• 3o Jan 2014

Around midnight on Tuesday of last week, people near the barricaded city square at the center of mass protests in Kiev, Ukraine, received an ominous text message: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

The message was most likely sent by the Ukrainian government using what’s popularly known as an “I.M.S.I. catcher”—a controversial tool that disguises itself as a cell-phone tower so thatnearby devices connect to it, revealing their locations and serial numbers and, sometimes, the contents of outgoing messages. It was a bleak reminder of how cell phones, one of the past decade’s most indispensable and ubiquitous pieces of technology, can silently leave their owners exposed to governments and high-tech criminals.

A number of companies have emerged in the post-Snowden world peddling products that claim to protect from that kind of unwanted surveillance. One of the most promising, a smartphone explicitly designed for security and privacy, called Blackphone, comes from a respected team of cryptographers. The device is a collaboration between Silent Circle, a security company co-founded by the cryptography pioneer Phil Zimmermann, and GeeksPhone, a Spanish startup that manufactures tinker-friendly handsets.

Blackphone’s primary selling point is that its “PrivatOS” operating system and Silent Circle software provide easy-to-use, end-to-end encryption for text messaging, phone calls, and video chats, using techniques pioneered by Zimmermann that make it difficult, if not impossible, to spy on conversations. The encryption scheme, which scrambles the contents of each message or call so that only the designated recipient can understand them, is designed based on the assumption that the cellular network and other devices are fundamentally untrustworthy.

Secure phones aren’t entirely novel, but they have, in the past, been either difficult to obtain or difficult to use. The N.S.A. developed some of the first encrypted telephone systems, like theSecure Telephone Unit, a safe-size, multi-thousand-dollar device that was released in the nineteen-seventies. More recently, the agency released blueprints for a secure Android phone called Fishbowl, though it’s hard to imagine who would use the device now. A German company called GSMK has also been producing a series of secure phones, called CryptoPhone, for a number of years. Like the Blackphone, the CryptoPhone uses a “hardened” operating system that makes the device more difficult to hack, but its programming code is available for anyone to look at, allowing its security to be independently verified by experts. (Blackphone is promising to release its source code at some time in the future, but right now its creators say their priority is making sure the phone ships.)

While there aren’t many technical details yet available, Blackphone seems to be reaching for a more mainstream audience by leveraging a consumer aesthetic that you might call “surveillance-state chic.” Its promotional video is awash in dystopian imagery: a hooded figure, dressed head-to-toe in black, navigates a dense urban sprawl, as surveillance cameras watch. “Technology was supposed to make our lives better,” the narrator gravely intones. “Instead, we have lost our privacy. We have become enslaved. Now, it’s time for a change.”

Some of the privacy advocates I’ve spoken with worry that using “black” or “dark” as a predominant sensibility sends the wrong message. These motifs “sound l33t, cool, and anarchistic, but that’s not the branding our goal needs,” said Brennan Novak, a designer who works on privacy software. “Having private conversations should not have the stigma of potentially dangerous and illegal activity attached to it.” Other services that use similar branding include Dark Wallet, a tool that promises to provide private Bitcoin transactions, and Dark Mail,a secure email system being developed by Silent Circle and the defunct Webmail provider Lavabit.

Perhaps more alienating is the fact that the level of privacy that Blackphone promises comes at a premium: in many ways, Blackphone is a vessel for Silent Circle’s existing subscription service, which has a monthly fee and requires both parties to install the apps in order to communicate completely securely. The company’s chief technology officer, Jon Callas, told me that he estimates that Blackphone’s up-front price will be less than the cost of the latest iPhone (six hundred forty-nine dollars) and will include a Silent Circle subscription for new customers. But, he emphasized, users will also be able to install other privacy apps and services, switch carriers, or load an entirely different operating system.

“They are selling expensive services and hardware to people who can afford it, and they are building silo’d communication systems,” said Nathan Freitas of the Guardian Project, a group that builds free privacy apps for smartphones and tablets. The group also makes pre-configured software that runs on commercial handsets from manufacturers like LG and Samsung, which it bundles with training and documentation that it sells to human-rights organizations at cost. Freitas’s goal, however, is to build a privacy layer that will work on any smartphone—even the cheap, plastic ones “available in the corner shop,” he said.

Still, Silent Circle has seen its subscriber base expand since the Snowden revelations. When I asked Callas whether Blackphone is meant for security-savvy professionals or for average people, he described his customer as “in between, or maybe a bit of both.” Blackphone’s advantage, he said, is that it makes encryption tools and privacy the default experience. “It would please me to no end if someone wrote an article on how to lock down and secure Android, and the cookbook ended with, ‘Or you could just buy a Blackphone,’ ” he told me.

At the end of the day, even a phone that provides completely secure texting, calling, and video chat offers users limited protection. The N.S.A.’s metadata program, which collects the phone records of virtually every American, and was declared illegal by a federal oversight board, gets its data from carriers, not from individual handsets. In a speech about the N.S.A., President Obama proposed changes to the program, but made clear that its core capabilities would remain intact. At the same time, a new Transparency Report shows that Verizon received requests for U.S. customer data from law enforcement more than three hundred and twenty thousand times in 2013; only eleven per cent of the demands included probable-cause warrants.

Meanwhile, data such as a phone’s location, as well as personal information accessed through “leaky” apps, are sent to cell towers as part of a phone’s normal functioning. A new report from the Guardian reveals that U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have been collecting data transmitted to third-party ad networks by “free” mobile apps like Angry Birds, which can include users’ age, location, sexual orientation, and other personal details. Surveillance tools, like the I.M.S.I catchers that the Ukrainian government probably used against protesters, can collect data about all of the devices around them—sometimes even when the devices are turned off. In other words, no matter how secure the smartphones themselves may be, the apps that people most want to download, and the networks they most want to use, continue to be vulnerable.

Yet even if Blackphone’s innovations reside purely in marketing, as some suspect, it might still represent a tiny step forward for mobile privacy. If it succeeds, said Freitas, “that could be all that is really needed for this type of solution to break through to a wider, mainstream market.”

Joshua Kopstein is a cyberculture journalist from New York City.



10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

Rolex really isn’t like any other watch brand. In fact, the privately held, independently run entity isn’t like most other companies. I can say this now with a lot more clarity than most people because I was there. Rolex rarely allows anyone into its hallowed halls, but I was invited to visit their four manufacture locations in Switzerland and experience first-hand how Rolex makes their famous watches.

