Revisiting “The Manfred Macx Media Diet”

Just like books or movies, I also have a list of blog posts which I regularly reread and think about it. I think Warren Ellis’ “The Manfred Macx Media Diet” is at the top of my list. Not sure how many times I’ve read that post.

One thing that makes this post special for me is the fact that every time I read it, it gives me a new perspective about how I’m dealing with the information I’m taking in and what I can do better or different. I also have to admit that since my first read of Accelerando, I secretly aspired to be like Manfred Macx. Of course Spider Jerusalem is “the idol” but for me Manfred and especially his relationship with information was something to be admired. Yes, I know, it’s very problematic and probably tells a lot but I’m not gonna deny it.

Plus comparing what Warren and Charles said years ago to the day I’m reading it also a fun experiment. I have to remind you that Accelerando was written between 1999-2004 and Warren Ellis’ post was written in 2012.

Let’s read it together this time.

He glances up and grabs a pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he’s arrived.

He’s doing that with, essentially, Google Glasses and some wearable computers to beef up their utility.  It’s what I’d do today with a smartphone.  In fact, I last did it on Thursday.  Macx’s kit is based around the glasses.

(Italicized quotes are from the book, rest is from the post.)

I know even reading the words “Google Glasses” made some of you nostalgic. Remember the time when we were talking about the possible privacy issues around the glasses? Now we have mics open and connected 7/24 and doorbells which can make video recordings and give it to the police.

But think about this quote with the stories we use on social media. Snapchat started it and Facebook stole from them and put it everywhere. (Seriously, you can even post stories in WhatsApp.) What we’re doing with stories are basically the same thing what Macx does, except we have more filters to have fun with.

Being a pronoiac meme-broker is a constant burn of future shock – he has to assimilate more than a megabyte of text and several gigs of AV content every day just to stay current.

Do you think is there a way to count how much information we’re dealing with everyday in sense of gigabytes? Plus, does advertisements we see in almost everywhere counts in it?

his glasses remind him that he’s six hours behind the moment and urgently needs to catch up.

Do you ever feel like that upon waking?  Six hours behind the moment.  Sleeping took you off the road to the future.

This is one of the parts that gets me thinking a lot. Being behind the moment and feeling the urgency of catching up. Call it FOMO if you will. Our glasses may not remind us like Manfred but isn’t the piled notifications in our phones plays a similar role? Every notification you’re leaving behind is basically adding more minutes between yourself and the moment.

But this urgency is self-imposed in Manfred’s case through what he’s doing, or at least how I’m reading it. Just like the way most freelance writers and journalists like me having it. But not sure how much of it self-imposed and how much is forced to us through other means. And especially if you’re always acting info-hungry like me, it can easily turn into a downward spiral.

He speed reads a new pop-philosophy tome while he brushes his teeth, then blogs his web throughput to a public annotation server; he’s still too enervated to finish his pre-breakfast routine by posting a morning rant on his storyboard site.

Kick that one around.  It contains the point that he’s not just taking in information, but processing it and excreting more information.  Also, extruding it out on to a public space where people can fiddle with it.

This can be the one of the parts which started the admiration. Being able to take in and put out information like this and make a living out of it. No wonder I have a strange career plans for myself. This is what happens when you make career plans based on your favorite cyberpunk characters.

The point is crucial.  If we’re not doing something with the information we’re taking in, then we’re just pigs at the media trough.

What is also happening here, of course, is that he’s doing the work of a public intellectual.  “Critical creativity,” as I think Umberto Eco once put it.  Only without the requirement of space in a newspaper or magazine, of course, which is what the internet brought us.  And, as the net trends towards microblogs and status updates, it is also what we’re taking away from the internet now.

“Critical creativity.” I think we need to use this phrase more often. Warren said it in 2012 but now it’s obvious that we gave up something really important on the internet with microblogging and other types of social media sharing. Instead of putting out something more in depth, doesn’t matter if it’s not fully baked, we decided to spitting out short rants would be better. And look at where we are now.

But I think we’re learning our lesson. Isles of Blogging and Republic of Newsletters are still here and more people are returning to this. Especially the people who can really do this critical creativity job well. This is a good sign for me and something to be encouraged more. I really want to add more feeds from smart people to my RSS reader. (Feel free to drop yours below.)

