Posts tagged “society”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Book Review: The Authenticity Hoax [] – ..the craving for authenticity among those in the West who see a market economy and consumer culture as sterile and false—inauthentic—and who defend the world's most repressive cultures, looking past their brutality to admire their resistance to modernity. It is the disillusionment with modernity that underlies the authenticity quest. When man was preoccupied with finding food and appeasing capricious gods, he didn't have the time or inclination to ask whether he had "sold out" for an easy paycheck or failed to align himself with some abstract ideal of the "authentic" life. But then science made the formerly mystical cosmos explainable, and a spread of democratic ideas, in politics and markets alike, made food and freedom more broadly shared. The result was "a new kind of society and, inevitably, a new kind of person," one more given to looking within for meaning and not liking what he found there. The individual's own self-definition filled the gap left by faith and authority.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Last supper ‘has been super-sized’, say obesity experts [BBC News] – The food portions depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger – in line with our own super-sizing of meals, say obesity experts. A Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the millennium and scrutinized the size of the feast. They found the main courses, bread and plates put before Jesus and his disciples have progressively grown by up to two-thirds. Based on the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head, the researchers plotted the size of the Passover evening dishes. The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings. Bread size grew by about 23%.
  • Butch Bakery – Where Butch Meets Buttercream – "Butch Bakery was born when David Arrick felt it was time to combine a masculine aesthetic to a traditionally cute product -the cupcake. When a magazine article mentioned that cupcakes were a combination of everything "pink, sweet, cute, and magical", he felt it was time to take action, and butch it up." Flavors include Rum & Coke, Mojito, Home Run, Beer Run, Campout, Tailgate, Driller, and (ahem) Jackhammer
  • Making Design Research Less of a Mystery [ChangeOrder] – Design researchers don't work exactly like professional detectives. We don't sit down with their users and start asking them point-blank questions regarding a single moment in time, such as, "Exactly where were you on the night of November 17th, when Joe Coxson was found floating face-down in a kiddie pool?" We don't consider the users as criminals, having perpetrated crimes against the state—our clients?—that must be solved. The crimes are the points of friction that go remarked (or unremarked) about the course of our subject's lives, in using the tools that surround them, and in the myths and beliefs that drive their everyday behavior. Our methods of detection are geared towards being sponges, soaking up both the large-scale and minute details that indicate layers of behavior that may have gone unremarked in the design and everyday use of various products, services, and interactive systems.
  • The Medium – Shelf Life [] – People who reject e-books often say they can’t live without the heft, the texture and the scent of traditional books. This aria of hypersensual book love is not my favorite performance. I sometimes suspect that those who gush about book odor might not like to read. If they did, why would they waste so much time inhaling? Among the best features of the Kindleis that there’s none of that. The device, which consigns all poetry and prose to the same homely fog-toned screen, leaves nothing to the experience of books but reading. This strikes me as honest, even revolutionary….Most of these books were bought impulsively, more like making a note to myself to read this or that than acquiring a tangible 3-D book; the list is a list of resolutions with price tags that will, with any luck, make the resolutions more urgent. Though it’s different from Benjamin’s ecstatic book collecting, this cycle of list making and resolution and constant-reading-to-keep-up is not unpleasurable.
  • Human-flesh Search Engines in China [] – The popular meaning of the Chinese term for human-flesh search engine is now not just a search by humans but also a search for humans, initially performed online but intended to cause real-world consequences. Searches have been directed against all kinds of people, including cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Klaus Kaasgaard: Why Designers Sometimes Make Me Cringe [interactions magazine] – [A response to Dan Formosa's piece about marketing research] There is no doubt that Formosa has been exposed to a lot of bad market research in his career. So have I. But I have also been exposed to a lot of bad design research, whether dealing with qualitative data or quantitative data. I cringe at both. And while we should point out when the emperor has no clothes in our daily work situations, it is not the bad research that defines a discipline. I have been exposed to both good market research and good design research as well and, more important, some of the most compelling and impactful research combined different research techniques for a more comprehensive and insightful outcome. That, I suppose, leads me to my conclusion.