Rolex is a universe of its own: respected; admired; valued; and known across the globe. Sometimes I sit back and think about all that Rolex is and does and find it hard to believe that at the end of the day, they just make watches. Rolex does just make watches and their timepieces have taken on a role beyond that of mere timekeeper. Having said that, the reason a “Rolex is a Rolex” is because they are good watches and tell pretty good time. It’s taken me over a decade to fully appreciate the brand, and it will probably take longer before I learn everything I’d like to know about them.

The purpose of this article isn’t to give you a totally inside look at Rolex. That isn’t possible because as of now there is a strict “no photography” policy at Rolex. There is a very real mystique behind the manufacture because they are relatively closed and their operations aren’t public. The brand takes the concept of Swiss discreetness to a new level, and in a lot of ways that is good for them. So since we can’t show you what we saw, I’d like to share with you some interesting facts that every Rolex and watch lover should know.

1. They Use An Expensive And Difficult To Machine Steel Because It Looks Better

Many watch lovers are familiar with the fact that Rolex uses a type of steel that no one else uses. Stainless steel is not all the same. Steel comes in various types and grades… and most steel watches are made from a type of stainless steel called 316L. Today, all the steel in Rolex watches is made from 904L steel, and as far as we know, pretty much no one else does. Why?

Rolex used to use the same steel as everyone else, but in around 2003 they moved their entire steel production to 904L steel. In 1988 they released their first 904L steel watch with a few versions of the Sea-Dweller. 904L steel is more rust and corrosion resistant, and is somewhat harder than other steels. Most important to Rolex, is that 904L steel, when worked properly, is able to take (and hold) polishes incredibly well. If you’ve ever noticed that steel on a Rolex watch looks different than other watches, it is because of 904L steel, and how Rolex has learned to work with it.

A natural question is why doesn’t everyone else in the watch industry use 904L steel? A good guess is because it is more expensive and much more complicated to machine. Rolex had to replace most of their steel working machines and tools to deal with 904L steel. It made sense for them because of the amount of watches they produce, and because they make all their parts in-house. Most other brands get their cases made from outside suppliers. So even though 904L steel is better than 316L steel for watches, it is more expensive, requires special tools and skills, and is overall more difficult to work with. This has prevented other brands (so far) from taking advantage of it, and is something special that Rolex has. The benefit is obvious once you handle any steel Rolex watch.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

2. Rolex Has Its Own Science Lab

Given everything Rolex has done over the years it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have an internal Research & Development department. However, Rolex takes it well beyond that. Rolex has not one, but several different types of extremely well-equipped professional science labs at their various facilities. The purpose of these labs isn’t just to research new watches and things that may go into watches, but also to research more effective and efficient manufacturing techniques. One way of looking at Rolex is that they are an extremely competent and almost obsessively organized manufacturing company – that just happens to make timepieces.

Rolex labs are as diverse as they are amazing. Perhaps the most visually interesting is the chemistry lab. Full of beakers and tubes that carry liquids and gases, the Rolex chemistry lab is full of highly trained scientists. What is it mostly used for? Well one thing that Rolex stated is that the lab is used for developing and researching oils and lubricants that they use in machines during the manufacturing process.

Rolex has a room with multiple electron microscopes and some gas spectrometers. They are able to take an extremely close look at metals and other materials to investigate the effects of machining and manufacturing techniques. These large areas are extremely impressive and are used seriously on a regular basis to remedy or prevent possible problems.

Of course Rolex also uses its science labs on the watches themselves. An interesting room is the stress test room. Here watch movements, bracelets, and cases undergo simulated wear and abuse on custom-made machines and robots. Let’s just say that it would not be unreasonable to assume your typical Rolex is designed to last a lifetime (or two).

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

3. Their Movements Are All Hand-Assembled And Tested

One of biggest misconceptions about Rolex is that machines build their watches. The rumor is so pervasive that even people at aBlogtoWatch believed it to be mostly true. This is because traditionally Rolex didn’t communicate much on this topic. Well the truth is that Rolex watches are given all the hands-on human attention that you’d like to expect from a fine Swiss made watch.

Rolex uses machines in the process for sure. In fact, Rolex easily has the most sophisticated watch making machinery in the world. The robots and other automated tasks are really used for tasks that humans aren’t as good at. These include sorting, filing, cataloging, and very delicate procedures that involve the type of care you want a machine to handle. Most of these machines are still human-operated though. And everything from Rolex movements to bracelets are assembled by hand. A machine however helps with doing things such as applying the right pressure when attaching pins, aligning parts, and pressing down hands. Having said that, all Rolex watch hands are still set by hand via a trained technician.

It would be an understatement to suggest that Rolex is obsessive about quality control. A predominant theme in the manufacture is that things are checked, re-checked, and then checked again. It feels as though their goal is to ensure that if a Rolex watch fails, it does so before it leaves the factory. Large teams of watchmakers and assembly people work on every single movement that Rolex produces. This is before and after their movements are sent to COSC for chronometer certification. And on top of that, Rolex re-tests their movements for accuracy after they are cased for several days while simulating wear before they are sent out to retailers.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

4. An In-House Foundry Makes All Their Gold

Rolex makes their own gold. While they have a small handful of suppliers that send them steel (Rolex still works the steel in-house to make all the parts), all the gold and platinum is made in-house. 24k gold comes into Rolex and it is turned into 18k yellow, white, or Rolex’s Everose gold (their non-fading version of 18k rose gold).

Large kilns under hot flames are used to melt and mix the metals which are then turned into cases and bracelets. Because Rolex controls the production and machining of their gold, they are able to strictly ensure not only quality, but the best looking parts. To our knowledge Rolex is the only watch manufacture that makes their own gold or even has a real foundry in-house.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

5. Technology Is A Watchmaker’s Best Friend

The philosophy at Rolex seems to be very pragmatic, if a human does it better, then let a human do it, if a machine does it better, then let a machine do it. In fact the reason more watchmakers don’t use machines is two-fold. First of all machines are huge investments and in many instances keeping people around to do it is less expensive. Second, they don’t have the production demands that Rolex does. In fact, Rolex is fortunate to have the ability to equip its facilities with robotic help where needed.

The epicenter of Rolex’s automation prowess is the master supply room. Massive columns of parts are attended to by robotic servants that store and retrieve trays with parts or complete watches. A watchmaker needing parts must simply place an order with the system, and it is delivered on a series of conveyer systems to them in about 6-8 minutes.

