Arnt Gulbrandsen
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Optimal in the sense of "eyeball-grabbing"

My dictionaries don't list that as a sense of optimal, but this year they should.

The twitter account darkstockphotos depicts today's media style too well: loud, everything tuned to maximum. Here's the first photo I saw from darkstockphotos. Notice how it uses all three primary colours, almost the entire photo is a primary colour except the gun, which is both silver and black, also strong colours. The strongest possible colours, a sad face, and a gun: Can it be any louder?

We have a lot of metrics today. Publishers can measure audience response, and tune for maximum attention grabbing, and they do, oh how they do. I think the visual fashion in that photo is a result of that tuning.

When the web2.0 sites use audience response to choose what to keep on their home pages and what to drop, they're effectively publishing that which grabs attention, and more of that, and still more. The beneficiaries of this selection is those who make loud photos, loud music, anything loud. Colour! Breasts! Video and sound! Scandals! Kittens!

I posted another unhappy rant about visual fashion a few years ago: Buildings are increasingly built to look like pictures from a computer rendering. Perhaps that's connected. Or not. But I'm fairly sure the recent trends in audio fashion is a result of the same selection process: Music is louder nowadays than a few decades ago when you measure in dB, and its production uses A/B testing to maximise the other kind of loudness, too.

Wearing my male chauvinist hat, I should like to register a particular protest against the incessant female nudity in advertising and on the web. I am a white heterosexual male, which makes me part of the target audience for photos like this, which I saw on Tumblr but I've linked to the original source here, Instagram. Photos like that aren't new. Curves, pout, naked skin here and there, hair, makeup, none of that is new, and I don't mind any of that. We men are fools and I admit to being one. What I mind is the intensity, the insistent repetition.

Instagram and other sites have spread that photo ever more widely since the viewers responded so favourably. Effectively, they optimise for pressing as many of the the viewer's emotional buttons as possible, as often as possible. I'm growing numb from having my emotional buttons pressed whenever I leave my text-only work sphere, and I hate it.

I picked that photo because it's such a clear example of loudness. Curves and skin and... I don't actually like it, at least not when I look closely. The model is trying so hard to look sexy that she loses her humanity. Being human is a condition for being sexy. My first reaction was oh! though, so the optimisers got the reaction they wanted from me.

Maybe this is why I've come to play mostly slow music lately.


The cost of large-scale surveillance

Fittingly, Germany has a federal office for protecting the democratic state against nazis and other threats to democracy. Each of the sixteen states also runs a smaller effort of its own. Some have dedicated organizations, some locate the work within a ministry, but all do something.

Because of the variety it's nontrivial to add up the cost of all this. I added up six of the biggest organizations and that came to €220 million, so I blithely estimate a total of €250-300 million.

Conveniently, there are 25-30,000 nazis in Germany (more…)