Archive for the ‘Art’ Category


I go through the occasional bout of nostalgia, I admit it. Sometimes I muse that it would have been much more fun to be alive during the Wild West, or during the American Revolutionary War. Mostly this is clearly symptomatic of the fact that I feel disconnected and I want to feel a part of a movement, something significant that is taking hold of history and making it sit up and pay attention.

While I lived in Paris I was privileged to see the works of infamous, modern-era, groundbreaking schools of art such as the Blau Reiter, the Futurists, Alexander Calder and the mobile sculptors, Impressionists, Fauvists, Surrealists, Cubists, Pointillists, you name it. As I browsed the carefully curated collections of work and imagined what it would be like to exist in a time of such intense creation, innovation and turn-the-world-on-its-head thinking, I remember thinking: does anyone really ever know when they’re living smack-dab in one of those eras?

Now that I’m back in the U.S. working, and no longer have the luxury of wandering the streets of Paris, being a flaneur and contemplating my navel, those questions have gone mostly by the wayside in favor of, oh, I dunno, buying toilet paper and writing corporate emails again. Sigh. However, they don’t have to because it may actually be true that we are in the middle of a cohesive burgeoning artistic, cultural and technological movement! It even has a name, folks, which is huge, because without a name it will be hard to reference it: The New Aesthetic.

What is it about? Well, significantly it’s pretty all-encompassing, which it has to be in this era of multimedia, consolidated and integrated channels, myriad communication modes and access. In a nutshell (though that is a depressingly analog expression to use in this context) it’s about taking the time to understand how technology is affecting and has already impacted the way we see the world, how we see everything. The movement focuses on the presumption that most of the world increasingly now experiences the world not directly through their eyeballs, but through the eyes of a technological device- whether it’s a camera, a smartphone, GPS, a tablet, an e-reader, a computer screen, etc.

This opportunity for reflection is significant first because the pace of technology and its adoption simply hasn’t historically allowed us to do this- we adopt a technology, learn it, deploy it and then we’re off and running with barely a glance backward. In the super-charged modern era of technology have we really reflected on its impact on how we see things? Yes, the visionary artists, influencers and politicians of our time have, in small numbers. But this movement finally has identified certain themes about how we have all been shaped by new technologies and it’s just so interesting.

Another great facet of the New Aesthetic is in how it is playing out. This is not a genre that is reserved for the intellectual or artistic elite. So far the movement has invited everyone to participate, thereby furthering the impact that the act of reflecting has. It begs questions of its members-How is the world different from how I saw it before? Can we actually evaluate if things were better or worse before this technology/gadget/access/knowledge? Show us what you see and how you see it. Can you find us other examples of where this is playing out?

From Bruce Sterling‘s Wired piece on the topic:

“The “New Aesthetic” is a native product of modern network culture…it was born digital, on the Internet. The New Aesthetic is a “theory object” and a “shareable concept.”

The New Aesthetic is “collectively intelligent.” It’s diffuse, crowdsourcey, and made of many small pieces loosely joined. It is rhizomatic, as the people at Rhizome would likely tell you. It’s open-sourced, and triumph-of-amateurs. It’s like its logo, a bright cluster of balloons tied to some huge, dark and lethal weight.” (http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2012/04/anessayonthenewaesthetic/)

It should come as no surprise that this discussion largely began at the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Here is the description of the panel discussion:

“Slowly, but increasingly definitively, our technologies and our devices are learning to see, to hear, to place themselves in the world. Phones know their location by GPS. Financial algorithms read the news and feed that knowledge back into the market. Everything has a camera in it. We are becoming acquainted with new ways of seeing: the Gods-eye view of satellites, the Kinect’s inside-out sense of the living room, the elevated car-sight of Google Street View, the facial obsessions of CCTV.

