- [from julienorvaisas] David Brooks Defends the Humanities [NYTimes.com] – "Let me stand up for the history, English and art classes, even in the face of today’s economic realities. Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose). You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo. Studying the humanities will give you a familiarity with the language of emotion." [Brooks veers into strange territory with his idea of the Big Shaggy, but makes a compelling argument for how powerful an education in the sometimes seemingly-pointless Humanities can be in the world of business (a message well-received by the girl with a degree in Art History).]
- [from Dan_Soltzberg] Does the Internet Make You Smarter? – WSJ.com – "The case for digitally-driven stupidity assumes we'll fail to integrate digital freedoms into society as well as we integrated literacy. This assumption in turn rests on three beliefs: that the recent past was a glorious and irreplaceable high-water mark of intellectual attainment; that the present is only characterized by the silly stuff and not by the noble experiments; and that this generation of young people will fail to invent cultural norms that do for the Internet's abundance what the intellectuals of the 17th century did for print culture." [Clay Shirky's article is peppered with great insights about the intersection of information-sharing platforms and culture.]
- [from steve_portigal] Banana museum splits for new digs [SFGate.com] – The 17,000 items, everything from a "rare" petrified banana to a banana-shaped boogie board, was lovingly collected over 38 years by Ken "The Bananist" Bannister. The Bananist, who sells real estate for a living, kept it at his International Banana Museum in the Mojave Desert town of Hesperia. Plans are for the museum, listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest collection dedicated to a single fruit, to reopen in January in this dusty town on the edge of the Salton Sea. Garbutt, who unlike Bannister was never much into bananas, is busy learning everything he can about the potassium-rich fruit that can be served in a variety of ways, including fresh-peeled, deep-fried or frozen and dipped in chocolate. He plans to open the museum next door to Skip's Liquors, which his family has owned since 1958. He says he hopes it will boost business there.
- [from steve_portigal] G.M. Backtracks on Chevy Memo [NYTimes.com] – [The nickname, when authentic (we're looking at you "The Shack") is a powerful way of people to take ownership of a brand meaning. GM inadvertently unleashed some real passion around this issue] Responding to negative reactions to an internal memorandum discouraging use of the word Chevy, General Motors moved on Thursday to explain its strategy and to reassure consumers that it still valued the popular nickname for Chevrolet. The memorandum asked employees to “communicate our brand as Chevrolet.” For decades, Chevrolet and Chevy have appeared interchangeably in advertisements, and the Chevrolet Web site uses both terms. But after a strong public reaction to a report in The New York Times on the note, G.M. issued a statement on Thursday that said the memorandum had been “poorly worded.” The statement said that the memorandum reflected Chevrolet’s strategy as it expanded internationally, but that the company was not “discouraging customers or fans from using” Chevy.
- [from steve_portigal] Angry clowns decry armed robbery by impostors [ajc.com] – [An interesting and surprising example of protecting brand identity] About 100 professional clowns who make money by performing on public buses marched through Salvadoran capital Thursday to protest the killing of a passenger by two imposter clowns. On Monday, a man was shot five times in the face and stomach when he declined to give money to two assailants dressed as clowns who boarded a public bus. No one has been arrested. The protesters — wearing oversized bow ties, tiny hats and big yellow pants — marched down San Salvador's main street in an effort to both entertain and educate passersby. Several held signs insisting that real clowns are not criminals. "We are protesting so that people know we are not killers," said professional clown Ana Noelia Ramirez. "The people who did this are not clowns. They unfortunately used our costume and our makeup to commit a monstrous act." (via BoingBoing)
Ben Ratliff writes an interesting piece about Grateful Dead fandom (not the tie-dye, need-a-miracle twirling, but the tape trading/DAT-head/live show collecting aspect). The article offers a couple of provocative perspectives:
1. The hierarchy of fan expertise
At the basic level, people know about published material, beyond that fans differentiate between the different eras, then choosing between specific performances (known by date and venue), then songs within a specific performance, and ultimately thoughts about the provenance of a specific recording (which source, which remaster, etc.).
This level of engagement (it’s easy to call it obsession if it’s not your bag, of course) is not limited to Deadheads, of course. Being a long-time Rolling Stones enthusiast, I’ve experienced some of that progression myself (and certainly observed debates among many of my fellow travelers along pleasurably obscure details). Indeed, going from the first level (I know what’s on record) to the second (discovering the treasure trove of unreleased material that other fans are sharing) is an On Beyond Zebra experience, like that dream where you find that you’ve had another room in your house all this time.
2. Long-tail meets plenitude meets paradox-of-choice
I remember my earliest days on the Internet where the most active non-technical communities were for fans of either Star Trek or the Grateful Dead. The Internet offered a dramatically increased ability to connect with other collectors and trade cassette tapes by snail mail. But Ratliff describes the massive increase in availability over the past few years as broadband, iTunes, and other online digital sources provide ridiculously easy access to the nearly 2,200 available shows. As more shows become available to more people, the landmark shows that everyone used as a common reference point for “best” have less of a footprint.
My analogous experience differs from Ratliff’s (although liking the Stones is not exactly like liking the Dead): I don’t need to choose Taylor vs. Wood (two lead guitarists with markedly different sounds and associated with markedly different eras). Since I can now listen to a version of Satisfaction where the Rolling Stones essentially covered Otis Redding’s then-popular cover version, or a 9-minute version of Brown Sugar with horns, or a live version of a relatively-obscure album track that really bring the song home, I now have a broader and richer fan-listening experience. Listening and listening again and hearing new things over the years is sufficient; deciding the best isn’t ultimately that useful once you’re in a position to even make a reasonable distinction.
Deadheads and Stones fans are connected communities with passion and purchasing power and Ratliff’s article is worth reading for some insight on – at the extreme end – how those communities evolve and transact.
Recently I was in the Starbucks in the Lucasfilm Letterman Digital Arts Center and was surprised to see what was written on the chalkboard
Starbucks is the same EVERYWHERE. What makes us different is our customers = YOU. We’ve worked all over the city, all over the state and we can honestly say that you are the BEST customers EVER. PERIOD. We see you everyday. People from LUCAS, PAC UNION, YMCA, B&B, THE PRESIDIO, THE MARINA & so many more…
You make us love our jobs, make us love coming into work – thank you! Thank you for being you.
I am not a regular at this Starbucks, so I don’t know how genuine this acknowledgment of a special relationship feels. It’s a curious example of transparency, asking customers to care about whether or not the workers like their jobs or not, and it’s a curious example of localized empowerment. Does corporate really want individual stores making statements like “Starbucks is the same everywhere?”
What do you think? Is this believable or giddy holiday spirit from someone who used to work on the yearbook team in high school? Should Starbucks be encouraging or discouraging this sort of expression in their stores?
A number of months ago we had an unfortunate experience at the usually stupendous local restaurant, Cafe Gibraltar. Our reservation, made long in advance for dinner with out-of-town visitors, evaporated. The error was theirs but I was made to feel as if I was somehow in the wrong, and it really created some awkwardness on what was supposed to be a special dinner.
I wrote a letter about it and didn’t hear back until recently. But wow, what a response!
Some times we make mistakes, as is human, but not properly dealing with our mistakes is unacceptable. We are only as good as those who represent us.
Seemed a good time to post a great apology after Sunday’s NYT piece about the Southwest employee who is in charge of writing apology letters to passengers – the “senior manager of proactive customer communications.”