Why your Brand’s Life Depends on its Humanity

June 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Screen-Shot-2014-01-12-at-4.46.42-PMIn Roman times convicts knew their death would be spectacle in the gladiatorial arena. Today, our lives are spectacle online.

It’s not necessary to commit a crime to enter the online arena though a confession or gritty confrontation will ramp up the entertainment factor. But be warned. The crowd is hungry and baiting for blood.

It’s okay to use your secrets and fears as currency but make sure they’re the right kind of fears and make sure they’re confessed in the right way or you’ll be torn limb from limb and left to die in the unforgiving heat of public disapproval.

According to Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, we’re living in a world where we compete to be as bland as possible.

Why? Fear of shame.

Ronson gives examples to show how much shaming an online gaffe can cause. There’s Justine Sacco whose life was ruined after she tweeted a joke about Africa and Jonah Lehrer, the New Yorker journalist, who was labelled a ‘sociopath’ when it was discovered he’d made up copy for his book, Imagine.

Now that people have become brands and brands have personalities, all the rules that apply to people apply to brands too.

Last year a number of well-known brands were subjected to the Twitter equivalent of a public flogging after they royally mucked up. Walmart hit the shame fan when the company’s Halloween promotional page included ‘Fat Girl Costumes.’

When the board of grocery chain Market Basket made the decision to oust CEO Arthur T. Demoulas they were forced to change their minds and reinstate him after a backlash of disapproval from employees and customers.

One of the most beleaguered brands of 2014 has to be Malaysia Airlines, which tragically lost not one, but two planes full of passengers.

When the company subsequently launched a ‘bucket list’ campaign asking people what they’d like to do before they die, everyone agreed that the last thing they’d be doing is flying with Malaysia Airlines.

This is the challenge any brand faces when it gets dressed in the morning and prepares to enter the world. Make no mistake, it’s a battleground. Get it wrong and lives will be lost before brunch.

In the cases of the above examples swift action was taken to stem the damage. Walmart removed the offending page. Demoulas was brought back into the fold. Malaysia Airlines pulled its campaign.

But were those actions enough to rebuild the trust that was broken?

In today’s marketing environment, a world where brands have personalities and are held accountable the same way individuals are, the concept of trust is the backbone of any formidable brand.

Let’s look at the definition of trust for a moment. In psychology, trust is believing that the person who is trusted will do what is expected.

In Barbara Misztal’s book, Trust in Modern Societies, she points out that trust makes social life predictable, creates a sense of community and makes it easier for people to work together.

Isn’t that exactly what consumers want from brands? To know that product and services are predictable, that they’ll do what they promise and that by choosing a given brand it will enhance and improve social connections.

This may seem like a tall order but only if you continue to think of a brand as an arbitrary logo that encapsulates a product’s delivery to market.

That way of thinking belongs in the 1950s selling washing machines. It doesn’t cut the mustard today.

Why? Because today we have personal relationships with brands. Brands don’t represent companies to us anymore; they represent emotions.

In a recent TED Talk, prof. Jacob Ostberg, describes how when people see a Nike logo, they don’t think about sportswear, they think about what they can achieve if they follow the Nike ethos of ‘just do it.’ Likewise if they use a L’Oreal product, they feel ‘worth it.’

So the question today is, what emotions do you want your brand to represent?

Take a look at the Twitter feed for Malaysia Airlines. In the last six months their tweets have adopted a spiritual edge. ‘Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,’ they say while using the hashtag #flyinghigh.

Are they using their very visible connection to death as a way to suggest their brand is built on a deeper philosophy, that they care about our spiritual wellbeing?

In an interview with Joe Lazauskas on Contently.com, Seth Godin described trust as follows: ‘it’s human, it’s personal, it’s relevant, it isn’t greedy, and it doesn’t trick people.’

Is that what Malaysia Airlines are doing? The messages may be human and even relevant but they possess an element of trickery, and in light of their recent misfortunes, that’s unforgivable. It begs the question: have they no shame?

Just as people with no sense of shame are likely to be punished at best and exiled at worst, 21st century brands are subject to the same fate.

Never before has the humanity of your brand been so important. Forget that and the hungry crowd will quickly remind you that entering the arena comes with a price. This is no time for mistakes. Your brand’s life depends on it.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Bureau 121, North Korea’s Hackers

June 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

North-Korea-v2They’re highly trained as part of a competitive program that lasts nine years and only takes 100 out of 5,000 applicants. They are amongst the top 1 per cent in North Korea with high salaries, the freedom to travel and unlimited internet access.

They are Bureau 121, a special cyber warfare unit. 1,800 elite hackers, North Korea’s secret weapon against its alleged enemies. In reward for their talents they are given free apartments in Pyongyang and live lavish lifestyles.