As a result, these new styles and senses recur in our art, our designs, and our products. The pixelation of low-resolution images, the rough yet distinct edges of 3D printing, the shifting layers of digital maps. In this session, the participants will give examples of these effects, products and artworks, and discuss the ways in which ways of seeing are increasingly transforming ways of making and doing.” (http://schedule.sxsw.com/2012/events/event_IAP11102)

James Bridle is sort of the figurehead of the discourse around the New Aesthetic and he has done an excellent job of laying out what it means to him and helping to provide spaces for the conversation about it to unfold. In fact, he’s downright poetic in some of his descriptions:

And what of the render ghosts, those friends who live in our unbuilt spaces, the first harbingers of our collective future? How do we understand and befriend them, so that we may shape the future not as passive actors but as collaborators? (I don’t have much truck with the “don’t complain, build” / “make stuff or shut up” school, but I do believe in informed consent. Because a line has been crossed, technology/software/code is in and of the world and there’s no getting out of it. ” (http://booktwo.org/notebook/sxaesthetic/)

“My point is, all our metaphors are broken. The network is not a space (notional, cyber or otherwise) and it’s not time (while it is embedded in it at an odd angle) it is some other kind of dimension entirely.

BUT meaning is emergent in the network, it is the apophatic silence at the heart of everything, that-which-can-be-pointed-to. And that is what the New Aesthetic, in part, is an attempt to do, maybe, possibly, contingently, to point at these things and go but what does it mean?” (http://booktwo.org/notebook/sxaesthetic/)

That’s good stuff, right? I think so.

But let’s take a step back from the philosophical implications of the movement and do some of our own shell collecting in the sand. Where do we see the New Aesthetic playing out?

Here’s a few that I found:

1) My latest favorite Tumblr: ScreenshotsofDespair. Apart from appealing to that deep and sinister Schadenfreude bone that I have, this Tumblr is a perfect example of the New Aesthetic. We take photos, of screens, which we see delivering ambiguous and subtly insulting messages that seem to mirror our own loneliness, unpopularity, failure,- despair. So good.

From "Screenshots of Despair"

2) Where am I?: Google Maps and StreetView. The fact that we now actively use archived and ongoing screenshots of satellite maps and digital photography to represent to us what the world looks like, rather than having to travel there physically. I know what my friend Anna’s house looks like in Berlin without ever having been there, but I only know what it looks like on a sunny day-  April 2nd, 2009.

3) Tweet-note: I’m coining this term (unless it has been coined before) to mean seeing a live event happen through the lens of what is being said about it by the Twitter-verse. See my piece onsentiment analysis for a more nuanced examination of the implications of this, but it’s pretty crazy that these days (especially at ANY high-tech conference) you can sit in a room of thousands of people, listeningto/watching the same keynote, and yet about 98% of the audience is simultaneously tracking what is being said about that event via Twitter on their smartphones, thereby allowing the rest of the audience to largely color their opinion in real time.

4) Art: This is obvious, but the emergence of re-pixellating and bringing digital back to analog, and a nostalgia for real film is all playing out in the art world. The pixellation movement really interests me because it’s such a blatant reversion to pointillism, but it represents more of a re-education for a younger generation on how the greater whole is amassed as the result of millions and millions of tiny components. It’s also a throwback to so many other modernist movements- Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and Picasso’s Cubism comes to mind, especially here, when we talk about the New Aesthetic in terms of trying to represent the everywhere-at-once nature of things today. You can look at a book, just a simple book with your own eyes. But you can also look up reviews of the book on Amazon or Goodreads, you can research Google images of the book, how much people will pay for the book on eBay, you can read reviews of the book on the NYTimes, you can take a weathered antique-y snapshot of the book with Hipstamatic, text message your friend about the book with its photo attached, and many other options that I can’t even think of right now. All of that is a more than 360 degree representation of that book: what it is, what it looks like, what it represents, where it is, and how it is. Just like in Cubism, the object ends up being transformed, rendered nearly unrecognizable to its original form by having been taken apart and conveyed based on its components, then re-constructed on more planes than the naked eye can fully behold. The same is true of my next example…

5) Does This Photoshop Make Me Look Fat?: We are no longer satisfied with truthful representations of human bodies. In fact, we might not even really believe the truth any more if it were given to us. We have been carried away- in the beginning unaware, later blissfully aware- by the movement to re-architect human anatomy through Photoshop. I admit I have visited blogs and websites that show the blunders of graphic artists and I often STILL can’t see that anything is wrong with the images. It is that nefarious. We are more content to see human bodies through the lens of Photoshop than through reality.

