Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Page 1304

Down With The Man | Part 4

Why The Man hates Canadians. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 4.


If you’re like us and have a severe chronic email compulsion, you’ll both love and hate the newest 2.0 holiday: this Saturday, May 3, is Shutdown Day. That’s right, if you ever feel like The Man’s got you by the throat by way of your own computer, now’s your chance — sure, there are bound to be withdrawal symptons, but we’ll be right there with ya shaking off the offline jitters.

The non-profit organization is the brainchild of Denis Bystrov, a Canadian computer programmer who partnered with British filmmaker Michael Taylor in 2007 to spread awareness about the far-reaching effects — physical, mental, social, environmental — of today’s excessive consumption of all things i. We find it fascinating because it’s such a perfect metaphor for the good/evil dichotomy of the web: the initiative could easily become one of the largest Internet-based global experiments as its success hangs solely on the power of the social web, but its “success” by definition also urges us to reduce the use of this very same medium.

We also dig the way it puts things into perspective environmentally: if a single 24-hour period of shutdown could save 6814.8 kilowatt hours of energy in the U.S. alone just from the people who have already registered, imagine the impact of reduced everyday global computer use in the long run.

But, let’s face it: between Facebook hurling friend birthday reminders at you, your boss sending you those pesky “if you get a chance…” weekend emails and your bank bombarding you with e-statements, you sure could use a full-on, no-buts, no-peeks breather — and make a difference all at the same time. Besides pledging you’re in, you can also join the Shutdown Day Facebook group or even be part of an offline flash mob in your area.

So go ahead, pencil it in your calendar. Oh, who are we kidding — we know you don’t have a paper one and haven’t touched a pencil in years. But, hey, that’s one iCal event reminder you’ll be looking forward to.


Down With The Man | Part 5

Why being fake has never been easier. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 5.


Privacy. Between spam, phishing and the daily wear-and-tear of your email, it’s no wonder many of us craft alter egos for the Interwebs and open email accounts specifically designated for worthless emails. But even that can be too much work. Well, time for a break: say hello to Mailinator, the no-signup, no-registration, no-hassle fake email address generator.

Why is it better than a made-up invalid email? Because it allows you actually get past that first step of email validation when you register for forums, fill out web forms, get free trials, and are otherwise spam-endangered by various one-time signup processes.

Here’s how it works: you just make up an email on the spot — could be anything, from to — and Mailinator generates a temporary email account when mail arrives for you. You can check it on the site, via RSS, through a widget, or straight from your browser toolbar — just enough to validate your email for each signup and forget about it.



Down With The Man | Part 6

How music got its groove back. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 6.


Lately, we’ve been focusing on the music industry a lot, what with all the massive tectonic shifts it’s undergoing. Artists big and small are sticking it to the Big Label Man, anyone from big-leaguers like Madonna and Radiohead to indie mavericks like Ghost Away and Jill Sobule.

The latest shaker: cult British 90’s trip-hop getup Portishead just released their first album in 11 years, Third, exclusively on on April 21, where it could be streamed for free until its official release today. (You may also recall our fervent raves about and our early predictions of its revolution potential.)


It’s the very first exclusive for the social networking music site. But even more interestingly, Portishead was also the very first artist to join’s catalog, with their track Cowboys as the first one to ever be played on when the site went live in 2002.

And here’s the fascinating thing: traditionally, the music industry has employed an event-based model with album launches, where the launch is heavily promoted and positioned as an object of anticipation by sending the album out to music critics and reviewers well in advance, building up solid media hype. Then, that the record label and retailer can monetize this by pricing the anticipated new release much higher than other stuff.

Recently, in an excellent piece for Wired, the Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke tackled the current business model, probing the capacity for change. And we think this Portishead/ move is tell-tale sign of days to come, where artists use new media and the power of the social web to promote, publish and eventually distribute their work, creating a loop of self-sufficiency that not only puts the fans first, but also completely circumvents the red tape of the Big Labels model.


Down With The Man | Part 7

How to do peer-to-peer sharing without entering Jesse James territory. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 7.


Speaking of things shaking the music industry, we couldn’t gloss over the huge and highly polarized issue of piracy. Worst part: it’s a vicious cycle. In a nutshell: a handful of big music retailers (a.k.a. “The Man”) dominate 90% of music sales; they exert pricing pressure on everyone else, asking consumers to shell out too much for music, most of which doesn’t even go to the artist due to brutal licensing deals; in turn, many music fans flip the bird and just download music illegally through P2P file-sharing.

But there’s actually a way to get free music through “file-sharing” that doesn’t make you an outlaw.

You may recall from pickings of yore services like Paperback Swap and SwapaCD — networks of everyday people who exchange books and CD’s they own via the mail. Now there’s a better execution to the same idea: swaptree, officially launched last July, is a similar concept, but has a broader media catalog — books, CD’s, DVD’s, even video games — and a massive member base of hundreds of thousands of users, with an astounding 30% monthly growth rate.

Seems like the newest media-shaker comes from the oldest medium of all: snail-mail, regarded today as barely a step up from pigeon post.

swaptree is free, simple, and here’s how it works: first say what you’ve got (build a “have” list of all the read books and old CD’s you’re willing to bid adieu), then say what you want (build a “want” list of stuff you’ve always been dying to read/hear/play). Then just sit back as the swaptree algorithms find you a trade and get the ball rolling. (We’re currently awaiting The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the brilliant book by one of our heroes, Michael Pollan.)

So how could all this be legal? Flashbacks of copyright class remind us about something known as the “first book doctrine,” a loophole in copyright law that allows you to transfer (for payment or not) a lawful copy of copyrighted work (like a book or CD) once you’ve obtained it. Everyday translation: whenever you buy, find, receive as a gift or get your hands on a book in other ways, it’s yours to do whatever you like with. Including swapping. And now it’s being applied to other media.

Sure, the big media dictators may not be happy. But in this power- to-the-people age, getting the latest from Postal Service through the postal service is an in-your-face constitutional right “the people” are learning to exercise…and lovin’ it.


View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated