Oily Bird, originally uploaded by olivander.

 

I’m struggling with the mantra of digital strategists like Seth Godin who argues that we need to make things as simple as possible for people:

We like things that are simple, not complex. Issues where we can take action without changing very much. If a marketer brings us a new idea, it’s either ignored or it’s a problem. A problem because we have to do something with the idea. Buy the new suit, trade in for the new car, install a new IT solution or change the way we feel about an issue.

The best problems, as far as a consumer is concerned, are those that can be solved quickly and easily, with few side effects.

In other words you keep things lubricated, you reduce the friction of the ‘social’, you make things easy and value the ease with which you can engender a relationship.  Compare this to the "ethics of inconvenience" put forward by Will Davies, who argues the need for an understanding of friction as social value

I spoke at this conference earlier this year, discussing what digital technology offered the voluntary sector. One of the things I raised as an anxiety was an advert in the paper from that morning, in which Oxfam were claiming that ‘One click. That’s the difference between life and death for millions of people’ (part of their current I’m In campaign). On the one hand this is a fairly transparent and innocent attempt to ride the wave of the Make Poverty History campaign which ended last year, but on the other, it’s just a pack of lies. My medicine is a bit shakey, but I’m fairly convinced that One click is not the difference between life and death for even one person, let alone millions. The dilemma these charities face is how much to see the internet as a way of lowering barriers to entry, and how much to see it as a potential dilution of the issues at stake. And the problem is that barriers to entry tend to be constitutive of the value of action. The fact that it is a pain in the arse to write a letter, attend a meeting, dress up as batman and climb a monument, run for parliament or wage a decades long campaign for recognition, is why these actions are both admirable and effective.

I find both arguments persuasive.  My gripe is not just with the ethics of saving-the-world endeavour being promoted as easy and simplistic but the glut of things that stem from it being easy to join making the attention economy such an issue in the process.  Take Flickr.  Every day I’m offered the opportunity to join a new flickr group – I’ve already got more groups than I possibly know and rarely use any of them – and am told I’m a new contact for blah blah, who it transpires has 3457 contacts.  And of course it’s not just flickr, it’s the whole of social media where quantity equates with value. So much so that it undermines the social ‘media / ‘software’ it is predicated on.  In an online world the ease of being social undermines the value of relationships and consequently, over time, you put less effort in and you value the experience / contact / object less.  Consequently, diminishing, if not negative, returns set in [and probably lower than the Dunbar number of 150 which has been identified for a community to be cohesive as you and your contacts do not constitute a community in this sense, more a cohort or sub-set within the community].   

So if it is time we started appreciating quality rather than quality of relationships, friction rather than ease, how do we sell that into people?  How do we make ‘social media’ that values less rather than more? What does a strategy for ‘marketing friction’ to create lasting value between people and brands / issues look like? It’s clearly not what Oxfam are doing, so who is?

Tomtom
I’ve taken a few cabs lately and all have had the tom tom.  I can see why they’d want to employ such a relatively cheap device to reduce the ‘risk’ of their knowledge being exposed.  But what has sat nav technology done to the kudos of the taxi driver in exposing their uncertainty?  What has it done to ‘the knowledge’, the cornerstone of their reputation and business?  Are knowledge tests now redundant?

I also find it interesting how people, particularly women travelling alone, are using cameraphones to take images of cab drivers / driver licenses when taking a cab home to mitigate the risk of attack or abuse. 

What other social uses does the cameraphone and the ‘image’ have in discreet social situtions to help us stay safe?  Occasions / need states anyone?  I’ve seen people use them when they’ve been in an accident – but that doesn’t require the upload of the image to a remote server necessarily, it can stay ‘local’ to the phone itself.   I guess things like tickets, reference numbers, identifiers of all sorts when moving about would be handy to capture in case you lost them and your phone.   With 3G providers desperately looking for need states and ‘killer apps’ it may be worthwhile looking at social risk as much as social pleasure [entertainment] to sell their services. 

Now we’re in an age of ubiquitous connectivity [or near ubiquitous] and
PCs are more about being intermediaries in a social network, why are we
still stuck with machines that take little account of the context of
use? 

Forget the plethora of web 2.0 services that spring up by
the hour to take care of every conceivable need.  What about the
brick itself!  How many times have you needed to check an email /
IM / blog whatever whilst getting your breakfast, feeding the kids,
or doing the gardening that won’t result in ruination? How inappropriate is a delicate
laptop for these situations?  I mean we can create a $100 laptop
for people in developing countries to resource and a hole manner of supplmentary digital lifestyle add-ons without a real purpose but we can’t think of
more radical and yet mundane use cases closer to home.