6) Branded Space: this is an old feature, the fact that we see in everything a chance to advertise or place products, but one recent example was so blatant I can’t fail to mention it here. It was very recently announced that in his next movie, James Bond will be sipping not a martini, but aHeineken. That’s right, 007’s drink of choice has received the ouster in favor of product placement. Needless to say, the reaction has not been, er, positive. But it is yet another example of the New Aesthetic- not only do we see even everyday objects and products through new physical lenses, we continue to see them through figurative lenses that are colored according to which advertiser has the most money to spend that day. So the object is not permitted to exist alone for us any more. Its meaning is always stamped across its face.

In fact, Maybe the weirdest aspect of this movement is how eminently consumable it is. It’s practically Warhol-esque in its commercial viability. A perfect example being how Facebook just gobbled up Instagram, the popular hipster-making photog app for $1B. But there are thousands more examples on the official New Aesthetic Tumblr. Let the New Aesthetic binge begin.

One last expression for you: Analog Recidivism: Actually, I’m just hoping this will somehow emerge as a reaction to the New Aesthetic. I think one of the next evolutions of the movement will be to feature in art, culture, social customs, etc. what we just don’t see any more as a result of our attachment to viewing the world through the lens of our gadgets and technology. Instead of showing us how our views have changed and been modified, somehow we will be shown what we just didn’t see as a result of staring at a phone, a computer, a tablet, etc. The little things we no longer notice or take note of will be featured as once again novel by virtue of the fact that we, physically, are no longer trained to see or look for them. Did I just blow your mind?

To read more on the New Aesthetic:

http://booktwo.org/notebook/sxaesthetic/

http://www.riglondon.com/blog/2011/05/06/thenewaesthetic/

http://newaesthetic.tumblr.com/

http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2012/04/anessayonthenewaesthetic/

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Hi All, sorry for the hiatus. But I’m back in black. New year, and lots to discuss. Let’s get to it!

Clearly I couldn’t let discussion about SOPA and PIPA and the ensuing takedowns architected by Anonymous go untouched in this discussion space, so let’s delve into this, shall we?

For those who aren’t aware (where in the hell have you been?), let’s first break these two down to their most elemental forms:

Here’s what (admittedly biased on this matter) Wikipedia has to say about what SOPA is, “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison”

Basically, this was legislators catering to big media companies’ interests by proposing a law that would give the U.S. government the right to prosecute people who propagated intellectual property that they didn’t own online. In other words, the internet wouldn’t exist unless the government felt that it should.

“Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites.”

“Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

So that’s SOPA in the House of Representatives. A second, replica piece of legislation was simultaneously being put up for consideration in the Senate called PIPA or the Protect IP Act. On this legislation, Wikipedia says:

“The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA) is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. The bill defines infringement as distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology. Infringement exists if “facts or circumstances suggest [the site] is used, primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described. The bill was introduced on May 12, 2011, by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and 11 bipartisan co-sponsors.”

So that’s the house-cleaning. They’re the same piece of legislation, same clear and dangerous threat to internet freedoms and the Internet’s intrinsic ability to allow for the wide and free dissemination of information.  Now down to the brass tacks.

Let’s begin with the fact that just pragmatically, taking on the Internets is always stupid. Why? Because congress and the President are centralized forces of power- quite well identified and held to certain moral and legal standards of behavior and comportment. The internet is none of those things. It is a nebulous, unscrupulous, largely anonymous and completed decentralized force of power, and it will not be stopped. Which is why, they have certainly won this round of the fight and will ultimately win the war on issues of intellectual property online.

