Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marketing Brands with a Plague of Flies

Brand Managers and Marketers are a desperate lot who will stop at nothing to get their message out. For example, a publishing house in Germany has attached small banners to flies to get attention. The banners are just heavy enough that these flies could only remain in the air for a short time before landing on another person at the book fair and delivering the message again. A message that I imagine says something like: "Buy Frankfurter Buchmesse Books, Or we'll send the rest of the other nine plagues after you too."

VIA: Next Nature, VIA:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Internet for Intimacy and Revolutionary Attention Economics

Stefana Broadbent delivered a short and easily overlooked talk at TED in July of 2009. In this talk she argues that the internet, and all of its ancillary parts (cellphones, webcams, VOIP, etc.) are not causing people to cocoon themselves and cut off from others, but are instead being used to maintain connections to family members in environments that have traditionally been family free zones.

The "workplace" has become the opposite of the "private" or "social place" the employer has grown accustomed to the employee having undivided attention on the task set before them. But now the work/private divide that has grown up in the last 150 years is being short circuited by the convergence of social technology and the desire of people to connect with the people that matter in their lives.

Puran Lucas Perez, a resident of nearby Ontario, commented on the talk in a way that sparked an idea. He wrote:

Your talk seems to point beyond social transformation to a new revolutionary attitude; one not focused on overthrowing anything, but on 'self-determining attention'. Since action naturally follows attention, will this not enable us increasingly to give our hands and hearts to the things that really matter to us?

For those unfamiliar with the idea of Attention Economics, quickly and basically (and from wikipedia) "Attention economics is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems."

So in the world of Attention Economics, Stefana Broadbent is a V.I. Lenin or perhaps a Karl Marx, proposing the insidious, anti-capitalist idea that people be allowed to "spend" their attention maintaining their social spheres in the time and place traditionally given over to the capitalist. She specifically draws attention to a fact that is obvious to anyone who has ever worked a crappy job, the desirability of a persons job is directly related to the amount of attention they are allowed to give over to their social sphere. So, while it's probably OK for the CEO to spend an hour talking to his daughter in the middle of the day, a worker on the factory floor is not allowed to engage in this social activity because she's "on the clock" or "in the workplace" and so on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Technocrats and Climate Change

In the 1930's a group we historically refer to as the Technocracy movement proposed that a future society of highly complex technology would require technical experts to properly manage its affairs. A Technocracy is essentially that, government by technical experts. This is very much like experts in every field have proposed since the beginning of time: societies that rely heavily on military force eventually hear from the soldiers who believe they would know best how to direct the core mechanic of the society. The presumption of all cases is that a class of experts important to a core aspect of the society are more qualified to lead than non-experts from outside of that core.

As we move ever further into the world of complex technological integration, the world dreamed about by the technocrats of the 30's, we should be on guard against this sort of elitist mentality and increasingly cautious of the leverage technology grants experts over the population without consent. While it is certainly nothing new that a powerful elite would make choices which benefit themselves over a majority who suffer the externalities. Certain newly arriving technologies should give us pause, because their use in an anti-democratic fashion could result in major set backs for people the world over. The fact that we are moving ever closer to a technological position where one man, one lever, and one fulcrum can actually move the whole world and its people, should be another concern of anyone fighting for the protection of truly democratic institutions.

It is not my proposal that technology never be used, or that it is inherently wrong, simply that the people that it is likely to effect should have a say in how and when it is used, and that a special class of experts should not short circuit the rights of others.

Geo-engineering - the idea of applying planetary engineering to Earth, involving the deliberate modification of Earth's environment on a large scale "to suit human needs and promote habitability." In his 2007 talk at TED, David Keith proposed that we take Geo-engineering seriously and use it as a risk management solution in addition to our plans to reduce emissions to stop climate change. He also warned that it is not an expensive project to undertake, and indeed the science to accomplish the task of reducing the mean temperature of the climate is well established. So it may be that unless an effective international conversation is started on this subject soon, we may wake up some morning to find some country has begun to cool that planet without consulting everyone else. Or, that many governments have undertaken plans to do it in secret, as there is no central international body to deal with issues of adjusting the global temperature, and because in climate change there are winners and losers. Not everyone has something to lose from a warmer planet earth.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Narrative and Advertising is Valuable, Useful, Dangerous, and Necessary

