Ethic and marketing, transparency and social media


I personally enjoy today’s ambiguous media landscape. It feels more in line with non-virtual reality, which is often ambiguous to an extreme. I would imagine that being forced to utilize a bit more discernment to navigate muddy waters could be a net gain for humanity, even if it’s uncomfortable.


I hear you on the intentions. Just trying to grab a few towels and help clean up a bit, I know you are too.

I guess I don’t really “feel” the problem, in that I see that such a commercial relationship can also be productive, in the sense it’s not a zero sum game. I also don’t see for that matter where the relationship has been concealed. It’s generally a good thing that artists and manufacturers can fund themselves and stick around. That helps all of us. If there was something problematic about any of their actions as companies or individuals, I’d feel differently and have in the past tried to express this. For many of my years there were only two modular companies, Serge and Doepfer. Things don’t look so good if we go back to that.


I wouldn’t blame consumers. I also don’t think they’re so happy. There are more fundamental things going on.

I think the way that social media developed has more or less to do with how everything appears to us, as a resource to be manipulated – as opposed to a thing already asserting itself to be brought forth, or as something to be cultivated. The old artisanal methods of cultivation either don’t apply or are too marginal to really impact things.

This fundamentally goes to how we have lost our sense of embeddedness in the world. To look upon the world as resource; to establish not an open relation, but a servomechanism in which one continually challenges the world to produce a resource according to a preconceived idea is to radically separate oneself from that world. The servomechanism, because it needs a “set point”, introduces the problem of representing the world. The separation intensifies due to the optimizing agency of capitalism, for which the fundamental idea is to maximize ROI according to the Money-Commodity-Money (MCM) cycle – in other words, to extract the maximum gain with the minimum effort. Everything thus tends to be reduced to a mere resource to be optimized.

You simply wouldn’t have Facebook without decades of research into modeling and quantifying human social behavior via AI or other means. This is what it means for the social connection to show up as a resource. It’s so violently reductive. Because it’s so pervasive, Facebook tends to afford only the types of behavior that can be well modeled (as resource) and thus in this implicit (and sometimes explicit) manipulation of behavior, exerts its pull on us by transforming our behavior to fit the model. Now, in an engineering paper the modeling gap just gets explained as a task for “future work”, which rarely gets followed up, but at least in a mere paper there seem to be few consequences. When things are actually deployed, however, the model begins to define the behavior. Facebook, at times, played around with explicit manipulation but most of the manipulation happens in this implicit way. Dark manipulation, manipulation that hides itself even from the manipulators. This would still happen even if they were model citizens.

So, I don’t buy that Mark Zuckerberg simply orders things to be a certain way. Facebook hires from top engineering/research universities; employees then generally work in areas that continue what they had already been doing in university or at some previous company, just modified and specialized a bit. Program managers have to adjust product goals to what is already being developed. It’s not top down but more of a give and take, and at bottom it’s all based on a whole technological culture that feeds itself. Historian Lynn White wrote decades ago (actually in 1940) about the “invention of invention”, which more or less describes the emergence of technology as self-sustaining enterprise. As I recall (it’s been a little while) he traces this back to events in Western Europe as early as the 9th century, to what monks started to do to meet the challenges of famine. The contemplative tradition for the most part began to be forgotten or actively suppressed. So too, perhaps, contemplative or meditative ways of thinking and being. Even Zuckerberg, in a sense, is claimed by this self-sustaining enterprise in which everything shows up as quantifiable resource.

I don’t know any Facebook user honestly who is happy, I think more it’s that people are oblivious to a certain underlying essence of technology and so they think it can empower them, in the case of Facebook by connecting them to other people. Facebook connects people, but it transforms the deep bonds of personal friendship into a negotiable, quantifiable resource. This idea of technology as “just tools” rather than having a particular essence (and again, I’m not talking about marginal technologies like modular synths) is what blinds everyone to the fact that they too are claimed to a certain degree. There’s a reason things always turn out this way, and it’s not exactly the “evil” of Mark Zuckerberg but something more fundamental concerning all of us.