Business Insider talked to a North Korean defector, Jang Se-yul, who described how Bureau 121 works, what its aims and capabilities are. According to Jang, hacking Sony would have been child’s play for this team, as they are trained to attack countries.

Although North Korea continues to vehemently deny hacking Sony in a bid to stop the release of the film, The Interview, a Seth Rogen / James Franco comedy about an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, its culpability is no longer in question.

Back in June of 2014, the North Korean government issued a statement saying that if the film were released, the response from them would be ‘resolute and merciless.’ The government went further saying that if the US failed to ban the film, North Korea would consider it an ‘act of war.’

On the morning of November 24th the staff of Sony arrived to work to find an angry skull and cross bones scrolling across their screens. Their entire network was down.

A group called the Guardians of Peace claimed responsibility for the attack during which they stole up to 100 terabytes of data from Sony. In the following days, movies were leaked online such as Brad Pitt’s Fury as well as Annie, Mr Turner and Still Alice. That was just the beginning.

On December 3rd PDF files showing the passports and VISA of Sony staff including those of Jonah Hill and Angelina Jolie were leaked. User names and passwords of Sony executives are leaked. The salaries of 30,000 employees working at Deloitte, the consulting firm, were also leaked.

On December 5th the Guardian of Peace sent another threat to Sony, claiming that if their orders were not obeyed the families of Sony staff would be hurt. ‘Many things beyond imagination will happen at many places of the world,’ said the threat.

It wasn’t until December 16th that the hackers made a direct reference to The Interview, saying that if the film were released, the theaters where it was shown would be attacked too.

In the lead up to Christmas Sony decided to scrap its Christmas Day release of The Interview while Rogen and Franco cancelled their promotional tour.

On December 19th North Korea stated publicly that Sony was ‘wise’ to pull The Interview. On the same day the FBI confirmed that North Korea was behind the attacks.

Despite the damage caused by the leaks, not to mention the millions in financial losses, Sony made the decision to release The Interview anyway. It was released on Christmas Eve for rent online on YouTube Movies, Google Play and Microsoft Xbox Video and in selected cinemas.

By Christmas Day, it had been downloaded millions of times. One of the countries where it is allegedly most popular is North Korea. It’s been reported that people are willing to pay up to $50 for a copy of the film there. It’s also hugely popular in China where they’re calling it one of the best films ever made.

During Christmas week, North Korea’s already limited telecommunications network experienced problems. The network was effectively shut down. Kim Jong-un lashed out at the White House blaming America for the attacks, which President Obama has denied.

So for now, no one is too worried about Bureau 121, North Korea’s elite hacking force. Despite their best efforts, they were not able to stop the release of The Interview. Meanwhile the more statements North Korean officials issue, the more foolish the country looks.

But Jang expects that’s not the end of Bureau 121. North Korea is aware it does not have the military might of its enemies, which makes the internet a level playing field. Plus they have a wild card.

While they have the capabilities to attack other countries, North Korea’s own limited connectivity means that it is basically safe from outside attack. According to China’s IT Weekly, even if the network could be attacked, there is not much to be gained.

Last week it was reported that since July 2014 Bureau 121 has grown in size and now has almost 6,000 hackers on its team.

 

Has the Internet Damaged Youth Culture?

June 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

photoIn the days before the internet, experts dictated our cultural landscape. These reclusive authors or respected critics were regarded as ‘qualified’ and had an untouchable air.

The internet changed all that. Today, anyone with something to say has access to the cultural conversation and can contribute either via a creative project, such as a blog or video, or be a critic, posting reviews on sites like Goodreads or YouTube.

The internet has made the conversation two-way, immersive and immediate. Old-school thinkers believe this devalues the conversation, taking it away from its established ideals, and horror of horrors, allowing the barbarians through the gates.

In the last decade this flood of youthful ideas into the mainstream conversation has forced traditional institutions to change how they think about production and presentation. Take theatre as an example.

When we visit the theatre we expect to find our seats, the lights dim, the audience goes quiet and the show begins. Watershed, a cross-artform venue in Bristol, is home to the immersive theatre group, Punchdrunk, that encourages audience participation, making them part of the production.

‘It’s amazing how regimented we have become in our cultural habits,’ said Dick Penny, director of Watershed, in an interview with The Guardian. ‘Companies such as Punchdrunk have turned those conceits on their head. Rather than devaluing the traditional approach, it just shows there is another way of doing it.’

Technology has changed creative presentations by lowering production costs. Now, anyone with Internet access can set up a blog, website or video channel. All it takes is a little knowledge, persistence and an ability to connect with an audience.

However, the internet has created an audience that is fragmented and fickle. The typical Generation Y adult or Z kid is subscribed to numerous sites and has a short attention span. But, is fiercely loyal to the brands they connect with.

