Mark Zuckerberg thinks he should read more books ( and ( and he has made that his New Year’s Resolution for 2015- he will read a new book every two weeks. And I have to admit, after a day of facing the internet, social media, my smartphone, my office phone, and every other iteration of screen imaginable, I’m pretty pro-books at the end of the day too.

But here’s the thing, Zuckerberg said, “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”

And this on its own is an interesting statement from the man who invented a whole new platform for human engagement with the universe, usually in a terse, poorly composed, un-reviewed, multi-media, heavily internet-influenced, referential and visually distracting manner. For Zuck to acknowledge that internet literacy, being on top of the latest instagrams, status updates, and tweet-reading alone don’t help one to necessarily broaden and deepen their own intellect- well, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a bit of a line in the sand. And I like it.

However, and I find interestingly, Zuck didn’t specify HOW he will be ingesting the books. Will he be reading them via a variety of online/downloadable media, or the old fashioned paper format way? There is a difference. And the difference matters. And we are only just beginning to scrape the surface of looking at how the interface of screens impacts our retention, our emotion, our engagement with the content we are reading.

As the sister of a man who manages a very popular little independent bookstore in San Francisco (whoop whoop Books Inc. on Chestnut Street!), I’d like to think that we are all reading more, but lately I feel more compelled to pose the question of whether what really matters is not THAT we are reading more, but WHAT we are reading and HOW we are reading it. See this study if you want to learn more about this type of research:

And the same apparently is being implied when it comes to taking notes and studying them- early studies and research indicate that doing it “ye olde fashioned way” with pen and paper and hand helps us to retain more of the content than the act of typing does.

But then we come to this issue of more and intellectually superiority and canonization. Stay with me here. By canonization, I am not intending any religious interpretation of the word. I’m merely intending to bring up the fact that some of us get to claim we are smarter and have better taste and we get to claim what is worth reading and what is not. And, well, that gets pretty tricky.

The other night I saw the film “Birdman.” Highly recommend it. So weird and different and interesting. And boy I love Michael Keaton. Always have. Glad to see him back. Anyhow, there’s this great scene in the film where Keaton’s character gets in the face of this legendary, reputedly indestructible and all-powerful theater critic and they have this outstanding dialogue in a bar about whether she gets to judge him for being a former movie star and trying to break into theater. I loved it because it touched on the central hatred that anyone in art or creative work has about critics, whose sole job it is to judge them and then publish that judgment for others to use to, in exchange, judge them. That scene really hit me. And Keaton has this one incredible line that really caps off the whole interchange between them- where he tells the critic, “None of it costs you anything. You risk nothing.” We love to hate critics because this is what they do. They impose their allegedly more developed, informed and well-rounded opinions upon us of what is good, what is worthwhile, what is quality without putting really any skin in the game. There’s a convenient little rebuttle to that here in the Chicago Tribune, but in reality, that’s a pretty hard argument to argue with.

What’s my point? My point, I think, is that criticizing and judging others for their creative choices and how they choose to spend their time is a waste of time. I will always be glad to know that people are reading, including Zuck, no matter what they choose to read and how they choose to read it. I want people to consume the creative works of others. I want people to listen to music, even if I don’t enjoy what they’re listening to. I want people to go to the theater, even if I hate the play. I want people to go to the ballet, even though it bores me to tears. And I want them to extend the same courtesy to me.

Frankly I am flabbergasted that “the average American, in 2013 read one book a month, according to the Pew Research Center.” Seriously, think about that! 12 books in a year? Sounds like an overestimation for most people I know, unless somehow magazines, comic books, cereal boxes, and/or poems are counting as books these days.

Anyhow, I hope your 2015 is off to a great start, even if it’s not off to as great a start as Zuck’s. Let’s all plan to create, consume, and converse more this year.

I recently responded to a post by a friend of mine on Facebook and some of the others participating in the conversation asked me to post this more publicly so it could be shared. So I’ve done so here.

My thoughts were in response to my friend’s alarm at how many long-loved merchants, music venues, residents, and overall San Francisco authentic businesses seem to be closing or getting kicked out due to outrageously increased rents, Ellis Act evictions, and a desire to consume the scarce and valuable property that San Francisco has on offer within its 7×7 miles. My friend’s latest missive was in reaction to the news that much-loved music venue, the Elbo Room, was due to shutter its doors:

Here is his post:

“So…I should or should not freak out?
Hopefully historical property status can be secured for this gem of a place. I’ve spent two birthdays here, and paid tribute to James Brown (with scores of other San Franciscans) through a jammin dance party the night he passed away.

