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Posts from December 2008

Bet on the Future

Bet on the future

The Rockefeller Center in New York is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring buildings in the world.

Like most things, the inspiration comes not so much from the thing itself, but the stories that surround it - and like all the best stories [and yes, alright, go on then, brands too] it has many lovely little pieces that all, somehow, fit together.

John D Rockefeller leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 to build a venue for the Metropolitan Opera.

Then, in 1929, the biggest stock market crash ever happened, for reasons that no one can really explain, and the USA entered the Great Depression.

The Metropolitan pulled out of the project and Rockefeller faced a very serious decision.

"It was clear that there were only two courses open to me. One was to abandon the entire development. The other to go forward with it in the definite knowledge that I myself would have to build it and finance it alone."

He decided to push ahead as the sole financial backer of the biggest development project in the history of the world.

It gave thousands of people hope, and jobs, throughout the Depression.

Rockefeller had no promised tenants for the building, but happened to have an interest in an emerging technology called radio.

Thus 30 Rock became the bleeping heart of the America's mass media industry.

Rockefeller, by all accounts, hated popular music - he was into opera - but he gave the leg up needed for RCA and NBC and the beginnings of a popular mass culture.

He hired Samuel 'Roxy' Rothafel, an infamous silent film and show impresario, to conceptualise and open Radio City Music Hall.

[Roxy once said: Don't give the people what they want - give them something better.]

Rockefeller made one of the biggest bets in history, at the very beginning of the worst economic crash of modern times, on the future.

Next year is going to be hard. No denying it.

But we live at a time where the economics of cultural production are being radically decentralised - where never have so many had a voice in the history of humanity, nor social motivations been so empowered to create culture and effect change.

Where, fundamentally, economic motivations are no longer the only supposed driver of human activity, if ever indeed they were.

The beginnings of a new kind of culture, created bottom up by the many, not top down by the few.

I think that's pretty awesome.

I'm betting on the future.

Merry Christmas.

Disrupted Expectations

Now you see it, now you don't.

Well, actually, you never saw it, but your brain told you it was going to be there and the disruption of expectation is what imbues the sequence with its emotive weight.

Disrupted expectations seem to lie at the heart of lots of emotional responses.

It's what lies at the heart of most jokes:

An incongruity of register is comic on account of its recognised deviation from the expected norm. This stress on expectations makes it feasible to reduce the joke, for example, to the product of a set of formal criteria (a build up of expectations followed by a disruptive punchline) without paying any heed to what the joke is about.
[from here]

Obviously it's more complicated than this - the cultural conventions around jokes establish an expectation of the unexpected - but in essence this is how the form usually works.

Deviation is also what triggers attention - preferential looking indicates that infants spend longer looking at things that deviate from their norm.

The philosopher Daniel Dennet says that our brains are in essence anticipation machines - that a fundamental aspect of cognition is the necessity of forming expectations, based on direct or indirect experience, for how things are in the world.

Research based on this idea suggests that there are all kinds of cognitive and affective events triggered by expectancy violation - including heightened memory activity, which makes sense as your brain is re-building part its model of the world.

This is probably why comedic advertising seems to work so well - but as the film above shows, it can work on other parts of the emotional spectrum just as well.

[Thanks to ToniAnn for the link]

Words are Where We Live


[A word cloud of the poem Days by Philip Larkin, by Wordle

[Earlier. On Carnaby Street.]

A Hare Krishna dude in relevant regalia puts his arm round my shoulder and begins to walk with me.

HK: You are a nice man.

ME: Uh - thanks?

HK: You have hair like Einstein.

ME: Uh - again - thanks - I always thought it was more Pinker/Gladwell but Einstein is cool...

HK: It is Christmas and I am Hare Krishna and I have this book that will help you, if you would like to make a donation...

ME: Do you guys do Christmas?

HK: It contains the transcendence of Krishna.

ME: Isn't Krishna a Hindu deity? And aren't all Hindu deities part of the same Brahman godhead? Shouldn't you be a Hare Brahman?

HK: Hinduism is a later corruption - Hare Krishna is much older.

ME: Does being older make it right? Haven't we learnt a lot of useful stuff recently?

HK: Have you read the Bhagavad Gita?