A recent addition to the TED talks was a discussion of advertising by Rory Sutherland. Most humans living in the first world media sphere have grown up with a background skepticism about both advertising and the people that perpetrate the campaigns. The skepticism tells us that these messages and people are trying to manipulate us, but if anyone is entirely honest with themselves, this skepticism hasn't really stopped us from being manipulated (my mouth still waters with anticipation and desire every time I see a refreshing sprite commercial, because its more visceral than our rational skepticism.) A fact not taken into account by people skeptical of advertising is that this seedy manipulation adds value to our world. Now, if I wrote that last sentences differently I doubt I would get much of a backlash, and this just goes to prove the point. Narratives, advertising -- framing - how things are viewed -- all add value to our world because they relate and orient us to the objects and then 'us and objects' to our world in a particular way - for better or worse.

In his hilarious talk, Rory Sutherland argues that we will need to rely more on advertising in a world where we must use less natural resources, because the narrative will have to make up the value difference. Furthermore, he believes it should be combined with choice shaping behavioral economics to help us curve the individual consumption habit towards a better world. Any thoughts about this being dangerous is really obvious, but these techniques are nothing new to admen and should be seriously considered for use by green activists and their ilk.

Sutherland's talk also reminded me of a talk by Chuck Palahniuk on YouTube where he speaks about our often overlooked relationship to narratives, and the power inherent in meta-narrative creation.

Kris Kuksi: Unceasingly Byzantine

It is the unending duty of every human to sort out his relationship to, and place in, the byzantine catacombs of human history. It is up to each generation to discover what complacent part they play in the historical injustices of their world, and act appropriately. For after accepting our world contingent lives we must also accept the truth of the worlds condition. Here, in the early 21st century, we find ourselves more challenged than any generation before, with seemingly unceasing, inexhaustible, digital access to the details of our history we are constantly learning, re-learning, readjusting, and taking responsibility for the world. This is the aesthetic knowledge that is imbued in the multimedia assemblages of artist Kris Kuksi. His assemblages of mass-produced cultural and pop-cultural items into singular, amalgamated visions of humanity in metaphor, offer us a chance to view the task laid before us as humans: to try to create a coherent narrative from the fragmented, complex fields, nooks, and halls of our collected histories. His works remind us that our actions in life, our choices will ultimately determine what place in these piles of statues that we will take, if any at all.

Feed The Animals - Girl Talk

I'm late to the party here, but I just want to talk about Girl Talk's 2008 Album Feed The Animals. The copyfight issues behind the work of this sampling artist, have been bandied about by plenty of others, including in the documentary RiP! A Remix Manifesto. The aspect of sampling artistry that catches my interest is that it seems to fit my own aesthetic sense of media overload. For the last few decades of the post-modern artists have lamented the way that the information spheres constantly bombard us with unceasing message. They have depicted the media as being this omnipresent malevolent force in our lives seeking to manipulate and control us. The work of sampling artists like Girl Talk reverse the tables, here the artist takes in the unceasing message flood, remixes, reinterprets, and redirects the flows into a medium in itself. While using the media as the medium is not a new idea, I think that we have reached a point where some artists have regained control over the explosion of media and no longer feel overwhelmed.

You can download and enjoy this highly illegal art form here, on a pay what you want basis.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Extreme Ice Survey

Our lives continue to appear perfectly normal, the world perfectly stable, our futures perfectly secured. Meanwhile we undermine our climate with our every action. The Extreme Ice Survey has been collecting time-lapse photographic evidence for anyone still skeptical about climate change, or people just interested in watching miles and miles of ice disappear. James Balog gave a TED talk explaining his project in July 2009.

I find that Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads sets about the right tone for watching the world we know melt away.

[[Listen On Youtube]]

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
water flowing underground
Into the blue again
after the moneys gone
Once in a lifetime
water flowing underground.

same as it ever was... ((GL-05 Ilulissat Glacier))

same as it ever was... ((GL-06 Umiamako Glacier))

same as it ever was... ((Store Calving Live Video))

same as it ever was... ((AK-02 Columbia Glacier“ Waterline”))

And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?

