A Word with Ruby Pseudo


The awesome Ruby Pseudo has been interrogating the truth out of trendy tots for a while now, on her excellent blog.

Having given it away for free, she now wants to charge for it and has set up Ruby Pseudo Consulting for those clients that want more in depth neotenic anthropology [although the blog will stay free, she informs me].

Ruby shares some thoughts with PSFK here.

All of which I mention a] because Ruby is a legend and b] because I wrote this biog of her for the piece that they didn't use -  I didn't want it to go to waste so I'm putting it here:

Ruby Pseudo is a fearless investigator, bravely venturing into the dark heart of youth culture and returning [relatively] unscathed with nuggets of purest insight.

With a fearsome intellect and a laser-like wit, she goes boldly where the rest of us fear to tread, but she ain't no fool.

Sharper than a card sharp, braver than an indian brave, a dangerous drinking partner and haunting Audrey Hepburn impersonator, Ruby Pseudo is the real deal.

Eating in the Dark


I has dinner in complete darkness last night.

Dans le Noir is a concept restaurant that launched in Paris and has opened in London where the first bite isn't with the eyes as you can't see anything.

It was an amazing experience. Complete darkness is so odd. You keep waiting for your eyes to adjust and they simply can't - there's no light at all.

Negotiating your food is interesting but perhaps more interesting is the social effect - it's much easier to talk to people you don't know when you all can't see each other.

Dining in the total darkness represents a very unusual social experience. How many times have you ever had the chance to talk to people without any preconception that sight implies?

At Dans le Noir? there is no more pressure of other people’s visual judgment. You talk more freely and spontaneously. The absence of vision changes completely the way you act and react, both emotionally and socially.

That’s why Dans le Noir? is far more than just a restaurant: it offers a social and convivial experience. Dans le Noir? raises some questions such as the role of sight in the way we relate to others.

The waiting staff are all blind and incredibly adept and friendly - part of the idea behind the restaurant is to raise awareness of the challenges facing blind people and raise money for blindness charities.

In an age when brands are trying to find ways to bring people together and to find a socially responsible role in society, there are probably some interesting lessons we can learn from eating in the dark.

Inventing the Future

We live in accelerated times. For the first few millennia of [poorly] recorded history, not much changed. People living in AD4 and kids that grew up in AD1204 lived pretty much the same lives - same agrarian culture, same life expectancy and mostly the same technologies.

Sure there was progress, but it was incremental. Things changed very slowly. Then, suddenly, sometime in the middle of the C19th the Industrial Revolution kicked mankind's technological progress into exponential growth. This slide that Richard got from MB illustrates the shift in the angle of incidence really well, in relation to media fragmentation.

One of the cultural effects of this absurd acceleration we are currently experiencing is what I can only describe as this incredible weight I feel pushing back on us from the future. It's almost as though we are feeling the pressure from the future to catch up, which is what I think contributes to our fascination with what is to come and the existence of futurology as a science, of sorts.

The video above, following in the footsteps of the Googlezon video, portrays a similar single media platform of the future. Like all predictions, it's tainted by the concerns of the present. This presentism amplifies the prosumer and virtual worlds - because that's what we're all thinking about right now. The sheer novelty of the future is always the hardest thing to project precisely because the new new thing isn't an upgrade on some existing technology - it's a step change.

That said, life may imitate art, but so does science. One of the cool things about great science fiction is that it delivers the imagination, and then technology tries to catch up.

A great example of this is Snow Crash.  Without doubt the great novel of the modern Interweb age [successor to Gibson's prophetic Neuromancer], it was written in 1994. Cast your mind back. No Google, no social networks, no Hotmail, the web itself just barely online. 28.8k dial up modems. Take That breaks up.

Reading Snow Crash today, it's hard to get your head round this. In the novel, Stephenson predicts Google Earth, memory cards, Second Life and on and on. It's scary. He also created the term 'avatar' as we use it today in virtual worlds.

[UPDATE: My mate Fred has informed me that the guys who developed Keyhole, which become Google Earth, were inspired by the Earth application in Snow Crash. Detailed in Wired here. Awesome.]

Science imitates art.

In particular in the science of teleportation, where the stated aim is to replicate [pun regretted] the technology in Star Trek.

Alan Kay, terribly bright chap and one of the fathers of modern computing, summed this up brilliantly:

The best way to predict the future, is to invent it.

Which leaves a role right now for the imaginative: invent the future - someone out there will build it.

Cuba Libre


As I've said before, when you work in the industry, you tend to look for what we do.

So when I got to Cuba, sadly enough, one of the first things I noticed was the lack thereof. The only billboards in Cuba celebrate socialism, commemorate the revolution, and, like the one above, point out just how much they dislike the USA and Bush in particular.

It was quite refreshing. Like the feeling you get when a loud noise you've acclimatised to suddenly stops. I couldn't help wondering what it would be like if the COI was the only advertiser here and all they ever communicated was patriotic propaganda.

[The COI grew out of the ashes of the wartime Ministry of Information, who did pretty much exactly that:

Formed on September 4th 1939, the day after Britain's declaration of war, the Ministry of Information (MOI) was the central government department responsible for publicity and propaganda in the Second World War. The initial functions of the MOI were threefold: news and press censorship; home publicity; and overseas publicity in Allied and neutral countries.]

