Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

The Tourist Dynamic

My pal Chris wrote a moving post about an experience he had growing up in South Africa, a white boy who went with his church to talk about Jesus in the “coloured” townships.

Which made me think about traveling and the relationship we rich, “white,”[*] educated people have with the rest of the world. I commented on Chris’ blog, but here’s what I wrote:

I was in Cuba some years ago on holiday and I recall reading before I went about how Cuba had been “spoiled” by tourism, and how you couldn’t have a genuine interaction with people any more because they see Westerners only for their wallets now. It’s true, as far as it goes – those Cubans did see me as a wallet.

But these days (even then), that kind of talk makes me angry, because built into it is this assumption that we deservea certain kind of treatment, as if the world is a kind of park, where we can go visit various places to get wonderful experiences: Bhutan for the mountains and the sage monks & yak-milk tea; Philippines for the sunrise while visiting tropical islands in a skiff guided by a wiseacre biologist; Hong Kong where we can do commerce with the shouting market people, who get such a kick out of Gweilos straying beyond Kowloon. Drinking beer late at night in the veld listening to stories of African leopards. Cuba for sexy music and smiling, dancing people.

I’ve experienced all these things and loved them, they are experiences I cherish. But I have done these things, am able to do these things because I am wealthy and white, and the world, truly is my oyster. I remember being in university, thinking: I will travel the world, I will undertake adventures, I will see distant land and do great things. And for a few years I did. I loved it; it was dashing and daring and exotic and all the things it’s supposed to be. And granted to me with ease, and no sacrifice, because of who and what I am.

I hated that trip to Cuba, not because Cubans see me for a wallet — which actually is “annoying” — but rather because of what I, as tourist, saw Cuba as: a place filled with people who should like me for who I am, give me the benefit of the doubt, people who should see beyond my colour and my new running shoes and instead have a conversation with me about what life is really like for them, because, well, I’d be happy to do the same for them if they came to Canada. That is, I saw Cuba as: entertainment. I’d paid for it, and didn’t get what I wanted.

And it pissed me off, not that Cuba didn’t deliver; but rather that I had put myself in that position, of “he who has paid to be entertained.” I don’t mean that on a surface sense, but at a deeper level. Tourism puts us in such an odd dynamic with people: you are there to get something out of an “experience” … joy, wisdom, commune with nature, commune with another culture, history, something…And the exchange? What do we give up? Our time and our money. Only one of which is worth anything to anyone.

I have this odd feeling that tourism and it’s thinly veiled cousin, “international development,” are about as colonial as a military invasion: the real beneficiaries are the tourists, the NGO’s and their rich, adventuresome consultants; just as the beneficiaries of military invasions are rarely those under whose name invasions happen, these days at least.

I say all this because I am conflicted by Chris’ story of the townships … I have been treated well by people all over the world, treaded poorly by others; i’ve been robbed and cheated, threatened and bored to death. All of it great, and I wouldn’t trade it. Saying I’ve had yak’s milk in Bhutan gives me great pleasure (I was there to “help” the Bhutanese, naturally).

But it’s curious when our own innocence or blindness is caught out — as I guess the young Chris Hughes’ was — by something so moving, which is the twin realization that:
a) we do not belong somewhere
and yet:
b) we are welcomed nonetheless.

I think that might be just the thing that irks me about our modern white fascination with “doing” Asia, or “doing Columbia,” … this assumption that we do belong there. It’s our world afterall.

So I find Chris’ story very moving because, I interpret it something as a recognition that he did not belong where he was … and yet….and yet…there was kindness, despite his naivete, despite where he came from, despite the preposterousness of the situation, and not because of it.

* Re: “white” I use this term broadly, and really it’s the wrong term. It’s not “white”, so much as “affluent middle-class, educated westerner…” I’m using it as a cultural marker, not a racial one; though the two are not totally unrelated.

Download Decade

Books are going digital. New York Times had an article about the implications, which reminded me of that famous saying about not knowing history and doomed repeats. Things to remember:

a) this means that if people want a book for free, it’ll be gettable free
b) there’s nothing anyone can do about that
c) the music business has been through all of this before
d) it would be a good idea for the book business to study the mistakes made by the music business

Here is a great video from the Globe and Mail about the history of Napster, music downloading, and the rise of the mp3, from their great series: Download Decade:

RIP: A Remix Manifesto – Pay what you want

Brett’s swinging copyright film RIP: A Remix Manifesto is now a pay-what-you-want download.


Media Hacks #7: How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Media Hacks
Here is Media Hacks #7, about where the bucks are or aren’t in online advertising.

This episode, an intimate trio performs for your pleasure: C.C. Chapman, Mitch Joel and me.

LISTEN HERE: Media Hacks: Episode 6.

Or: Mp3 download.

