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The price of fame

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

In 1968, pop artist and culture guru Andy Warhol – most famous for his wallpaper-style paintings of Marilyn Monroe and cans of Campbell’s Soup – stated that ‘in the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes’.   This ’15-minutes of fame’ quotation has passed into our vocabulary, far outliving the artist himself but he could never have known quite how prescient his words were to become.

For any Millennials reading this column and wondering what’s so smart about the observation, let me explain.  In the late ‘60s media was as different to as it today as chalk is to cheese.  Television was limited to a handful of channels which broadcast almost exclusively during the late afternoon till before midnight, at which point they closed down and left you with a blank screen.  There were no news channels per se so news was  a couple of specific broadcasts at proscribed times, though radio channels would offer hourly updates. 

There were no mobile phones, much less any internet so viewing anything was from a single television set usually placed in a corner of the sitting room, meaning that whole families sat together and watched together.  No YouTube, no Snapchat, no Facebook and if you were rich enough to own a home film camera there was no way to share your family movies, apart from home showings.   Fame had to be earned by a combination of talent and luck and was only for the professionals – no room for enthusiastic amateurs.

Given all that, it’s astonishing that Warhol said what he did when he did – it’s as though he had a crystal ball!

Today’s world is so utterly different it is hard to contemplate.  Mobile phones complete with still and video cameras are affordable for everyone and picture quality is astonishingly good.  Accordingly anyone and everyone can shoot a short piece of film, recording the everyday and the interesting.  Cars have dash-cam cameras, offering up footage of all sorts of road accidents and incidents. 

And with the ease of the internet all this can be uploaded and shared in a matter of minutes, then re-shared around the world.  Anyone with a computer or mobile device can become a blogger or vlogger, instant exerts without requiring a single qualification or even any authentication.  And then we come to those who are famous for being famous…….

I refer here to the ubiquitous television reality shows, of which probably Big Brother was the precursor.  A few people locked in a house with cameras on them 24-7, even when they took a shower – once upon a time watching such footage would have been called voyeurism and regarded by others as rather peculiar and not very nice.  In the 15 or so years since BB launched we have been bombarded by a plethora of such ‘shows’, amateurishly acted and acted out in front of the cameras by talentless individuals happy to do or say anything for their 15 minutes of fame and a chunk of money, believing utterly that this now makes them ‘celebrities’, unaware that a celebrity is someone who is celebrated for an achievement of note, not  for conducting a humiliating task for vulgar entertainment of the style of old-time circus freak shows. 

There are ‘Housewives’ of almost any and every town in the UK, the USA and Australia, for which read a bunch of  women married to wealthy husbands whose sole occupation is spending their money.  There are shows about famous families, most members of whom are only famous because someone gave one of them a series deal to act up in front of the cameras, indulge in internecine slanging matches and flaunt their indulgent lifestyles which apparently are now considered a career choice.   The message is that money buys plastic surgery for beautiful bodies and beauty in return buys the good life and instant fame.

There are ubiquitous talent shows which promise glittering prizes for the winners.  Their talent is groomed during the run of he shows and some do make the grade but hundreds of thousands of other hopefuls simply fall by the wayside.

There’s even a show on television about people watching what’s on television – I kid you not – it’s a British programme called ‘Goggle Box’ an old expression for a television set and consists of yet more nobodies purporting to be Everyman (or Everywoman) and uttering their inane critiques of the current crop of popular programmes.

For some time many have worried about the cumulative effect all these nothing shows peopled with extroverts with IQs so low they’re off the scale and their surgically-sculpted bodies, would have on the young generation. Plastic surgeons themselves have reported an alarming increase in the number of young people presenting with needless requests for breast and penile enlargements because what they see online has given them unrealistic expectations of what a ‘normal’ body should look like. Internet ‘fame’ is viewed as a career choice, easier and quicker than studying for a profession or grafting at more down-to-earth occupations.  One study on the psychology of these adverse effects concludes

‘For the past decade, reality television programming has dominated the television market while inherently giving the impression that what occurs on the screen is in fact reality. Although mature audiences may be savvy about the differences between reality and reality television, for children and adolescents, these differences can be less clear. It is important to know what values youth are ascertaining from reality television, as studies have suggested that these media images may have a negative impact on adolescent values’

And what of the ‘stars’ of such shows themselves?  This issue has come to a head this week with the suicide hanging death of Mike Thalassitis, a participant on a show called Love Island.  The show throws together a group of young people, all with beautiful toned and tanned  bodies, in a villa on a tropical island where they are expected to hook up to mate and date (for ‘Love’ read ‘Sex’!).  His death follows that of former contestant Sophie Gradon, found dead in her home last year. 

This second death caused media commentators to call for support services for contestants and the show’s producers have responded by promising counselling for future cast members.  This may be laudable but it misses the main point which is that young people who think it’s okay to strip and have sex in front of the cameras for the delectation of the audience may not be the most well-adjusted of their generation in the first instance.

The real irony here is the label that has been given to such programmes, ‘reality shows’.  Every single one of them is so far removed from real life as to be laughable, if they weren’t so tragic.  Their ‘stars’ may glow bright for a brief spell while their show is top of the ratings but the public is fickle and prone to grow cold quite quickly. 

True talent will always out but in all seriousness, what would the next career move be for any former Love Island contestant when their series comes to an end and what on earth will they put on their CV when they comes to update it?  More importantly, will the experience really stand them in good stead when are flipping burgers in McDonalds?  Now that’s a real reality show!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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