Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Tony Abbott, hopeless luddite and panderer ...

(Above: would you pay a gold bar to read the thoughts of this thoughtless man?)

The thing about Tony Abbott is that he's a hopeless luddite and panderer.

Now there's usually some argument about the meaning of luddite, and recalcitrance about the use of the word with reference to its original meaning and its current meaning in relation to technology, so let's just go with a fair average dictionary definition:

Lud·dite n.
1. Any of a group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.
2. One who opposes technical or technological change.
[After Ned Ludd, an English laborer who was supposed to have destroyed weaving machinery around 1779.] (here)

Now let's just go with that second definition, and then head off to read Tony Abbott sucking up to the hard copy book industry in Books shape ideals, dreams.

Hang on a mo, or a tic, or a sec, we only put that link in as a joke.

You see The Australian wants to charge you to access the intimate thoughts of aspirational chairman Tony Abbott, when if you want to, you can just head off to Abbott's website to read - for free - Books Shape Ideals, Dreams - with bonus caps!

Now that the pond's saved you heaps of moola which would otherwise disappear into the pockets of Chairman Murdoch, let's revert to Mr. Abbott's celebration of books:

These are not easy times for the book industry but the recent agreement to amend the parallel importation rules shows that publishers are not frightened of competition and are confident that books can survive the online onslaught just as radio has survived TV and movies have survived DVDs. I never go anywhere without hard copy because you can't take the iPad to the beach or keep reading it on the plane.

Talk about befuddlement. Who's writing his futurist stuff these days? Or for that matter his awareness of media history?

Even a casual reader about media in the twentieth century would be aware that the juxtaposition of radio and TV is wrong.

If anything, radio was reckoned to be a threat to the record industry.

TV was reckoned to be a threat to the movies.

Movies weren't threatened by DVDs, because the rights owners to the movies also owned the ancillary rights which allowed them to make extra revenue out of the ancillary sales on disc.

It's such a half-arsed garbled bit of addle-brained nonsense, you could only indulge in this kind of rhetorical over-reach in the company of publishing executives, exemplary luddites the lot of them, right up there with the music and film and TV industries in their desperate attempt to hold on to old models when around them the world was rapidly a'changing.

And who told Abbott you can't take an iPad to the beach? You can, though it's wise to exercise care - but then that's the same advice the pond was given before the four band eight transistor radio suddenly met an unfortunate death on the beach. Oh how we miss you, leather-clad radio.

Who back then understood that you were so deeply threatened by television? And yet clearly there were people even then taking their 23" black and white sets to the beach to provide musical distraction ...

And who told Abbott you can't keep reading a book on an iPad on the plane? Apart from a little time spent getting into the air or coming down to land? Has anyone ever explained to the hapless possum the airplane mode on an iPad (here you go).

Now being of an age, the pond has no trouble with old farts who yearn for hard copy books, with their leathery smell and musty pages. There's a swoon factor still, though it has to be said that the raw smell of plastics in a newly opened box of computer gear also has its joys (let's not get started on the smell of freshly minted paper money, instead of that new plastic muck, or the pond will start doing a Scrooge McDuck imitation).

That said, it's always a sign of trouble when an old fart starts to carry on about the joys of hard copy, and spreads rumours and fears about the inadequacy of new technology as a way of calming a book industry which took a decade to wake up to something the pond was telling heedless executives back in the nineties.

The point is, it isn't the medium, it's what you're reading that counts.

And reading was ostensibly the point of aspirational chairman Abbott's inspirational talk:

It’s sometimes said that we are what we eat. It could more truly be said that we are what we read. Reading is how we learn fastest about all those experiences other than our own. It's the principle means by which we learn our history, traditions and high culture.

But that's reading. It's not the medium which is the conduit for the reading.

Sad to say, these days the pond is surrounded by an ocean of books, but tends to spend more time reading things downloaded or otherwise available online or digitised. It's as much to do with digital advantages - the search functionality for starters - which makes it so much easier when hunting through a script for a character or a bit of dialogue or action, or chasing down a reference, using a half-remembered word. Put that up against thumbing through five hundred pages, or heading off to an index, or trying to track down a case as opposed to hitting the search button on AustLII.

