Antisocial Media, From Conde Nast Elevators to London Streets

It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

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Police near Heathrow International Airport amid riots reportedly coordinated through Blackberry phones and Twitter
Police near Heathrow International Airport amid riots reportedly coordinated through Blackberry phones and Twitter Credit: Will Wintercross/ Bloomberg News

If you entered the Manhattan media world around the turn of the century, you were met with certain signifiers of both its possibility and excess. Kurt Andersen's novel "Turn of the Century" is one. Talk magazine's Statue of Liberty launch extravaganza and Conde Nast's Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria are two more. These were fodder for a particular kind of worldview that went something like this: Sure, you entered journalism or publishing or magazines or whatever you want to call it with some sort of higher calling, but you might, just maybe, get yours. Stock options were still for the tech types, but there were black cars and expense accounts that were as bloated as the waists of all your co-workers were petite and there was a proximity to seats of power -- politics, fashion, finance -- unimaginable to the kind of person who think it's OK to enter the workforce armed only with an English degree.

Conde, with its gleaming new building and spendthrift ways, was a metonym for all this in a way that , over the past few years, can be easy to forget. The decimation of print publishing business that wiped out Portfolio, its last go at a gilded title, coupled with the rise of media-ish tech companies that demonstrate how much wealth can be accumulated while wearing nothing more modish than a hoodie, have taken some of the gleam off the luxury dream-making machine over at 4 Times Square.

This week, however, a series of 35 tweets took us back a ways. The feed known as @condeelevator threw light on the stew of chic superficiality dappled with tweedy literary ambition that is life at Conde Nast by rather mercilessly recording conversations overheard in the building's life. After its appearance on last Saturday , speculation on the identity of its author began and wound its way to an editor at Lucky magazine, who may or may not be the guy. The feed ceased publishing just less than a week after beginning, but not before it reminded us that , yes, this sort of stuff still goes on somewhere:

Summer Intern: My driver had SUCH a bad attitude. I was like, "don't complain to me, I didn't eat lunch either! You think I eat clothes?"less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Girl: Omigod I love your dress so much I wish there was a 'like' button I could press.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

[Guy walks into elevator wearing "Legalize Gay" t-shirt] Teen Voguer: That shirt is so two months ago.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Old dudeitor: You goin' to that thing tonight? Young dudeitor: What thing? Old dudeitor: Ah, guess not.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Blazer #1: Whatcha reading? Blazer #2: Gaddis. You? Blazer #1: Same, actually.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

While New York was puzzling over the tweets coming from @condeelevator, London was coming to grips with Twitter's role in both breaking and remaking its city. Not long after the first brickbats were hurled in the riots sweeping the United Kingdom, it was decided that the microblog was an important organizing tool for the mayhem makers. Then it was decided that the BlackBerry Messenger platform was actually more of an aid. Either way, the riots brought us to another one of those moments when a lot of writers pointlessly ask a pointless question: Is social media good or bad? There were, however, some smart, useful looks at the issue, among them Peter Bright's piece in Ars Technica. Here he explains just how the BlackBerry, once the de facto communications tool of the business class, became wrapped up in working-class ferment:

BBM might at first seem a strange choice; RIM's core audience for the BlackBerry is enterprise users, and the rioters are primarily (though not exclusively) disaffected teenagers and young adults. But BlackBerry Messenger has a very compelling feature: it's cheap. Though RIM would insist that its BlackBerrys are smartphones, many of them sell at feature phone prices, putting them within reach of many people who can't afford "proper" smartphones. BlackBerrys are also readily available on pay-as-you-go plans, further broadening their availability. BBM can also be cheap to use, with unlimited BlackBerry mail and Messenger typically costing about 5 pounds (around $8) a month -- less than most data plans or unlimited text packages. BlackBerry Messenger has another desirable feature: it's a closed system. Unlike Twitter, where tweets are public broadcasts, or Facebook, where most messages are shared fairly indiscriminately, BBM is private. Most BBM messages are point-to-point, seen only by the sender and the receiver. Group messages are also possible; these too are only visible to those sending or receiving them. The entire system is also encrypted, offering less scope for surveillance by the police.

Another useful piece came from Reuters' Anthony DeRosa, who laid out a social media timeline of the riots here.

In an article for Grantland last week, Tom Bissell, one of the best writers around on the subject of video games, takes of tour of iPad games (other than Angry Birds) and is pleasantly surprised by their commitment to smart storytelling of the sort you might have found in Xbox titles. His conclusion is the narrative engagement isn't confined to those big-budget, designed-by -committee games, but can be found in stuff you can buy in the iTunes store for a few bucks:

I have a hard time imagining a world in which narrative video games no longer exist, though I can quite readily imagine a world in which that type of game experience becomes something more like the entertainment norm. If this is the way things go, storytelling video games like Red Dead Redemption will be judged -- properly, I think -- as stories first. Meanwhile, the gamey game will flourish, too, most likely on the iPad and devices like it. These games may or may not have a light narrative overlay, but they will be judged -- once again, properly -- as games first. I confess I like the sound of this future, because it will allow what is already a startlingly diverse medium a luxury too seldom afforded it: the freedom to deviate from a whole range of expectations rather than merely one expectation.

We end on a bleak note with the Nieman Journalism Lab's Ken Doctor and his take on what another recession would do to the news business. He looks at a few issues, among them the acceleration of the digital transition of everything, from reading to advertising:

Classifieds may move to their third -- and final -- act. Chalk up most of the $20 billion-plus annual U.S. newspaper revenue hit to the cratering of classified. Yet, $5.6 billion remains in classifieds, according to NAA. Recruitment, of course, is gurgling in this employment market. Car sales are likely to slow, and continue to move purely digital. Real estate is still all bunged up, and researching/buying/selling will move increasingly to digital, mobile generally and tablet, the Trulia and Zillow apps early testimony to that .

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