Before you watch the Super Bowl tonight, you could, should you be so inclined, head over to YouTube and watch a preview of an ad Kia will be airing during the game. The spot features the Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima wearing very little and doing even less: She spends the entirety of the ad, hilariously and (one presumes) at least partially satirically, swaying, saying nothing, and waving a checkered racing flag. Very, very slowly.
Super Bowl commercials (the experience of, the economics of, etc.) used to be pretty straightforward: Advertisers would gladly pay tons of money for a slot during the game's broadcast because an ad aired during the game's broadcast was an amazingly efficient way of getting a message out to tons of people. That's still the case -- a 30-second space is going, this year, for $3.5 million, up from $3 million last year -- but the mechanics of the messaging are changing, and rapidly. Super Bowl ads are no longer simply ads, in the Traditional Teevee sense; they're campaigns that play out, strategically, over time. Instead of functioning as commercial broadcasts unto themselves, they're acting more and more like episodic touchpoints for an expansive cultural conversation.
In part, that's about marketers racing each other for relevance in an environment where marketing messages no longer need to be confined to TV. But it's a bigger story, too -- of communications, overall, breaking free of the boxes that used to contain them. One function of the media, traditionally, has been the regulation not just of information, and not just of entertainment, but of time itself. Our broadcast networks, in particular, have segmented time into neat little boxes -- 30 seconds here, 30 minutes there -- and populated them with sounds and images that entertain and (occasionally) edify us. They have plotted our days into grids, scheduling our experience and helping us to forget that, in fact, there's very little that's natural about a time slot.
Super Bowl ads have been pretty much the Platonic culmination of the gridded media system. They have operated on the assumption that a Big Event itself (the experience of, the economics of) is significant not just because of its content, but because of the community it convenes (111 million people!). The Super Bowl is time rendered collective and contained -- so of course marketers want to buy themselves a chunk of it. When better to make your pitch to the world than during the period when the maximum amount of eyes are focused on, effectively, the same screen?
YouTube, and social networks in general, encourage precisely the opposite marketing model. Rather than containing consumer attention, they disperse it. They take the typical 30-second ad spot and condense it to five seconds ... or expand it to five hours. Or both. Or neither. It doesn't matter, because digital spaces remove time as both a constraint and a value in commercial production, allowing for marketing that insinuates itself on its intended audiences much more slowly, and much more manipulatively, and potentially much more effectively, than its analog counterparts.
You'd think all that would be bad news for broadcast networks, with marketers trading YouTube for boob tube and abandoning the pricey Super Bowl altogether. Why buy the milk, and all that. But: Not only are marketers continuing to pay for something they could ostensibly get for free; they're paying more for it than they ever have before. They're still finding value -- millions of dollars worth of it -- in the connective consciousness that the Super Bowl represents.
And that's because, in a world of atomized attention, anything that can aggregate us is becoming more valuable than it's ever been before. Ads aired during the Super Bowl aren't just ads; they're Super Bowl ads. That branding will give them a spot -- and a continued life -- in Monday's write-ups of Sunday's best Super Bowl spots, and in all those "Super Bowl Ads: 2012" collections that will function as archives for future generations. Their context will make them more than what they are. And that will make them, implicitly, more engaging than they might be otherwise. Super Bowl ads, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann has pointed out, have been found to be 58 percent more memorable than regular ads. And while that's partly, sure, because those ads generally represent the best stuff that J. Walter and friends have to offer, it's also because the ads, aired when they are, adopt the warmth of assumed connection that convened attention can confer. I am watching Matthew Broderick as 110,999,999 other people do. There is something epic -- and rare -- about that.
So Super Bowl ads are increasingly valuable because the kind of mass-conscious event they're part of is increasingly rare. Mass-ness itself is increasingly rare. Overall, in the U.S., TV viewership is declining. Audiences are fragmenting. The Gladwellian connectors that used to bring us together -- Lucy, J.R., Oscar -- are departing, leaving individual impulse as the driver of our time. This is wonderful, and liberating, but introduces its own set of quandaries. TV Guide, after all, wasn't just a guide book; it was a framework. It was a power structure. It assembled us, effortlessly, within its neat little boxes. By limiting our experience, it also connected our experience.
No longer. Increasingly, we're looking to social networks rather than TV networks for our entertainment, for our information, for our sense of the world. And those social networks are fluid and box-less and limitless in a way that traditional media never could be. What happens to events themselves -- those shared moments of cultural connection -- in a world where time is unconstrained? Is a Super Bowl ad really a Super Bowl ad when I can watch it long before kickoff?
