The Complete Human Genome on CD…

I went to a meeting today with some people who work at Prospect magazine, which markets itself as “the magazine for the intellectually curious general reader”. I wasn’t familiar with the publication before the meeting.

I pick up a copy of the magazine and there’s a CD attached to the front, which I glance at briefly. And then I do a comedy double-take. The CD has written on it in large blue letters on a silver background:

“The Complete Human Genome On CD”

I stood there in some kind of dumbfounded silence for a few seconds, looking at this astonishing declaration with a mixture of feelings.

First came the awe at being in the presence of such an astonishing accomplishment – the same awe I would have felt the CD had contained every book ever written in English.

Then came a certain amount of fascination, and a kind of utopian wonder at the accomplishments of humanity.

And then came a bizarre feeling of betrayal and disgust that I was really not expecting. The same space used by magazines for distributing computer game demos, dodgy shareware programs that crash your computer, picture libraries of animals running or sitting or eating each other – this pure commercial space designed to flog both magazine and product – was now being used to contain an artefact with almost arcane power as if it were the toy in a Happy Meal.

Whether they know it or not, it seems like evidence of the increasing commercialisation of our lives – the ever present opportunity to repackage, rebrand or market anything and everything as a means to the tripartite commerical gods: “Sales”, “Sales” and “Sales”. Something important has been broken.