Media Hacks #6: Twitter, Demi Moore, Facebook

Media Hacks
Man I am getting behind on my Media Hacks postings. Oops. Well here is Media Hacks #6, about Twitter and scalability, Demi Moore’s bum, Facebook’s new company features.

Tearing up the airwaves in this episode: C.C. Chapman, Julien Smith, Chris Penn, Mitch Joel and me.

LISTEN HERE: Media Hacks: Episode 6.

Or: Mp3 download.

Ranking Amazon’s Rank

Over the weekend, started “deranking” sexually explicit books, and anything with lesbian/gay content….meaning that it’s become much harder to find those books in Amazon’s catalogs. Included in the purge is Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Jeanette Winterson, and a host of Romance Novels.

Kassia has an open letter, and there is a bit of a twitterstorm going on tagged #amazonfail. Smartbitchestrashybooks has called for a Google bomb of the search term Amazon Rank. You’ll find plenty of other things to read about it, assuming Google isn’t deranking search results, by googling “amazonfail”, and “amazon rank.”

So far the only official response from Amazon that I’ve seen was an email to YA author Mark Probst:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

Aside from the specifics of this particular decision by Amazon, it raises some pretty deep questions we need to ask ourselves:

We now rely on two companies, Amazon & Google to help us find, and then deliver to us a huge amount of our information. These companies have enormous power to make decisions about what society will and will not see.

We’ve had faith in their general decentness about using this power, about not gaming their systems, and generaly working hard to provide us with the “right” search results. Still, I’ve long been annoyed that Google filters search results based on where I am searching, and, I presume, my browsing habits. But when I am searching, I want to find the stuff that is most popular, not “what Google thinks I want to see based on my profile.” And as this story indicates, it ain’t all gravy over at Amazon either.

Is it enough for us to believe that Google will do no evil? Clearly it’s not enough to believe that Amazon will show us the most popular books … for now anyway, they’ll only show us the most popular books they approve of.

Music Business Learning?

This is a pretty extraordinary article from Bloomberg, nominally about the hot new music site/service, Spotify (not available in Canada or the US yet).

What was striking: the execs from the music business, including Michael Nash, Warner’s SVP Digital Strategy and Business Development, finally cottoned on that the real challenge of the music business is not to fight a lost battle against P2P, but rather to find ways to make it easier for listeners to listen to their music. Check this quote:

“These types of social media are highly competitive with illegal file-sharing,” said Michael Nash, Warner’s executive vice president of digital strategy and business development.

Sites such as Spotify allow users to access the music for free rather than searching for it on BitTorrent and downloading it illegally, Mulligan said. Spotify and the Comes With Music mobile-phone music service by Nokia Oyj, the world’s biggest handset maker, “are the two strongest tools that people have to drive a genuine alternative to piracy,” he said. [more…]

That is, the music business has finally understood that suing listeners who want to listen to their music isn’t a very sensible long-term business strategy. The better strategy is to figure out how to provide more music to those people.

P2P isn’t going away, and the music business’ success will depend on doing a better job of serving their customers than Pirate Bay does.

The Examined Life

I went to see The Examined Life last night, a really, really good film about … philosophy. Wonderfully done. Interviews with eight philosophers (Zizek, Cornell West, Judith Butler and more) about their thoughts and work.

It’s no easy feat making an entertaining feature-length talking-head documentary, especially about philosophy, but Astra Taylor succeeds in this one. Not sure if/when it will be available online, or where you can see it, but here is the trailer:

My big question though is when are the action figures coming out? Cornell West vs. Peter Singer throwdown!

Book Oven Reveals a Little Bite

bite size editsWould you like to take a look at what we are doing at Book Oven? We are building an online collaboration platform for the making of books. Lots still in development, and everything still in alpha (meaning still private, still not finished). But we are starting with a small (private) alpha launch today of Bite-Size Edits, a collaborative proofreading tool.

Or, a word-based online game.

Or, a massive — yet productive — time waster.

Anyway, we’d like you to tell us what you think …

To get some feedback, while doing some good for the universe, we are starting by helping Project Gutenberg & Distributed Proofreaders edit some of their public domain texts. If it works, we hope to keep feeding error correction into the Gutenberg/Distributed Proofreaders process.

For more info, and to login, see the Book Oven Gutenberg Rally.

There are a bunch of codes below, please use one and post in the comments which one you’ve taken.

If you do have time to try it out and have problems, please let me know:

Also, feel free to use the invites from your account if you think you know others who might be interested…

Again, here is the URL:

And here is a first batch of codes. Use one and post below which one you used.


The Cisco Kid

John Chambers, CEO of CISCO on what the future holds, from MITWorld. He thinks we are about to see the most fundamental change in businesses and government that we’ve ever seen, moving from command and control to collaboration and teamwork.