The pond could never throw out any of its hard copy children - come hardback, come paperback, come all - and there's still a special love in handling a book, but then the pond also has a collection of old LPs, a few 45s, a scattering of laser discs, a few reel to reel tapes, plenty of unscanned 35 mm negatives, some compact Phillips cassettes, and some VHS and Beta tapes. The only time reality intervened came about the time it became clear that the chances of ever looking again at some Betacam SP tapes had gone, and they hit the bin.

Talking about hard copy books the way Abbott talked to the publishers can only be understood as pandering, as saying what they want to hear, when they really need some tough love, and need to hear the truth about the future. Some of them are getting there, but it seems it'll be awhile before Tony Abbott joins them.

A rough equivalent would have been to hold out hopes to the recording industry for 78s, 45s and quadraphonic stereo LPs. And now CDs. (Oh CDs, you provided such blissful aif file sound quality, and now young pups think 128 MP3s do the same job).

Or Abbott holding out hope for the future of analogue for TV broadcasters. Or any other set of rhetorical nonsense designed to shore up the sense that the times they aren't a changing ...

But the capper? Well here's a little preening by the peacock:

Battlelines came out just a few months before I attained the leadership of my party. The test of intellectual leaders is the quality of what they write.

Uh huh. Well if that's the criterion, then Books Shape Ideals, Dreams is an epic fail, while at the same time revealing exactly why Abbott is the worst possible leader available to the country when it comes to dealing with the implications of broadband and the NBN - not just for current industries struggling to realise that the old intellectual property models are in serious trouble, but for futurists already inventing apps which will change the world in the same way that Google, iTunes, Amazon, Facebook and such like have changed the world in the last few decades.

The book symbolises our aspirations to learn, to teach and to understand. I salute the book, without which a thoughtful life is almost impossible.

No, you goose, you're saluting the content of the book, without which a thoughtful life is almost impossible. The book itself only provides a thoughtful life to bibliophiles ... not that there's anything wrong with that, but when you say the medium is the massage, beware what you mean.

Ye ancient cats and dogs, did Marshall McLuhan write in vain?

Is there anyone out there who can explain the implications of technology to Abbott? Perhaps send him an email? Oh no, he won't be able to read it on the beach or on the plane ...

Yep, here comes a man who will for the next four years help regress this country to the dark ages of technology, and he's such a pandering luddite he won't even understand how he's managed to do it ...

(Below: by chance a recent New Yorker cartoon strikes just the right note. Now you can read the New Yorker hard copy if you like, but by golly they've got a dandy online app. Tell 'em the pond sent you).


  1. "Is there anyone out there who can explain the implications of technology to Abbott?"

    Perhaps the ten year old kid next door can give him the good oil...?

    Or, maybe my two year old grand-daughter who tries to swipe photos in frames, a la Galaxy Tab?

    Most likely anyone in the real world could give Mr Abbott a cloo...

  2. Can't read iPad on a plane?
    Sitting at home, and Kindle for PC is handy.

    An unpopular government was able to save itself by making the opposition the issue, and an unloved prime minister became a new form of national hero because he had seen off the threat of the Americanisation of Australian politics. Hewson had underestimated the extent to which Australians wanted government to look after them, ...

    Megalogenis, George (2012-02-22). The Australian Moment (Kindle Locations 3574-3576). Penguin Australia. Kindle Edition.

    If have 35mm transparencies to digitise ...

  3. A thoughtful life may well be impossible without (the contents of) books, but I'd say for Abbott, it's just impossible.

  4. If the jealously ambitious Shaper-of-Dreams is to be believed, then the pragmatic not-class warfare of Battlelines suggests that a propositional solution to the better-the-devil-you-know effect of incumbency is to (re)present an eternal return to a prior golden age of an even betterer-the-devil-you-know, to restore the once and future dream. Which is fine, assuming that Santas touting Cartesian public services are a net positive for democracy, are prepared to stand or fall on their own dream-weaving merits rather than resting on others' assumed laurels, and are prepared to accept the consequences of having their dreamy shape-shiftings become better known, I guess.


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