It’s saddening to see neighborhood cornerstones disappearing, and this goes beyond this one bar. With The Lex and Ellis Act evictions and countless other examples of displacement happening in The City, where will it end? At what point does a place lose so much character, lose so many of the things, the residents, the people that made it unique and special in the first place, before it becomes just like any other?

When our friends cannot afford to live here, to love here, to continue to learn here, what can people do? What can WE do? What does this neighborhood or this city need? I can’t just sit by while my community gets priced out. We must take further action-and if nothing else, holding our leaders accountable for what is going on is a good start.”

Here is my response to his post, for what it’s worth:

“I admit that things seem pretty rough to us, and lots of favorites and traditions in San Francisco seem to be making way for new, trendy, and downright trite “flash in the pan” businesses or tasteless housing developments. I have had this argument with myself about a hundred times in the last three years, specifically.

I think this outlook and feeling we’re having is the convergence of a few different factors- 1, the city is changing, materially, at the fastest rate of nearly every city in the U.S. and reflecting the most dramatic of American levels of socio-economic inequality. 2, our often “golden” childhood memories are often very much tied to specific places, and we are getting to the age where many of the places we spent time in or patronized as kids are closing either because of owner changeover (retirement, the next generation didn’t want to run the business), or because they have been priced out of the current market.
The man in my life really loves to remind me all the time that ‘history is a dialectic’- and I think the development of San Francisco through time is a true reflection of that. Over the course of my life many of my relatives (and Herb Caen, may he RIP) have told me that San Francisco just isn’t even a shadow of the city they knew back in the 30s, the 50s, or the 60s. This being because during each era it earned itself a reputation for being great in a distinctly different way than, say, 10 to 30 years prior. The city that welcomed the gold rush, that embodied the bawdy barbary coast wasn’t the same as the city that rebuilt itself after a massive earthquake, nor was the city that served as the HQ for the beats and the summer of love the same city as it was when we were growing up in the 80s and experienced the Loma Prieta. This current era can be frustrating and dismaying with occasional bouts of dread that this time we’ve really done it, and there’s no turning back toward charm or uniqueness. But it’s also worth remembering that the San Francisco of now is the emerald city in an industry and region that is known across the globe as a center of innovation, social justice, technology, youthful optimism and invincibility, and yes, money.
It is always worth fighting for those who don’t have any fight left in them, and always worth being the voice for those who are voiceless- but it is also worth considering that some of these feelings may derive from the fact that we are part of an aging population of San Francisco’s sons and daughters who are most afraid of our own mortality, and there not being any trace in the future of the things our memories have really loved holding on to.
There’s no “it’s going to be OK” tied to this really long diatribe, because each of us will digest the changes differently, and each of us will fight differently to either stay in SF or go, but I thought I’d at least share my own thoughts on the matter.
In closing, and really, in summary: Go GIANTS, Go 9ers, and this-

Music video by Starship performing We Built This City. (C) 1985 Sony Music Entertainment

When you think about it, you really have to give Starbuck’s a hell of a lot of credit, whether you like their coffee and their business practices or not. Here’s why: Starbuck’s could easily fall down on the job, lean back a bit and sail on their complete global dominance in the coffee and café market, but they’re not. Case in point: their latest pumpkin spice latte campaign.

Laugh if you will, but my best friend from high school and I have this tradition of alerting each other when the first pumpkin spice lattes hit Starbuck’s. I think we’ve been doing this since we were 15. And what’s funny is, we’re not alone in this. This has become an annual tradition for people all around the world.

And this year’s campaign to promote the PSL’s official arrival is some of the most creative marketing I’ve seen in a while.

Here’s how it works:

On Twitter, I saw that Starbuck’s had promoted the Pumpkin Spice Latte account, @TheRealPSL.

No, I am not a follower of Starbuck’s OR the Pumpkin Spice Latte account on Twitter, but I saw the (paid) promotion in my Twitter feed:




Instantly, I thought about my friend and sent this to her in an email, feeling that sense of fun over our inside joke and the excitement that our favorite little commercial harbinger of Fall had arrived. Then I looked closer, and clicked on the link in the tweet. It brought me to the landing page for their campaign:


On the landing page you are told to solve a riddle relating to fall, and once you solve the riddle, you are given a secret code.

You are then told to bring this into a barista at your local Starbuck’s to unlock the PSL for everyone in that specific location, officially unleashing “fall’s favorite beverage.”


So, let’s go back and take some account of what’s happened just in the course of my following through with these steps, and let’s assume I go to the closest Starbuck’s and hand them this code.

