Posts tagged “identity”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Bicycles Are Gaining a Toehold in the U.S. [NYTimes.com] – But there may be a greater challenge for companies like Sanyo and other e-bike makers. People tend to think of their transportation, like their clothes or cellphones, as an expression of their identity. In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Steven Levy on How Gadgets Lose Their Magic [Wired] – "Any sufficiently advanced technology," Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic."…This applies to all the similar fruits of Moore's law. In the past 40 or 50 years, such mind-stretching advancements have become the norm…We all, I think, have become inured to Moore's law. The astonishing advances that once would have brought us to our knees are now reduced to a thumbs-up on Gizmodo. They're removed from the realm of magic­ – they're just cool gear…As technological magic becomes routine, I wonder whether a visit to a preindustrial society might teach me more than it teaches them. The only thing more fascinating than our technology is the idea of getting along without it. Maybe the way to recapture the magic is to turn all that stuff off.
  • How Tony Gilroy surprises jaded moviegoers [The New Yorker] – Gilroy believes that the writer and the moviegoing public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman in "Marathon Man,.” Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. “Is it safe?” he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue Hoffman. In the subsequent car ride, Devane wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! “Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in ‘Marathon Man’ was fresh,” Gilroy says. “But it must have been used now 4000 times.” This is the problem that new movies must solve. “How do you write a reversal that uses the audience’s expectations in a new way? You have to write to their accumulated knowledge.”
  • Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability [Wired] – [Echoing some of what I wrote about in a recent piece for interactions "We Are Living In A Sci-Fi World"]
    It's a satisfying development for Varian, a guy whose career as an economist was inspired by a sci-fi novel he read in junior high. "In Isaac Asimov's first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics."
  • What is the Status Quo Bias? [Wisegeek] – A cognitive bias that leads people to prefer that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. People will make the choice which is least likely to cause a change. This can also play a role in daily routines; many people eat the same thing for breakfast day after day, or walk to work in exactly the same pattern, without variation. The inability to be flexible can cause people to become stressed when a situation forces a choice.

    It explains why many people make very conservative financial choices, such as keeping their deposits at one bank even when they are offered a better rate of interest by a bank which is essentially identical in all other respects.

    While this provides self-protection by encouraging people to make safer choices, it can also become crippling, by preventing someone from making more adventurous choices. Like other cognitive biases, this bias can be so subtle that people aren't aware of it, making it hard to break out of set patterns.

  • Sports, sex, and the runner Caster Semenya [The New Yorker] – There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married?…We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Stereotyping people by favorite authors – In our Reading Ahead research, we heard about how people were both exploring and communicating identity through their choices of reading material. Identity is a complex internal and external mechanism, where we (explicitly or implicitly) project outwards to imagine how we might appear to others…an internal act that feels or draws from the external. So the existence of lists like this, while tongue-in-cheek, validate that this process is real.
    (via @kottke)
  • Scott Baldwin on the fine art of listening – Try changing how you listen. Try to capture the message (listen with your ears, mind, eyes and heart). Make eye contact, use an open posture and be attentive to body language, volume, tone and pace. Look deeper than just the meaning of the words and try to understand the reason, feelings or intent beyond the words. Be empathetic, objective and analytical.
  • An iPhone app for ethnography – Really? I haven't tried it but I am not encouraged by the description. What we're looking for doesn't always fit into predetermined categories (indeed, how are you to be innovative if the type of data you are gathering is already classifiable?) and there's a danger in conflating data with insights (or as the blogger here writes "outcomes"). Raw data is overwhelming and takes time and skill to process, if you want to find out anything new. Now, we spend a lot of our time just wrangling (copying, renaming, organizing, sharing, etc.) all sorts of data, so I'm up for tools that can help with that; but I think it's easy to go overboard and create tools for uninteresting – or unreliable – research results
  • Lisa Loeb Eyewear Collection – Not an SNL parody ad from 1997, it's a real product line for 2010 (via @CarlAlviani)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Book Two (started in 2006) – As digital technologies become ever more prevalent, we believe it is inevitable that the primacy of the physical book will fade, and the art forms traditionally associated with it will be radically altered also. But in what ways will the stories that we tell be affected by the ways in which we recieve them, and what new forms will arise? We don’t have the answer, but we’re looking forward to finding out.
  • A company’s sense of identity – who we are – nice parallel to my recent article on organizational empathy – Apple dropped the word “computer” from its name in January 2007, soon after it introduced the iPhone. Likewise, Fuji Photo Film shortened its name to Fujifilm in 2006, when sales of its photography products slipped to less than one-third of total revenue.

    These moves symbolize fundamental shifts in how these companies see themselves and how others perceive them. In short, they signify a change in identity.

    How a company responds to today’s tumultuous technological and competitive landscape depends greatly on how it defines itself or, in some cases, redefines itself.