Just as I began to enjoy the sounds of silence however, the first jintero, or street hustler, clapped his arm around my shoulders, welcomed me to Cuba and began to expound the virtues of his female siblings to me.

There may not be any brands out there, but someone is always selling something, in this case the oldest profession promoted by the oldest medium.

[Note: The hustlers mainly hang around tourist areas and are not representative of Cubans in general, who are almost absurdly friendly and tolerant of idiocy like mine. It's a shame that the tourist's first experience of one is usually a hustler, leaping into conversations unbidden, as he wanders around looking for a place to stay. Sad if it puts you off talking to anyone in case they are trying to hustle you {"no me moleste, por favor"} as you definitely miss out.

Probably a lesson in the somewhere, for interrupter and interrupted alike.]

To Interesting and Beyond

[Image by brianarn]

TIGS is going off the air for a couple of weeks, while I'm on holiday.

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." -G. K. Chesterton

I don't think I agree entirely G.K., but I definitely dig the latter part - after a while it gets hard to see the wood for the laminate without some cultural punctuation.

I'll be at Interesting tomorrow - see you there if you are too - otherwise I'll catch you when I'm back in July.

Rock on.

Low Impact Ethics


The mega trend that is ethical consumerism is built on the idea of low impact ethics. In essence, people want to do good things and feel good about themselves but in a way that has a low impact on their lives. Additionally, one of the other big barriers to action is the perception that individuals can't make a difference due to the scale of the problems involved.

Therefore, an easy way for people to contribute, without having to radically change their lifestyles, and in a way that allows them to feel part of something that has enough scale to make a difference, is for them to buy ethical goods.

People still get their products, plus the emotional bonus that comes from buying into ethical brands, and good things happen somewhere.

As with everything else, the interweb allows for the development of new models for this behaviour. My mate Rowan reminded me of one today: The Hunger Site.  This allows you to donate food to the hungry by clicking, turning the ad revenues of your click into a 'free' donation from you. Lovely.

A twist on this idea uses the affiliate marketing relationships online to donate. Portals like GreaterGood and iGive let you buy from large and small online retailers [the smaller ones tend to give better affiliate fees] and then the affiliate kickback becomes the charitable donation, again at no cost to the consumer.

Not really cause related marketing or CSR, these intermediaries look at developing mechanisms that enable consumers to direct advertising spend into ethical areas, by leveraging the power of the internet as an aggregator of consumers that advertisers are looking to reach.



The Plannersphere Ning just hit 300 members! Exciting! Bravely we shall hold back the forces of evil until the rest of the industry can be convinced to pick up arms!

No, seriously, thanks to everyone for getting involved. Hopefully people are finding it useful - if anyone has any suggestions as to how to make it more so - post something to the Ning.

By a complete coincidence I also happen to have just seen 300 and I thought it was fantastic. Despite not being a big fan of gore / violence / war movies, I was blown away. I know I'm a sucker for interesting animation / film crossovers, but I really think there is something interesting happening at the opposite end of the filmic spectrum from the Dogme school -  thinking of film as a composite medium, not a way to represent reality.

[ Of course, film has long been pushing the boundaries of reality, but CGI has usually been employed to make the fantastical seem real, rather than simply ignoring reality and crafting your own vision. Hollywood has always seemed more comfortable with magical realism than it has been with starting with a representational tabula rasa. I imagine there are practical considerations that come into play here - CGI is expensive. ]

This begins to play into ideas of hyperreality, where you can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and as CGI become ever more sophisticated we will no doubt reach a point where, on-screen, there will be no way to pick out the digital from the real, like Gibson's Idoru.

In 300 Miller uses the unreliable narrator device to blend historical fact with fantastical flourishes, but increasingly, as the cost of CGI falls, how you portray 'reality' on the screen will be a matter of choice.

And when we all have retinal projectors to overlay data on to the world, creating dynamic and individuals HUDs, how we experience reality will be as well. But that's another post.

Cumulative Advantage


My mate Dave [yes I know- it sounds like Ali G] sent me this great NYTimes article about social influence on the success of cultural products.

Once again substantiating Herd thinking [there you go Mark ;-p], a professor at Columbia and the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, shows that not only is social influence more important than personal preference when deciding what you like, as counterintuitive as that might sound, but there is an additional factor that makes predicting what will be a hit practically impossible:

The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. As a result, even tiny, random fluctuations can blow up, generating potentially enormous long-run differences among even indistinguishable competitors — a phenomenon that is similar in some ways to the famous “butterfly effect” from chaos theory.

Which is why film studies / record companies find it so hard to predict what will be a blockbuster, which led to a venture capital model of cultural production, where studios / labels invest in 10 things on the assumption that 9 will lose money but 1 will make enough to recoup the losses.

Should we want to pull out a useful thought for marketers, it would probably be that it isn't what is actually popular that matters [despite the 1 million housewives can't be wrong school of thought] - rather:

"what people like depends on what they think other people like."

Which suggests how style bibles like Dazed can be used to influence cultural dissemination and also the value of decent online seeding - the web is the only place where you can actually see what the masses claim to like.