So Wikipedia was one of the largest of many web resources (others included Reddit, the social news site, and BoingBoing, a technology and culture blog) that decided to shut down for a 24 hour period in public protest against these two bills.  As the NYTimes Bits Blog reported: “Visitors around the globe who try to reach the English-version of Wikipedia will be greeted with information about the bills and details about how to reach their local representatives. Mr. (Founder Jimmy) Wales said 460 million people around the world visited the site each month, and he estimated that the blackout could reach as many as 100 million people. In addition, some international Wikipedia communities, including the one in Germany, have decided to post notices on their home pages leading to information about the protests, although they will remain functioning as usual.”

“The government could tell us that we could write an entry about the history of the Pirate Bay but not allow us to link to it,” he said, referring to the popular file-sharing site. “That’s a First Amendment issue.”

But then Anonymous had to go and get all involved, making it no longer a seemingly noble protest, but taking matters into their own hands. And this is where decentralization begins to get really interesting.

For Anonymous it wasn’t enough to shut down one’s own site, and make one’s own decision to go dark- Anonymous wanted to prove once and for all to big media companies such as CBS and Universal Music that it is but for the grace of Anonymous that their sites exist at all. In a bold and HIGHLY under-publicized and under-discussed move if you weren’t online (I think largely because of Anonymous’s reputation as an anarchist and borderline-terrorist non-organization) Anonymous temporarily removed CBS.com and Universal Music as well as its parent company Vivendi from online view. There has been much speculation about whether the sites were full-on deleted, redirected, etc. and I won’t debate that here, but I think the major point here is that a decentralized network of self-labeled “hacktivists” hold the power to completely destroy someone else’s online presence as retribution. So while the politicians, PACs and lobbyists seek to pass these bills the old-fashioned way through our system of government and legislation, the internet turns its nose on their efforts and operates completely independently.

The repercussions of these acts by Anonymous are massive. Is it to be said once and for all that the internet is ungovernable? Certainly any jurisdiction over internet content and domains is highly debatable and obscure- who has the right or the resources to police the net? Where is that online security task force- is it a branch of the UN peacekeeping forces? Which country’s government holds the right to censor content? If Google’s tangle with China and the Arab Spring have taught us anything, it’s that the rules for who gets to yea or nay internet content are still being written and continue to be written by unknown authors, sitting in dark corners leading their revolutions with armies of revolutionaries who couldn’t recognize them if they passed by on the sidewalk.

President Obama said no to the current versions of these bills, but SOPA and PIPA are by no means dead in the water. This will be an ongoing discussion, but I stand by my opinion that even if SOPA or PIPA were to pass in Congress, they would have a completely unmanageable time attempting to enforce either in the chaotic and decentralized network that is the Net. The point it would seem, my friends, is moot.


I have recently become obsessed with analytics. I just love the idea of using solid data to make informed choices toward action. It’s the ultimate voyeurism. After all, the internet is a window through which you can peer to monitor other people’s activity. It’s also seductive, instant gratification- I post a document and then check in just an hour later to see how many people have clicked on it, how long they spent reviewing it, where they went after they read it, where they came from before reading it. ..

The power that platforms like Google Analytics and Omniture offer excites me in ways I shouldn’t even publicize- the possibility that all of that information about online actions and behavior is at my fingertips to exploit in order to be more productive, more effective is intoxicating. This is probably why it’s a good thing that I don’t work in marketing or advertising.

But apparently the harvest, process of sorting, and the exploitation of human information no longer stops with marketers and advertisers- now the government wants in.

According to an article in yesterday’s  NY Times,  “social scientists are trying to mine the vast resources of the Internet — Web searches and Twitter messages, Facebook and blog posts, the digital location trails generated by billions of cellphones” to predict the future. This is being conducted all in the name of the U.S. Government, or in this case, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity unit of the Office of National Intelligence.

