How soon is now?

Culture in a 24 / 7 world

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  • Published: Oct 4th, 2013
  • Category: Archives
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Hard Questions [UPDATED]

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tedxles

This morning I received an email from the organizers of the TEDxLowerEastSide event, which is scheduled to be held later this month at The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts. As one would expect with a TED event, the speakers’ list looks fantastic and the theme for the day, The Hero’s Journey, is a strong platform on which to build an emotionally and intellectually compelling program.

I’ve been to one previous TEDx event, TEDxHarlem, and it was terrific, so I was eager to fill out the application. Sure, I’d be getting home late the previous day from London, but these type of opportunities shouldn’t be missed. So, I started to fill out the application which was pretty standard stuff until I came to this part:

Please choose one question and answer in 500 words

  • If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on who you are and what you do, how would you be? What would you do?
  • What is it you are trying to create in the world and how is your work helping to manifest or support that?
  • What question are you living?

Could you answer these questions? Have you even asked yourself these questions? If you’re at all like me, things just got really uncomfortable for you. Uncomfortable in a way that punctures your probably comfortable life. My guess is that you are reading this from within a well-lit, climate-controlled environment, or perhaps off of your smartphone. Sure, we all have hardships and challenges in our lives, but by and large you are probably reasonably comfortable. Go read those three questions again.

You hear a lot of talk about “getting out of your comfort zone” but it’s hard isn’t it? A job, kids, leaky roof, maybe elderly parents, there’s a lot going on in your life and quite frankly staying inside your comfort zone sounds like a damn good idea. I get that. So I’m not going to ask you to quit that nice gig, or even give up your $4.50 latte. But do this for me – copy and paste those three questions into a word document. Don’t try to answer them right now, just print the questions out and tack them up on your office wall. Just read them each day for a week, or maybe a month. Think about them a little bit. Then, when you are ready, try to answer just one of them. If you do, I hope you’ll share them with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

UPDATE: After I wrote this blog post, I sent a note to the TEDxLES organizers saying that I appreciated the invitation to apply for attendance, but didn’t feel I could honestly answer any of the three questions. this afternoon they got back to me and referred me back to the application page, noting that based in part on my comments, they have amended the application essay question. It now reads as follows:

  • If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on who you are and what you do, how would you be? What would you do?
  • What question are you living?
  • What is your favorite TED talk and why?
  • TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Which of the 3 are you particularly passionate about and why?
  • If you were to give a TED talk, what would it be about and why?

So they added to more questions, which are ‘easier’ to answer. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Actually, yes, I am sure. I don’t like it. Now people can take the easy way out. We have too much of that in this life. If I do decide to apply for attendance I won’t choose one of the latter to questions.

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10 Ways the Omnicom-Publicis Merger is like #Sharknado*

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*Apologies to Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, who wrote this tweet.

Ok, so I really don’t have a listicle regarding the mega-merger of advertising holding company titans and the similarity to said merger with the Syfy original movie / insta-meme Sharknado. But I think there is an interesting, larger cultural observation here. We seem to be living in a time where we’re seeking answers. Where so much information and data is coming at us, so rapidly, that we yearn for ways of deciphering, translating and understanding and we’re grasping for ways to do that. Grouping is one such mechanism. It’s just sometimes easier to combine things and deal with the newly created one, rather than the distinct two.

sharknadoTwo massive holding companies, each with its own stable of agencies? Let’s just mash them all up together.  Hostile and violent attacks from nature and weather? It’s too much, can’t we just make them one thing to worry about?  But even that’s not enough, I can’t possibly deal with thinking about Omniblicis and Sharknado separately, won’t someone please write a blog posts that compares the two?

We’re constantly looking for ways to simplify and explain the world we live in, and sometimes even the world we don’t live in.  Take  for example the Pixar Theory. Blogger Jon Negroni has painstakingly broken down 13 Pixar films and put together an argument for how they are all connected. That just feels better, doesn’t it?  We love to do things like this, it’s a coping mechanism I believe. We need coping mechanisms right now, desperately. Not only do we have many very real problems, but we’ve elevated some pretty esoteric ones to our collective consciousness as well. Will the Large Hadron Collider create a black hole that will swallow the world? That was a serious question asked by serious people a few years ago. Find the answer here. Are we just all AI simulations in a super advanced computer game taking place in the future? When you have to give thought to questions like that, it helps to free up psychic space by lumping other stuff together.

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Need To Know: IFTTT, DropBox and NodeXL

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Here’s a quick post on three things that caught my eye recently.

IFTTT

Craig Elimeliah, VP, Director of Creative Technology at Rapp wrote on Facebook that IFFT mobile ”has the potential to completely

If This Then That

If This Then That

revolutionize the way we interact with our mobile apps.” So, what is IFTTT? It’s shorthand for If This, Then That and is pronounced like gift without the ‘g.’ IFTTT is a platform that allows consumers to create connections between their various services and devices. These connections are called “recipes” and take the form of “if this then that.”