April_004

I’d forsake chip speed, looks, screen size for a tough machine that
could withstand knocks, crumbs, jam, soil.. everyday life shit.
I’m not one of those early adpoters that fetishes over design.
No, I don’t fetishise my machine so much as the desire to
communicate… so come on Mr. Ives et al let’s have some thought to the
‘commonal’ everyday situation as use case not a ultra modern geekified
desk.
 
addendum – just seen Intel’s ruggedized PC.  Why India?  Why not Surbiton or Swansea?  The rugged need isn’t exclusive to ‘poor people in developing countries’.

ID

ID cards  get the go ahead today – with  the news that they will be compulsory for people applying for passports in the UK in 2010.  The furore over our civil liberties aside being able to define ‘us’ on a card seems so archaic when we’re now a ‘mulitiplicity’.   When we now not only ‘philosophically’ seen as a myriad of identities, constructed discursively and materially [e.g. 'cyborgs'] but also the way we construct our own identities in practice through our relationships with materials and humans and language. 

This ‘multiplicity’ of selves is, of course, difficult to ‘police’.  You can’t have malleable entities and then hope to manage them under the Rule of Law.  It would lead to all manner of difficulty.  But will the URI – the unique identifier – for you that these cards effectively ‘are’  be  ‘strong’ enough to  encapsulate the multiplicity?  In other words will it be embedded in the architecture of the internet-of-things sufficiently to really threaten your liberties in your ability to construct yourself malleably?   This may not seem such a  big deal but for me this poses the ‘real’ threat of  our liberty on a day-to-day level.  Will we be one of the things in the internet-of-things?    Suddenly the utopia around this overarching architecture turns dystopian.

A few things have come together lately.  Thinking about public and private, speed and memory has got me thinking about death.  I tend to read the obituaries of the Daily Telegraph when I’m cutting my hair – I’m practically bald and use clippers and the paper catches the bits, catches my own deadness.   I love reading obituaries and particularly those in the Telegraph, which immortalises those people who have lived quite extraordinary lives as opposed to many newspapers which tend to just ‘do’ people in the news.   The Telegraph has its fair range of military characters from WWII but also now those from the Korean War and after, people who achieved some amazing feats and then more-often-than-not sunk to relative obscurity as FD’s of lawnmower manufaturers.  I find this disjunture – this mixing of the extraordinary and the mundane quite facinating.  Patt Gyddes, of whom I read the other day is a good case-in-point.  Born in Bergen, Norway she was involved in the resistance movement, distributing BBC pamphlets for which she was hunted down by the Gestapo:

She then went underground, hiding for weeks in various
cellars while her escape could be organised. Waiting in the
snow-covered woods outside Oslo, she heard her first escape posse being
captured and shot.

On the second attempt Pytt
was concealed beneath a pile of logs on a timber lorry heading for
Sweden; she was accompanied by a lame old judge and a dangerously noisy
baby. The final stage of the journey was a long night’s ski across the
border. All those in the next group to use the route were captured and
killed.

She then went on to be a widely respected dancer and the first Westerner to be taught Tai Chi by a master and bring the art to the UK.  Remarkable, fascinating stuff made all the more wonderful because it is real and because these people, you feel were relatively forgotten, ‘ordinary’ and only ‘extraordinary’ in death.   It makes me extremely humble in these consumerist and often immoral times to read about great lives; the power of the story just makes you feel less of a person but determind to be more.   Radio 4 has cottoned on to this endless source of allegory and memory with Last Word it’s excellent obituaries programme and I’m sure there’s even more that can be made of the genre.  As an aside, it’s slightly ironic and quite sad that we seem to value old age and the physicality of death less than ever, with cemeteries short of space and becoming temporary spaces and more and more ‘retirement’  accomodation being built to remove the aged from  our sight and therefore out of our collective minds. 

Death is also a subject of Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow, whose subtitle is "stop trying to be perfect and start being remarkable".  And while the analogy is a crass one given what i’ve said, above, I think that we can learn a lot from death in the way that we do business, in the way we conduct our lives.  Certainly Seth has realised the analogy is relevant to brands.  In a chapter on "the remarkability of memories" an author writes that "sometimes being remarkable is about knowing when to move on", like Seinfeld did, in order to preserve a memory.  It’s a task I’ve started to initiate in some workshops now; write you own obituary.  It works to bring a degree of critical reflexivity to a business but also to the people in the room and their own lives.  The general reaction is a desire to be more honest, open and remarkable.  And often to bury something and move on.   