Robotic arms populate the Rolex manufacture locations when it mostly comes to repetitive or highly detailed tasks that require consistency. Many Rolex parts are given an initial machine polish by a robot, but amazingly they are hand-finishing and polished as well. The fact is that while modern technology is a huge part of the “Rolex manufacturing machine,” robotic equipment is there to assist what is a very real, human watch making operation.10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

6. Fort Knox Has Nothing On Rolex

It isn’t surprising that Rolex is keen on security. At their foundry for example, I was given a bar to carry around that weighed in at just over $1,000,000 worth of Everose gold. There is a lot more of that, as well as valuable completed watches that need safekeeping. Rolex employs a series of extremely meticulous security checks and they had a James Bond-style safe that is located a few floors underground.

I noticed that rank and file watch assembly employees have an interesting system on their desks that required their ID badge be docked at all times after being identified with a fingerprint scan. Everything is scanned and cataloged. In fact, each Rolex watch movement has a unique serial number that is photographed and matched with a case that also has a different unique serial number. In the future when the watch is serviced, a watchmaker can learn everything there is to know about it.

Accessing the Rolex safe requires entering a bank vault door and passing an iris scanner that identifies you via your eyes. When Rolex parts move from location to location, they are transported in highly discreet unmarked (and likely heavily armored) trucks. Rolex is very serious about their safety, and for a really good reason since it is often said (in truth) that Rolex watches are just as good as money.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

7. Dive Watches Are Each Individually Tested In Pressurized Tanks With Water

All Rolex Oyster case watches are thoroughly tested for water resistance. The way that this is often done at watch manufactures is with an air-pressure tank. A watch is placed in a small chamber that is filled with air, and if the pressure changes at all, it means that air leaked into the case. Each Rolex Oyster, as well as Oyster dive watches begins with this air pressure treatment. In fact, each case is tested both before and after a movement and dial are placed inside of it.

Dive watches receive a separate treatment all together. After being air pressure tested, Rolex proceeds to test the water resistance of each and every Rolex Submariner and Deep Sea watch in actual water. This type of test is much less common. Submariner watches are placed in large tubes that are filled with water to ensure that they are water resistant to 300 meters. The test is extremely complex because Rolex employs a complex system for testing if water entered the case.

After the watches exit the tank, they are heated up and a drop of cold water is placed on the crystal to see if condensation forms. An optical sensor then scans them for trace amounts of water. Less than one in a thousand watches fail the test. The story is much more intense for Deep-Sea watches. Rolex co-developed a special high-pressure water tank with COMEX to depth test each Deep-Sea watch. The pressure tank looks like something from a science fiction movie. Imagine something that looks like a several ton Gatling gun. This machine takes well over an hour and measures each watch to a pressure equivalent to 12,000 meters deep.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

8. An Army Of Gemologists Work At Rolex

It has been said that Rolex has preposterous standards for the materials it buys from its suppliers. This includes things like metals as well as precious stones such as diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Rolex has a massive gemological department whose goal it is to buy, test, arrange, and set diamonds and other precious stones in a range of Rolex models. One of the things they do is check incoming stones to ensure that they are real. Using x-rays for example, they can test diamonds to ensure they aren’t fake.

Rolex reports that in the years they have been testing diamonds, only two in 20 million have been fake. That might seem like such a small amount it isn’t even worth their time to perform the test. Nevertheless, to ensure absolute quality, Rolex tests each batch of diamonds. This should also have an illustrative effect on the diamonds they use, which happen to only be IF in clarity, and D-G in color (the four grades closest to white).

Each and every diamond or precious stone (no matter how large or small) on a Rolex watch is hand-selected and hand-set. Rolex employs traditional jewelers to create custom settings for stones in their most exclusive watches, done using the same processes employed in creating the world’s finest jewelry. It was amazing to see this level of artisanship and delicate care inside what many people believe to be a mass producer.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

9. It Takes About A Year To Make One Rolex Watch

An advertisement for Rolex long ago claimed that it takes about a year to make a single Rolex watch. As suspicious as that sounds, it is true even today. Rolex produces almost a million watches a year, but surprisingly, no shortcuts are taken in the manufacturing process from what I could observe (and I’ve been to a lot of watch manufactures). Rolex is however interested in quality and efficiency. Basically, the entire company seems focused on producing the best watches, and continually seeing how they can make them better.

If you look at Rolex watches over time, they are more about evolution rather than revolution. This idea of always improving versus changing goes right into their manufacturing process as well. They are constantly learning how to improve quality through better processes and techniques. The move from aluminum to ceramic bezel inserts is a perfect example. Nevertheless, from starting to shape the parts of the case to testing a completed watch for accuracy, the process takes around one year.

Of course Rolex could speed this up for certain models if necessary, but each watch requires so many parts and virtually everything is made from base materials in-house. Once all the parts for a Rolex watch are completed, they are then mostly hand-assembled and individually tested. The testing and quality assurance process is rather intense.

A good example is how Rolex makes each of their watch dials. All of the dial are made in-house, and one of the most impressive facts is that all of the applied hour markers are set individually by hand. Often times at other brands, machines perform this process, but Rolex learned that a human eye is better trained to spot problems. So individual hour markers are applied and riveted by hand. Dials are dropped from 20cm up in the air to ensure that none of the hour markers fall out. This is a careful and time consuming process, and it is among the many elements of making watches at Rolex that is done by a skilled human being. Taken together, because of Rolex’s rather fanatical dedication to quality across their huge production, watches take on average, about a year to produce.

10 Things To Know About How Rolex Makes Watches   look inside manufacture

10. Rolex Makes Virtually Everything In-House

After having said all of the above it probably doesn’t come as a big surprise that Rolex makes virtually everything in-house as a totally vertically integrated manufacturer. As of right now the only major parts that Rolex doesn’t make for all of their watches are the synthetic sapphire crystals and many of the dial hands (though I have a feeling the latter will change in the next several years). Rolex produces their own gold, cases, bracelets, dials, bezels, and movements in-house with incredible efficiency and quality.

It isn’t just that Rolex can afford all the most useful machines, but also that Rolex invests into processes and techniques that are tightly-held trade secrets. The real value inside the Rolex factory are their tools and know-how, which no one could replicate even if they had a copy of their facilities.

Making everything in-house allows Rolex to be truly independent. Watch collector’s often agree that there is the watch industry and then there is Rolex – the two just happen to make similar products. It is hard to love watches and not appreciate what Rolex is and what they produce. Traveling there I can fully understand why they aren’t only the most successful high-end watch manufacture, but why they are also one of the most successful luxury brands in the world.