So I think the majority is actually very unhappy. They just can’t articulate it. They don’t know why or they think the next gadget or app will magically appear around the corner, and things will be better. But it’s difficult to go back because the old infrastructure is gone.I quit Facebook in 2013, but what happened is I just lost touch with a lot of people. Then also I didn’t get any new, deep connections to replace the ones that had been transformed into resources or otherwise left behind. Only now are some new forms of social media emerging that I’d be interested in, but I’ve been slow to get going with them, and maybe I too am overly optimistic. I am only optimistic because communities involved with certain marginal practices are using them right now to further these practices and tell their stories, but there’s always the danger of corruption when the underlying essence of the technology does not change.

I don’t think we can simply get rid of the Facebook problem without a revolution in more fundamental areas which involve recognizing, collecting, and intensifying marginal practices that will fundamentally change how things show up to us; i.e. as something more than a resource to be optimized. This includes adopting some form of general economy rather than either type of restricted economy (capitalism or socialism) which tends to posit everything as exchangeable (whether under market value, use value, or labor value) – in other words as (scarce) resource. But even that is not enough, because there needs to be a vision in which a new form of economy can make sense. I look to art as one domain where marginal practices can become visible in a wider sense, and yet remain preserved in themselves, because art tends to let things be seen from themselves, as themselves. But art remains at best an oblique strategy.

So we’re all in this boat, I think we need to at least move beyond blaming “the masses” or thinking everything can be solved by consumer choice. Even environmental issues are reduced to things like separating trash, or buying the right kind of car. it doesn’t really help; nothing really changes except to make people feel better.

[sorry for the extended rant – a lot of this has been on my mind lately].


A lot of the “influencers” we’re talking about are providers of useful information – not just useful to the companies whose products they are showing, but useful to people entering the hobby or unfamiliar with a particular type of module, circuit, patch etc. In many cases they even expand one’s realization of what is possible.

There’s no getting around it; being into hardware synths, particularly modular, means buying some products. And doing it well means doing a lot of research into what’s available. And watching videos that demonstrate modules is a good way to do that, particularly if you don’t have a local shop where you can try things.

It’s probably safe to say I wouldn’t have gotten into modular if it weren’t for the combination of ModularGrid, MuffWiggler, and YouTube demos and tutorials from about five people. I know I’m not the only one. In a sense the “influencers” are benefiting the whole Eurorack community (which cannot really be separated from the Eurorack market or the Eurorack industry), not just the brands they might happen to be demonstrating.

I think a certain wariness about social media and capitalism is healthy, and maybe it’s a good idea to keep peoples’ motives in mind whenever you pay them any attention.

But I think in most cases, people in this community are motivated mostly by a love of music. Given how expensive it is to make small batches of modules, nobody is getting terribly rich (*) – but some people get to work full time designing and building musical instruments, and that’s cool. They could be writing code for some defense contractor instead… oh wait, that’s what I do :neutral_face:

A few other people get to make a living by doing a combination of live shows, album sales, mastering services, sound design work, YouTube videos, Patreon stuff… that sounds like a lot of work to me and it’s probably hard to stay afloat, but it also seems rewarding.

(*) Behringer, maybe. I still can’t blame someone for using their gear or for demoing it, though.


I feel that the consensus here is: transparency is not important because it’s rather obvious what’s happening and we got a lot from it, so it’s all good.

I value transparency like a value privacy. And I’m sure that the answer to the privacy problem we face in today’s technology isn’t “I don’t have something to hide, so I don’t care. I get a lot in exchange of my personal data, so it’s not important.”

Being transparent won’t change the quality of any content, neither would it prejudice any manufacturers.


I believe that transparency is important. But I believe that for the channels I follow, it’s already transparent! And I would call out people doing shady deals and not being transparent about them. But I won’t tell people that are already transparent with sponsored deals to be transparent.


I think the issue of transparency is not clear-cut, as it’s a pretty subjective matter.

I think things like influencer marketing put forth ever-increasing demands for media literacy, which is an acquired skill. Most of the influencer stuff I see is pretty clear to me, but it would definitely not be to my mom.

So there’s influencer content that makes it clear (to someone who consumes such content daily) that it’s a ’commercial collaboration’ of sorts. Apart from that, there’s also simply shady marketing. I believe most of what we see in our corner of consumerism is the previous. I’ve yet to see blatant examples of the latter.