This campaign has combined elements of social (Twitter), mobile (on my phone), gamification (solving riddles, getting there first), physical brick-and-mortar sales (bring the code to your closest/local store), has turned a product into an event, has combated the threat of a stale menu (promotion of a new, seasonally available item) and brand fatigue (so you don’t have to order the same vanilla latte yet again), and promotes values of community (you’re doing this for the people at your local Starbuck’s) and that ever-elusive aura of seasonality (only available in the Fall, a sign that Autumn has arrived) at the same time.

It’s relatively simple in execution, doesn’t require a lot of effort, but is seamless in its experience. It’s an excellent example of how companies can tie social promotion and social communities to web campaigns, and then to in-store sales or physical events. Quite an elegant and effective design, and a great example to anyone in marketing.

Thought it was worth sharing.



Coming out of my self-imposed blackout period. Apologies for being gone so long. Wasn’t feeling all that inspired by the general topics that were out there, but I’ve finally found a few that got my gears twisting again.

So today, let’s talk about this recent phenomenon of “triggering” and requested “trigger warnings.”

According to an excellent Guardian article on the movement, “Triggering” is a phrase you might see in the comments section of an online article that addresses racism, rape, war, anorexia or any number of subjects about which a discussion may not leave the reader with a care-free, fuzzy sort of feeling. It’s a phrase that’s been requested this semester by a number of college students to be applied to classic books — The Great Gatsby (for misogyny and violence), Huck Finn (for racism), Things Fall Apart (for colonialism and religious persecution), Mrs. Dalloway (for suicide), Shakespeare (for … you name it). These students are asking for what essentially constitute red-flag alerts to be placed, in some cases, upon the literature itself, or, at least, in class syllabuses, and invoked prior to lectures.”

Now, this brings a few thoughts to mind.

1)      A digital native generation that is entering or currently in college is essentially requesting that its required reading be thoroughly tagged with metadata. Not all that surprising, in theory.

2)      This must be the most massively traumatized generation in history, and all before they have reached college age no less, otherwise why is this happening?

3)      What type of current college student experiences trauma triggered by fictionalized accounts of “colonialism?”

Before I get web-slapped for being insensitive to those who have experience severe, deep, or even shallow trauma- allow me to assure you dear readers that I am not without a soul, and I am not without empathy. I am terribly sorry that people experience pain in their lifetimes. I am sorry that most often it is inflicted completely without any reason or cause. I understand that some of this trauma is so bone-shakingly deep that medication and years of therapy only scratch the surface of the underlying fear or suffering that pools in the soul of its sufferers like a dark, swelling ocean with no horizon.

But I have to say I don’t believe that never addressing, acknowledging, or facing the elements in life that may ever remind you of the trauma or the perpetrator is the solution to managing it. Here I’d like to insert an analogy: antibacterial hand soap. No, no, stick with me here. I promise there will be dividends…

The United States fears germs, bacteria and sickness in a very real way. And so we were ready pawns when the soap and personal hygiene industry began to flood the market with the daddy of all soaps- “antibacterial”- presented as the solution to killing all the tiny creepy crawlies we couldn’t even imagine. And yet. And yet and yet. As it turns out, antibacterial hand soap may also kill good bacteria, and reduce our body’s innate ability to fight off germs and viruses. In fact, the proliferation of triclosan, a leading ingredient in over 75% of antibacterial hand soaps might be a contributing factor in the rise of “antibiotic resistant superbugs” to such an extent that the FDA has issued an order for further investigation into whether it should be allowed in consumer products, and Minnesota has voted to ban it outright.

What does this longwinded analogy have to do with these proposed trigger warnings on literature?

Self-censorship, or insisting everyone else in the world draw a wide circle around anything remotely related to your trauma, or trying to eliminate all signs or reminders of that trauma in your life is like bathing in antibacterial hand soap. By avoiding the trauma itself, or using a carefully constructed virtual reality of “all happiness- no trouble” all the time people empower the trauma that ails them, converting it into a super-trauma that is apt to rear its ugly head at any moment. “The push for trigger warnings surely comes from a good place, but it’s nonetheless troubling” says the Guardian article. Yes, like antibacterial hand soap. In theory, all good. In reality, not so good. When you block your body’s ability to handle and build up a resistance to what is reaching out to ail you, essentially you’re disabling yourself.