  • How many Kindles have really been sold? (And other interesting tidbits about ebooks) [Mobile Opportunity] – Some interesting numbers about the size and dynamics of the market: sales, usage, platforms, content. One highlight is the preferred device used to read ebooks
    -PC: 47%
    -Kindle: 32% (and rising in later waves of the survey)
    -iPhone: 11%
    -iPod Touch: 10%
    -Other smartphones (including Blackberry) 9%
    -Netbooks 9%
    -Sony Reader 8%
    -Barnes & Noble Nook 8%
  • Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy [SF Chronicle] – Altruism is the whole idea behind the new charity, called the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. It's the brainchild of Courtney Martin, a South of Market writer who dreamed up the idea four years ago in New York and has handed out a stack of her own $100 bills every year to select good-deed doers who agree to dream up unusual ways to use the dough. Jeremy Mende took a stack of cash to Union Square and offered pairs of strangers $1 apiece if they would have one-on-one conversations with each other. Then he videotaped the conversations and made a home movie. The strangers talked to each other about sex, fireworks, banana slugs, gin, orgasms and Marlon Brando. Some of the conversations were worth a lot more than $1. The best idea seemed to come from Martin's own mother. She used her $100 to buy 400 quarters and scatter them on a grammar school playground.
  • R.J. Cutler: What I Learned From Anna Wintour [HuffPo] – Some principles of management from the director of The September Issue. We watched the film this week and highly recommend it. I thought about work as well; the film offers up lots of provocation around collaboration, artistic vision, managing teams of people, power, prototyping, and more.
    (via Kottke)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • DEVO – Focus Group Testing the Future [YouTube] – Filled with brilliantly sarcastic soundbites, this is definitely pushing on post-modernism/post-irony. DEVO doing focus group testing (or so they say) on every aspect of their 2010 offering (brand, logotype, instrumentation, clothing). Interesting also to see how this appears in the press with varying amounts of the irony removed.
  • Theater Preshow Announcements Take Aim at Cellphones [] – In a production of “Our Town” the director, David Cromer, who played the Stage Manager, took a minimal approach because he wanted to stay true to Thornton Wilder’s desire to forgo conventional theatrics. “In that show we had this issue, which is that there was to be no theater technology. The whole act of my entrance was that you were supposed to think it was someone from the theater,” Mr. Cromer explained. “We didn’t want the Stage Manager to come out and say, ‘Please turn your cellphones off,’ because that would be rewriting Wilder.” Instead Mr. Cromer simply held up a cellphone upon entering at the beginning of each act and then turned it off and put it away, casually showing the audience what to do without talking about it. “The first time I was watching another actor take over in the show as the Stage Manager,” Mr. Cromer said, “he came out, held his cellphone in the air, and the woman next to me said, ‘Oh, someone lost their cellphone.’ ”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • What’s this? A kinder, gentler IRS? [Consumer Reports] – On Monday the IRS introduced a redesign of nine of its form letters, or "notices," to be more consumer friendly, or, as they put it, "as part of their ongoing effort to improve the way it corresponds with taxpayers." In the true spirit of our bloated bureaucracy, this initiative was the result of the "Taxpayer Communication Taskgroup" which started its work way back in July of 2008, and, other than the nine (9!!) newly designed letters, the Taskgroup's efforts also resulted in the establishment of a new office, the "Office of Taxpayer Correspondence." You can find a link to a pdf comparing the original and redesigned letters on the Consumer Reports link… what do you think?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Americanization of Mental Illness [] – Mental illnesses have never been the same the world over but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places…“We might think of the culture as possessing a ‘symptom repertoire’ ­ a range of physical symptoms available to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological conflict."..Those who minister to the mentally ill inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate…For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world…we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders ­ depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them ­ now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases.
  • The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s [] – They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