Where I’d like to see more transparency is when channels mix ’personal content’ with collaborations - ”I have no connection with the company” or ”They were kind enough to send me this module to try out” should be standard intros with those channels. And I think they often are, already.

So I guess I am in the ”it’s not bad, but more transparency can’t be a bad thing” camp.


I’m happy to help shed some light on this.

Legally, I have to disclose when I’m compensated to create content, and I do. The disclosure will be verbal within the video and usually written in the description as well. In my disclosures I also distinguish between whether I was financially compensated, or only given the gear. The accepted language around financial compensation is usually “sponsored”, “in partnership with”, and/or “#ad” - I think it may differ from country to country, but as a Canadian working with brands as big as Google, Microsoft etc. the agencies have always asked me to use one of those three. Those big companies are also absolutely adamant about it, because their lawyers know the law better than anyone, and they’re going to make sure their asses are covered.

Transparency is important to me so I’ve been consistent about these disclosures when working with smaller brands, many of whom perhaps aren’t aware of these legalities. In one case I was actually asked to edit out the disclosure, to hide the fact that it was a paid promotion, and I refused.

I also don’t promote products I don’t believe in. I have years-long trust established with many of my viewers, and my videos take a lot of work - it wouldn’t make sense for me say anything untruthful, or to spend my time with a synth I don’t enjoy.

There are a few things that I think cause a lot of confusion:

  1. There’s no disclosure, unfortunately, when brands or creators don’t know about, or willfully disregard, the law.

  2. There’s no disclosure outside of the agreed upon content. If a company and I arrange that they’ll pay me or send me a synth in exchange for a video about that synth, I should be disclosing that in that video, but I’m not obligated to disclose the relationship in every subsequent video where that synth appears. This is an area where some are suggesting that having disclosures for a defined period of time might make sense, but nothing has been made concrete.

  3. There’s no disclosure, of course, if there’s nothing to disclose. Tons of people are making tons of videos about gear that they bought - they’ve never talked to the brands, they have all different sorts of aims with their content - but some of their videos might look just like some of the paid promotional videos. I sometimes go as far as to say that something is not sponsored to try and help with clarity there, but there’s only so much you can do. Ableton, for instance, has never paid me to promote their software, and I’ve seen some people comment that I must be getting paid by them, but the truth is that I’m just a guy who uses Ableton a lot. It would feel like overkill for me to say “by the way, this isn’t sponsored by Ableton” when it shows up in every third video I post.

I don’t know if there’s any way around these things. But I think we’re in a better situation now, where we can peruse endless user-generated content about products we’re interested in, than the pre-social-internet era of only having companies’ marketing materials and maybe some word of mouth.

One thing I’ll add in response to the original (unedited) post is that over the years I’ve been doing this, all companies - synth or otherwise - have only approached me to create photos/videos/music or to do live appearances. There has never been any ask along the lines of maintaining a presence on a web forum to try and do promo there. I’m here for the same reasons I imagine most of us are - to share ideas and learn new things about music creation in this wonderfully thoughtful and respectful environment.

Of course, with everything I’ve said, we run into the same problem with marketing transparency in the first place, in that you’ll have to take my word for it. But I hope this provides some insight and I’m open to any questions there may be about it all. I think it’ll only be better for everyone if these things are more widely understood.


THIS. I’ve been gifted a lot of photography gear in exchange for content which I then subsequently use a lot in other content because I like it and, well… it’s there. Now if a different company had gifted me their stuff, I might be using the other company’s gear instead. So when you see me, or anyone else, with some gear it might be our favourite gear ever, it might be because we’re being paid to use it, or it might just be because we were once given it and it serves the purpose at the moment.

On the subject of people liking sponsored content, I do see a balance issue there. Sure, there has to be something we like about it otherwise we’d block it, but it can turn into a bit of a vice, wanting to be on top of all the new and shiny things. That said, the music tech industry isn’t as bad as say, fashion with their “Seasons” changes, or phones with their planned obsolescence.