If I had to say one last thing about Rolex, it is that even if you personally don’t like how their products look on your wrist (which puts you in a minority or people if after a few years you don’t appreciate at least some models), you simply can’t deny the absolute sense of confidence, reliability, and dignity the brand name communicates. I can personally attest to that. rolex.com

Source: http://www.ablogtowatch.com/10-things-know-rolex-makes-watches/2/


How Silicon Valley Became The Man

by Justin Fox  |   12:00 PM January 9, 2014    

Silicon Valley has been taking a lot of heat lately for its power and elitism. That’s only natural for a region that has rapidly gained enormous economic and cultural clout. But it seems especially ironic that this is happening in the San Francisco Bay area, that one-time headquarters of flower powerwhere entrepreneurs have long fashioned themselves as rebels and iconoclasts battling robotic rivals (Microsoft, IBM) and liberating workers from the hierarchical ways of corporate life.

Thinking about this got me wondering how exactly those California hippies (I grew up in the Bay area in the 1960s and 1970s, so I’m allowed to make sweeping and largely inaccurate generalizations like that, right?) became The Man. So I asked Fred Turner.

Turner, a professor of communications at Stanford, is the author of a book I had been meaning to read for a while, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital UtopianismNow I’ve read it, and it’s great, an academic but extremely accessible history of ideas that explains a lot about how people in Silicon Valley think and talk. Its central character, Brand, went from Stanford student to one of author Ken Kesey’s LSD-poppingMerry Pranksters to founding the iconic Whole Earth Catalog to helping shape the Valley’s modern business ethos in innumerable ways. Other important figures in the book include Wired’s founding executive editor, Kevin Kelly, and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow.

Turner also has a new book out this month that he bills as a prequel From Counterculture to CybercultureThe Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixtiesbut I talked to him mainly about the lessons of the first book. What follows are edited excerpts of our conversation.

Is there something about the Silicon Valley ethos that was legitimate before and is less so now? Or is this kind of a conflict that’s always been there?

I think there’s always been a tension between the countercultural rhetoric of Silicon Valley and its insurgent but ultimately corporate ethos. It’s much easier to claim a kind of insurgent stance when you are in fact a brand-new industry and you’re taking on groups like Microsoft. At this point, Google is not a small player. It may have come on the scene quickly, but it’s huge, as are Facebook and a number of other local players. So the irony is that they’ve entered a place of corporate dominance with a rhetoric built from an era of business insurgency. That’s an irony that we’re living with at the moment. But I do think that there’s always been a tension between being a liberating force and being The Man. And that goes back to the counterculture.

I always thought the ‘60s and the counterculture were one thing. I didn’t understand until I started doing that book that in fact there were two actually fairly distinct movements, one, the New Left, doing politics to change politics, and the other, what I ended up calling the New Communalists, who were headed back to the land and wanted to change the world by changing essentially their minds, their consciousness. That first group, the New Left, believed in bureaucracy, believed in hierarchy, believed in organizations. The second group, the New Communalists, believed in doing away with all of those things and turning instead to small-scale technologies, LSD, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, etc. as technologies with which to kind of change our minds.

Having gotten our minds changed, having gotten our heads together, as the phrase went, we could then build communities oriented around the shared mindset. We would no longer need rules. We would no longer need governance. We would no longer need bureaucracy or hierarchy at all. Now the trouble is, when you actually do that, and folks discovered this on the communes, you end up embracing the very social norms that organize life outside of bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic systems are actually really good systems for distributing resources. You have to negotiate. You have to express explicitly what resources exist and how they should be distributed. In a communal system built around shared consciousness, what starts to happen is that people with charisma start to lead and cultural norms kick in. Communes ended up being places that were deeply racially divided, even though none of them would ever cop to being explicitly racist or wouldn’t even want to be. Gender norms were incredibly conservative on communes. I don’t know how many photographs I’ve looked at of young women, pregnant, barefoot, carrying loaves of bread.

One of the things that I think we’ve inherited from the ‘60s is a habit of seeing the cultural space as the space in which we do business and make change. And the trouble with that is that it makes it very hard to negotiate things like class or race or distribution of the kind of social goods that come from business.

A great example of this on the ground in Mountain View where I live today is Google. Google treats its engineers extremely well, offers extremely flexible work spaces, has built essentially a culture of collaboration and creativity that looks very communal and very wonderful, even as around those engineers it has cafeteria workers who are making something very close to minimum wage, and often lack the ability to get proper health insurance. That’s the kind of old communal mindset right there, where you bring together a kind of elite, give them a shared mindset, all the resources they need to live in that mindset, and yet surround them with folks who are relatively impoverished, often racially different, certainly members of a different class. In that sense, the communes were already The Man. And we’ve inherited their legacy.

But it’s not like Larry Page and Sergey Brin ever lived on a commune. They came along long after the counterculture. How do you draw that connection?

One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool.

What we’ve inherited in the contemporary setting are both of those features. We’ve inherited a very powerful, technology-centered research culture that is, in its own terms, very flexible, very creative, very collaborative. But we’ve also inherited a kind of ethos, a kind of ideology, a sense of cool that comes from the counterculture having legitimated that style back in the ‘60s. That’s what you see in Google. You see both the innovation and the ethos of cool.

Another thing, even though the Bay Area leans Democratic and culturally feels like it’s at one in certain ways with East Coast liberals, libertarianism is a big part of how people think there. And, reading your book, that’s been there for a long time.

A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”

That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.

I saw Stewart Brand at a conference a couple months ago. He was describing the difference between Berkeley and the Peninsula [what’s now called Silicon Valley] in the ‘60s. And his argument was that Berkeley was about power to the people. And he was about power to people.

My challenge to that view would be that power to people is a really good way of ignoring the structural differences between kinds of people. Structurelessness is a problem. And it’s less of a problem when you share cultural similarities with other folks, or genotypic or phenotypic similarities. So Stewart Brand’s circle tends to look a lot like Stewart Brand. It tends to be mostly white, often male. And that’s true for many elite Silicon Valley leaders. I don’t think that shared cultural similarity is a sufficient structure. It results in bad distribution of resources. It gets very hard to get resources to people who are different than yourself. I think our challenge is to find ways to reach out to folks who are different than ourselves, not to build clusters of likeminded people.

