public sphere. Learning to get something for nothing (even if it’s not nothing, in the end, for now) is exactly the mentality that we’d be best served to foster. The web makes it easy, but perhaps it might best be visualized as what they called a “gateway drug” when I was a kid. (I don’t know if the phrase is still current – but the idea was that the true danger of pot, in its happy non-dangerousness, was that it readied kids to try more dangerous, destructive “hard” drugs.) It’s not a long leap from free and well-designed email to free and smoothly working public wifi. And from public wifi, it’s a longer leap, though not all that long, to nationalized health care. A bit further yet to media, housing stock, and all the rest. After all, who today would pay for an email account?

Two points to be addressed in future posts. One: the pernicious lies that are told about GDP destruction through the market dominance of public, not-for-profit entities. (The BBC comes to mind on this point… All those ads that could be run but aren’t – the international page views that the fucking Guardian could be garnering if not for the BBC’s site….) Yes, public entities do in fact reduce GDP – the takeaway from this fact is that there is something wrong with GDP as a yardstick of civic health, not that cash should be sliced away from the “public monopoly.” Two: It wouldn’t take much effort for us to offer the argument that any sort of user tax on ISP customers for downloads would, sure, be a fine idea but only if the proceeds were pooled into some sort of state support for artists rather than bottom-line fattener for media companies. We download free; the artists are paid by the state; Sony finds a way to fuck itself for trying. Nuff said. Three: and this is more complicated. I’d like to take a long look at the functionalist design aesthetic of google and its many sites as an impersonation of the aesthetic practices of an as-yet-impossible regime of use-value centered provisioning. The design of the google sites, despite the occassional burst of disneyland coloring, is rather amazing… The blandest thing there is on the internet is also the most popular thing. Something there to think about, don’t you think?

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

4 Responses

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  1. This is really good too. And reminds me that, during my Hothouse Freak Promenade today, I passed, as I often do, noticing that I’ve gotten into the routine of this particular route without especially finding it esthetic, the building that takes up all of the block between 15th and 16th Streets and is the Google Headquarters for about a year and a half, maybe two. It goes all the way between 8th and 9th Avenues too. If I hadn’t read about it when they moved in, I’d never know it was there–it’s designed to completely ‘cook its employees’ into a charmed, weakened condition, I gather, so that they want to stay inside it all the time; and it wants no strangers from the vulgar streets at all. This is a building in which you can’t even go in and almost look at the directory of offices. Occasionally, an employee is seen outside taking a cigarette break, but I was surprised that these always look crabby and disgruntled (media lies, I guess, more media lies, they probably hate it as much as I would). And then AOL moved its headquarters here even more recently. I used to think, from reading the media studies people, that such businesses wouldn’t still be looking toward prestige addresses for their central offices, but I didn’t know about these new hells. Krugman wrote the most ridiculous piece about 2 years ago about this phenomenon of CEOs moving back to New York, while leaving all the underlings in cheaper real estate elsewhere–and he was making a case that this meant New York ‘was in the best shape it had been in a long time.’ Well, I hardly see that the enjoyment of the CEO’s to have old-style 90s power lunches has much added anything but more dishevelled Hothouse Freaks (more like the guy today in the suit than my sort of HF, though) to the pavement. Now that I continue to think of it, that one today reminded me of ‘American Psycho’, except he seemed to by trying to put it across without being able to do it.

    “We download free; the artists are paid by the state; Sony finds a way to fuck itself for trying. ”

    This is all a true utopia, and the euphorias, which ought never be left out, will come of how Sony manages the yoga.

    Patrick J. Mullins

    August 16, 2008 at 5:03 am

  2. “the dawning sense that music and tv programs and films too exist as non-commodities, items to be freely shared rather than bought and sold. ”

    I haven’t paid for a film in 2 years, but there’s another weird aspect: People do still want to pay for these giant things like ‘Batman’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. But since I can get almost all DVDs (or occasionally still have to use a vhs) at the Public Library, I’ve become so picky that I won’t even watch things like the above two for free–too expensive in terms of time. I wouldn’t watch Sweeney Todd, and the other night turned off SpiderMan3 after 30 minutes. There is just more than enough shit to shovel without having to watch these horrors.

    patrick j. mullins

    August 16, 2008 at 5:22 am

  3. You were right to give Sweeny Todd the miss. When we lived in Hampstead, till recently, we’d see HBC every once in awhile lunching etc. After I saw the movie, and heard her singing in it, these HBC sightings became very awkward affairs for me. Gawd. How awwwwful.

    And of course the hope would be that once, yes, Sony manages the yoga, the films would get a lot better. Better and better and better until we were all sort of low moaning from how good they are. I actually think that might happen.

    CR

    August 16, 2008 at 10:11 pm

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