    “People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

    Those in the Net Generation spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger. The newest generations will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with

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

  • Putting together your own free-from-cable living room viewing experience: not ready for prime time – I understand this kind of living room experience isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot less work to just click a button up or down on a standard remote control. And it can be difficult to explain how to use this unfamiliar toolbox of buttons, programs and devices.

    Over Thanksgiving a friend graciously house-sat at our apartment. It took my wife more than an hour to write a detailed description explaining how to use our new TV setup. After explaining how to use the mouse and keyboard, we had to describe how to switch among applications.

  • Even avid readers find it hard to read nowadays – "I used to read books all the time. If I was awake, I’d be reading or at the very least carrying a book around. But now? The last book I read was John Galsworthy’s “Forsyte Saga,” which I finished more than a month ago, and then only after many weeks of halfhearted fits and starts, a situation that was pretty alarming, given that Mr. Galsworthy’s story was full of the sorts of characters who come to life and accompany you in your mind, sitting in the passenger seat, as real as anybody, while you drive around town doing errands.

    I still read, of course. I read all sorts of things: Web sites and blog posts and e-mail messages and Tweets and even, occasionally, a newspaper or magazine article…

    Deep reading — the kind that you engage in when you get lost in the syntax and imagery and the long, convoluted sentences of a really meaty book — is a special sort of exercise that creates a new part of the brain that did not exist at birth."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Target jumps into book price war started by Wal-Mart, Amazon – What started as a book price skirmish between Wal-Mart and is showing signs of becoming a much broader holiday battle. Today retail giant Target announced it is matching Wal-Mart's online price of $8.99 for top selling, soon-to-be-released titles, including "Under the Dome" by Stephen King and "Breathless" by Dean Koontz.
  • Health Concerns Drive New Rituals (or attempts to create new rituals, top-down) – The handshake, with its potential to transfer the flu virus, should be replaced with the safer — and more contemporary — pound [aka fist bump] says the dean of medicine at the University of Calgary.

    "It's a nice replacement of the handshake because you can't just refuse to shake someone's hand. It's rude and seems almost un-Canadian," he said. "This is a nice, intimate gesture: a gentle bump of the fist that replaces the handshake if you get used it."

    The pound, or fist bump, is a greeting that originated with American black youth in the 1960s and is commonly used among sports teams.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • TD National Reading Summit: Creating A National Reading Strategy for Canada – Reading is under pressure from screen-based learning materials in classrooms and screen-oriented entertainments in homes are reducing the access that children have to print materials. The reduction of book budgets for school and public libraries that many provinces experienced in the 1990s has made it harder for libraries to engage students and adults in developing reading habits and skills. More research confirms the importance of reading in academic success, enhanced quality of life, stable economies, and strong communities.

    Becoming a reader is at the very heart of responsible citizenship, but we often lose sight of what reading contributes to our sense of self, our cultural awareness, our capacity for self-expression and, ultimately, our notions of engaged citizenship and the collective good. Reading is about so much more than a technical act that allows us to communicate, consume media and perform the activities of daily life. To be literate is necessary, but it is not enough.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • A thoughtful consideration (that could have so easily gone curmudgeonly) on the changes in how (and how much) we consume art – Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.
  • Michael Pollan on the cultural shifts revealed by themes in food-related TV entertainment – The historical drift of cooking programs — from a genuine interest in producing food yourself to the spectacle of merely consuming it — surely owes a lot to the decline of cooking in our culture, but it also has something to do with the gravitational field that eventually overtakes anything in television’s orbit…Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly now about — that and, increasingly, cooking shows themselves: the whole self-perpetuating spectacle of competition, success and celebrity that, with “The Next Food Network Star,” appears to have entered its baroque phase. The Food Network has figured out that we care much less about what’s cooking than who’s cooking.
  • Nine Reasons RadioShack Shouldn’t Change Its Name – Best one is " RadioShack has problems beyond any issues with its name." Also they did already change name from Radio Shack to RadioShack.
  • Radio Shack: Our friends call us The Shack – Do they really now? More proof that you can't simply declare yourself cool. Promo or overall rebranding, it reeks of inauthenticity.
  • Understand My Needs – a multicultural perspective – A Japanese usability professional compares the norms of service that retailers provide in Japan with those elsewhere (say, his experience living in Canada), and then contrasts that to the common usability problems found in Japanese websites. Culture is a powerful lens to see what causes these differences, and how usability people can help improve the experience.

