Beijing, China: The People of IKEA (via Tech, Travel & Tuna)

Not particularly relevant, just funny. People in China falling asleep in Ikea showrooms.

Beijing, China: The People of IKEA I’m giving posting by email a try, since Beijing doesn’t seem to like my blog. Or Twitter, or Facebook. This post is out of order (I have two left from Korea), but I couldn’t go another hour without sharing today’s incredible visit to IKEA. You may remember an LA Times article from last year, titled Beijing Loves IKEA — But Not for Shopping. In summary, the article revealed why there’s a line to get in the front door of the Beijing IKEA, but not … Read More

via Tech, Travel & Tuna


Alone in the crowd: The Social Network and the human mall.

Mark Zuckerberg is counseled by Napster founder Sean Parker in Columbia Pictures' The Social Network

The Facebook biopic Social Network opened this past weekend, topping the box office. Crowds for the film’s opening at the Mall of America on Friday were surprisingly low, but then again not surprisingly. As a destination the Mall is best suited to the opening of big, loud, explosive blockbusters. West Wing nerds, anticipating the second of Aaron Sorkin’s Hollywood features since his TV series ended in 2006, might find smaller, neighborhood art-house theaters better suited to stories like Sorkin’s, the most intense action of which happens during snappy conversations played out in offices, bedrooms, and conference rooms.

Still, it was odd to walk out of the film buzzing with ideas, and with the trailing emotional experience David Fincher’s directing gave of the tingling alchemy that happens when everyday moments become history, and then to look out over the cavernous interior of the Mall. Because below, for the moment oblivious as they walked the wide marble hallways, visited the stores, ate together in the food courts, and rode amusement park rides, were the real subjects of the movie: many of us. A 2009 Harris Interactive poll said just under half of Americans actively use Facebook or MySpace accounts. That was a year ago. Surely the Facebook numbers, which during certain stretches have risen by 60,000 new users a day, are far higher now. Then again The Social Network is not really about us at all. It’s about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

(Zuckerberg is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who skillfully transformed the well-practiced harmlessness of his other roles into a kind of sociopathic naivete).

People, the Facebook users whose murmuring conversations, lone exhortations, solitary musings, and narcissistic pronouncements allow there to be a Facebook story at all, are for the most part never seen in the film as anything more than numbers ticking on a wall-sized display in the film’s fictional Facebook headquarters. There are exceptions, a couple snapshots of initial adopters in separate, private, individual-college-based networks of what was then called The Facebook, where people “Facebooked” versus Friended each other. In these montaged vignettes of kids in dorm rooms Sorkin and Fincher put a human face on growing millions of people they thereafter only refer to second-hand, as users. From then on the suggestion or mention of this user-base creates pressure, portent and possibility that compress Zuckerberg, his friends, his enemies, and his allies into those tight physical and emotional spaces where this kind of drama thrives.

"Put money in thy purse Mark! Steal the Facebook."

Sorkin explored this aesthetic before. We seldom saw the voters whose potential approval or disapproval kept members of The West Wing‘s fictional administration scrambling for six seasons, and we seldom saw those characters outside the corridors for which the show is named. Indeed, several times throughout the show’s all too short history, world annihilation was averted not by land, sea, air, or space but in offices, in conference rooms, and in brisk walks through narrow hallways, adjoining rooms, and hectic bullpens.

A small group of driven, fiercely idealistic, and sometimes self-serving personalities grappling in palace rooms, shuffling thousands of faceless pawns back and forth for leverage against each other: sounds like the kings and their courts in any number of Shakespeare’s tragic history plays. It’s appropriate that Sorkin wrote West Wing‘s President Bartlet as a classicist. According to a far warmer and more sympathetic portrait than Sorkin’s by Jose Antonio Vargas, in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker, Zuckerberg, who studied the Greeks and Romans at Exeter, is a classicist too.