Also, do you ever get stuck on a Youtube channel watching content that you’re not that interested in, but you just love the presenter. I’d watch Nick Batt or Cuckoo or you @andrewhuang review a trash can - you’ve all got unique and infectious personalities. I currently am addicted to the YouTube Channel The Dark Den ( just because I love the dude that presents it. I don’t really have an interest in Tarantulas as pets, but my god, I must have watched him unbox dozens of spiders!


I’m really looking forward to the @andrewhuang trash can review. :wink:


FYI – excellent article by Mike Ananny and Kate Crawford on the limitations of the transparency ideal. They’re mainly talking about algorithmic transparency (from credit scores to self-driving cars) but everything applies here as well. Definitely worth a close read:


The problem of “inscrutable even to creators” has additional dimensions in the era of machine learning. Middle layers of a neural network are not only a black box, the contents of that box were written by machines for machines and are ultimately completely opaque to all humans, including the systems’ creators. Much research is attempting to open that black box but few are optimistic about the potential for getting much value out of such efforts.


Are you relating this back to the opaqueness of the middle layers of marketing? The space between a proprietor’s desired affect on the surrounding community (not so much this forum, but the state and nation in which it resides) and how they actually choose to action that affect on that surrounding community?

Marketing (and the way social media has contributed to its variety of forms) is truly intriguing. But I think more concerning is the tangible burden a business places on society. I’ll give an extreme example–my father works for a very prolific defense technology firm. I think we can all agree the defense industry is terrible, deplorable, etc etc. But on the other side of the coin, that same firm pays for the living of hundreds of thousands of families through employment. And, there’s many abstractions of this, but my favorite example are the chip fabrication facilities and microprocessor plants. While their manufacturing methods are totally unsustainable and dumping N number of T types of toxic materials into the environment, that process has allowed us access to information technology that allows this conversation (and our collective interests) to exist in the first place. How do we begin to reconcile that kind of (perceived?) disparity between value and affect?
How do we quantify the burden a business imposes on its community?


The challenge is also in realizing that input and output layers are part of the black box. These layers are also opaque to creators. ML technologies are deployed across complex networks of human and machine actors. These networks have their own complex, emergent properties. Rather than simply observing human behavior, actor-networks transform this behavior in profound and often unpredictable ways.

Sometimes the change is easy to explain in terms of positive feedback, or self-affording behavior: ML algorithms have limitations, and so users simply start to behave in ways that are “well-modeled” or that conform to those limitations. This is the “dark manipulation” to which I was referring in my post about social media [I often joke that the Singularity will occur in precisely this way: AI, which is really the quest to understand the human as machine – specifically the 18th century clockwork apparatus – will simply end up transforming us into machines. In this way, through deployment, not any continuing advance in the core technology, the gap will thus be closed :wink: ]

Sometimes, however, things get really weird. We get “strange attractors” which are truly strange, and nobody can make sense of them, even with a simple positive-reinforcement loop. James Bridle’s analysis of the 2017 youtube kids’ video controversy is a great case study of what can emerge from a network of creators, users, and SEO algorithms.

I also think the various subgenera of “modular demo video” would serve as an excellent case study to accompany Bridle’s. While the results are engaging and productive – the very opposite of what Bridle discusses – it is very hard to conceive of certain video styles or techniques without the algorithmic interventions of recommendation and SEO. The network speaks through us, and we are all implicated to some degree.

Basically, all layers of a neural network will be opaque to creators until actor-network effects are acknowledged and understood. Such an understanding begins by recognizing that everything is caught up in a dynamic flow and that analysis does not begin and end with inputs and outputs. Ultimately, such an understanding is possible only if we acknowledge our embeddedness within the world, and recognize that seeing (detached observation) does not equate to understanding.

This is one of Ananny’s key points towards the end of the article.


Basically, we won’t stop trashing the environment until it shows up in a fundamentally different way for us. If the environment shows up simply as “resources”, even those to be conserved, we are doomed. Same for the whole discourse around “sustainability”, a catchword that seems to have taken over all academic departments. The point is there is no justification for the neoliberal system to “sustain” itself any longer. The entire system is what should be held open to question, not “sustained”.

