Digital democracy

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I see the Brexit Party are proposing using an app to help people either vote, or express opinions matters to share with their MP. This is something that I’ve long thought would be a good idea.

I guess it wouldn’t be much use if you were ‘on the payroll’ in government, as it were, but as a backbench MP, it could be a great way of ensuring that you are in tune with your constituency, which, in this day and age of liberal authoritarianism, seems to be notional at best.

There would be issues around security, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with some decent web protocols, programming and a bit of thought.

I keep coming back to the idea of social currency that Corey Doctorow outlined in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I did come up with a web idea a couple of years ago (and have since discovered it was based on sound actuarial principles), but most people looked blankly at me when I tried to explain it to them.

It worked on the idea that everyone has a limited amount of Whuffies, social currency that they could assign to people they thought were worthy. Depending on various factors, like length of time assigned to a person etc. the Whuffies could increase in value, much as money accumulated interest, and hence your social worth increased or decreased. And in the best tradition of feedback loops and evolution, the system could morph and grow with reciprocal assignations and ways to increase your stock of Whuffies. I think I even worked a little bit of blockchain theory in there to keep it all secure.

I dare say the economists out there would laugh at the idea, and I’m not entirely sold on it myself, but it was a fun little project. I wonder if, in the future, technology will make us more democratic, or will we head down a more socialist route? As with anything useful, technology can be used for good or ill, but in the same way we have an extended order that generally keeps us on the straight and narrow in the real world, it will grow to encapsulate the digital world as well.

Priorities in filmmaking

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I find it quite telling that while the UK film industry, from my limited viewpoint, appears to be bogged down in left-thinking, anti-Brexit, anti-capitalist mind-think*, one of the greatest neo-liberal Presidents of the USA was an ex-actor.

It always struck me as a bit of an over-simplification, but the simple difference between Hollywood and the Indy scene is their attitude to money. Hollywood is a business, it’s run by free-market thinking types keen to return a profit to make their next film with, the Indy scene by ‘artistic’ types, who have no idea about making a commercially viable product, and who balk at the thought of creative such a vulgar thing as a profitable film.

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Bisking, as well as being a great read, displays the dichotomy well (even if he does slightly blur the sound marketing and commercial sensibilities of the Weinsteins with their more unpalatable traits, although, I suppose, what else could he do?).

I’ve never really understood the auteur mentality. The age-old struggle of any filmmaker is where the money for the next project is coming from. Money tends to create money, so if you want to prove yourself, make a ‘commercially viable’ film. To do this you have to start with the audience in mind. An inventor worth his salt wouldn’t set about trying to improve society by creating a device that didn’t solve a common problem. The problem that the entertainment industry should be looking to solve is simply that people need entertaining. They just want to be carted off to another place, become someone else for a while and enjoy their suffering and success in a nice comfy chair.

I get the feeling, seeing reports in The Hollywood Reporter about the preponderance for data and spreadsheets at places like Netflix, that the industry is starting to overthink things, but that’s still possibly a better place to be than not thinking about these things.

It’s not easy to make a low-budget, entertaining film, but it’s not impossible. But if you don’t start with the audience in mind, you’ll get nowhere fast.

* Yes, I know not everyone, but a lot of people!