Instead of feeling disempowered like generations before them, the Internet Generation understands that not only do they get to contribute to and shape conversations, they also get to decide what’s cool irrespective of what critics say. The 50 Shades phenomenon is an example of this.

One organization that has tapped into this audience is Vice Media. Set up as a print pop culture magazine in the 90s, Vice has become one of the most influential online broadcasters attracting more than 150 million users each month.

Vice was named Media Company of the Year at the 2014 British Media Awards, with the judges citing its ability to ‘disprove the myth that digital content needs to be short-form or throwaway to be successful.’ VICE proves the internet is a forum for hard news.

Vice’s co-founder Shane Smith told The Guardian: ‘Young people, who are the majority of our audience, are angry, disenfranchised and they don’t like or trust mainstream media outlets. They’re leaving TV in droves, but music and news are the two things that Generation Y in every country are excited about and interested in.’

Music demonstrates how the internet has changed our listening habits and tastes. A pre-internet music fan had a collection of albums that strictly reflected his preferences. Today, the average tween can have thousands of songs stored on their phone with access to thousands more via Spotify or YouTube.

‘My son has grown up with access to any music he chooses and has an encyclopedic knowledge. If he finds a band he likes, he will trace all their influences and listen to all those bands too. There is a library of culture that is readily available to young people, which my generation just didn’t have,’ said Penny in the same interview.

With so much information out there, the internet has spawned a new type of critic, who is more of a curator that zones in on books, films or products that he or she loves. The explosion of book reviewers on YouTube is an example of this.

Others become brand advocates such as 24-year-old Zoella, who runs a make-up channel on YouTube that has an audience 26 times the size of British Vogue and is what advertisers call a ‘crowd-sourced people’s champion.’

To say that the internet has damaged or devalued youth culture is to miss the point. It’s done nothing to dampen the fundamental urge to create but it’s changed the way culture is shared and talked about. It’s made us all part of the conversation.

 

Sex with an Ex: Good or Bad?

March 24th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

cupid-deadAn article in The Daily Mail a while back told of a couple who’d been married in 1954, divorced a few years later after a bitter row and got married again in 2004 after a 50 year separation.

The wife, now 90, said, ‘it was wonderful seeing him again, we gelled straight away like we had never been apart.”

Isn’t that the cutest story you ever heard?

Of course if they hadn’t had that stupid row in the first place, they might have spent those fifty years together. (Cynical? Me?)

It’s a sex with an ex story with a happy ending. Ah, what’s rare is beautiful.

More often than not sex with an ex is tricky territory.

The infamous Samantha Jones of Sex and The City says the occasion is fraught because if, “it’s good you can never have it again and if it’s bad, you just had sex with an ex.’

Perhaps fifty years is the time it takes to forget what pissed you off about an ex in the first place and therefore seriously consider giving the relationship another go. In which case, it’s probably just as well that most of us don’t make it to 90.

The implications of sex with an ex are typically the following: it’s a one-off, never to be repeated, a sneaky dip into the past, a salacious reminder of what never was.

Despite these constraints, there is something tender and delicious at the prospect of sex with an ex. There’s that unique familiarity, haunting allure, hidden potential and shared history. It’s the shared history that makes the whole thing rife with danger.

As it is, sex for the single girl can be tricky. Sure there is always the option to pick up a random dick. For me, the shallowness of that activity had lost its allure before I hit thirty.

That said a girl has needs. Enter the ex boyfriend.

Firstly, the sex is not explicitly hollow as there was once love there. More importantly, you can be quite confident that you know what the sex will be like having indulged in it with him many times before.

Enter the catch. Once done, it can either remind you why the relationship ended in the first place or it can leaving you wanting more.

Either way, sex with an ex brings up memories from the past and leaves you wondering about the whole relationship matrix.

There must be something in the air because in the last six months, I’ve tangoed in the bedroom with two different exes. While one experience left me broken-hearted, the other led me to see that ex in a new forgiving light.

This is not familiar territory for me. I am not in contact with any exes from my Twenties. Not so the Thirties boys. In fact one of my exes is one of my best friends. Is this maturity?

When you can be good friends with an ex, it’s great. Again what’s rare is beautiful. But this only works when there is no lingering hint of sexual attraction.

In the same way that it’s never works to use friends for sex, boundaries have to be drawn with the exes.

Although my two occasions were very different experiences, both shared a distinct feature. In stark contradiction to the previous connection I shared with these guys, suddenly it was all about the sex. And nothing else.

Having once imagined a future with him, then dealt with and accepted the demise of that future, it was weird to be intimate and expect nothing at all.

Ironically, both of them would have been happier and the relationships would probably have lasted if I’d had that attitude when we were together. Life?

I’m just not made that way. I have no interest in no strings sex. The strings are what make it interesting. As a result I felt like I was using them. Something that had once felt sacred between us had shifted. Despite the intimate history, we were suddenly sexual strangers.