God On Trial

God On Trial, I ran across this show produced by Masterpiece for PBS a while ago when it was aired on my local PBS station, and thought it was enthralling and interesting both dramatically and philosophically. The plot of the piece is that a group of prisoners at Auschwitz that have survived the gas chamber selection process have decided to put God on trial for the injustices being suffered by his chosen people. A judge is selected, along with a prosecutor and a defense advocate. One by one witnesses are called to testify on both the horrific things which have happened to their families up to their arrival at the death camp, and the cherished parts of their lives. Anyone that has read philosophical dialogues knows that they can be extremely tedious and quite boring if not done properly, but this one is well constructed and keeps your attention.

You Can Purchase A Copy of The DVD through the PBS website here.
There is also strong illegal distribution of this show, because it's quite good.
Remember to Support Local Broadcasting

Shop Apocalypse: Pritchard's Lifesaver Bottle

Michael Pritchard, an English inventor, has created the best solution for purifying polluted drinking water across the world that I have come across yet. The Lifesaver systems filter the water through a nano-material with holes that are 15nm in diameter, enabling the system to filter out all harmful bacteria and even the smallest viruses.

Prichard gave a demonstration of this device at TED in July of 2009. Useful for anyone traveling the world where the creatures in the water don't suit your GI tract.

TED Video - Michael Pritchard Invents a Water Filter

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tribes: Emergent and Deliberately Formed

Seth Godin and David Logan have both given talks at different TED conferences this year on the subject of Tribes. Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, spoke about tribes that we deliberately form to accomplish change in the world. The process for their formation running something like this:

  • We tell a story of change to people who want to hear it.
  • We connect all the people who wanted to hear the message with others like them.
  • You then lead those people towards the change in the story.
  • Finally the change is accomplished and the tribe becomes institutionalized.

The part of Godin's talk that caught my attention the most was his remark that mass marketing is now dead because of the internet, and that this is what necessitates the formation of these tribes. I'm not sure that I agree with the argument, not just because when people declare things dead they don't seem to actually die, but because large portions of the consumer audience is still subjecting itself to media channels besides the internet - so, mass marketing is still alive and kicking, but certainly it's not the shiny new marketing consultation bauble it used to be.

But, his point about mass marketing being an archaic tool on the internet is certainly true. When forming these tribes, you certainly cannot aim towards the center of the bell curve, you want to be aiming instead for highly influential people with a strong passion for your message (the more otaku the better.)

David Logan, co-author of Tribal Leadership, focused more on tribes that are emergent in society, he classified them into five 'stages' defined by verbal phrase that summarizes their socialization theme.

  • Stage 1: "All Life Sucks" - these tribes cut ties with other functioning tribes and band together excluding everyone. Examples include: cults, street & prison gangs.
  • Stage 2: "My Life Sucks" - these tribes are formed of people with common problems and situations. Examples include: People in a DMV line, People together during power outage.
  • Stage 3: "I'm Great, you're not" - these tribes are formed by people of comparable lives: professionally, academically, athletically, etc. They engage in a competitive "topper game" where each person in the group tries to out compete the other. Examples include: Stock brokers comparing returns, students comparing grades, players comparing wins in sports, etc.
  • Stage 4: "We're Great" - these tribes are formed by people of common values who are working together for a mutual goal. Examples might include: businesses that give high levels of autonomy to their employees, Churches, volunteer members of non-profit organizations, etc.
  • Stage 5: "Life is Great" - these are tribes that bring together large numbers of tribes in cooperation towards a mutual goal.

Logan, in his talk, urged people to become tribal leaders and push the tribes they end up in towards higher 'stages' of functionality. This would increase the inter-connectivity of the group and the influence and reach of it as well.

Neither of Godin's or Logan's explanations seem to be entirely satisfying, they both seem to be arguing that people should take a more deliberate hand in the structure of their social lives, pushing them towards organization and change seeking goals. Not an entirely bad idea in a world where people seem to be drifting further apart despite superficial telecommunications connections, but as many people commenting on TED have asked: how do you get people to move? A few people have answered with something I have already been thinking about lately, don't concern yourself with those who aren't moving, find the ones that are moving first and work with them.

TED Video - Seth Godin: On The Tribes We Lead

TED Video - David Logan: On Tribal Leadership