Selling Your Digital Soul: Or, the Slight Return of Doris and the Spambots

You’re probably too young to remember The Clash the first time round. A heady mix of left-wing leanings, high cheekbones, no little talent and a bucket-load of attitude, for a time in the early Eighties they were uncrowned Kings of Rock for all those earnest young lads like me who thought music had to mean something. They even conquered America, with Rock the Casbah.

Anyways, one of the things that impressed me about Joe Strummer and comrades was their consistent refusal to go on Top of the Pops. I mean, the whole politics of it – even for an earnest young chap like myself – wasn’t totally clear: going on ToTP was described as ‘selling out,’ even though the show was on a publicly owned station, and the money for going on, we can safely assume, was not exactly fantastic.

Perhaps the lads had an early inkling of what Jimmy Saville and some (but not, it must be said for legal reasons, all) of his fellow DJs were up to on the show. Perhaps they just felt that not going on a deeply cheesy round up of whatever crap had risen to the surface in the undifferentiated chart of what was still referred to as ‘pop’ music wasn’t too bad an artistic statement. Jools Holland’s show might be a tad formulaic some nights, but the quality of the stuff on that is light years ahead of what we had to endure a generation back.

All of which seems a long time ago, back when there was only one phone in the house, in the hall; we all drank water from the garden hose, drove home seatbelt-less and blind drunk every night in cars with no power steering or even working headlights, and regularly sucked on our fingers and plugged them into the nearest wall socket just to give the younger kids a bit of a laugh. And no one ever came to any harm. Back then, punk bands were proper bands, who could play their own instruments. Well, apart from most of the Sex Pistols, obviously. And Paul Simonon in the early days.

Nowadays, though, we live in a gentler, digital age, where you can watch your concerts on YouTube and spare yourself the bother of washing the spit out of your hair when you get home. Because you’re already home, on your iPad or tablet or mobile phone, watching stuff for free and scaring the bejasus out of the commercial interests who prowl the internet, stalking its darker, jungly reaches, like predators caught on the wrong side of an evolutionary curve, desperately trying to change their spots to blend in.

Because the Internet is a puzzling, slightly frightening place to advertisers and other interests desperate to monetize it. Incidentally, is monetize really a word now? MS Word has recognised it as such: o tempora, o mores! (Word doesn’t recognise tempora, of course).

Long term readers of this blog may recall a previous post about an approach I had from a company called Media Discovery, who wanted to advertise on my blog. Just give us a page on your blog, said a nice-seeming woman called Doris; we’ll advertise and will pay you. I agonised about it all for a while and then decided that, like the Clash but on a much smaller scale, I didn’t want to sell out.

Then something else happened. Like millions of others, I use WordPress as a platform to launch my musings and meanderings at the world. It’s free. It’s easy to use. And … er … it carries adverts on your blog? A little message started appearing at the bottom of my posts, saying ‘occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advert here.’ Eh?

I clicked on the ‘tell me more,’ link, and discovered that, yes, WordPress had found a way of monetizing my blog, by sticking adverts underneath it. Maybe. I couldn’t tell from my end. I could purchase a no-ads option for $30 if I wanted, though.

Now, I may be a bleeding heart liberal, but I’m not actually stupid. Of course WordPress has to make money to survive in the internet jungle; even out of bozos like me who only sign up to the free stuff, don’t buy any premium ‘themes,’ or generally succumb to any of their money-making blandishments. Even they must try to get money out of a Scotsman.

However, this just seemed a little bit, well, cheeky. It nearly drove me back into the arms of Doris, that nice-seeming woman at Media Discovery. If I’m selling out without meaning to, I reasoned, then I might as well sell out to someone called Doris who, it appeared, gave me some control over what I was endorsing.

Doris, I said, make me an offer (for like all of modern life, we were on first name terms immediately). Well, Andrew, Doris said, I ran your site through our client services team and the closest match we have is a gaming client for 125USD per year.

Well, Doris, I replied. Here’s the thing – not quite sure what you mean by gaming. If you mean playing computer games, I don’t do that, so I couldn’t really endorse any of them (I was assuming they weren’t going to be promoting my good friend Gavin Inglis’s game, Neighbourhood Necromancer).

If, on the other hand, Doris, I continued, you mean a gambling site, while I’m not actually ethically opposed to that, it’s again not something I do, and I guess I have some concerns about online gambling, and addiction, and all that.

Doris was very understanding in her reply. How about you look at the article first, she suggested. Well, okay, I said, but I still have those concerns.

The draft article, was ingenious, I have to say: all about how listening to music while you’re playing online poker can help concentration. Apparently there’s a New York Times article. Motivational rock such as Eye of the Tiger could work. And while you could say what you like about most of Kenny Loggins’s ‘inoffensive smooth jazz output,’ the article went on, it was a fact, apparently, that Danger Zone remains one of the most ‘terrifyingly-motivational’ (sic) songs ever written.

Warming to its theme, the article (which, apart from the grammatical schoolboy error, above, was pretty well written, to be fair) went on about how, if you were playing poker, you were really better listening to instrumentals, such as trance, house, or classical music. Beethoven’s 7th was particularly recommended.

I politely declined Doris, for a second time. I may say she took it very well, and sent me a nice note thanking me for my interest. I didn’t go into reasons with her, but principal amongst them, of course, was Kenny Loggins. I mean, Kenny Loggins! Inoffensive jazz output, indeed! As Arnold Brown once said, I don’t call that easy listening. I could give them Eye of the Tiger, but Danger Zone? I don’t think so.

The other reason I decided not to get in bed with Doris – in the commercial sense, I mean – (actually, that sounds worse…) was I did a bit more research on Media Discovery, and found that, yes, there was a price to pay for your 125 bucks. The links that Media Discovery put on your site are picked up by Google, who demote you on their search engines, so that you lose about 90 – 95% of your traffic through search engines.

Not ideal. I think it’s probably a bit strong to call it a scam, but it’s certainly not something I would want to happen.

So my digital soul remains pure – at least for now. I do remain open to offers. If Fender want to lob me whatever their latest incarnation of a Telecaster is, I’d be happy to review it. Hell, I’d put out for Gibson, too. Especially after they let me on their Guitar Bus that time in Nashville – another story.

But Kenny Loggins. I mean, Kenny Loggins.



If you see an advert below this, WordPress put it there. I can’t see it, so have no idea whether I endorse it or not.



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