Why? Because  they believe “that these storehouses of ‘big data’will for the first time reveal sociological laws of human behavior — enabling them to predict political crises, revolutions and other forms of social and economic instability, just as physicists and chemists can predict natural phenomena.”

Remember our dear friend Michel Foucault who opined on systems of surveillance in modern society? He just rolled over so many times in his grave he’s now a taquito. But putting the panopticon aside for a moment, let us instead turn to “chaos theory” to underline why this whole venture isn’t necessarily a very good idea.

Chaos theory, as a discipline, studies:

“the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect.”

The “butterfly effect theory” is basically this:

Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.  This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behavior is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable.

Yes, if this is ringing a bell, it’s because you’ve heard of the anecdote the theory is named for, whereby a hurricane’s formation occurred because a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. Ridiculous, but it does vividly illustrate the point that the entire globe is a system, and there are infinite factors within that system interacting every day to produce outcomes- and needless to say, these factors are not all diligently recorded in Brooke Shields’ Twitter stream.

Ever since analytics, Facebook, and Twitter broke onto the human information scene, the embedded hubris of men has convinced us that if we’re just smart enough to design a program to parse all of this information, then finally all of our inane yet determined recordings of our daily details will finally mean something– that it will be useful!

Right? Wrong.

The mashed potatoes are just mashed potatoes. If you want to see anything in the figurative mashed potatoes, then see this: the Tower of Babel, people.

“Tower of Babel?” you say? Yes. The Tower of Babel. My favorite of all biblical references ( we all have one, right? Right?).

Need a quick brush-up? OK!

In the story of the Tower of Babel, from Genesis, ‘a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where they resolved to build a city with a tower “with its top in the heavens…lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Earth.’ God came down to see what they did and said: ‘They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.’ So God said, ‘Come, let us go down and confound their speech.’ And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel ‘because God there confounded the language of all the Earth.’(Genesis 11:5-8).

In other words, chaos theory’s conclusion that all of the world’s data is basically worthless, unreliable crap aside- this “big data eye in the sky” can and will never be.

First, because, without God’s intervention, we are perfectly great at getting in our own way, thankyouverymuch.

For example, the NY Times article cites IARPA’s claim that “It will use publicly accessible data, including Web search queries, blog entries, Internet traffic flow, financial market indicators, traffic webcams and changes in Wikipedia entries.”

About that, the U.S. Government would do well to recall the response to every single privacy change that Facebook has ever made about user data.

Also, the public’s responses to the Patriot Act.

Also, the public response to News Corp’s recent phone hacking scandal.

I could go on. The point is, I don’t think folks will accept the government’s efforts to exploit the aggregation of their online and publicly collected information in order to predict when we might all come down with whooping cough.

Second problematic claim, “It is intended to be an entirely automated system, a “data eye in the sky” without human intervention.” Errrr…what about all of that human generated information? Isn’t that, um, human intervention?

I recently had the absolute pleasure of hearing Stephen J. Dubner- author of Freakonomics and creator or host of every other program, show, or book that came along with it- speak at a conference. He gave an excellent and very compelling lecture on the dangers of relying too much on “self-reported data.”

His point is that, for industries or disciplines where data in large part determines future strategy and action, a little outside consulting and collection is merited. Self-reported data is, by virtue of the fact that humans are involved, problematic when it comes to accuracy.

This means that every tweet, Facebook update and comment flame war on a review site should be read and collected with a massive grain of Kosher salt. It is hard to imagine how the government would calculate this unreliability into its system through error analysis and standard deviation. Suffice it to say, there is still much work to be done on human reported data, sentiment analysis and social statistics before we could get anywhere close to sorting this all out in any meaningful fashion.