    Questioning a company’s identity, whether or not it results in change, is something that every organization should do.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Words Move Me – Sony adds social networking around reading (but doesn’t seem you can *buy*) – "Words move me" was created by Sony to celebrate the words that move us and to share our reading experiences with others. Connecting with readers around literary moments enables us to express our individuality, share our own stories, and find commonalities with others.
    (Thanks @gpetroff)
  • Sony’s Daily Reader – Kindle Competition: Touchscreen Plus AT&T, for $399 – Includes software to link with local libraries and check out a library-based electronic book. Also has portrait reading mode (showing two pages), touchscreen, and broadband wireless access to add books without a PC.
  • IKEA as destination retail, in Beijing – Although the store is designed similarly to Western IKEAs, the meaning and usage has changed. In Beijing, It's a place to rest and eat, more theme park than shopping emporium.
  • The lost art of reading: David Ulin on the challenge of focus in an era of distraction – Who do we want to be, she asks, and how do we go about that process of becoming in a world of endless options, distractions, possibilities? These are elementary questions, and for me, they cycle back to reading, to the focus it requires. When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I'd had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation's attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read. (via Putting People First)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and a sociologist. – She has focused her research on psychoanalysis and culture and on the psychology of people's relationship with technology, especially computer technology and computer addiction.
  • apophenia – danah boyd's blog – danah boyd is a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
  • Michael Wesch's IA Summit 09 Keynote – Even though the presentation itself uses a lot of visuals and YouTube examples, I found the podcast to be extremely interesting and provocative. Wesch takes many examples of Internet and social media culture that we're familiar with but wraps them together to create a new and exciting story about the kinds of new things that technology is enabling. While I might have thought I knew it all already via danah boyd and Sherry Turkle, I learned a lot (that's not to say that boyd and Turkle haven't covered this material, I have no idea; but for me this podcast was a huge leap forward in my grokking of the issues).

Get our latest article: Living In The Overlap

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My latest interactions column, Living in the Overlap, has just been published. I riff on the relevance of pop culture, the spaces between disciplines and the importance of resisting the urge to label and categorize everything neatly.

Here’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t tried: Project Runway, High School Musical, American Pie movies, robot wars, molecular gastronomy, Halo 3, Dancing With the Stars, Frisky Dingo, sudoku, biopics, House, Desperate Housewives, Portishead, Fifty Cent, Dane Cook, The Da Vinci Code, The Life of Pi, Marley & Me, The Lovely Bones, Augusten Burroughs, and Mitch Albom. I’m mildly curious about some; intensely disinterested about others. A lot of it might make a “sophisticated” individual uncomfortable. But my profession is identifying and establishing the connections between people, culture, brands, stories, and products, and that means it’s absolutely crucial that I know a little bit about all sorts of stuff that I may personally regard as crap.

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

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Automobile Avatars

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I’m seeing a lot of these lately on rear windows of minivans and similar larger family-sized vehicles: icons that represent every member of the household (including pets).

Seems like a new example of personalization; an untapped bit of car real estate, and a new message to publish (who are the – writ rough – people in our household).

I wonder if this is more common among Hispanics and/or the churchgoing. Any ideas? Do you have one of these? Where did you hear about it? Where did you get it?

Get our latest article, Persona Non Grata

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My first interactions column, Persona Non Grata, has just been published. In the article, I consider some of the fatal problems with personas and how they can hurt while pretending to help.

Get a PDF of the article here. As the interactions website only has a teaser, we’d like to offer a copy of the article. Send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

See what else we’ve written about personas.

Other articles

How do you think about your work?

At the interactive cities summit, I noticed a frequent reference to people working on projects. Many of the people who gave presentations or shared their examples seemed to be involved in projects, and in many cases, projects of their own choosing. They had an idea for something that would further the dialogue of technology and urbanism, and they built it, and set it up. This idea of project seemed to come from the world of art more than the world of work.

Projects were not something that were awarded or assigned, they were chosen.

This was a refreshing perspective for me. Of course, my time is spent on “projects” all the time (i.e., move my blog to a new host, put my India pictures up on flickr, etc.) but those are ancillary projects. My thing is my business, my gigs. Others, I’m sure, think about their job and their company. At some point, we think about our career. But do some of us ever think about these projects? Do we want to? Is it a choice, or a tendency?

It really challenged my whole notion of work and took me out of my comfort zone.

The Overlap Blog launches

The Overlap Blog has launched, hoping to start a bit of dialog in advance of the event.

I found inspiration in this quote from the introduction to Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers by Shyam Selvadurai

“What kind of writer do you consider yourself to be? Are you a Canadian writer or a Sri Lankan writer?”

It is perplexing, this matter of cultural identity, and I am tempted, like some other writers of multiple identities, to reply grumpily, “I’m just a bloody writer. Period.”