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs represent one of the most dangerous challenges since the end of the Cold War. But there are opportunities to stop it.
The drama that is playing out now over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program—accentuated Tuesday by that regime’s large-scale artillery drill—represents one of the most dangerous challenges for U.S. national security since the end of the Cold War. It is a crisis that has been building for a long time, as North Korea has broken through the nuclear barrier and possesses fissile material sufficient for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons, by one estimate. After many failed attempts, through pressure and negotiations, to bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, three new elements have heightened the urgency of the situation.
First, North Korea is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental United States. In his annual New Years address in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his country to be “in the final stage of preparation for the test launch” of such a missile. Moreover, experts warn, North Korea could at some point in the next few year years make the terrifying technological leap to a hydrogen bomb, which could be up to 1,000 times more destructive than the nuclear weapons that now comprise the North Korean arsenal.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”
Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones. One shortcut is an approach called environmental storytelling. Environmental stories invite players to discover and reconstruct a fixed story from the environment itself. Think of it as the novel wresting the real-time, first-person, 3-D graphics engine from the hands of the shooter game. In Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, dioramas summarize the plot and setting of the film. In the 2007 game BioShock, recorded messages in an elaborate, Art Deco environment provide context for a story of a utopia’s fall. And in What Remains of Edith Finch, a new game about a girl piecing together a family curse, narration is accomplished through artifacts discovered in an old house.
Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.
On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.
This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.
Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.
Who wins (the rich), who loses (anybody who doesn’t like deficits), and why it might take a miracle for the plan to become a law
There are two compelling narratives around President Donald Trump’s first 100 days. The first is his transformation from heterodox populist to orthodox Republican. Although he ran as a mold-breaking renegade, his economic policies come straight out of the conservative mold, from cutting business regulations to backing off threats to label China a currency manipulator and supporting plans to reduce health-insurance coverage for the poor.
The second story is that Trump has been more focused on optimizing for his own income and branding than for political victories. He has visited no foreign leaders, passed no major laws, given no major political addresses, and disappeared as the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare failed, all while doing little to refute accusations that he’s using the office to raise membership revenue at Mar-a-Lago and mixing business and politics in ways that are unprecedented for a sitting president.
The semiaquatic mammal leverages its own buoyancy and bone density to charge through the water.
People are talking about hippos this week, at least in part because the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved baby hippopotamus, Fiona, is now three months old—a milestone that seemed uncertain when she was born prematurely in January.
Fiona’s doing great—so great that she’s “a little bit dangerous to actually cuddle and snuggle” anymore, the zookeeper Jenna Wingate told local reporters.
Which reminds me that wee Fiona will eventually, if she continues to thrive, turn into a grown-up hippo. And grown-up hippos are not—I repeat, not—to be trifled with. Consider, for example, this video, which my colleague Ed Yong shared with me yesterday:
Look at that hippopotamus go! After sharing this video on Twitter, I got several perplexing responses. Comments like this: “Not bad for an animal that doesn’t swim,” and “And … they can’t even swim!” There is even, someone told me, a children’s book about this: Hippos Can't Swim: And Other Fun Facts. As a long-time skeptic of “fun facts,” I obviously had to know more.
Understanding how the disease evolves is the key to stopping it.
In early 2014, Laura Brealey was visiting her daughters in Singapore when she slipped on a marble floor and cracked her hip. She had it replaced, but in the process, the surgeons noticed that her breathing sounded odd, and told her to speak to a respiratory specialist. At her daughter’s urging, she did so when she returned home to London, England—and was told that she had lung cancer.
The doctors moved quickly. That same August, they cut out part of her right lung, and gave her both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The tumor disappeared. Things were looking promising. But the following summer, Brealey started experiencing fresh pain in her ribs. The cancer was back.
When I meet Brealey in April 2016, in a brightly colored room at University College Hospital, she’s about to start her third drug—a new one called nivolumab that her doctor, a young oncologist named Charlie Swanton, is hopeful about. As he preps her for the new treatment, he is also thinking about how to manage the severe pain that the tumor is causing, as it presses against the nerves that run along Brealey’s ribs. “It hasn’t been easy for Laura,” says Swanton. “When I first told her she couldn’t go back to Singapore to visit her family...”