Luckily, as the NY Times reports in the article, not everyone is convinced this is even worthwhile:

“”I’m hard pressed to say that we are witnessing a revolution,’ said Prabhakar Raghavan, the director of Yahoo Labs, who is an information retrieval specialist. He noted that much had been written about predicting flu epidemics by looking at Web searches for ‘flu,’ but noted that the predictions did not improve significantly on what could already be found in data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

So, though I myself am drinking the cherry kool aid of acting and strategizing based on the measured results from analytical data, I feel the U.S. Government is seriously overstepping its bounds on this one- both in terms of infringing on other people’s data rights, as well as in terms of outpacing the world’s statistical abilities when applied to cultural data.

Hit me in the comments if you have thoughts of your own on the matter…


Just a quick entry today (because work is quite busy) to say check out this project/idea by Candy Chang,  who is an artist, designer, and TED fellow who “makes cities more comfortable for people.”

“I Wish This Was…” is subtitled “civic input onsite” and I think the whole project is marvelous both from the artistic as well as from the pragmatic point of view. Moreover, I think it’s a fascinating representation of a phenomenon I have observed where practices that are commonplace online are migrating into our physical reality.

As the project describes itself,

“This project was inspired by vacant storefronts. There are lots of them where I live in New Orleans. There are also lots of people who need things, including a full-service grocery store. What if we could easily voice what we want, where we want it? How can residents influence the types of stores and services that enter their neighborhood? How can we easily collect demand in an area?”

In this instance, the practice of delivering discrete, individual opinions in a public display format and aggregating that feedback for the public to consider is being put into place in order to gauge opinion on the use of commercial or public space, and ultimately in an effort to convert public spaces into the physical landscapes we communally desire. It’s a veritable public sphere project put into practice in a very analog- yet familiarly online- format.

What are the implications of this? Are we getting over the internet? Has the locavore food movement infected other civic movements? Has the proliferation of mobile devices that can do just as much (and more in some instances) as our computers inspired us to once again take our technology out of a dark and lonely room and use it to interact with our fellow human beings again, outside, in the sun?

Also, the nod to the subjunctive absence satisfies my ere-tortured soul: http://candychang.com/i-wish-this-was-i-wish-this-were/

Check out the project and feel free to post a comment!


A recent article posted on Mashable about a “Google Gap” caught my eye. The article basically poses the question “should we be teaching students how to search for information?” I often think about this without putting any of my thoughts to words. In essence, my inner dialogue usually goes something like this: “There is so much information out there, and no one seems to know how to access it.” “That’s not true, people are creating and accessing information every day.” “Yes, but how targeted are their searches? Does anyone really know how to use all of the search functionalities that Google offers?” “Yes, and I’d be willing to believe that many people use it a lot better than you.” “Well of course, but that’s not to say that it’s all intuitive. We seem to take it for granted that young people can be handed a new technology or tool and be able to use it fully to its deepest capabilities without any instructions or training, but that’s just not always the case.”

Without being a current student, I can’t say I have any idea of whether classes are being mandated or even offered at the lower educational levels on how to search for, and sort through information. If not, it’s a shame and a huge waste of really genius functionalities that apparently no one is using.

Let’s use an example. Say I am searching for the back story on my favorite work of sculpture, Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” In the main search box of Google’s engine, I type “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” Here’s what I get:

Inevitably, ye old Wikipedia entry for this art work will be in position #1. Image search results show up directly under that, then we have an entry from Smart History, then strangely a result from St. Mary’s College of California, then what seems to be a blog entry from a blog called Boglewood that addresses Italian art and history. The list goes on.

I would not be surprised if most students these days use the Wikipedia article as a fact source in their research, and try and find a decently high resolution image for any artwork requirements in their essays and then call it a day. How many students are instructed to do multiple searches?

For instance, if I then search, “Bernini Sculpture,” which will return the following:

 

My point here is that Google can almost be considered a living and breathing animal, very eager to perform for you. The more a person searches in sequence, the closer and more likely that person is to access very specific and more robust information sources. But how many students are taught that about Google? How many currently only use it for discrete one-off searches, ignoring completely the fact that Google can learn more about you and about what you’re looking for more each time you use it, enabling it to perform even better for you?