Sex with an actual stranger is about the moment – in fact it can’t be about anything else because that moment is perhaps all you know or will ever know about that person.

Sex with an ex is all about all the moments that went before and might come after. How can it be anything else? In order for it to be just about the moment, you’d either have to have no feelings or no memories.

I suppose it comes down to attitude. If you are doing it on the basis that it might rekindle old feelings, make that clear before the action starts. If it’s just for fun, with no expectations, well then it can be anything you want it to be.

Ultimately sex with an ex is disappointing because it will not be the way you remember it and the only thing it will remind you of is what never was.

So while sex with someone new has all the tantalizing possibilities of the unknown … sex with an ex, it’s going nowhere but the boner graveyard.

New Irish Writing Moves to The Irish Times

January 27th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

 

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Ireland is a country that prides itself on its literary history having produced great writers such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and William Butler Yeats, and more recently, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright and Eimear McBride.

However, in order to keep the tradition of Irish writing alive, novice writers need a place to submit their work and have it read.

That’s exactly the remit of New Irish Writing (NIW), a page that first appeared in the Irish Press in 1967, later moving to the Sunday Tribune when the Press changed to tabloid format. However when the Tribune closed in 2011, so too did the page.

With the announcement last week that the page has a new home in The Irish Times, the Irish literary scene has been given a new lease of life.

Writing about NIW for The Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole wrote: NIW ‘has been one of the English-speaking world’s great literary incubators. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in mainstream newspapers anywhere else.’

The driving force behind New Irish Writing was David Marcus. He originally established it as a quarterly literary magazine in 1946, when he was 22 and a law graduate. He had a deep love for the short story and that was the format the magazine championed.

He had the chutzpah to get submissions to the magazine from Seán O’Casey, Frank O’Connor, Seán Ó Faoláin, Liam O’Flaherty and Samuel Beckett, then virtually unknown outside France and still to write Waiting for Godot.

But Marcus’ passion wasn’t enough to keep the magazine alive and it folded in 1954. Disillusioned, Marcus went to London for 11 yeas and worked in insurance. When he returned to Dublin in the late sixties he was dismayed to find the tradition of the literary journal was almost dead in Ireland.

There were a number of magazines available at that time, magazines such as Bell, Envoy, Irish Bookman and the Kilkenny Magazine, but all were dying. Marcus feared that if action weren’t taken immediately a great tradition would die.

From past experience Marcus knew how hard it was to make a literary magazine financially viable so he had the brainwave of approaching a newspaper with the plan of giving new and established writers equal billing on a page dedicated to Irish writing.

Marcus planned to pitch his idea to The Irish Times but on his way to their offices he bumped into Sean McCann, a journalist with the Evening Press. Marcus explained to McCann what he was up to and McCann liked the idea so much, he in turn pitched it to his editor, Tim Pat Coogan.

The page was an instant hit. ‘The first presentable text in English I succeed in writing will be yours,’ promised Beckett. Not only did NIW catch the attention of writers but also the Hennessy family, who were originally from Cork but had moved to Cognac in France in the eighteenth century.

The Hennessy’s were champions of Irish literature and, always looking to strengthen their cultural ties with Ireland, they agreed to sponsor annual literary awards highlighting the best writing published each year on the page.

The winners of the inaugural awards, in 1971, were Dermot Morgan, Patrick Buckley, Kate Cruise O’Brien, Desmond Hogan, Liam Murphy and John Boland. Other writers to enjoy success because of the page include Patrick McCabe, Deidre Madden, Sebastian Barry and Frank McGuinness to name a few.

When the Irish Press closed the page in 1988 it didn’t take long to find it a new home in the Sunday Tribune, where a poetry category was added to both the page and the Hennessy awards. The first winner of the award for poetry was Joseph O’Connor (Sinead’s brother) in 1989.

Talking about NIW both Joseph O’Connor and Frank McGuinness confessed that the page was a lifeline. When O’Connor’s story The Last of the Mohicans was published in the late eighties, he’d just about ‘lost heart.’

For the last thirty years NIW has been a platform for great Irish writers, such as Hugo Hamilton, Anne Enright, John Boyne, Vona Groake, Martina Devlin, Mary Costello, Paul Perry and Mary O’Donoghue, again, to name but a few. Now thanks to The Irish Times, that platform lives on.

As Fintan O’Toole wrote in the aforementioned article, NIW ‘is, apart from all its other merits, a standing rebuke to the celebrity culture that has become increasingly prominent in publishing. It exists for the unfamous, the as yet obscure, the writers who are just writers, not names, not brands.’

 

Dreading January? Try a Little Decadence

December 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

sugar_s_blues_by_matt_walton_design-d5skig8

Here’s a fact, just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s Resolution. 8 percent! That means most of us don’t have a fighting chance.

