Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pattern Recognition

William Gibson’s book ‘Pattern Recognition’ is considered by most critics to be science fiction. It reminds me of those books by Jules Verne that were considered science fiction as well until progress in technology made those gizmos in his books a reality. For instance, the submarine and the rocket ship which were some of the amazing machines in his works. But William Gibson’s latest books do not seem science fiction but more in the realm of every day possibilities. The heroine in ‘Pattern Recognition’ is a ‘cool hunter’ - someone who has a psychological reaction to company logos – this skill makes her a valuable asset in marketing as she can determine what will work or not work in the market place..

The events of the book, after 9/11, describe guerrilla marketing, surfing the Internet and searching for ‘viral’ videos and a mysterious creator of a film broken down into multiple scenes and uploaded into cyberspace. It’s also about a select group of geeks who meet in chat rooms to talk about these videos and the quest of an advertising company to search for its mysterious creator. So the characters travel to places like Tokyo, Moscow and London in their journey to solve the mystery. There is a backdrop of espionage with characters like a retired spy who disappeared in the chaos of 9/11, a retired cryptographer who used to work for National Security Agency and who worked on a mysterious project called ‘Echelon’ and the Russian Mafia.

It’s a strange title because there is no hint of pattern recognition except in the deciphering of the public mind to determine the next cool thing. But it’s not related to a logical sequence or pattern or conspiracy or code breaking but in the subconscious desires of today’s consumer. I guess the book is trying to say that modern advertising and marketing is like a shadowy world similar to espionage or industrial spying where today’s war to capture the consumer’s mind is the key to victory. Similar perhaps to propaganda; to change one’s mind deliberately or surreptitiously in order to achieve a certain end. Something like a 9/11 event to alter the public mind to go to war and overcome past inhibition brought by the disaster of Vietnam.

I will be reading his next book ‘Spook Country’ which also refers to espionage and spying but more in the world of advertising. Is Gibson implying that modern espionage has moved to the corporate work of marketing? Perhaps that is why his work is considered science fiction but like Jules Verne will eventually move into the mainstream. Maybe the characters and their lifestyle (i.e. cool hunting) concern arcane activities that require special skills not available to ordinary folks. So most people think its fiction. But most techies and so-called ‘knowledge workers’ can identify with his work. Gibson is a seer who can envision a certain futuristic lifestyle still unknown to the general public. Like most writers, he is ahead of the curve.

There is an increase in these themes in television. For example, shows like ‘Rubicon’ (i.e. ‘not all conspiracies are theories’) and ‘Mad Men’ a show about 1950’s advertising. Both these shows come one after the other on Sunday and it’s a joy to watch. I am one of those folks inclined to see conspiracies everywhere like my pattern recognition abilities are going overboard. It is a cognitive mistake actually that I have identified in my thinking that I try to fix with cognitive therapy. I even take supplements like fish oil to help improve thinking skills following Amen’s book ‘A Great Brain for Every Age’. I guess working with one’s mind makes it difficult to slow down and stop after work.

Today, I did my Toastmaster speech which I was preparing for the past several weeks. I thought I did not do well because I was out of breath a few times although recovered during the question and answer session. I was awarded the best speech but only 2 of us spoke during the meeting. I spoke about the Philippine-American war in the early 1900’s in contrast to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I became emotional because it concerned my country and I perceived it to be a delicate topic. But it turned out well especially with my visual aids. It was related to current events as last week President Barack Obama declared the end of American combat mission in Iraq. I guess my mind was in overdrive again considering all these wars and their relation to 9/11.

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