If humans were ‘managed’ by others in the way that we manage animals would we be culled?

I ask because the world populaton just hit 6.5 billion and is increasing albeit at a slower rate of growth.  5 billion of that 6.5 billion happened in the last 100 years.  That’s quite staggering.  Had elephants, seals, rabbits, foxes or well, anything had such growth it would have been pruned back very very hard.   I’m not saying that the politics of population growth are simple, just that well, we’d be dust if we were ‘managed’ on the same basis as other mammals.

Most [music] bands seek to nurture a community and see it as part of a core fan base that provide them with food and a roof over their head.   Not ME Smith.  The Fall forums, the ‘official’ Fall forums which have been a lively and spirited place to lurk, have been stopped and stripped of their ‘officialness’ [it now says the 'unofficial Fall site'] because ME Smith objected to something someone said.  You’ll have to dig around to find what, and I’m not 100% clear I know exactly why myself.  But the thrust of his action seems to be about control, or the lack of it.  Smith doesn’t want to divest himself of any form of control over what is communicated; he’s a bit of a fruitpot about this sort of stuff and giving a voice to the ‘people’, the fans to say what they want, just ain’t right and proper.  [And it's consistent with Smith's previous radical thoughts about the future of distributed media and the internet.]  The new ‘official’ site doesn’t allow forums.  It’s a bit of brochurewear and info and consequently will not usurp the newly unofficial site as the main space for discussionand ‘real’ news. 

But it got me thinking about the nature of a community.  Smith’s antagonism has only served to restruture the group dynamic, give it a bit of fizz, stir up the ‘constitution’ slightly and generally make the whole thing more interesting… in my opinion.  Perhaps there’s a strategy there… it’s a screwy one that clearly works particularly well with people who like to be subjugated and generally abused, and for whom this is perhaps a form of therapy.  Rock. On.

McDonald’s are piloting an interesting idea: allow a member of your family to cover your shift.  If sucessful it could be extended to friends too.  This is obviously doable because the Taylorist approach to McDonald’s labour means that labour is quite transferable. So is it a good idea?

This pilot takes the idea of job share to its extreme – rather than a company hiring an individual it’s effectively hiring the value inherent one person’s social network. 

That seems great, like a form of community labour "one-for-all", "all-for-one".   Of course that is,  until one of your friends lets you down at work.   Or until that falling out you had affects your contractual obligation to provide labour…

It seems to me that in return for flexibility you effectively become a manager of a set of freelance staff.  McDonald’s couldn’t require of it’s staff what you can ask of your friends without crossing all kinds of employment laws….

Link

Moving image is getting quite exciting isn’t it.  I mean we are told it’s bad for us but we keep watching more of it via smaller chunks off of smaller devices.
The fragmentation of media demand and supply supposedly putting the
consumer in charge – though I’m still not sure about this when interoperability is still a huge issue and when revenue models are still not proven.

Anyway, we got to some corporate tipping point now as IBM put forward six recommendations for dealing with this ‘regime change’ in media. If a ‘regime change’ is in the offing then Get Democracy is one of the things like youtube, forcing the old guard to shit themselves. Get Democracy is a means through which to make getting moving
image content from a variety of sources using different codecs and such
like bittorrent all so-easy. It’s quite cool. Rather than trying to
resolve the technical issues – Get Democracy seems to just present them
within a shell so the end user is unaware of the ‘messiness’. Their name
suggests these guys have an ulterior motive than just allowing the
likes of my mum to get her slice of Coronation Street when she wants to.

But
ultimately is their drive actually undermining a sensible revenue model
from emerging…? What’s this going to do the content creators? How are
they gonna get their share of that slice that’s flying around the
tubes? Quality may win out, people may find the stuff they like and be
willing to pay for it.  But maybe not. One of the acid tests is Ricky Gervais’ move to subscription for his forthcoming podcasts, after wetting our appetites with the first
12 ‘episodes’ free. I won’t be buying; at 95p each for 30 mins it’s quite steep. It makes
the BBC’s annual ‘subscription’ seem incredibly good value.