Even more disturbing perhaps is that most students have no idea that Google scholar exists! So many people my age grew up struggling with the constantly-evolving but always onerous scholarly search engines like LexisNexis and had a very hard time finding the content they were looking for, even when they encountered the right articles. Right now, if we search we get a wealth of different results:

I am old enough (and lucky enough??) to have taken a library skills course in elementary school that taught me about the value of using old-school search terminology and functionality (i.e. Boolean operators) way before Google was even a twinkle in Larry and Sergey’s eyes. But now that engines like Google do exist, and now that advanced methods of researching (such as textual and sentiment analysis on Twitter hashtag topics) become ever  more viable in the realm of social research, have schools taken up the challenge of designing curriculum to assist modern-day students with these new information engines?

The Mashable article claims that such classes and training do not yet exist, “Students in a two-year ethnographic study referred to Google more than any database when discussing their research habits. But ironically, say the study’s authors, they weren’t very good at using it.” I feel that this is a natural offshoot of an “information science” or “library science” degree, which seem to be where all librarians are headed these days. Elementary school students should be required to take a class/classes in effective search and research strategies that will help them to conduct online research for the duration of their education.

Especially since the Mashable article claims, “[The students] were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results…Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)”

It doesn’t seem ludicrous to imagine that though an incredibly resource like Google exists, students will have a hard time wielding the heavily powerful tool because they don’t understand the logic behind it, especially if no attention has been paid to teaching people how to use the incredibly powerful tool.

The series of studies that inspired the article on Mashable are known as the “Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries Project (ERIAL)” and are a collaborative effort by five Illinois universities in order to better understand students’ research habits. The findings  from these studies are set to be published by the American Library Association this fall.

To summarize the problem, this quote basically scared the crap out of me while simultaneously saddening me: “I don’t really know what there is to use,” said one first year accounting major who participated in the study. “I know there are books but I don’t really know how to find them. Really the only thing I know how to do is go to Google and type in what I’m looking for.”

What do you think about mandating search/research classes at the elementary school level for American children?


The White House finally came forward last week with the decision not to circulate the graphic images that confirmed Osama Bin Laden’s death, and I immediately I believe I heard people around the U.S. (and the world, perhaps?) breathe a mostly collective sigh of relief. Or was that just me?

It is a favorite pronouncement that we are now an image-driven culture, focused chiefly on video, photos, and graphics to learn, retain and discuss the world around us. This pronouncement is made, particularly, in the context of discussions about the RSS-ification of news and information, where all the news that’s fit to print is expected to fit into 140 characters.

See, as the thinking goes, our brains are attempting to consume so much more information than ever before, so the introduction of new forms of media and imagery (read: not text) will help our brains to better retain and render more realistic those discrete and fast-coming pieces of information.

Whatever the strategy of getting information to us, as consumers of information, it is still worth fighting for the chance to use our own discretion when it comes to how we, as humans, want to digest our information. Often we seem to have no choice- the newspapers, site managers, TV and movie producers and editors do that for us. But when we are presented with the choice, many of us would still choose not to see graphic images of death and violence.

[I can already hear the devil on my shoulder wanting to advocate for his side of the story, so as an aside, I will say that I do believe there is power in images. And I believe that things can be rendered more real in our everyday lives by seeing them, even if only through a photographer’s lens. That is often a good thing, particularly for the politically sheltered and/or apathetic masses. But I also believe that things can be too real, and hinder a person’s ability to move on with their life. Or images can be so real, but so simultaneously staggeringly outside the context of someone’s own experience that they  are unreasonably and ineffectively disturbing. I believe the release of images of OBL’s death would have such an effect for many Americans.]

Which is why, I believe, so many Americans have keyed in on the photo taken by the White House photographer and posted on their Flickr feed, of Obama’s staff watching the live feed of the raid in Pakistan.

This photo has become the focal and symbolic  photo of the moment that OBL was killed, and has stirred so many different reactions. For me the photo is staggering on a number of levels:

1)      President Obama is not front and center.