Do we make those stupid resolutions so we can spend January, February and most of March feeling crushed by our daily failures? Lost a in mental whirlpool of self-loathing? Damned by a willpower out of control?

Enough! Why do we do it to ourselves? Don’t we deserve better? The end of one year and beginning of another is an event in itself. Do we have to compound the situation by reckless goal-setting? Methinks not.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you seasonal cheer turns dirty in January. The most common things you’ll hear people say include, ‘God, I hate January;’ ‘January is so long/boring/dark/quiet’ or  ‘I’ve been to the gym three times this week. By March I’m going to look like [insert name of insanely good looking movie star here.]’

By the time March comes around it’s likely we’ve nestled into old routines such as not going to the gym, watching too much TV and eating a diet that includes take away food, chocolate and beer.

Psychology offers three main reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail: 1. People make unrealistic resolutions. 2. People don’t have the right mindset to fight off doubt and distractions. 3. People use fear and guilt as motivation.

All of us can identify with one of these reasons. We’ve all done it. Come the end of December we proclaim all the fabulous things we’re going to start doing in January.

Most people’s lists include goals such as going to the gym (gym memberships go up by 30 per cent in January); quit smoking, quit drinking, quit eating carbs; learn a language; lose weight, take up a new sport, meditate; volunteer at a local charity or spend more time with family.

Whatever is on on your list, it has two things in common with everyone else who makes a list: 1. It contains things you don’t do. 2. It contains activities that lead to self-improvement. For some reason we all become obsessed with self-improvement in January and think that doing things we don’t normally do will get us there.

This thinking is flawed. If you want to start a new activity, start in November. That way you’ll be up and running by the New Year and will have the comfort of a familiar routine to guide you through any dark days in January. This goes for meditation, spending time with family and especially exercise.

But ok, so you didn’t start a new activity in November and January is looming and you – like 92 per cent of people – are dreading it. You want the transition to be easy but you’re aware that easy is rarely worthwhile. You know it’s going to hurt. You resolve to take the pain and soldier on, fight through, be better.

Every January there are millions of people walking around telling themselves to be better: Come on! Move it lazy arse! You’re not good enough! Better! More! Now! Doesn’t that sound exhausting? How the heck is anyone expected to improve under those conditions?

In my humble opinion, a shift in thinking can solve the problem. Forget trying to ‘improve’ you, instead have fun. Do things that absorb you. As Einstein advised his son in a 1915 letter, do the things that give you ‘so much enjoyment you don’t notice the time pass.’

Don’t make a list of resolutions, make a list of things that make you happy. Some of these things will be part of your life already, some won’t. Look at the list. What are you not doing? Why aren’t you doing it? How will doing these things enhance your day, year, life? How can you make it happen?

Forget guilt. Instead get decadent. Do one thing that is deliciously decadent. Then do something that is ridiculously kind. You know yourself, one man’s decadence is another man’s kindness, so choose whatever is fun or kind according to you.

Most importantly be kind to yourself. Silence the critical voice in your head and replace it with a voice who thinks you’re amazing whether you’re at the gym or slouched in front of the TV. This January kill the blues by adding a little sugar. Shake things up with one decadent and one kind act. Everything else can wait till February. Or November.

 

Have We Entered the Era of Digital Narcissism?

April 29th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Is digital narcissism a real issue or is it a just a term made up by the media to fuel scaremongering around our use of technology? For nineteen-year-old Danny Bowman who tried to commit suicide when he couldn’t take the perfect selfie, the issue is all too real.

Bowman dropped out of school, lost his friends and would take up to two-hundred images a day as part of his quest to capture the perfect photo of himself. He would take ten pictures immediately after waking up. Frustrated by his failed attempts to take the ‘perfect selfie,’ Bowman eventually tried to take his own life. He overdosed but was saved by his mum.

‘I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realized I couldn’t, I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life,’ he told The Mirror. The teenager is believed to be the UK’s first selfie addict and has had therapy to treat his technology addiction as well as OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Part of his treatment at the Maudsley Hospital in London included taking away his iPhone for intervals of 10 minutes, which increased to 30 minutes and then an hour. ‘It was excruciating to begin with but I knew I had to do it if I wanted to go on living,’ he told the Sunday Mirror.

Bowman is not alone. There are more than 80 million photos on Instagram that have the hashtag #me and more than 31 million with the hashtag #selfie. A recent study by the Pew Research Centre confirmed that 91 percent of teenagers have posted a photo of themselves online.

Part of the reason for their popularity? ‘The cult of the selfie celebrates regular people,’ says Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

‘There are many more photographs available now of real people than models.’ And posting selfies is an empowering act for another reason: it allows you to control your image online.

