Cyberspace oddity

Cyberspace oddity

Having really made the grade, Matthew JC. Powell wants to know whose shirt he's wearing . . .

I've had a troubling night. It's been one of those nights when, unable to sleep properly or think clearly when awake, I've elected instead to immerse myself in the eerie mid-state of Web surfing. Don't let anyone try and fool you with the notion that hanging around on the Web is less brain-numbing than television - actually it's worse. With television at least someone has gone to the trouble of completing a thought process that you are invited to follow along passively. On the Web, you don't have to read more than a paragraph of anything before you're allowed - nay, encouraged - to be distracted by some tangent.

Yes, the complete thought pro-cesses that television invites you to follow passively are often fairly lim-ited in their capacity to stimulate. I don't remember the last intelligent conversation I had about Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place, for instance. But there's a myth going around that the Web doesn't have the same attention-span shortening effect, and I'm like, you know, I'm going, well duh?

Like, take David Bowie. In October, Bowie is going to release his new album (can't remember the name of it, lost the page) exclusively on the Web. For two weeks it will be available to download, before it is available in the shops.

The page I read this on didn't say whether it would still be available for download after it's in the shops, but I'm guessing maybe not. The page I read also made the point that the cover artwork would not be available to download - good point.

I suppose it's also worth saying you won't be able to download the plastic case, because the bandwidth requirements are so high and rela-tively few people have computer-aided manufacturing equipment in their homes.

Chances are reasonable that a price sticker bonded to the case with adhesives designed to hold the ceramic heat-shielding onto the space shuttle, that will resist any attempt at removal short of cold fusion, will also be unavailable online. More's the pity.

Anyway, I was saying something. Bowie's avoided falling into the trap of other Web-savvy artists who've made their work available on the Web before it's in the shops. 2 Live Crew's record company put one of their CDs on the Web a month before it was due to hit the shops, and most major music retailers refused to carry it as a result. Same old Harvey Norman/ Compaq kind of deal: you don't scratch my back, I'll claw your eyes out.

Bowie has avoided that pitfall by not making the thing available through his own Web site or through his record company, Virgin. Instead, the tracks (including one Web-only "bonus") will be available through the Web sites of 17 major music retailers. This strikes me as eminently sensible. Apparently it will take about an hour to download the entire album, so these retailers will have tonnes of Web traffic that they can then proudly boast about to banner advertisers and other secondary income sources, plus they'll still get a payment for the songs.

All without having to stock discs on shelves or pay people to pretend they're friendly while selling them to the punters. The retailers will pay Virgin something, and then they get to keep the money from the transactions - just like a real store.

Thing is, the participating retailers are all in the US, and Bowie reckons this means the download will only be available to US customers. Hello? Ground control to major fruit loop? I thought the Web was everywhere. Right now I can log on to Tower Records and buy stuff should I so choose. I can download software from American sites just as if they were right here in my living room. Unless these retailers are going to place some kind of artificial restriction on availability of the download, so that only US people can get it, I should be able to have my very own hard drive stuffed with the genius of Bowie. Or at least the somewhat past-it, not-too-awful warblings of Bowie. If there is such an artificial restriction, what's the point?

Actually I don't much care either way. I'm not much of a Bowie fan (especially since that whole Tin Machine thing), but I'd have downloaded the new bizzo just for the novelty value. I'll most likely try anyway, because I'm a leading-edge dude who's not afraid to turn and face the strange. But I won't be too disappointed if I can't.

Right now the effects of too much Coca-Cola are losing out to the effects of not enough sleep, and I have the odd impression of floating. Round my tin can. In a most peculiar way. Time for bed.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@

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