ME: Well, yes - at least bits of it in translation - I don't speak Sanskrit..but that said isn't the whole issue of translation quite problematic with ancient scripture and revealed truth and that? I mean linguistically alone, without even getting on to ontological translation or cultural context...

HK: I love Krishna - Krishna is GOD - he tells us to love him.

ME: Wait, hang on, that's heavy - GOD is a MALE person called Krishna? Doesn't that seem weird to you? Why not a girl? Or a teapot orbiting earth?

HK: I feel him, he has revealed himself to me as Krishna.

ME: That doesn't help much dude. What is GOD? 

[And - also - using an endogenous sensation as proof of an exogenous abstraction, without any recourse to correlative, let alone objective correlative, whatever that might mean, is logically on very shaky ground - see the brain in the vat argument.]

HK: These are just words - you will make your self unhappy thinking this way - God is Love.

ME: I know they are just words but that's what we've got - but if GOD = LOVE, LOVE = GOD, then how can you love God, or God love you? That's like saying you LOVE LOVE, or GOD GOD. It's semantic's circular!

HK: Words, word, words

[Whether a conscious or unconscious Hamlet quote I don't know.]

If you don't stop thinking like this you will be driven to suicide. God is Love. God is beyond words. You can only experience love.

ME: So - if God is beyond words, what's printed on the pages of this book you are trying to sell me?

[Hare Krishna gets angry with me and literally storms off. I try to shake his hand but he refuses. I wonder what happened to the love for a bit and then go for a pint.]

Digital Bytes: Viral Happens

Viral happens

Will's digital bites are the successors to Lynetter's onlinedevslides - beautiful slides with facts and quotes about this stuff made from ones and ohhhhs.

He's kindly done one of something I said about 'viral' being a verb. Although it's all spreadable now. Or indeed, spread, if it's successful.

He also does an excellent one on psychology called mindbites -  head over and see them in all their tiltview glory.

Swelling Ground


The lovely Dr Stephanie asked me to write a review of Groundswell for the International Journal of Advertising.

So I did.

You can download it here.

I start off with a kind of anthropological musing on our social nature and the dialectic between individuality and community and that, shout outs to Mark and Clay and Jeff, but eventually I get on to the book itself.

The gist of it was I really like the book - it's full of usefulness and inspiration and good frameworks and that - it's only let down in some sense by its very bookness:

However, to really understand social media, it’s not enough to read a book: you need to live it.

So do read the book, but get out there and start being social as well.

The blog for the book continues the conversations.

[Update: This is a very thorough guide to social media etiquette via @misentropy]

Becoming Fictional


Bud's report on being one of the MadMen twitters is now available - you should go and read it.

I spoke about the glimmer of inflection the episode suggests before and the report makes it very clear that Bud has embraced a convergence culture position to mainstream media.

The convergence in question is not the device / bill convergence of telecoms providers but rather the convergence of modalities.

A blurring of producer and consumer, broadcaster and receiver, writer and reader - a theoretical vision espoused by French deconstructionists that becomes literally real in this digitised networked convergent media culture.

Or something.

Anyway, it's awesome - go read it.

The Socialisation of Media

This is the panel discussion thing on social media I did a couple of days ago for the PSFK Good Ideas salon.

It was all good early morning fun [I think I may have been hypercaffeinated] - and there's a party to celebrate being upbeat in 09 to end the series off.

One of the things I got asked was what's going to happen in 2009. Whilst I have no idea, I've never been one to shy away from a little future gazing and I think one of the things we'll see more if is the continued blurring of the modalities of media.

Specifically, I think there is going to be a increase in the socialisation of 'mainstream' media.

I think things like the twitter backchannel that Fallon/Scifi put together for Eureka, and The Hills backchannel that Area/Code did, give an indication of how a previously isolated media consumption experience makes a virtue of its nature as a solidarity good whilst it is happening, rather than later over the metaphorically cooled water.

Newspapers embrace comments and blogging and RSS, opening up their journalists to the discussions that make blogging the essentially social thing it is.

Posters seek content from people, leveraging scale and vanity to avoid being ignored.

In a time when budgets for media are inevitably going to be cut [despire the long standing argument that it pays to invest during a recession] old media will have to embrace the social content ecosystem that surrounds it.