On the other hand, since both of us are kind of dumping on this ethos, it has beenenormously successful.

It’s so interesting to think about what success means in this context. I mean, has it led to technological innovation? Absolutely, an efflorescence of technological innovation. Has it led to an incredible diversity of consumer goods, and to the time for those who make them to enjoy them? Absolutely, really powerfully. Has it, on the other hand, done some of the things that used to be goals of business in the ‘40s and the ‘50s?

I’ve spent a lot of time researching the ‘40s and ‘50s, and I keep encountering these very civic-minded business leaders who see as their mission simultaneously the making of profit and the making of a better society. Has the rise of information technology and the expansion of what was originally the military-industrial complex substantially improved our lives? The jury’s still out on that. I can certainly connect with my friends more easily. But am I living in a world where more people have more resources? You know, the economic numbers don’t bear that out. What we see is a society bifurcating very rapidly between the haves and the have nots, and the middle class melting away. Have we built a society that is more racially accepting, more racially diverse? To some degree, less degree than I’d like to see. I think that even as we’ve innovated like crazy, we haven’t solved some of the problems of inequality and diversity that were core to the ‘60s and core to business in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

That seems like a good place to wrap it up. But I also want to give you a chance, since you have a new book coming out, which you’ve described as a prequel to From Counterculture to Cyberculture, to tell a little bit about it.

One interesting thing about the 1960s was how many people in that period were actually reading books from the 1940s. I was always told that the 1960s were a rebellion, that they overthrew this kind of gray, bureaucratic, mass-mediated era. What I discovered was that on the contrary, they embraced a whole series of collaborative, wild, socially benevolent ideals from the ‘40s and made them their own in the ‘60s. The book opens in the late ‘30s with a moment in which Americans are terribly afraid that mass-media technologies are going to turn us into fascists. And it shows how a whole series of American intellectuals and artists, John Cage and many others, build multimedia environments in the hope of creating a new kind of democratic person. Those multimedia environments and that person end up in the 1960s as Stewart Brand, building the kind of creative, technology-centered communities that become the basis of the world we see now.

And the books from the ‘40s that they’re reading, some of them you mentioned in From Counterculture to Cyberculture, like Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics and The Human Use of Human Beings …

Norbert Wiener is part of it. But the other part of it that I hadn’t known as much was anthropology and psychology. So they’re reading Erich Fromm. They’re reading Margaret Mead. They’re readingGregory Bateson. Those folks are, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, pushing back very hard and very publicly against the kind of right-wing stuff that we remember from that period. So they’re writing against racism. They’re writing in favor of a sexually diverse America. They’re writing in favor of personal satisfaction as the proper measure of a society’s quality. All of those become core ideas in the ‘60s. And they were all there in the ‘40s and ‘50s very publicly, in a way that we’ve simply forgotten. The other piece that I think is important in that book for the stories that we’re talking about today is the rise of multimedia as a mode. We live surrounded by screens right now. That kind of surrounding by screens is something that the intellectuals and artists of the ‘40s and ‘50s explicitly called for as an alternative to mass media, as an alternative to cinema and radio and newspapers, which they believe had empowered Germany and American leaders to create hierarchical, top down, potentially fascist sorts of societies. When I walk around Silicon Valley now and hear the critique of hierarchy, I’m hearing Margaret Mead again. And I’m hearing Ruth Benedict and I’m hearing Gregory Bateson talk about the need to build multimedia environments in which people can find themselves by selecting images and sounds from around them, fulfilling their individual destinies, and thereby building a more democratic, less hierarchical, more egalitarian sort of society. That’s the connection.

[Our conversation then went off topic for a while, but eventually returned to a discussion of the value of intellectual history. I said that studying it makes clear to what extent ideas and ideologies are the product of historical circumstance.] It gives you this feeling of “Oh, so this isn’t ordained by nature.”

I think that’s right. The ability to claim to be ordained by nature is something industrial players in particular strive for. This is where we get some of that early 20th Century social Darwinism, you know? My company isn’t just successful, it is ordained by nature. You can see that happening out here now in Silicon Valley all over the place. There’s this wonderful circular logic I see at Google, where the saying is, “Don’t be evil.” OK, fine, what’s good? Well, providing information is good. Who provides the information? Google. Oh, what’s good for Google is good for the world. You know, the natural order needs information. And who provides it? Well naturally, Google.

There’s quite a lot of that going around. So I think that the work of disenchanting that and sort of saying it could have been otherwise is important.


Justin Fox is Executive Editor, New York, of the Harvard Business Review Group and author of The Myth of the Rational Market. Follow him on Twitter @foxjust.

Giovanna Furlanetto – THE LADY OF THE BAGS

If we take the first part of his surname, we can immediately find out who is Giovanna Furlanetto, known Italian entrepreneur but especially female face of one of the leading companies in the world market of leather goods: Furla . Furla Today the brand is present in 64 countries with 296 stores brand positioned in the most prestigious streets of international shopping , a distribution network of over a thousand qualified retail outlets and a major travel retail channel. L ‘ Furla company was founded in 1927 in Bologna sophisticated thirties. Aldo and Margherita Furlanetto were the directors who have given rise to many leather goods and accessories of high quality craftsmanship and unique style that, in short, achieved a visibility around the world. Furla is a company that grows gradually, a company that always leaves more room for presence of women, so as to reach 78% of the same: a business decision that aims to give space to young people and women . Initially, the company proposed to meet the demand of women each object type and leather accessories, following the rhythms and the evolution of society , telling the story through his creations, and today the style Furla also meets the needs of all people. ‘s first collection of Furla handbags debuted in the 70s. He distinguished himself immediately decided for the design and the use of special materials, such as the combination of leather, nylon and rubber . Over the years the company has continuously invested in research and technology to assure constant innovation of its creations, always characterized by a sober, elegant and essential Furla.With its strong personality , Joan gave lifeblood to this development by increasing , always keeping in mind the one hand the sequence of events, the innovations of the company, not ever departing from the tradition of Italian craftsmanship. was born in 1999 Furla Prize with the intent to monitor and promote young emerging Italian artists, creatives is in art and fashion.campaign for the launch of the new collection of accessories Furla Spring / Summer 2010 was chosen Sissi Furla Premo-winning Italian artist for the Art in 2002. Sissi The body is real testimony of the soul of his work: his original style, his energy and his aesthetic engage in a natural way in the new collection of Furla, which offers a contemporary world with a cut sober and elegant, but still free from the characters of the moment. So like its predecessors, the new collection Furla Spring / Summer 2010 is exposed to an international clientele who are looking for quality and originality to a conscious purchase price. Due to its constant commitment in the fashion world (and art), June 2 2008 Giovanna Furlanetto is appointed by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, Cavaliere del Lavoro . , not only in Italy, his commitment is recognized around the world: the Champs Elysées in Paris on Madison Avenue in New York , from Tokyo to Sydney in Dubay . What is the secret of this success internationally ? Can a fashion house meet the needs of people so different? Furla has succeeded . Furla is not never put any limits and, in recent interviews, Giovanna Furlanetto said that there will be further enhanced leather goods, jewelery and accessories all in conjunction with the appointment of Eraldo Poletto as Chief Executive Officer , who will join the team Furla in June 2010.