And this is all tangentially related to this phenomenon of helicopter parenting and over-protective parenting. Oh yes it is. How else to explain this generation of children who are reaching adulthood with no capacity to defend themselves from the pain that life can (does) bring? If parents have been preventing their kids from ever making mistakes, getting hurt, getting dirty, or relieving them of the burden of having to pull themselves out of a period of discomfort, sadness, or frustration, then those kids have developed absolutely no capacity to work through adult and life setbacks of any variety.

Listen- I don’t have kids, but I do have a life. That said, I understand the sentiment behind wanting to protect my someday-children from any pain, but I do not understand the desire to prevent my children from actually experiencing life. From actually living and experiencing life. Life is often pain, life is often disappointment, life is often loneliness, and heartache, and trauma. Life must be lived, and living is often the act of working through pain.

It’s ironic, I just finished reading a novel suggested to me by a friend called “The Sparrow.” If these students had their way, this book’s cover would be slapped full of trigger warning metadata like religion, rape, aliens, cultural inequity. And there are horrifying events at the center of this book which are difficult to read about. But the very principle at the core center of this book is that when something terrible happens you have to face it and talk about that very thing to acknowledge that it happened, to face its effects on you, in order to release its hold on your past. At times the whole book reads like a parable for the power of confession, but it also intricately illustrates the pain of having to go through the process of discussing a trauma. And for that, the book is pretty effective.

All of which brings me back full circle- because the first thing I thought when I read about these requests for “trigger warnings” was the recent study conducted by the New School in NYC which received wide media attention, that “found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” That, in fact, reading about other people going through emotional experiences helps to develop our own brains’ ability to process, file, and produce appropriate reactions and interactions to emotional situations. In essence, it helps our EQ, our emotional intelligence quotient, which can play a huge role in our success in life.

All of which the Guardian article on this subject states very well in its last paragraph: “In The Giver, the main character finds there is something more important than a society that’s free from pain. It’s a society in which we feel. That, of course, is the intention of art itself: it’s not meant to shield us from pain so much as offer a vessel through which we can cope, grow and even move past tragedy. If we warn people with a flashing red light that inside great works of literature they are likely to find pain, we do a disservice to the conversations, and the healing, meant to come through the act of reading itself.” Bingo.

For more reading on these “triggers” and their “warnings:”

For more reading on literary fiction as an empathy-builder:

For more reading on Antibacterial Hand Soap:

There’s a lot of talk these days about the value or opportunity represented by the new movement toward informational design, or data visualization; that is, the visual representation of data in an effort to elicit a bigger impact. The most basic every day example used to be taking data from a table in a spreadsheet and converting it into a graph to make the trends inherent in the data more meaningful on a meta level.

Internet pundits, social media evangelists, educators, and modern day doomsday theorists are all offering their own reasons for why informational design is important, but the generally accepted, underlying argument goes something like this: there’s too much information available to us all these days. Therefore, our ability to invest attention in data has declined even as the rates of information available to us have increased. This leads everyone to believe that if we convert information into images, we can more easily consume, digest and use that information. In other words, we need to dumb down the data with pictures and bright colors and arrows in order to comprehend it all.

(Care of

We can blame the recently meteoric rise of infographic popularity on a few likely sources: it’s an election year, a chance to inform and educate the American people on issues that run the gamut, but in a digestible, simplified way that they can take straight to the polls. For most broadcasters, pollsters, PACs and lobbyists, that means stunning visuals and new media toys. On the tech trends side, blame the sale of social photo app Instagram to Facebook for an unheard of sum earlier this year, or the fact that visual scrapbook site Pinterest hit 10 million monthly unique visitors faster than any other social platform in history. If you look at all of this from a very shallow level, the sign seems to point (with a big red, shiny, pulsating arrow) toward a need to make everything visual.

(Care of

As with most new media movements and trends, I recommend slipping one toe very carefully into the waters here. I think there is merit to making some data more visual. There are thousands of examples where informational design is transcendent and deeply effective. However, as if often the case with the execution of a newly trendy web phenomenon, there are more than twice as many examples of infographic abuse (bless you, Tumblr, you’re always there for me).

(Care of

So when I saw NYTimes food writer Mark Bittman getting in on the infographic action I approached his take with some skepticism. And yet, and yet, (and here’s where we relate back to the fact that this is an election year and I’ve done my share of political studying) Bittman did something novel here.

Bittman approached the topics of food labels in a recent column in an interesting way, especially for Californians who, in November, will vote on whether to require any food made with genetically modified material to be explicitly labeled as such. In his post, Bittman designed his own recommendation for what the future of food labels should look like in the U.S.