Lying on a bench seat staring up at bridges, he’s got it together enough to file for a couple of new patents, write a diary rant, and digestify chunks of the permanent floating slashdot party for his public site. Fragments of his weblog go to a private subscriber list – the people, corporates, collectives, and bots he currently favors.

I’m reminded of Bruce again, here, and the fact that his Twitter account is locked.  20,000 people are allowed to follow his account – in actual fact, the people, corporates, collectives, and bots he currently favours.

Since then, filters and being able to control who do you want to connect with was an important part of how we use internet. But social media somehow managed to turn it upside down. Not being public or having locked accounts was seen unusual. People thought “Why are you here if you don’t want everyone else’s attention?” But being able to control who can see what is something we should be more comfortable. We don’t need to go viral or use social media to make ourselves open to everyone else’s gaze. Bruce allowed 15,000 more people to follow his Twitter account but still keeps it locked down. And every time I see his tweets, he seems okay with the experience he has.

I saw how having that control makes things better from my Instagram experience. Since I locked my account over there, I’m having a much better experience. Unlike Twitter, I’m not dealing with the voice at the back of my head saying “if you share this, some random dude with no idea can start some shit.” Nope, it’s just me and people I favour.

Interesting enough, I think blogs and newsletters are creating a similar filter. You don’t need it to be locked down but instead, people have to actively want to receive those words you’re putting out. This makes it harder to go viral but easier to reach people who you really want to reach.

He sits in a chair, gin and tonic at hand, absorbing the latest market news and grazing his multichannel feeds in parallel. His reputation is up two percent for no obvious reason today, he notices: Odd, that.

Aah, when we thought there’d be a trackable reputation economy.  Cory, what damage you wrought on the poor innocent heads of the socially optimistic.  Charlie himself ended up taking down Klout last year.

In other senses, of course, this does exist.  Checking Likes, Instagram and Tumblr hearts and even +1s.  Your reputation’s only as good as the last piece of content you gave to a social network.  How much time do we spend assimilating content and spitting the tastiest bits back out into the world in order to gain reputation as a gifted regurgitator?  Where we’re adding no more to each piece of information than the identifying DNA in the smear of saliva we leave on it?

Don’t have anything to add here. Just wanted to remind us how it was in 2012 and how we have it right now.

The metacortex – a distributed cloud of software agents that surrounds him in netspace, borrowing CPU cycles from convenient processors (such as his robot pet) – is as much a part of Manfred as the society of mind that occupies his skull; his thoughts migrate into it, spawning new agents to research new experiences, and at night, they return to roost and share their knowledge.

I kind of want to mention Weavrs here – I still have to find the time to train the one I spawned last year, but (with all respect to the developers) I doubt I’ll ever be able to make it do what I want.  Intelligent Agents are going to be a pipedream for a while longer, I suspect.  Which makes me sad.  But there’s something here – Weavrs and other software instances like Google Alerts can enact discovery, and bring us information we wouldn’t necessarily have the time or awareness to grab manually.

Seeing Weavrs always makes me feel a bit nostalgic. Intelligent agents was the idea that we can train our special algorithms to walk through the net and find something interesting for us. Really personalized algorithms. It was the dream for me. Letting loose couple of IAs and check what they’ve brought to you every now and then.

Instead we’re stuck with the personalization algorithms that either recommends you conspiracy theories or fills your timeline with the stuff you definitely don’t want instead of the posts you explicitly wanted to see (I’m looking at you, Twitter).

I still have couple of active Google Alerts on my RSS reader but thanks to all that SEO experts, it’s usually filled with junk. Unless it’s for a term that none of those experts heard of.

I don’t want to put all blame to them but it’s obvious that digital advertising killed something I really wanted back in the day. Now when I hear “personalized” online, all I can think of is the bots stalking me online to sell me stuff I don’t want.


Reading and analyzing this post and writing it was quite different than just reading and thinking about it. Writing down my half-baked thoughts also helped me think about some stuff I haven’t before. And writing a blog post this long was definitely an experience I’ve missed. Not having any limits or deadlines, or no need to cut down sentences to fit into a Twitter thread was nice. I should probably do this more often.

Letting the half-baked thoughts and ideas free in a place you can control but at the same time open to everyone who wants to engage with is something I (and we) should do more often. Social media doesn’t want that kind of stuff, so we’re left with spaces like here to do this.

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