If we are moving to a micro subscription model for media out at the edges – then this can only become more prevelant in mainstream media.  Like pay-as-you go models on mobile phone.  But what then
of the BBC – the ‘contract’ phone? Can they charge you for all its annual content when you’re
used to paying for bits and pieces?  And what happens when you’re accessing that
content on mobiles and other devices?  Steve Hewlett in the Guardian starts to map the issues for a multi-medium landscape :

the Television Licensing Authority (TLA) – responsible for
collecting BBC licence fees – last week scotched any notion that mobile
phone and computer-based TV viewers might be exempt. It points you to a
piece of government business called "Statutory Instrument 2004 No 692.
The Communications Act (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004", part
three sections 9, 10 and 11. Which amended existing regulations arising
from The Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1926, 1949 etc and the Communications
Act of 2003. To cut a very long story short, any device that can
receive live TV pictures, whether or not originally designed or
intended to do so, must be covered by a licence if you use it for that
purpose. What is more, the TLA will stress that 98% of households have
a TV so they already need a licence.

and…

while the regulations extend beyond traditional
broadcasting to cover internet and mobile live streaming, receiving TV
programmes on-demand, or say as part of an internet-based catch-up
service, appears not to be covered.

If correct, this would mean if you only watched programmes on
demand via new services – such as the BBC’s emerging seven-day catch-up
facility, or in any way other than via a live broadcast stream, however
delivered, you would not be liable to pay the licence fee even if you
used your old-fashioned TV.
[my emphasis]

It seems it is not just hapless producers and broadcasters who have
under-estimated the true potential significance of new media delivery
systems – witness the growing rumble over programme rights – but the
government departments who drafted the new regulations may have missed
it too. It may be that the statutory underpinning of the BBC’s
licence-fee funding, rooted in legislation dealing with "wireless
telegraphy" from the early part of the last century, could be about to
come undone.

Hey, this is serious! Short of a major change in the basis of the BBC’s
definition in law it’s not going to be necessary to pay them for some
[all!] of the content you may receive.

And even if it was how could they police
payment?  With extreme difficulty and not only because of the technological issues – they would surely lose the Public’s ‘hearts and minds’.  And that makes me quite sad. Not only because a Public Service Broadcaster like the BBC is truly a Fourth Estate  – that I would contend doesn’t exist in the US because of the small PBS system and the ‘distributed’ and corporatised network broadcasters.  Of course the BBC has to adapt but it would seem that a Public Service Broadcasting service cannot continue to
exist on the scale it does in the UK. Like those rather
over-enthusiastic neo-cons who went into Iraq, we see a LOT of enthusiasm from people enbracing the massively distributed media landscape as the White Heat of technology that truly offers something useful [lots of cheap or even free content].  But we risk moving forward
without a plan for post-Regime Change leading to a fractured and fragmented
media mess which could affect the very basis of democracy and Public Service ideals in this country.  Of course we could promote and move to the sort of ‘everyday democracy‘ that Demos have argued for.  But I’m not convinced that bottom up ‘guerilla’ style political systems work… their are many such initiatives in North America that work well for their ‘members’ but such a system comes at the cost of a coherent sense of community that covers the nation as a whole.

So,what…?  what are the scenarios we see for a future media landscape….?

Sainsburys is to open GPs [doctors] surgeries in its stores.  Are supermarkets taking their responsibility for creating a nation of lard-arses really seriously?  This hasn’t been picked up much and I’m quite surprised it hasn’t.  The move to incorporate Doctor’s surgery’s in store is obviously part of Sainsburys desperate attempt to make its stores competitive again [after failing against Tesco] and pick up custom by making its stores multi-use; spaces for a variety of tasks not just retail consumption. It’s a logical if not particularly welcome move on from coffee stores in books shops and banks and marks another nail in the coffin of the small retailer in Britain’s high streets

What next?  Hospitals with leisure facilities?  Nurseries in supermarkets?  Police surgeries in supermarkets – [done - this time at a Tesco's]?
And what of the social exclusion such policies entail?  The cost of public transport or private transport means that actually getting to these retail spaces that will cater for our needs is going to be relatively more costly for those from poorer areas who will often have further to travel. 

It’ll be interesting to see if the move to small being the new big online will affect our consumption patterns and use of larger offline stores.  Will we be more likely to want smaller, niche offline suppliers?  Or are these monolithic supermarkets, above, going to further drive out smaller suppliers through price competition and economies of scale, in all but ’boutique’ retail areas of larger cities.   How will the nature of the products they sell determine their dynamics? For example commoditised products compete mainly on price and to a lesser extent customer service whereas service-based and niche products compete on the basis of provenance and knowledge of supplier. 

Another innovation recently, this one in time rather than space: a surgery marketing plastic surgery you can have in your lunch hour.  Needles to say it’s been lambasted by all the health pros and policy wonks and needless to say it will be hugely successful and copied by all.

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