To proceed, we need first to recover a sense of embeddedness within the world. A sense that we are not separate, and that it is not there simply for us to manipulate as we wish. Building or making needs to be thought again more like cultivation. More like the situation of poetry or art where we don’t simply impose a preconceived idea upon Nature, we recognize what is already coming forth and help bring it forth. Like tending a garden.

Art can help us cultivate a different sensibility. Personally, one idea that had a profound effect was Agnes Martin’s “innocence of trees” as related to her grid paintings. To encounter a tree with this in mind, one become at first awed by the fact it stands there completely vulnerable and exposed, and yet has withstood more than any human could bear. This sensation of awe gives way to a recognition of the absolute uniqueness of every branch, leaf, and root – just like every mark on the grid painting is absolutely unique and irreducible, that it overflows any conditioning by the grid itself. With this new sensibility, we no longer reduce a tree to its general structure or its utility which would come by way of a preconceived idea of the tree as “resource”. We no longer think like Reagan when he famously said “When you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” We truly gain an appreciation of what we are to conserve. But again the proper response is not conservation, but cultivation. Bringing forth.

Embeddedness is key. Interdependence and holism. Active engagement, cultivation, bringing forth, not detached observation in the interest of manipulation. A recognition of our own finitude, which is why nothing can be truly transparent. Depth – a situation where revealing and concealing work together in a double movement. Where the mists that enshroud the landscape are also those that frame it, those that allow it to be seen. To see something transparently is not to see at all. To be in depth is to dwell. Before we can build – whether a house or the new Facebook or whatever, we need to be able to dwell.


I appreciate that sentiment and fully understand what you’re getting at. Those values are certainly essential to our evolution as a species.

But implicitly, you’re also talking about an instantaneous, universal change in human values ie. the fall of Capitalism that was mentioned above.

And the problem is, without Capitalism this discussion we’re having would have never existed.


Capitalism provides an optimizing agency which no doubt accelerates the process. I think in the very last instance, the fundamental ways things show up for us is prior to capitalism and paved the way for it. The very idea of restricted economy, that societies should be structured around allocation of scarce resources is for me what’s at issue. This is why it’s so difficult to conceive of a post-capitalist society, because socialism isn’t really an alternative. It’s grounded in the same fundamental way of being.

In practice though, I fight on all fronts and simply embrace the contradictions. Obviously there are many fighting under the banner of socialism who are right now doing some of the most essential work. You can’t just sit and wait for the perfect solution to emerge, people are suffering in the here and now. At the same time, one can also work behind the scenes towards something else. Navigating life’s complexities requires one to be a double or triple agent in many respects.


I don’t think you’re quite replying to what I’ve said or maybe you’ve misunderstood me. It is not to champion Capitalism that I bring that last point up. It’s that without dealing with the vocabulary and devices of as you said, the here and now, we are essentially saying and doing nothing.

And carrying with us the humility and understanding that all of our ideas and thoughts are tied to everything that is the now, is essential to doing anything. So I’ll just reprint my last question for this topic:

“How do we begin to reconcile that kind of (perceived?) disparity between value and affect?
How do we quantify the burden a business imposes on its community?”

Today we have businesses and greed and dastardly goings-on. Let’s figure out how to deal with them in a tangible manner. In the here and now.


I don’t know how you would conclude that I thought you were championing capitalism. Quite the opposite. You said “without Capitalism this discussion we’re having would have never existed”, and I pointed out something more fundamental than capitalism that I felt was to blame. It was that statement of yours to which I was responding. That if another form of restricted economy had taken hold we’d be in the same boat, in many respects. The part I can attribute to capitalism is how it tends to accelerate things according to the ROI mandate or M-C-M.

Anyway, I believe in the here and now, which means need to fight on all fronts and embrace contradictions. It means dealing with both the present and the future. The problem of the future is more fundamentally one of temporality, there has to first be a horizon where the idea of the future can exist again, since in the current crisis of neoliberalism this horizon has collapsed and we’re talking about making everything great again. Fighting on all fronts – sometimes that means getting out the vote for a cringey neoliberal candidate simply because the other alternative would be more disastrous. Sometimes this also means seeing one’s own creative process as caught up in these larger issues. Many fronts and all mutually contradictory in some respects. You don’t have to focus on one to the exclusion of the others.


What is M-C-M please?