Par Elena Carotti – 19.12.2013

Giovanna Furlanetto gives us her insights on one of the most widespread Italian luxury brand and her involvement with contemporary art.

Giovanna Furlanetto gives us her insights on one of the most widespread Italian luxury brand and her involvement with contemporary art.

Which principles have influenced you during your 40 years career?

Giovanna Furlanetto: I have always been influenced by my father’s principles: utmost dedication, commitment and great passion for my work. He motivated and encouraged me to always go on and to fly high, offering me the opportunity to work in our field since I was very young. He used to say all the time: “You are like a vessel, and you have to fill it with contents”. If you add to this philosophy the constant drive for research, innovation and experimentation – intrinsic values of our company’s DNA – you will understand how you can always surprise and amaze people.

Furla turnover has been constantly growing for years. What is the secret of your success?

Giovanna Furlanetto: Furla’s success lies in its solid identity as a Premium Lifestyle Brand, which means to ensure its customers a luxurious shopping experience at a value for money. The sophisticated and, at the same time, all-purpose design, which characterizes all collections of handbags and accessories, emphasizes the concept of functionality and versatility required by modern life, firmly bound to an everlasting sense of beauty and elegance. Furla is timeless and contemporary at the same time, and much more than this. Our creative vision – which is always addressed to the incomparable tradition of “made in Italy” and to the time-honoured culture of the product – represents the driving force behind the unremitting and unconditional attention towards the whole product and the smallest detail of it.

During 85 years of activity, we have created a very transverse brand: “Essential, popular and edgy” at the same time. It expresses the right mix of creativity, wonder, fun and quality that makes Italy famous across the world.

95% of employees at Furla are women. What are the advantages of this strong presence in terms of management and creativity?

Giovanna Furlanetto: I think that this high percentage of women working at Furla is a natural choice, if we think of their sensitivity and understanding of a range of products dedicated to them and their everyday lives and needs.

Furla’s communication is closely related to contemporary art. In which way can art give an added value to the perception of a brand?

Giovanna Furlanetto: I believe that all initiatives, which connect Furla to the art world, represent a new way to discover and support the next generation of contemporary artists. Moreover these initiatives are a significant way to bring new exchanges and synergies, perceived by the company as a precious opportunity to broaden its horizons and feed its creativity.

The Candy Bag is your best-seller, also thanks to the innovative travelling tour called #candycool. How was developed this project and what kind of follow-up do you envisage for the future?

Giovanna Furlanetto: The #candycool project – firstly staged in Tokyo, and then in Seoul and Shanghai – fully embodies our desire to experiment new solutions and means of expression thanks to the participation of artistic talents and trend setters from all over the world. These special collaborators have been invited to interpret and customize the Candy Bag following our “glocal” perspective, which means that each local culture exalts the international appeal and flavour of our iconic bag. At the end Furla designers will develop a unique Candy Bag Limited Edition inspired by all the models interpreted and personalized by the different teams spread around the world. As a synthesis of this collective and multicultural collaboration, Furla will show its Candy Bag Limited Edition at the next Milanese fashion week in February 2014.

The Furla Art Award is the most important award in Italy for Italian emerging artist today. What are the objectives for the future editions?

Giovanna Furlanetto: Since I felt, more than 10 years ago, the desire to do something for contemporary art in Italy – where our success has its roots – Furla has been strongly committed to encouraging and promoting young artists, helping them to achieve visibility and creating a new interest in contemporary art. Since the first edition in 2000, this highly recognized award has been involving a wide network of art critics, curators, museum directors and prestigious art centres.

Our main goal for the future is to give continuity to this project and to increase the international visibility of our artists, catching the attention of foreign critics towards Italy and also giving the participants the opportunity to study and convey their vision abroad.

You have a tight link with Marina Abramovic, the icon-artist. Marina was the patron artist of 2009 edition of the Furla Award and Furla Foundation sponsored the film « Marina Abramovic Method » by Giada Colagrande presented at the Venice Film Festival last year. Do you envisage a further cooperation with Marina for her new project, the Marina Abramovic Institute?

Giovanna Furlanetto: Marina is a visionary and eclectic artist and her latest project demonstrates how keen she is to involve the public in performance art. She is able to create an exceptional fusion of art and people. In fact Furla has already been involved in the Marina Abramovic Institute as a supporting member.

How do you see the future of the company and the Furla Foundation, which seem to me tightly connected both for commercial and cultural reasons?

Giovanna Furlanetto: Furla is not only a brand of leather accessories but also a world of ethical and aesthetic values, which inspires and encounters the fashion world thanks to its creations together with a wide range of initiatives, which reconfirm our dedication to the time-honoured Italian heritage and beauty. That stated, the company and the foundation have independent and autonomous identities but they are strongly connected in values, creative perspectives and talent scouting. These connections, well rooted in all of our commercial plans, will continue to link the brand with all the artistic initiatives of the Furla Foundation.

Is Wearable Technology a Fad or the Future?

Predictions for the exploding wearables market are through the roof. But there’s lots of reasons these new gadgets don’t have the revolutionary power of smartphones.
Wearable technology is having its moment.

Everywhere you look, new gadgets that can be attached, strapped on, or donned arrive on the market. On my desk alone, there’s the heart rate monitor/training watch I got last year. The Fitbit I received as a holiday president from IAC (Thanks, Mr. Diller), and the meditation goggles that Psioplanet sent me to try out. I’m eager to try out the Hexicon  shirt, a sort of $399 Under-Armour-meets-emergency-room garment that displays your vital signs. Meanwhile, a bunch of savvy companies are trying to revive the digital watch: there’s the Samsung smartwatch, the Pebble, the much-rumored iWatch.