‘I am painfully self-conscious about photos of myself,’ admitted Samantha, a nineteen-year-old from Missouri. ‘I like having the power to choose how I look, even if I’m making a funny face.’

The problem says psychologist Jill Weber, Ph.D. is that there’s a danger a person’s self-esteem becomes tied to the comments and ‘Likes’ received when they post a selfie. However, these comments are based on not who a person is but rather what they look at that given moment.

Dr. Weber says the trend tends to be more common amongst young girls who only see themselves as lovable or worthwhile when others value them. ‘In my experience, girls who repeatedly post selfies struggle with low self-esteem,’ she said.

‘Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem,’ said Dr. Rutledge in Psychology Today.

While selfies give young people the chance to see ‘ordinary’ people online, it also gives them the chance to compare their images with those of celebrities. Even though we’re all aware that celeb shots are photoshopped, it doesn’t stop people wanting to look as good as Beyonce or Miley Cyrus.

What these young people forget is that stars like Bey and Cyrus have a team of stylists to create their images. In short it takes work! Very often these young people are not prepared to put in the work, so when they don’t get the same results, they feel frustrated and their self-esteem plummets.

As a result, psychologists now believe that online manifestations of narcissism may be little more than a self-presentational strategy to compensate for a very low and fragile self-esteem.

Be that as it may, our fascination with the selfie doesn’t look like it’s going to dissipate any time soon. A quick glance at Instagram shows the variety of selfies now in circulation: selfie at the gym, selfie in the car, selfie in the bathroom or bedroom, selfie with a pet or just woke up selfie are just some of the categories.

And a few weeks ago, the University of Narcissi in Greece, launched a degree course on selfies which will form part of its undergraduate sociology degree. It will focus on why the ‘power of the selfie’ and why it appeals to so many.

Issues explored include whether the selfie encourages a projection of a false persona, how peer pressure plays a role in the trend’s world domination, and why selfies can have negative emotional, mental and psychological effects.

Despite all the controversy there are times when the selfie can be beneficial, which the Cancer Society proved when they ran their #nomakeupselfie campaign. Countless women posted images of themselves sans make up online and raised millions for cancer research in Ireland and the UK.

Whatever your opinion on the practice of the selfie, there’s no doubt that this epic trend is revealing a whole new side of human nature. The question is this a side we really want to reveal?

Do We Really Want Google Glass In Our Bedrooms?

March 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Google is working hard to develop all the possible uses and benefits of its latest gadget, Google Glass. Also known as ‘The Glass Project,’ this gadget is wearable tech – worn like a pair of glasses – that gives the wearer access to the digital world at eye-level whilst also enhancing the wearer’s view of the real world.

As Google is keen for others to explore possible uses for this technology, the company hosted a day-long hackathon in London which gave students at London’s Central Saint Martin’s art college the chance to come up with ideas.

Since then, they have been working on a project that takes Glass to a whole new level, into our bedrooms and our sex lives.

The project started off with the question ‘how can we make sex more awesome with Google Glass,’ says Sherif Maktabi, the founder of the project. The answer Maktabi and his team came up with was shared live streaming and voice controls connected to your home.

During the hackathon, which was held in November 2013, Maktabi got to ‘play’ with Google Glass and come up with some ideas. He was immediately drawn to the notion of ‘Sex with Glass.’

The cornerstone of ‘Sex with Glass’ is the shared live streaming: ‘See what your partner can see… Just say “OK glass, it’s time” and Glass will stream what you see to each other. And if you feel like stopping everything, just ask: “OK glass, pull out.”’

‘Some people find what we do repulsive,’ Maktabi says. ‘But a lot of other people – and I am basing this from the emails we are getting online – really desire to try this. People have fantasies, desires and needs. It’s personal. What they do with that is up to them. Guilt, dogma and shame is something we still widely experience when it comes to sex and how we talk about it.’

As well as providing live streams, the app also records the action but the video is deleted after five hours. If users want to go totally Matrix, it’s also possible to link the app up to your home, which means lights and music can also be controlled by voice commands. Anyone who needs a little inspiration can call on an in-built Karma Sutra file loaded onto the app.

Needless to say reaction to the app has been mixed. While Maktabi is adamant that the app does what it says on the tin: enhance sex, many people are concerned by its limited view, potential breach of privacy and biased advertising.

One of the main concerns people are asking is, ‘why would I want to see myself during sex?’ And more worryingly, is this kind of data collection just providing covert agencies with new opportunities for breach of public privacy. What’s next? The National Sex Archives?

Plus the advertising campaign that promotes ‘Sex with Glass’ only features heterosexual couples and has some odd taglines such as: ‘You’ll be able to watch your videos for five hours until they are deleted forever. That’s for all the ladies out there.’ Great idea! After all, it’s well known that women like to lie around for hours watching videos of themselves having sex?