Image(Care of NYTimes:

In my humble opinion (as a person with absolutely no design background) I think this is a really good start for a simplified look at food labels.  I worry about “foodness” and “welfare” as names for those values, I don’t think Bittman has done a great job with naming on those.  That said, I think he hits on the right measurements, as what most folks do want to know about their food is a) if it’s good for them and has nutrients, b) if it contains unprocessed, whole foods, and c) what its relative impact on the environment is. I also think the color coding system is a great way of distilling the info down for those who just want a very general guidance for their purchases.

All that said, whether or not I agree with his proposal, I love this example of data design because it represents a visualization that people would be using to make decisions every single day, and because it’s important to get these things right since they will impact everyone in California (and possibly, some day, everyone in the U.S.). Given nutrition data’s links to helping to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic we currently face in the U.S., getting this labeling design right has the potential to be one of the most important health initiatives that our generation faces. And that’s when infographics and data design become invaluable for policy and life choices that we make day in and day out.

What do you think of Bittman’s proposed design for food labeling? Too much data? Wrong data? Not well designed?


Aside  —  Posted: October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Klout Comes Out

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ah, Klout. My personal vicissitude on your legitimacy knows no bounds. If you’re unfamiliar, Klout is a site that calculates your overall social influence score. In its own terms, “People have always had the power to influence others, and that power is being democratized with new social media tools. Klout’s mission is to provide insights into everyone’s influence.”

ImageWhich, you know, works in the beginning because frankly who ISN’T narcissistic enough to want to know how they measure up against everyone else? Klout’s appeal acts upon the same impulse that inspires us to “Google ourselves,” or to constantly update Facebook or Instagram with new and fabulous pictures of our selves and our lives. It’s the basic human desire for amplified attention- ego.

When I first heard about Klout my initial reaction was one that I find quite common for tech startups. Sort of a “well, isn’t that an interesting concept (that no one will ever pick up on)”. To be honest, I have been miserably wrong on that front before. I thought that about Twitter. Boy was I wrong on that one.

Right away, I thought to myself that Klout was/is a pretty interesting proposition, at least academically, on a few different levels:

1) The gall required to introduce a new “score” into our lives that will assess how powerful we are. I mean, really, think about it: How many different numbers can we really each be weighed against? Tax bracket, credit score, Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, Twitter followers, etc. To introduce a whole new metric that will encapsulate our worth to society takes some cojones. Klout came in swinging and made a strong argument that their score was not only powerful, it was accurate and useful for evaluating people.

2) Klout capitalizes on social graph theory which assesses interactions and relative positioning of nodes (people) in networks and attempts to assign a value to our networked interactions for commercial benefit.  But Klout was initially only measuring the relative values of our networked connections on social, web-based networks, which can be inherently artificial.
But then I came upon an article in Wired that began by positing a future in which each of us will have to proffer our Klout scores as part of the standard candidate evaluation when applying for a job. In other words, how influential we are in Klout’s eyes could help determine how hirable we are. I felt that was a frightening proposition, but in the end it’s neither here nor there because the Wired article ended by concluding that, in general, most people feel that one correlation still holds true: the higher the Klout score, the more unbearable the person.

At that point, I thought we could all rest easily and watch Klout disappear down the startup drain while we get on with our lives. However, now Klout has changed how it calculates its score to include aspects of our offline lives in their influence scores. As a recent Mashable article pointed out,

“Klout also now takes into account more of your real-world influence, and takes into account how important you are at your company -– the CEO will earn more Klout than the mail guy –- and if you’re important enough to have your own Wikipedia page. ‘We had to figure out how to balance the real-world influence with the online influence,’ says (Klout CEO Joe) Fernandez. ‘We still lean more toward the online influence but now your real-world influence is coming more and more into play.’”

ImageSo now Klout is not only measuring how few people actually listen to or care about a word I say online, but they’re also realizing that my official work title isn’t very awe-inspiring. The hits just keep on coming.

More specifically, “We went from about 100 variables that we were looking at to over 400,” Joe Fernandez, founder and CEO of Klout told Mashable. “We’re looking at a bunch of new stuff.”

That Mashable article lists that “The service is looking at 12 billion data points per day across the seven social networks it looks at — 12 times more than it did previously.” So you’d think that everyone Klout scores may have been artificially inflated before, and as a result of that, after this new change our scores may all take a hit.

Not so. Mine increased 10 points out of nowhere. Can’t account for that at all, but then my math skills have never been overly strong. I guess we’ll just have to see how this develops! In the mean time, go out there, make friends, and above all- INFLUENCE PEOPLE.