Wearables are a huge thing at the Consumer Electronics Show currently unfolding in Las Vegas. Participants have seen Intel’s Smart Onesie, an all-enveloping baby monitor, Epiphany, smart glasses that can stream Facebook video in real time, and vibrating underpants from a company called OhMiBod.

Analysts are busily pumping out reports trumpeting the prospects of the sector. U.K.-based Juniper Research projects the number of wearable devices shipped will rise from about 13 million in 2013 to 130 million in 2018, and that the size of the market will jump from $1.4 billion in 2013 to $19 billion in 2018. Business Insider Intelligence  projects shipments of 100 million pieces in 2014 and believes the market will ultimately be worth about $12 billion per year. IMS Research said the market for wearables was already at $8.5 billion in 2012, with 96 million devices shipped, and that it should grow to 210 million devices worth $30 billion in 2018. (Note: IMS’s definition of wearables includes industrial and military applications, not just consumer ones.)

These are widely divergent forecasts. And that’s typical when industries are in their relative infancies and in hypergrowth mode. What’s more, multi-year projections about technology adoption and spending should be taken with a grain of sale. Imagine what a 2007 forecast about smartphones would have projected for 2013—and just how woefully it would have undershot reality.

Of course, the electronics industry and the folks at CES are so excited about the prospects of wearable technology in part because some of the biggest components of the electronics industry have run into trouble. In many sectors—televisions, desktop pcs, printers, even smartphones—engineers have been too successful at developing cheap, highly functional products. To encourage consumers to dispose of products that work perfectly well and can last several more years, they’re stuck rolling out minor tweaks and changes, or by offering cheaper versions of existing products.

The real money in technology lies in creating entirely new classes of products, forging new markets, and making people realize they have been missing certain things in their lives. But it’s not clear that wearable technology can be that thing. Sure, the young market could blow to become the next smartphone—a mass industry that creates its own economic ecosystem. Or it could be develop into a series of niche products that add up to a bunch of good businesses and a bunch of failed ones. Or it could be a fad that will fade like the Macarena.

My money’s on the second option.

Consider the smartphone. Sure, skeptics abounded that the expensive iPhone and its imitators would become the new standard. But smartphones represented important innovations to a series of mass behaviors. Before the iPhone came along, people were carrying music around, making phone calls and taking photos, sending email, playing games, and accessing information and services on the internet with hand-held devices. Hundreds of millions of people were accustomed to toting these objects around, plugging them in to recharge them, and using them. Smartphones were just a much better, more convenient, all-in-one version of a bunch of popular devices. Switching to smartphones didn’t require a big change in consumer behavior.

But wearable technology promoters are asking much more of their customers. They are asking them to develop new habits very quickly, and to stick with them. The idea behind many wearable tech products is not simply to sell the hardware, but also to sell services like, say, diet and exercise advice to go along with your Up band. But that requires people to incorporate these gadgets into their daily lives in a way that they haven’t before.

Unlike a phone, wearable technology is an add-on, an accessory, something that comes on top.

And that doesn’t always happen. Everyone in our office received a Fitbit as a holiday present from our corporate parent. In the office today, only about one-tenth of the 60 people were wearing their Fitbit bands. I tried mine for a few days. Then I took it off to go into a swimming pool and never really put it back on. By the second week, I was ignoring the emails telling me the device needed to be charged. It now sits on my desk, alongside the Sony Cyber-shot camera, a Sony Bloggie camera, two defunct Blackberries, and a defunct wireless modem.

Unlike a phone, which you take because it is a communications device, your email, your work, music, and various payments—all things you can’t really get through the day without—wearable technology is an add-on, an accessory, something that comes on top. People who wear prescription glasses literally can’t leave home without putting on their specs. People who leave the house without Google Glass can function just fine. And the insertion of technology into clothes raises a host of potential problems: what if you outgrow the shirt? How do you launder electronics? Will you really wear a small set of garments over and over again just because they can tell you what your heart rate is?

And so whereas the universe of smartphone addicts is huge, I’m guessing the universe for health-and fitness-related wearable technology is more limited. Yes, there are a large number of people – cyclists, fitness nuts, food neurotics, disciples of Timothy Ferriss – who like to quantify and measure everything they put into their body, and everything that comes out of it. And so I’m guessing that people with lots of disposable income will experiment with wearable tech, and then probably not use them all that much.

Unlike a phone, wearable technology is an add-on, an accessory, something that comes on top.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of people are likely be indifferent to the leisure-and-entertainment suite of products. CES is a huge trade show. But the number of folks who dork out over the latest cool gizmos is actually a relatively small slice of the human population. In the real world, walking around with Google Glass is as likely to make you a target of opprobrium as it is a target of envy.

That’s not to say all these products will bomb, or that wearable technology won’t be a big business indeed. It’s just likely that many of the most-hyped consumer products—like Google Glass—are likely to be niche products rather than mass ones. What’s more, it is also likely that the most enduring wearable technology business will be built not on discretionary spending, but on necessary spending. Put another way, the ones with the most viability may be those making them for people who need wearables for work and survival, rather than for leisure and play.

People who have chronic conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, for example, are much more likely to benefit from health-related wearable technology than casual joggers. And so it wouldn’t be surprising to see wearable body monitors become integrated into medical treatment. Google Glass and other internet-enabled specs offer a valuable service to people who like to surf the internet while they’re walking around. But they offer a much more valuable service to people who need to access lots of information on-the-fly without using their hands: think of doctors, or salespeople, or soldiers and spies.

Like personal computers, wearable tech might wind up being something we use most in the office.

Hollywood Declares 2014 the Year of the Bible

Russell Crowe is Noah. Christian Bale is Moses. Brad Pitt is Pontius Pilate. With pages of action and a faithful fanbase, Hollywood is mining the good book for blockbuster stories.

Pop quiz: How many of the top 15 highest-U.S.-grossing movies of all time—adjusted for inflation—star comic-book characters?

Answer: Zero.

And how many are based on the Bible?

Answer: Two.

In the late 1950s, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur teamed up for $1.795 billion in adjusted domestic ticket sales. That’s more than AvatarThe Dark Knight, and Transformers combined.

Which may explain, at least in part, why the movie industry seems—unofficially, of course—to have declared 2014 The Year of the Bible.

Over the next 11 months, Hollywood is planning to release more big Biblical movies than it put out during the previous 11 years combined, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2015 (or beyond). For an industry that spent much of the 2000s shying away from explicitly religious fare—the controversyover the alleged anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christeffectively wiped out the genre, despite the film’s huge box office receipts—it’s a remarkable about-face that’s as surprising as it is sudden.