Both of these men are tragic heros. One is pressured by politics into making painful decisions that compromise his beliefs. Wracked by guilt, his health fails and he begins destroying himself. The other, seething with envy, gets manipulated into killing all his friends. Sad. Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile once listed West Wing as one of his favorite shows. Was he inspired by the show’s depiction of power, but not the pathos that was its counterpart? According to Vargas, soon after news came out that the portrait shown of him in The Social Network would potentially be unflattering, Zuckerberg removed The West Wing from his profile

Seeing The Social Network in the mall theater was actually a perfect setting. The thousands of would-be Facebook customers below weren’t rushing to see the movie about Facebook because they were too busy hanging out with their family and closest friends. The tremendous hype surrounding social media falsely suggests people invented Facebook, a manipulation Sorkin and Fincher’s film is so effective in showing to be false. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn really aren’t that important to those mall customers, or at least to their relationships, which are what brought them to the mall at night. Few of them were shopping alone.

Cut back to the movie’s establishing vignettes of Facebook’s early adopters. It’s very significant to remember the web site was first launched as a series of networks exclusive to specific colleges. A college campus is a self-contained and tightly-knit community. It affords an intimacy the scope of which most young adults will never experience again after graduating. As the movie shows, their use of Facebook was in fact a retreat from those intimate relationships. We see them alone, pasty and hollow-eyed in the glow of a radiating monitor, typing in the dark.


The hordes are at the gate: why marketers should not be afraid of social media

Human beings want to believe they are singularly special enough to form and articulate great ideas. It’s uncomfortable to think our ideas actually come from everywhere and not from what we think of as ourselves. We’re reluctant to see the power of listening, and allowing ideas to synthesize, as powerful. It suggests we are at our best when we are not as solid as we’d like to be, and we’re willing to accept the comfort of second-best. Marketers are particularly uncomfortable with the lack of control implied in allowing consumers to help form the meaning of brands. This is one of the biggest implications of social media.

The history of philosophy as a way of understanding the mind and the human situation could be considered an ongoing battle: the ego continually trying to reassert itself. Descartes said Reason ruled all. Our ability to know was our ability to conquer the void that forever tries to swallow us with fear. Just like God making things exist by naming them. Knowing assumes a know-er, forming a picture of our minds as having a single pulsing center.

David Hume countered by saying the mind was more of a stage, a “…kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance.” Studying the creative mind is a useful way of understanding and arguing about what we are, allowing literary criticism to turn from a discussion of books into a fight for existence for those of us standing behind Descartes’ podium.

Apparently James Joyce could forge the conscience of our entire race with his own wordsmithing. And apparently it was revealed as desperate clanging in the dark by Barthes and others. Looking to authors for the meaning of texts instead of the texts themselves was a kind of celebrity worship.

In varying degrees marketers have also thought of themselves as magical wizards, or liked to be thought of that way. Magic, however, comes from the shadows. The most powerful sorcerers summon, they don’t make. In the myths of every culture the arrogant novice comes to the master looking for the ultimate power to destroy his enemies, the master humbles him into realizing the power is beyond his control, all of a sudden he gets it, but then decides to use it for good.

The traditional role of the brand people at companies is to form, control and police. The unquestionable truth of the message is a comfortable way to stave off all the uncertainty, maybe even the failure and blame, that appear to swirl around everywhere. Customers are talking about brands themselves now to such an intense and widespread degree, there’s an understandable fear they will take the message in another direction than it was intended. Perhaps they will do something better with it — maybe sales, as it were, will increase — if they retell the brand story to each other in their own ways. Secretly, in some forbidden corner of their minds, some marketers would almost rather see the brand fail than succeed without their help. Not because they’re egotists, but because they’re afraid of getting in trouble.

The culture of blame is a whole other story. But blame does come from the top, and it’s at that top tier where the measure of leadership can change from how-well-we-create-police to how well we give our marketing people license to listen — to become theater impresarios, allowing great ideas to play, on a stage we share with everybody.

