STALLHOLDERS AT THE weekly Lister Meile street market here in Hannover (Germany) sell fruit and vegetables in brown paper cones. At the last market, we picked up highly seasonal plums. As the photo shows, they are a type of damson.
We knew that Zwetschgenpflaume had just arrived on the market, because they featured on the specials board the night before at restaurant 11A Küche mit Garten (11A Kitchen with Garden). The name derives from its address, being in the square that translates as Kitchen Garden.
(Horror alert: creepiness coming).
My mobile phone has taken to opening with a YouTube suggestion, and when we returned from the market, it proposed a demonstration of how to use the plums.
How did it know? I can think of three possibilities: that it was coincidental, that google tracked us at the market and the plums are in season, or that google had eavesdropped, and heard the word.
That was so creepy that, as soon as I showed Marion the video running, I turned it off. To be correct, I thought I turned it off, because it disappeared from my phone and started on a television in the next room. We’d last turned on the tv the previous evening, making our way through dvds of the wondrous 1982 series of Heimat.
Adding to the horror, Mozilla had only just sent a blog item about how you can’t believe even baking videos any more, with a link to Sydney dessert-influencer Ann Reardon showing how so-called “content farms” are crueling the internet.
A “content farm”, such as So Yummy, creates low-grade “how to” videos to game the algorithms and drag in advertising dollars. That reduces the income of more serious posters, such as “Renias Backwelt” (Renia’s Baking World) with her plums, or Ann with “How to Cook That”. While I cannot imagine who would make Ann’s novelty dessert items, including a Prince Harry chocolate sculpture that took her three days to make, So Yummy has more than 100 million views a month with videos that merely look like cooking videos with their boring bits speeded up. As Ann demonstrates, So Yummy’s cooking instructions are way post-fact. The recipes she attempts don’t merely fail, they plainly would never work.
Incidentally, I have retained quotes around “content farms” as maligning farms; they are content production lines.
The monolith at the top of surveillance capitalism, Google owns YouTube and so much more, but does it really listen in through microphones in homes, cafes, offices and therapists’ rooms?
The next day, I received another Mozilla post:
“If you have a voice assistant in your home or on your phone, have you ever been concerned that someone from the company could listen to your voice recordings?
“Recent news coverage confirms that suspicion.”
According to the quoted sources (Mozilla Foundation, “What can you trust on the internet?“), eavesdropping is now banned in the EU, but I still worry.
Returning to humour might distract from the creepiness. The secret agent comedy series Get Smart had a device called the “cone of silence” – those inside the bubble couldn’t hear; those outside could.
Or I might also cheer us up by turning to a second highly seasonal German phenomenon on the streets the past day or two: the two-century-old tradition of the Schultüte (school cone). A Schultüte is sometimes also called a Zuckertüte (sugar cone), because it is a large cone, almost as big as a small child, that contains sweets, toys and school items.
The cone marks an important rite of passage – a child’s first day at school. Parents have made or purchased a cone, filled it with the items, and hung it on a tree at the school. The child carries it home to open at a family party.
We saw children carrying them home yesterday, and I snapped an illustration of one, in a line-up of first-day-of-school children’s books, each showing cones, in the window of the nearby library.