I came to Montana from Iowa by way of New York City. Two of those places discourage staring. When I began to think that a larger-than-usual number of strangers in Montana’s restaurants, shops, and passing vehicles were staring at me, I came to the reasonable conclusion: I was insane. Because I am a crazy person, I think people are staring at me when all they want is to eat pancakes with their weird families. As a rule, when you move someplace and develop theories about what people are like there, you are wrong. But then I read this profile of Montana travel author Russell Rowland implying “the stare” is a thing:
Rowland said during one of his favorite interviews, Fallon County farmer Jerry Sikorski invited him to smell his soil. Others, mostly people in tiny eastern Montana towns, gave him “the stare.”
“Those who encounter ‘the stare’ should not panic,” Rowland wrote. “Although at first glance, the stare suggests that you might want to turn around and go back to your car, the explanation is pretty simple. The stare comes from seeing the same 25 or 30 people day after day for the past five or 10 years.”
That was my explanation, too: as population density goes down, the social acceptability of eyeballing me in the laundromat goes up. But this explanation boils down to “they’re staring because they’re rubes.” I don’t want to think that.
This tactic also worked on Iraq.
The increasingly hungry uroboros that is the World(-)Wide Web has been aglow with anger this week over Facebook’s new policy of sharing user information with third-party websites. The social networking site has propagated its “Like” button to a number of partners, including the Washington Post, whose users immediately took exception to their friends seeing a list of articles they’ve shared with their friends. Facebook has also made all the bands, movies, hometowns and whatnot on its users “About Me” pages into active links that point to other pages—a move which, as of this writing, has led to the creation of fanpages for the movie, TV show, book and activity “fuck you.” If you clicked on that link, you probably saw not only the groups but also a list of your friends’ status updates containing that phrase—the top of my list was a picture of my friend Aaron saying, “Fuck you, Broncos,” which was enormously satisfying—followed by, disturbingly, a scrolling list of people you don’t know who’ve used “fuck you” in their various posts.* Herein lies the problem. If I can see everybody who wrote “These Banana Republic chinos totally kick/accentuate my ass!” on Facebook today, then so can Banana Republic. The idea that Facebook has compiled my likes and interests and favorite bands for ready sale to whatever weird marketing ghosts are constantly trying to drag me into their fashion spirit world seems like a betrayal. That’s my life, Facebook! Except, of course, that’s what Facebook has been doing all along. Their entire dang raison d’etre has always been to aggregate marketing data and serve online ads. The new linking and information-sharing policies are objectionable for only two reasons: first, they put it out in the open, and second, it forces us to confront the reason why we all signed up for Facebook in the first place.
Everyone’s favorite Meghan Gallagher sent me the foregoing ad for the new Microsoft Kin, which promises to do for cell phones what Bing did for internet search engines. If you’re wondering, the song is by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a band I liked without reservation before they sold their best work to a phone commercial and forced me to yet again consider how much of my aesthetic taste is aesthetic taste and how much is just contrary esotericism.* Anywhom, the ad has provoked an extremely small firestorm of controversy, due to allegations by Consumer Reports that it promotes sexting. You remember sexting, right? It’s the totally real thing that teenagers do all the time nowadays, when they’re not cyberbullying or attending rainbow parties. I quote intrepid CR reporter Mike Gikas: “The video…includes a downright creepy sequence in which a young man is shown putting a Kin under his shirt and apparently snapping a picture of one of his naked breasts. The breast is then shown on the phone’s screen, just before the guy apparently sends it to someone.” Needless to say, Gikas did not get away with referring to a man’s bare chest as his “breasts,” or, worse, “the breast,” and comments-section hilarity ensued. Despite the obvious sophistication of its reporter, the CR piece prompted Microsoft to re-edit the spot so as to remove the breaxting, as well as change the Kin’s slogan from “Send a grainy picture of your breasts or breast!” to “We’re all in this together!” Except, of course, those of us who are peering at our phones. Which brings us to Combat! blog’s question of the day: Is it just impossible to sell a cell phone or what?