Yet this response would be disingenuous. I suppose I could answer, “Sri Lankan-Canadian writer,” or “Canadian-Sri-Lankan writer.” But this also does not get to the heart of what i consider my identity to be as a writer (and we are talking of my writing identity here). For in terms of being a writer, my creativity comes not from “Sri Lankan” or “Canadian” but precisely from the space between, that marvelous open space represented by the hyphen, in which the two parts of my identity jostle and rub up against each other like tectonic plates, pushing upwards the eruption that is my work. It is from this space between that the novels come.

FreshMeat #13: The Name of the Game is the Name

========================================================
FreshMeat #13 from Steve Portigal

               (__)                     
               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

Gimme gimme gimme! Gimme FreshMeat, Gimme FreshMeat!
=========================================================

Over the last couple of years, the Safeway grocery chain
has attempted to improve their quality of service by
addressing customers by name. You see, if you use their
loyalty card, or if you pay by debit or credit card,
they retrieve the text of your name and print it on
your cash register receipt. Checkers are required to
thank you by name, which they read off the receipt,
before they hand it to you. This doesn’t work so well,
because it takes more than a few seconds for some
checkers to read some names, and that delay at the
conclusion of your service is intolerable. Add to that,
an increased likelihood of having one’s name mispronounced,
and you’ve got a customer service failure. I mean, if I
had a dime for every time they’ve called me “Mr. Portugal,”
well, I wouldn’t have to shop at Safeway!

(This customer service problem was parodied by Saturday
Night Live back in 1992. You can read a transcript of that
sketch here.)

Recognizing the long-frustrating problem of
mispronunciation of names during commencement ceremonies,
schools like Baylor and Worcester Polytechnic Institute use
the web to collect phonetic spelling info from their grads.

The need is clear, and the technology is ready. Products
like Espeech and Orator II can begin to solve this problem.
The technology that translates text to speech actually
builds a sequence of phonemes (the basic speech sounds
used in a language) that could be spoken (by a speech
synthesizer) or output as phonetics. Just add another
field to all those databases of customer names. Let the
software take the first stab at guessing how to pronounce
the name. Checkout clerks and telemarketers would be
shown a pronunciation key at the appropriate time. If
the customer offers a correction, update the field.

If the companies that consumers do business with (airlines,
grocery stores, phone companies, banks, etc.) are going to
be addressing them by name, is it really so crazy to spend
some money getting those names right? Safeway obviously has
an inkling that they could deliver better service and forge
the right relationship through judicious use of their
customers’ names, maybe they need to step up their efforts
just a notch or two, and get it right.

If you are interested in ideas for products and services,
check out http://www.idea-a-day.com/ (updated daily, as
the name implies, or available as a daily email), or
http://www.halfbakery.com/ (looks cool, but kind of
impenetrable UI.)

Update:
Received February, 2002 from Steven A. Burd, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Office of Safeway, in response to a faxed copy of this issue of FreshMeat.

Dear Mr. Portigal:
Thank you for suggesting that we use some of the new software that translates text into speech, in conjunction with our ongoing customer service initiatives. We appreciate your interest as a good customer whose name has been mispronounced occasionally by our clerks.
It’s an interesting idea, one we have considered before – but using voice recognition technology, the opposite of what you propose. To be honest, we haven’t pursued this since our initial research, because the applications available at the time were expensive, slow and ineffectual. While we have similar concerns about the technology you mentioned, our industrial engineers may wish to visit the two web sites cited in your newsletter.
Meanwhile, we’ll review our stores in your area to be sure any employees who are having difficulty thanking customers by name receive remedial training. If our clerks are unsure of how a name is pronounced, they are to ask the customers. Admittedly, this is a low-tech solution, but it seems to work well.
Thanks again, Mr. Portigal. We value your constructive criticism, and the friendly spirit in which it is offered.

Update:
As we automate our lives, swallowed in a bottomless maw of voice-mail, it’s hard not to heed that little voice telling us to listen

Susan Sward
Sunday, October 18, 1998

Mother used to say that by the time people die, the world around them has often changed so much that death does not seem so terrible. I thought about her comment off and on when I was growing up — partly because I wished that the world where I had played in the 1950s would remain unchanged forever.

Soon enough, I realized that wouldn’t happen. There were the darkened, tree-lined streets of Santa Monica, for example, where my sisters and I ran barefoot chasing after the neighborhood boys. The magic of that mysterious realm was lost forever when the city installed street lights and switched them on one evening. Lately, though, my mother’s observation has been haunting me — because I fear the inexorable march of the machine.

News item: Bank says it will introduce cash-dispensing machines with new software to recognize customers’ faces.

News item: Three industry giants are pioneers in using speech-recognition technology for services such as quoting stock prices over the phone, switching a caller to the right department and reporting the whereabouts of a lost package.

News item: Later this year, many callers wanting flight information from an airline will not speak to a person but to a computer that acts like one.

News item: The Mill Valley Public Library installs an electronic checkout system removing the need to deal with a library assistant when borrowing many of the facility’s books.

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