ChittahChattah Quickies

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Paul Graham on the "social norm" problem with the Segway – This is a point I made in my interactions column "Some Different Approaches To Making Stuff" – Kamen is the genius who got it wrong, because he focused only on technology and not on culture and behavior.

    "The Segway hasn't delivered on its initial promise, to put it mildly. There are several reasons why, but one is that people don't want to be seen riding them. Someone riding a Segway looks like a dork.

    My friend Trevor Blackwell built his own Segway, which we called the Segwell. He also built a one-wheeled version, the Eunicycle, which looks exactly like a regular unicycle till you realize the rider isn't pedaling. He has ridden them both to downtown Mountain View to get coffee. When he rides the Eunicycle, people smile at him. But when he rides the Segwell, they shout abuse from their cars: "Too lazy to walk, ya fuckin homo?"

    Why do Segways provoke this reaction? The reason you look like a dork riding a Segway is that you look smug. You don't seem to be working hard enough."

  • Like Nike+ for happiness, iPhone app is data collection for PhD thesis – "At repeated periods throughout the day you'll be pinged by your iPhone either by email or by SMS, and prompted to answer a short one-minute survey. This one asks how happy you are, what you're doing (yes, "making love" is an option, though hopefully it's an activity you'd prioritize over doing some science) whether you exercised recently, whether you're alone, who you're talking to and what you're thinking about." Essentially a "beeper study" but somehow a more viral story ("iPhone"!) than normal.
  • 'True Blood' Beverage – "Inspired by HBO's hugely successful vampire drama series, True Blood, Omni Consumer Products struck a deal with the network's licensing division to releasing 'Tru Blood' the actual beverage..a drinkable product inspired by a beverage meant to taste like blood so that fake vampires from a pay-cable TV show can survive without having to resort to feasting on humans."

What is advertising really selling us?

The Boing Boing post about ludicrous advertising claims echoed an earlier post here (Products with (fake) benefits) and brought to mind this photograph I took recently in downtown San Francisco, entering a BART station.

Who says you can’t buy happiness?

At least Twix, Red Bull and SoyJoy have an element of ironic bemusement in their claims, but McDonald’s is playing it pretty straight: buy this and you will be happy. Does this sort of pronouncement raise an eyebrow anymore? Do we actively or passively subscribe to that premise?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Shudder: Ford is using "Invented characters" to get everyone on the same page – Antonella is the personification of a profile created from demographic research about the Fiesta’s target customer, said Moray Callum, executive director of Ford Americas design.

    Ford is using characters like Antonella to bring a human element to the dry statistical research drawn from polls and interviews. Based on psychological profiles, these characters are a more modern version of the “theme boards” that designers once covered with snapshots and swatches of material to inspire a design. They are also like avatars, those invented characters used in online games and forums to symbolize a participant’s personality.

    “Personalizing gives context to the information we have. Sometimes the target demographics are difficult to relate to by, say, a 35-year-old male designer.

    “We found in the past that if they didn’t understand the buyer, designers would just go off and design something for themselves,” he added.

  • All of the highbrow talent lavished on lowbrow fare – Frank Bruni riffs on shifting trends in food and tastes as informed (or exacerbated) by the Internet's power to bestow a laser-like focus on the details of the details. Cupcakes, donuts, hot dogs, hamburgers, but what does it all mean?


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