Senior engineer and mobile team lead, Devin Foley (Disclosure, Devin is my Cousin-in-law), told me a little more about IFTTT:

“We currently support over 65 services and devices, and are constantly working to add more. We’re currently developing a “self-serve” platform that will allow brands to plug their own devices and services into IFTTT because there is more demand for new integrations than we could possibly develop ourselves.

IFTTT for iPhone is a huge step for us. A large portion of our traffic has always been mobile, even before we had a mobile optimized version of our website. We put a lot of thought into designing an experience that was more than just “our website in an app”. IFTTT for iPhone integrates directly with iOS to enable new recipes using Camera, Contacts, and Reminders without asking users to change the way they already use their iPhone.”

 

Vogue Magazine User Network on Twitter

Vogue Magazine User Network on Twitter

NodeXL

Here’s an intriguing opening line from a Forbes article by Mark Fidelman, “What if instead of a score, you could visualize the impact a person, business or topic has in a social network?” Sounds good to me! That’s the premise behind NodeXL an open-source template for graphing network data in Excel® 2007 and 2010. Now it gets a bit wonky here when they start talking about “The graph’s vertices were grouped by cluster using the Wakita-Tsurumi cluster algorithm,” and “ The graph was laid out using the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale layout algorithm.” The interactive version is there things get interesting. There you can see how certainly influencers launch the blooms of followers who are tangentially connected to Vogue.

I strongly recommend you read the Forbes article, Fidelman does a great job of breaking down the way social graphs evolve and interact. NodeXL may turn into a powerful tool for marketers.

DropBox

Sure, we all use Dropbox from time to time. It’s handy when you’ve got to send that 137 meg deck to the client, a colleague or the conference director. But Dropbox has bigger ambitions, as outlined by this Gizmodo story titled, Dropbox Just Changed Everything About How You Use AppsInterestingly, the article sets up the problem that Dropbox is trying to address by saying: “As it stands, a ton of our apps are siloed into one ecosystem or another.” Which sounds similar to the problem that IFTTT is also trying to solve.

To be sure there are still skeptics not ready to turn everything over to the cloud just yet. This Fast Company piece spells at the challenges Dropbox faces. Regardless clearly the notion of connected apps is going to be a driver moving forward.

 

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  • Published: Apr 17th, 2012
  • Category: Archives
  • Comments: 4

The New Holiday as Culturematic

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Did you know that Monday of this week was Foursquare Day? That’s right, April 16 (4/16, get it?) of every year is Foursquare Day. I’ve noticed a general drop in the amount of Foursquare updates I see in my Twitter stream, but yesterday I saw plenty of people ‘checking in’ so they could receive the Foursquare Day badge.  This reminded me of Pi Day (3/14) last month, and I’m already looking forward to  May 4, not just because it is my wife’s birthday, but because it is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you).

There was a time when fake holidays were created by Hallmark and were for the benefit of the chocolate and candy industry. You know the ones: Grandparent’s Day, Boss’s Day, Secretary’s Day…

But who creates International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and for what purpose? These Culturematic Holidays seem like a relatively recent creation. Pi Day (1988), Star Wars Day (1979), 4/20 (1971) and No Pants Subway Ride (2002) are all of relatively recent vintage. These events have an organic feel to them, devoid of marketing artifice for the most part.

Even a day backed by a corporate entity, TOMSOne Day Without Shoes” (2008) feels like a grass roots movement. Have we overdosed on corporate, overly-marketed holidays? Are we searching for new meaning in our life that isn’t tied to religious traditions?

 

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Kickstarter Project: This is not a Conspiracy Theory

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After a week off (supporting Feltron instead), I’m back to Kickstarter, this time in support of the latest project from Kirby Ferguson, This is not a Conspiracy Theory. Hopefully you are familiar with Kirby’s earlier work, Everything is a Remix, which can only be described as essential if you want to understand creativity.  This time around Ferguson is turning his attention to politics. He describes the project thusly:

 ”A series with massive scope, rooted in solid storytelling. I’ll use history, science, psychology and economics to tell the story, and I will make it relevant, accessible and seriously entertaining.”

Watch the full intro video here.

Kirby Ferguson

Ferguson’s work is an oasis of thoughtfulness in a sea of instant memes, “viral” videos and YouTube stars that get hyped before they do anything (I’m looking at you, Lana Del Rey). Ferguson does his homework to present deep insights and does so in a way that is expertly and professionally crafted. This is why his work stands out, he’s an excellent storyteller. We’ve seemingly got a shortage of this sort of thing right now.  Everyone is racing to create today’s “5 ways to jumpstart Pinterest for brands!” blog post, or crack the Klout algorithm. That’s ok, they’ll always be a place for that sort of thing, but Ferguson’s work deserves our attention, and support.