Consider the 2014 release schedule. On Feb. 28, Twentieth Century Fox is first out of the gate with Son of God, a Jesus biopic culled from the History Channel’s hit 2013 miniseries The Bible. (A Bible sequel titled A.D. is set to air next year on NBC.) Paramount is up next in March with Noah, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic re-imagining of the life of the Old Testament’s most famous ark-builder (played by Russell Crowe). Debuting in April is Heaven is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear as the father of a boy who claims to have passed through the pearly gates during a near-death experience, and both the Mother of God drama Mary (Ben Kingsley, Julia Ormond) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus (Christian Bale, Aaron Paul) follow in December, right in time for awards season.

GALLERY: Hollywood Gets Biblical in 2014: Noah, Exodus, and More (Photos)

Allen Fraser; Casey Crafford; Paramount Pictures

And that’s just 2014. Other faith-based projects kicking around Hollywood include a Cain and Abel movie directed by Will Smith; a Pontius Pilate picture starring Brad Pitt as the titular villain; an absurdist comedy about the Rapture (Kevin Smith’s Helena Handbag); and an HBO drama about the same apocalyptic reckoning (The Leftovers).

And so, given all the Biblical hustle and bustle currently consuming Hollywood, it seems like an appropriate time to ask: What the devil is going on? 

Earlier this week, I decided to put that question to the man who may have done more than anyone else in the industry to ressurect movies like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur for 2014: Mark Burnett. The British-born producer famous for SurvivorThe ApprenticeShark Tank, and The Voice, among other reality-series, Burnett is also a devout Christian (along with his wife, the actress Roma Downey). While watching The Ten Commandments on TV with their children for the umpteenth time, Burnett and Downey had an epiphany. “Our kids were like, ‘This is not that great,'” Burnett tells me. “The special effects are quite obvious. These kids are used to Superman and Batman. People’s first memories of the Bible are usually either a movie or a piece of art. So we thought an updated version could be really powerful.”

The resulting 10-hour series, The Bible—Burnett’s first scripted project—debuted on the History Channel on March 3, 2013. It was very popular (to put it mildly). The series premiere attracted 13.8 million viewers; the second and third installments pulled in about 11 million each; the finale beat AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones. All told, The Bible racked up about 100 million cumulative viewers over a six-week period, making it the third most-watched cable series or miniseries of 2013. Even the DVD was a hit, moving 525,000 copies in its first week to become the fastest-selling disc of the last half-decade. “A lot of people said to us, ‘Nobody’s going to watch The Bible in primetime TV. You guys are crazy,'” Burnett says. “But Roma and I said, ‘We think you’re completely underestimating this faith-based, Christian audience.’ And we proved that it was enormous, and that it makes sense to create something in that world.”

‘This is not a subject like doing a western or sci-fi. You can’t just make it and hope for the best.’

Now other Hollywood bigwigs seem to have taken notice (including the bigwigs at 20th Century Fox, the studio that snapped up Burnett’s Son of God shortly after The Bible scored such impressive ratings.) Which brings us to the first of three reasons I think 2014 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bible: money. 

It’s no secret that the industry is stuck in a bit of a rut. The demand for blockbusters is bigger than ever, but there are only so many comic books to mine for characters and stories, and you can’t reboot the Spider-Man franchise or churn out Iron Man sequels forever. The Bible, meanwhile, has chapter after chapter and verse after verse of (to put it crassly) action-packed material—Moses, David, Job, Jesus, Revelation, and so on—plus a “fanbase” that’s even larger and more avid than Marvel Comics’. “When we looked at it we saw that around about 50 million Americans sit in a church each week,” Burnett explains. “On a monthly basis that’s almost 150 million, because not everybody goes every Sunday. And that community is tightly knit. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was to go out and spread the word.” No marketing budget is big enough to buy the kind of word-of-mouth that flows organically through the Christian community, and no secular endorsement has the power to influence as many viewers as, say, Rick Warren’s or Joel Osteen’s. The potential payoff, as studio executives now seem to be realizing, is huge.

But there may be more to 2014’s Bible resurgence than cold, hard cash. Burnett, for one, believes that viewers are more open to messages of spiritual uplift in the wake of the 2008 financial crash than they may have been in an earlier, more comfortable age. “Part of it has to do with hope,” he says. “I feel like a lot of people, as a result of what happened in 2008, are still hurting. And they’re relying upon their faith. Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings gets more than 7 million viewers. That’s more people watching than some primetime network TV shows.”

My sense is that politics is playing a part as well. In the Age of George W. Bush, religion was a polarizing force in the public sphere. Evangelicals were on the march for the GOP; less devout (or vocal) Americans felt somewhat besieged. But with Obama in office, the religious right is no longer as powerful as it once was, and the old, divisive battles over “values” seem to have waned.

This may have had two effects—subtle but real—on moviegoing audiences. The first is that the sort of Evangelicals who took center stage during the Dubya years might feel a little “left out” at this point—meaning they’re especially eager to participate in any mainstream cultural event that’s willing to cater to them (such as The Bible). The second is that less fervent Americans no longer recoil from anything that smacks of overt religiosity because responding that way no longer feels as politically urgent as it did in, say, 2004. As a result the hard-core Christian community may be more ready than ever for a movie such as Exodus—and rest of America may be more open to it. 

So by mining the good book for blockbuster stories, Hollywood may be on to something. But as rewarding as the approach may seem, it’s worth remembering that it’s not without risks as well. In Burnett’s opinion, The Bible succeeded in large part because it was faithful to its source material. “What’s critical when you’re dealing with the Bible is that you’re accurate,” he says. “The first thing we did was to get a group of 40 church leaders and run scripts by them. There is an enormous audience, but it is very serious. This is not a subject like doing a western or sci-fi. You can’t just make it and hope for the best. There’s a way to get a massive audience if you’re faithful, and there’s also a potential backlash if you’re not. And the backlash would be pretty enormous.”

Seems like someone at Paramount agrees. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio recently demanded changes to Aronofsky’s Noah after screenings for religious groups in New York and Arizona generated “troubling” responses. At the time, Aronofsky was “dismissive,” according to a talent rep with ties to the project. But apparently the studio is aware of a possibility that its auteur prefers to ignore. Sure, the lucrative faith-based audience can giveth—but it can also taketh away.