While Maktabi and his team push on with the development of ‘Sex with Glass,’ policy at Google HQ may thwart their efforts sooner than expected. Back in June 2013, Google updated its policy with regard to apps that contain sexual content.

The new policy reads: ‘We don’t allow Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography. If we become aware of content with child pornography, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and delete the Google Accounts of those involved with the distribution.’

The app that prompted this policy change from Google is an app called Tits & Glass, made by adult company, Mikandi. The idea for this app is similar to Maktabi’s insofar as it allows users to share experiences through live streaming along with some other creative features.

However, MiKandi co-founder Jennifer McEwen said in an interview with Mashable magazine that although the porn industry has been quick to adapt to emerging technologies, levels of innovation have slowed in the last few years.

‘The old adage that porn drives tech is sadly no longer true,’ she said. ‘Over the last decade, adult companies have seen themselves locked out of more and more technologies and services — the latest being mobile applications. Adopting new technology is costly and time consuming, so it’s no wonder why some in the industry have become risk adverse.’

Despite these concerns the porn industry is looking for ways to marry their services with future developments at Google.

‘The reaction to Google Glass has been 50/50 between companies such as MiKandi, who see the potential of this new device and plan to develop products for it, and those who prefer to wait and see,’ McEwen said. ‘We’re excited at the possibilities Glass holds for more interactive applications as the technology matures.’

Clearly Maktabi and his team at St. Martin’s College are excited too, perhaps a little too excited.

New Film Tackles Sexism in American Media

March 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Are you aware of the on-going misrepresentation of women in our mainstream media? Chances are you’re not but don’t worry, you’re not alone. These days we’ve become so accustomed to seeing women bumping and grinding, fawning and disrobing on screen, we’re immune to it; in fact we see it as normal.

But Jennifer Siebel Newsom doesn’t see it as normal. She’s appalled by it and that indignation led her to make Miss Representation, a film, which highlights the on-going and ingrained sexism in American media.

The seed of indignation was planted when she became pregnant with her first daughter. An actress herself, she looked around the entertainment industry at the continuous degradation of celebrities such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, and was horrified to think this is the world her daughter would grow up in.

From the get-go Siebel Newsom confronted the difficulties of making a film about sexism in media. When she approached female directors to direct the movie, they all turned her down, saying that they’d never work again if they got involved in the project. In the end, Siebel Newsom directed the movie herself.

Despite the directing challenge, she assembled an impressive line-up of powerful women to bolster her argument. Those women include Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, and Gloria Steinem along with academics and activists who reinforce the film’s thesis that the degradation of women on screen prevents women from holding positions of power in wider society.

The film opens with a dizzying array of statistics that show just how pervasive the media is. The average American teenager consumes more than 30 hours of television a week; 10 hours of internet; 4 hours reading magazines and 3 hours watching movies.

‘The media is the largest communicator of culture, and we know that if US culture continues to limit and undervalue women, then that message is being communicated around the world,’ says Siebel Newsom.

She attributes the root cause of this imbalance in media to patriarchal society, but she says that the media perpetuates the problem because it continues to tout the message that women’s only value lies in their body shape or youthful appearance.

As one example, just think of how common it’s become in recent years for news anchors to ask female politicians about their fashion choices or cosmetic surgery. In one film clip, an interviewer asks Sarah Palin, ‘come on, just admit it, do you or don’t you have breast implants?’

The wider implications of this imbalance are numerous. Firstly, the film notes that women make up 51 percent of the American population, yet the percentage of women in congress hovers around 17 percent and hasn’t changed since 1979.

In the telecommunications industry, one of the powerful industries in the world, the number of women in top positions is just 3 percent. Those kinds of gender inequalities are true for other industries too including pharmaceutical, medical, law, entertainment and unsurprisingly, media, where women hold only 5 percent of top positions.

Siebel Newsom cites the lack of credible female role models on screen as directly responsible for the lack of ambition on the part of young girls. ‘When the media doesn’t portray positive, or even accurate, female role models, you get this whole notion of if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,’ she says.

But young girls are aware of the problem. One girl, about 15-years-old complains that her female classmates spend too much time in the bathroom putting on make-up. She doesn’t understand why they’re doing this when they’re supposed to be at school to ‘learn.’

Jim Steyer is the CEO of Common Sense Media, a professor at Stanford University and one of the film’s contributors. He says, ‘media and technology are delivering content that is shaping our society, they’re shaping our politics, our national discourse and most of all, they’re shaping our children’s brains, lives and emotions.’

Because of the constant stream of sexually overt women that litter our screens, girls are growing up with the message that their only value is how they look and boys are growing up with the message that that is the only way to value women, according to Jean Kilbourne, another of the film’s contributors and author of Killing Us Softy.

The film cites advertisers and capitalism, both derivatives of our patriarchal society, as the chief harbingers of this message. The old adage, ‘sex sells’ is now the dominant principle guiding all branding decisions and nothing will change until that changes.