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  • Published: Nov 21st, 2011
  • Category: Archives
  • Comments: 13

The Clothing Culture of Non-Participants in Sports

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Here’s something that’s fascinates me: Why do people talking about sports on television dress like bankers and lawyers?

Watch SportsCenter, or NFL Network or any baseball game and the guys doing the talking are all dressed like they are about to do their closing arguments, or they just wrapped up a shoot for a new Men’s Warehouse commercial. Why? Why on Earth do they, and we, feel the need for them to be dressed like this? Haven’t we long ago passed the absurd premise that these people are somehow “journalists” and thus should be dressed like Walter Kronkite or Peter Jennings? Is anyone mistaking Tim McCarver for Edward R. Murrow because they both appear on TV wearing a tie?

Equally fascinating are those attempts to buck this cultural requirement. Remember when ESPN2 debuted:

 

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Yes, that’s Keith Olbermann rockin’ the leather jacket. Let’s just say this experiment in progressive sports broadcasting didn’t last too long at ESPN2 (and neither did Keith).

Of course, individuals have tried to stand out by bucking the conservative politician look. There’s Bud Collins:

Bud is a respected broadcaster and well liked by many, and at this stage in his career he can wear whatever he wants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craig Sager, who covers the NBA for TNT has also gone for the “look at me” approach:

The NBA is a flashy league and he’s competing for airtime with his on-air colleague Charles Barkley, who is the verbal equivalent of this outfit. But unlike Collins, I don’t think anyone really takes Sager seriously. Now one could argue we shouldn’t be taking any of these guys seriously, they are talking about sports. But I mean even within the confines of sport, I don’t think people take Sager seriously.

Then you have real extreme cases like Vic “The Brick” Jacobs, I won’t assault your eyes by posting a photo of Vic. Vic is the Dennis Rodman of sports broadcasting.

On the field, the question of appropriate attire for non-participants is also interesting. Look at how Major League Baseball clings to tradition by having managers wear the uniform. As if Jack McKeon or Jim Leyland (80 and 66 years old respectively) might just grab a bat and pinch hit if this thing goes to extra innings.

Of course the NFL is equally ridiculous. Thanks to partnerships with sports apparel companies, it’s ok for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to dress like a Zucotti Park Occupy Wall Street protestor, but when Mike Nolan, former head coach of the 49ers wanted to wear a suit the League threw a penalty for unnecessary classiness. So, this wasn’t a case of the NFL realizing the coaches looking like Tom Landry is a bit outdated in the 21st century, it’s about protecting corporate partners.

But yet the NFL Network, owned by the NFL, doesn’t force the show hosts to wear Reebok or Nike. In fact the GameDay crew puts on a sartorial show every Sunday:

Perhas Deion Sanders (left) and Michael Irvin (right) feel the need to compensate for their pasts. Deion was a flashy player often known as ‘Neon Deion’ or his preferred nickname of ‘Primetime,’ while Irvin got into trouble with the law during / after his time in the NFL. By wearing conservative ‘costumes’ they are reshaping their image, but both are NFL Hall of Famers, they don’t have anything to prove.

Surely there is some middle ground between the arrested adolescence of baseball managers wearing uniforms and the Saville Row look for Fran Charles (above center)?  Certainly Nike and Reebok can create athletic, sharp looking apparel that would be appropriate for on-camera talent. In fact, this seems like a great opportunity missed. As millions of adult males go to work wearing khakis and sweaters, I’m sure they would look to Joe Buck, Bob Costas, Troy Aikman or other on-air personalities for guidance.

But there’s something within culture that is holding this back. Perhaps numerous focus groups have been done showing people won’t respond to ex-jocks and journalism school grads talking Tampa 2 defenses and On-Base percentage unless they are wearing Joseph Aboud ties. Perhaps, in a world where the athletes often have appearances that would seem menacing to ‘mainstream America’ (read: cornrows, dreads, tatoos, piercings) there is a comfort in seeing those in the booth (read: the establishment) setting the ‘proper’ tone.

Of course the establishment is not necessarily the best place to be right now. I’m not sure anything that reminds people of bankers, lawyers, politicians or big business is where I’d want to be right now. Sports are a traditionally very conservative environment. But as culture changed in the 70s and 80s, sport fashion changed too. Thanks to Michael Jordan and Nike, and Michigan’s Fab Five (and Nike) on-court clothing style changed. When folks like Allen Iverson added the ink and cornrows, it’s easy to see how the League / corporate overlords would react by keeping the talent they could control (coaches, owners, on-air talent) in line. Allowing those few jesters (Collins, Sager) to act as a release valve.

Will we see a change in the future? There will certainly be attempts and the one-offs and the niche or fringe segments will take chances. But I don’t know if we’ll see a change anytime soon where the real money is.

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