TV Diary: Week of June 16

Back at the BarnyardThe kids are with me this week during the day for a few hours now that school is over (who invented this by the way? Months and months of forced childcare expenses and lost work time. Next year, I encourage them to fail and go to Summer School.) In the mornings, the TV is on for a while. Only eductional programming of course, Math shows and documentaries on the history of Sweden. And sometimes nick. I want to like Sponge Bob. I really do. But the sounds of the title character’s wailing are uniquely annoying in a piercing way that cuts across your temples through your brain severing that part that makes you not want to kill people. By the way, Back at the Barnyard is full of smart and slightly inappropriate humor that flies over the heads of kids and into the other room where you’re working on your laptop. It’s created by Steve Oedekerk of the Thumb Wars series. This morning there was a Freud character on the farm and I overheard one of his patients, a pig or a cow, having a breakthrough exclaiming with tears “I just realized my mother only loved me as a friend!” I came back in the room at a certain point (is this a clue to how long I “allowed” the TV to be on this morning) and saw a McDonald’s ad. In it a bunch of kids are skipping through a black and white forest carrying Happy Meals and as they swing them about by their handles all the foliage behind them turns to color. My kids exclaimed this was the “Avatar commercial.” With that ad McDonald’s has really captured the essence not just of the spirit of that movie but of environmental consciousness as a whole. I was surprised because I think of Happy Meals turning kids fat and littering the scarred strips of green lining the nation’s highways with flimsy bits of weathered cardboard and greasy wrappers. But I guess I was wrong. I’ve really got to get out more.

Isn’t Social Media strategy this simple: rather than employing a faceless marketing entity, the disembodied voice of billboards, you let the actual, individual people in your company sell what you do? Just a thought.

Social media and my collective unconscious

I had fitful sleep last night punctuated by a series of stupid dreams. Here was one of them: My girlfriend and I were working on a “social media strategy.” Apparently this involved taking a ride along a canal in a medium-sized boat to collect and dispose of diaper footballs.

I remember the boat was kind of nice. It had stripes painted on it and brass rails, a cabin below. Fronting on this canal were a series of luxury condos, and really nice restaurants with big glass windows. Inside one restaurant, which had pale yellow exterior stucco walls and trim cut from rich, dark wood, you could see big potted plants and tables with white tablecloths set for lunch. This district was like some of the posher stretches of the London canal system. The canal was narrow and the boat traveled really close. You could step off right onto the balconies of these buildings.

Apparently, the balconies were littered with diaper footballs. (Non-parents: a diaper football is when you fold a used diaper up tightly, securing the contents into a ball you can easily toss into the garbage). We got rid of the footballs by tossing them overhand into the water. My girlfriend was telling me why it was important to get rid of them as soon as possible. If you don’t, she explained, they freeze overnight and become like rocks.  Homeless people throw them through the windows of people’s home and of businesses. Then they rob them.

The meaning behind this dream: not sure. I do know I’ve been thinking about, pitching and working on a lot of social media projects lately.  While I’m guilty of this too, I tend to say marketing people have made “social media” the most overused term of the past year, and that the majority of times people use it, they’re full of the same thing as the diapers.

Social media etiquette and the Tao of Twitter

Lao Tzu

An online friend, @christinet6d, wrote this post about the indelicate practice of sending “Auto DMs” on Twitter: You’re Doing It Wrong, Sir.  For the unfamiliar, a DM is a Direct Message. You can either Tweet things publicly or send a private DM to individual people who follow you.  An Auto DM is the electronic version of a form letter. Some kind of robot detects new followers and sends them a canned message.

As Christine’s post points out, seeing you have a DM is exciting. Perhaps someone is actually reading your stuff, and liked something you said. You could be getting some direct feedback. I’ll never forget the feeling I got, age 6 or something, when it looked as if Lee Majors had genuinely responded to my request to join the Six Million Dollar Man fan club. Bad example, because it was a generic response. But I believed it, so the analogy applies. As an adult you’re jaded enough to detect that a message is fake and you feel un-special.    >>> Continue