Reader’s Corner: David Foster Wallace Predicted Netflix


Plenty of us have fallen down the new TV-binge rabbit hole more than once in the past few years. It’s a nice change of pace every now and again, instead of patiently waiting for the next installment just plowing through 5, 6, or 10 episodes on a weekend.  Adult life? Eh, it’ll still be there on Monday.

What goes by the wayside in the meantime, though? James Pearson’s essay on coming back to America and the media deluge that awaits him provides some answer:

When I left Uganda this winter I had finally broken the 300-page barrier in David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan novel, Infinite Jest. I’ve started it three or four times in the past and aborted each time for attentional reasons. But 300 pages felt like enough momentum, finally, to finish. Then I hit my first American airport, with its 4G and free wi-fi. All at once, my gadgets came alive: pinging and alerting and vibrating excitedly. And even better, all seven seasons of The West Wing had providentially appeared on Netflix Instant. I’ve only finished 100 more pages in the two months since…

It’s an addictive kind of media parasite that promises to keep sucking up more and more and more of our time.

Infinite_jest_coverIn an ironic twist, Wallace himself (who wrote on seductive comforts of mediocre shows) predicted the future of perfectly addictive entertainment in Infinite Jest, in which he imagined a movie so astoundingly awesome that everybody who started watching it would keep watching it … until they died.

Per Pearson:

In 2009, according to the media research company eMarketer, the average U.S. adult consumed about 10 hours and 32 minutes of media per day. (That’s including multitasking, so if you spend an hour browsing on your iPad while watching TV, that counts as two hours.) By 2012 that total was up over an hour to 11:39 per day. That’s almost eight hours more per week, per person. Now multiply that by America…

The question is what is being supplanted by all this media space? We probably already know and the answer isn’t a comforting one.

Department of Media: 2014’s Best Magazine Stories

(Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

The winners of the 2015 Magazine Awards (the rather unfortunately named Ellies) have been announced. The New Yorker took home a few as usual, and Vogue won for publication of the year.

More interestingly, awards are also given out for best individual articles; here are some links:

Quote of the Day: Celebrity ‘Journalism’

From the always perspicacious P.J. O’Rourke, who wrote recently on the through-the-looking-glass experience that is reading an entire issue of People, or even US Weekly:

The formula for celebrity journalism is to mix schadenfreude with celebration at about the ratio of gin to vermouth in a dry martini.

Media Room: Portland Ghost Basement


One of the major hubs for fiber-optic cables carrying the Internet to most homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest is located in the basement of a building in Portland, Oregon. Nothing terribly surprising there. Except that one Cabel Maxfield Sasser went down there and took some photographs of the walls:

The roar of the presses that ruled these rooms has been replaced, just as we all suspected, with the calculated silence of the conduit that carries our data. This data, in fact. These very photos.

basement2Sasser imagines that this room was once where the printing presses for The Oregonian were located, and that as pages came off press, the workers yanked the occasional one off and plastered them on the walls.

According to Poynter, this explanation is probably not very likely. Which leaves the question: who scribbled these notes on the wall and left these ghostly images of women staring out at us? And why does the silence of the Internet resonate so strongly with the (imagined) roar of those old ink-and-paper presses?


Media: The ‘Underpaid’ and the Unemployed

Last Friday, the already dangerously-thin hometown paper, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, announced that they were laying off 23 employees.
According to the Riverfront Times, that makes 234 people laid off from the Post-Dispatch since just 2008, and noted that the announcement in the paper itself was unbylined:
Is it unbylined because no one wanted to write it, or because there was no one left to write it, edit it and produce an image to accompany it?
One of the more piquant observations, though, came from Jim Romanesko:
The downsizing comes just days after [Post-Dispatch owner Lee Enterprises] CEO Mary Junck was awarded $655,000 in company stock because, according to Lee’s executive compensation committee, she is underpaid.