In the click-eat-click world of the attention economy, it’s hard to for us to compete with the cat videos and White House shenanigans vying for your eye-time. Which is why, once a fortnight, we make a shameless plea for your attention by sharing our favourite links from across the web.
- Alfred Hitchcock would have turned 118 this Sunday. In a final interview before her death, revered film critic, Pauline Kael, described meeting the legendary director: ‘I didn’t have a very good time with him, because he wanted to talk about movies but couldn’t, because he hadn’t really gone to see anything. His wife had, and she was very knowledgeable and very pleasant.’ He may not have kept up to date with the movies, but this remarkable 1960 interview with Hitchcock reveals the director’s obsessive attention to scenic presentation. ‘You once told me that actors were cattle to be shoved about,’ says the interviewer, ‘I wonder if you’d care to enlarge on that?’ ‘You mean you want to make them larger cattle than they are?’ replies Hitchcock.
- Did you know that the Facebook ‘share’ button, ubiquitous across the web, tracks the movements of every Facebook user, whether they click on it or not? ‘I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does . . . and the commercial reality,’ writes John Lanchester. ‘Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers who use its network and relish its ability to direct ads to receptive audiences.’ As Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants, argues, ‘A business model that relies above all else on attention is always prone to the sensational.’ If fake news and click-bait increase user engagement, which in turn increases Facebook’s revenues, what motivation does the company have to control them? Facebook ‘cares’ about the potential fraudulence of its content only insofar it doesn’t wish to lose the trust of you, its product.
- Longtime friends, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, are two of the most distinguished science-fiction writers today. Nevertheless, there is much they disagree on. ‘When I pick up the cornflakes box,’ says Margaret Atwood, ‘I want there to be cornflakes inside of it,’ explaining her attitude to the genre. Atwood is less interested in fantastical scenarios like Twilight, and more attracted to possible (even foreseeable) worlds like that of 1984. Le Guin is less interested in prediction. ‘Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.’ Here are the two distinguished writers in conversation.
- Michiko Kakutani, book critic for the New York Times, is retiring after thirty-eight years. Inspiring both fascination and terror with their rigor and flair, Kakutani’s reviews have served as springboards to literary stardom, as well as epicentres of controversy. In 2003 she described Nicholson Baker’s A Box of Matches as ‘a particularly disposable artifact from a pre-9/11 world that willfully celebrated the trivial and minute.’ Baker said of the experience, ‘It was like having my liver taken out without anaesthesia.’
- This week, we published our summer issue, Granta 140: State of Mind. We feature John Barth on why he rocks himself to sleep, Joe Dunthorne on the alternative football tournaments available to unacknowledged countries, and a series of authors describing particular states of mind: author Max Porter relates an explosive therapy session with his brother, and Mary Ruefle explores her relationship with her own name: ‘I was nameless, and in this state I perpetually wandered among fruit and flowers and foliage, among vines and overhanging rock and untamed animals, none of whom I could name.’