2)      The expression of Secretary of State Clinton’s face (whether she likes it or not)

3)      The fact that we are experiencing the ultimate surveillance moment- through the eyes of someone who was watching the scene through a camera lens, we are watching those who are watching live footage of what was happening.

4)      It is perfect voyeurism, but it is also intensely primal. We are observing the reactions of other human beings to an event we know we must also react to. In their reactions we search for our own feelings about the event, and we take cues.

Incredibly, in their recent Opinionator entry, Gail Collins and David Brooks  brought up pretty much everything that I was thinking when I first saw this photo, but it’s something I think everyone should take a look at, because there is so much to discuss within the limits of this image.

On a similar note, and related to my earlier post about the news of Bin Laden’s death and the role of Twitter in breaking that news, here are some outstanding digital images of the flow of information across the Twitter-verse in the hours preceding and following the White House announcement, care of the SocialFlow blog.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the company, SocialFlow is a social media optimization platform that is used …to increase engagement (clicks, re-tweets, re-posts and mentions) on Twitter. Our technology determines the optimal time to release the right Tweet based on when your audience is most receptive.”


September 02, 2010- http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978491387

Smart advertisers and marketers know that part of building awareness of a brand and attachment to a brand these days involves allowing the consumer to feel as if they are a part of the brand, and the brand is a part of them.

The most innovative way to elicit this feeling among increasingly jaded consumers is to allow them to participate in the way a product is sold to them, or presented to an overall greater audience. In other words, to integrate elements of “interactive or collaborative advertising” into their overall marketing strategy.

Some of this is revolutionary stuff, and is still regarded as too dangerous by most traditional advertising, marketing and brand agencies the world over. Ostensibly, what it means is giving consumers permission to experiment with, and command some control of, a brand. If I may go down a yellow brick road of an analogy, this is no less than cutting down the Wizard’s curtain and revealing the small man behind it, subsequently allowing the consumer to revel in his or her discovery of the small man, and as a result of said revelation, being amply empowered to get Dorothy back from Oz to Kansas his or her self.

But when it works, it works so, so well.

Let us take, for example, the Old Spice Guy. If you’ve never seen or heard of Isaiah Mustafa, or any of the YouTube response videos that the company launched in response to Tweets it was receiving, then you must be dead or on a remote desert island with no smartphone. This ad campaign which has incorporate TV ads, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube so well has dominated most of this year’s buzz conversations.

How about something more recent? Tipp-Ex is a correction fluid brand (think White-Out), who recently launched a YouTube video ad campaign which allows the viewer to determine the end of the story. The viewer first watches the setup video where a guy camping with his friend is alerted that a bear is right behind him, and is urged by his friend who is videotaping the event to shoot the bear. The video viewer is at this juncture permitted to decide if the man should shoot the bear, or not. After making the decision, the viewer is redirected to a video in which the camper urges the viewer to rewrite the story.

The whole thing is highly reminiscent of “advertising and design factory,” CP+B’s groundbreaking 2001 “Subservient Chicken” campaign for Burger King, where visitors to the website can type in any command and a man dressed in a chicken suit on a webcam performs the requested function. So while Tipp-Ex’s overall concept isn’t new, their delivery is.

Largely what’s interesting about interactive or collaborative advertising is that it nicely paints the line between earned media and paid media. A company pays to create the initial ad, but then by virtue of the fun of interacting with it and collaborating it, consumers share and continue to virally promote that ad, which is where your earned media begins to kick in.

These concepts aren’t exactly brand new, but their integration into basic marketing strategies is, and increasingly larger companies are beginning to take notice of how much buzz can be generated through earned media without having to necessarily pay for every step of it. In addition, not every company has experienced skyrocketing revenues as a result of investing in interactive advertising, so the science here and how to master it is still relatively new.

One thing’s for sure, however. It sure makes advertising a lot more fun from the consumer perspective.