But it is up to consumers to implement that change. To accompany the movie release, Siebel Newsom has launched a campaign on Twitter, Not Buying it, where “people are able to call out sexist media and use their consumer power to challenge it.”

Using a Twitter hashtag and an app, people can publicise and share sexist advertising when they see it, and encourage others to contact the company or boycott the brand. We have a long way to go, but this film is a timely reminder that we can no longer afford to be passive consumers of media, because when we are, the wrong people take control.

Stop Press: Is the Writer Dying?

March 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

According to a recent article in The Guardian newspaper, the writer, his income and his way of life are dying. Thanks to the double whammy of the 2008 market crash and a digital revolution in publishing that has eroded copyright revenue, the writers of today face a hostile market and a dwindling earnings pool.

Despite a twenty-five year period of stability from around 1980 to 2007, today, for both writers who are just starting out and those who’ve been in the game a few decades, the path to financial security is crumbling.

In the mid-nineties, Jean Winterson, one of the UK’s most respected writers, got a six-figure advance for her third novel that allowed her to buy a house in the country; today, she watches as her friends, also established writers, are dropped from their contracts. Today, big advances are scarce.

Rupert Thompson is the author of nine novels, and without doubt, an established writer. In 2007, his novel Death of a Murderer was shortlisted for the Costa Prize and his most recent novel, Secrecy, was called ‘chillingly brilliant’ by the Financial Times. He’s been compared to JG Ballard, Elmore Leonard, Mervyn Peake and even Kafka.

Now approaching 60, for the first time in decades, he’s contemplating a career change. In The Guardian’s piece, he said, ‘I don’t buy anything. No clothes, no luxuries, nothing. I have no private income, no rich wife, no inheritance, no pension. I have nothing to look forward to. There’s no safety net at all.’ Another established writer, the novelist, Paul Bailey, said, ‘[2010] was sheer hell.’

At the other end of the spectrum, younger writers are faced with the prospect of a market awash with free online content or on sale in Amazon’s bargain bin for just 0.99 cents. The majority supplement their income with freelance work but even here there are obstacles. Papers can’t afford to pay what they used to plus the rise of the Huffington Post model and blogging means that too many writers are prepared to work for free.

While the Internet consumes a huge amount of content, the globalization of the market means that a writer in India can produce work for a fifth of the price. The average annual income for a young writer is 5,000 to 10,000 euros. McDonalds’ trainees earn more.

But, writers of every generation have suffered a similar fate. It was said of Grub Streets’ residents in 18th-century London that: ‘They knew luxury, and they knew beggary, but they never knew comfort.’ When asked about the success that the author Jean Rhys enjoyed towards the end of her life, she famously said that it came too late. Despite marrying three times, she spent most of her adult life poor.

In the early twentieth century, while Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Joyce were bumming round Paris and living on their wits, American writers were pumping out pulp magazines. Published every week and bought for pennies by a loyal readership, these writers were paid pittance and expected to produce a minimum of 10,000 words a day.

But even in this hard-boiled world, writers, such as Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury managed to break free from the shackles of a measly paycheque and build solid, successful careers.

The truth is that throughout the ages, anyone foolish enough to pursue a career in the arts has had to figure out a way to finance the pursuit, accept that it isn’t going to be easy and that it might actually prove fruitless. In short, this is not a game for the weak-hearted.

One of the blessings that the Internet has bestowed upon the writer’s world is access to a large and supportive community. No longer must the writer feel alone while he beavers away at his attic desk; a few mouse clicks and he has access to thousands like him. Not to mention the fact that the Internet also provides him with an instant publishing platform and the opportunity to find paid work.

The explosion in online resources has been coupled with the introduction of numerous MA programmes and writers workshops. Those with a sincere interest in the craft have many options if they wish to hone their skills. There have never been more magazines and the number of literary prizes continues to grow.

George Sanders has just received £40,000 as winner of the Folio Prize for Literature, a new prize, which celebrates the best writing from around the world. On the 20th of March, the winner of the Premio Alfaguara de Novela will be announced. This prize celebrates the best writing in Spanish-speaking world and at $175,000 is the highest paying literary prize in the world.

There are many more such as the Man Booker Prize, The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, Miguel de Cervantes Prize, São Paulo Prize for Literature, Leipzig Book Fair Prize and the Nobel Prize. While not every writer will come close to winning these big prizes, alongside them are countless national and regional competitions.

The new writer may look at the industry today and worry that it doesn’t offer enough security but the truth is, the writing life never did. What’s really happening right now is that an age-old craft is undergoing a revolution; just as the music industry did with the advent of Napster thirteen years ago. The writer is not dead yet, but he has to be savvier and more talented than ever to survive.

 

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