Monday, April 30, 2012

Bridging the gap

Just for kicks I sometimes enjoy messing with the Netflix algorithm by watching movies way out of my usual 'taste preferences'. So with this in mind and to cheer myself up a bit, I watched 'The Bridge' - a moving documentary about the people who take their lives by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

I've driven across the Golden Gate several times now - more often than not in The Great Red Shark while listening to the soundtrack from The O.C. But even then, the bridge holds a strange sense of foreboding within its straining ironwork and startling russet tones. The inclement weather patterns, for which SF is known, seem to begin and end at the bridge. The mists roll in and out, sometimes gleaming brilliantly in the Californian sun, other times shrouding the entire structure in cloud. On the gloomy days, with the rain and the wind and the shadow of Alcatraz in the near distance, it really couldn't be further from the picture postcard image of majestic structural engineering.

'The Bridge' includes footage of real people jumping, shot over several months by the film's makers. Apparently, on average, two people take their lives at the bridge every 15 days. It's easy, it's dramatic and it's high enough to be a sure thing. But the most emotive element in the film were the interviews with the jumpers' friends and family. Just like the ambiguous nature of the bridge itself, they veered between understanding the actions of their loved ones, while struggling to comprehend how anyone could fall so deeply into despair.

One of the parents interviewed wondered if her son chose the bridge because he "wanted one last chance to fly". The footage of him - Gene - pacing next to the barrier for hours before finally leaping triumphantly onto the rail and throwing his arms up in a swan dive takes your breath away. Just as the bridge is a testament to man overcoming nature - connecting two sides of San Francisco bay - so these fatal acts depict an individual's conquering of his or her own destiny.

You can check out the trailer out here.

And as for me, don't worry I'm back to Season 3 of The Rachel Zoe project. All good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Desert Island Digital: Mills aka CHIEF WONKA™

On this week's Desert Island Digital my castaway is the self-proclaimed King of Succailure, Twitter flaneur, Keynote master extraordinaire and co-founder of ustwo, Mills.

Here's his choices for life on the island.

One tweet upon arrival on the island:
Success Island™ - CHECK

One app:
Twitter for iPhone - laying on the sun bed, beer in hand and iPhone in other = Heaven. I need to touch the hearts and minds of the industry I love.

One #ff (Follow Forever) on Twitter:
@Mr_Bingo  - unquestionably the biggest fool I know but unquestionably the funniest.

One album on Spotify:
The year was 1999, the first time I heard their virginal voices, they touched me in a way I never forget. If you could bottle love, these guys would be the milkmen. 
Westlife by Westlife - it's now a cult classic.

One YouTube video:
I have no idea if this is real, or if it is made by some student, but what I do know is that it's utter genius and should be the benchmark for all adverts. 

One photo:
My studio - there is no place like home

One digital luxury:
My Kindle -  so far I've had my Kindle for a year and have yet to get past page 78 of Onward by Howard Schultz, even though I bought it a year ago. The Kindle is genius and I love the feel of it in the hand, the simple page turn, the fact I can have thousands of brain foods in it. Having it with me on the island means I may actually find time to use it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love it when you go bump bump bump

It's not often that a new technology works its way seamlessly into your life. There's almost always that love-hate tussle throughout the learning and adoption curve stages - that phase where you can see it's kind of a big deal but it takes concerted effort to remember to use it. *Looks accusingly at Path*. Indeed, many of the tech clients I've worked with have referred to that hallowed position of "owning" a part of the brain - the type of ownership that sees brand names become verbs; "Google it", "Wikipedia it", "Netflix it".

So I've been pleasantly surprised to welcome the Bump photo transfer app into my life and given that it doesn't require you to tweet about it or form communities around it, it seemed only fair to give the app a little loving shout out on here. For those of you who follow my ramblings on the @movingbrands Twitter, you'll know that my colleagues and I fell instantly, and hard, for the neat interface of hitting the space bar with your iPhone to transfer photos to your desktop. But initial thrill over, I've returned to it again and again.

If I have the choice to email a photo to myself, wait for iCloud to sync or simply "bump" it - the answer's in the lexicon.

(Also finally found an excuse to try out the new Spotify embed option. #HandClaspOfChampions)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Desert Island Digital: Jack Schofield

Welcome to this, the launch edition of Desert Island Digital, where I am very excited to welcome Jack Schofield, Computer Editor for The Guardian and preeminent tech journo, as my first castaway.

Here's Jack's Desert Island Digital selection...

One tweet upon arrival on the island:
Just hitting the beach. It looks like I'm stranded.... #groan

One app:
... because it's an entertaining way to waste five minutes. I've been playing it since Windows 3.1 came out. I like winning.

One #ff (Follow Forever) on Twitter:
I'd follow @paul_steele, because he comes across as a really nice guy and he tweets the sort of amusing links I like. In fact, we retweet each other. 

One album on Spotify:
Keith Jarrett's Changeless isn't my favourite album but it's the one I'm most likely to put on repeat. I've been playing it for a couple of decades, so I know I won't get bored with it.

One YouTube video:
'A Normal Day' by Thomas and Sebastian, with the backing track that uses fragments of pop songs, such as the Kinks' You Really Got Me. That version has been removed because of our deranged copyright laws, but the "tricks" are still great.

One photo:
My wife and my son, setting off somewhere different. At the moment, she's in Malaysia and he's in Kuwait. 

One digital luxury:
I'd be carrying my Nikon D90 anyway, so I'd just like to hang on to it. I used to edit photography magazines, and I could happily spend the rest of my days taking pictures.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

*New Feature Alert* Introducing Desert Island Digital

It is with great excitement that I announce the launch of my first feature for Camilla's Store. Inspired by our deep love affair with tech, I'm on a mission to learn which virtual, intangible objects people hold most dear in their lives.

'Desert Island Digital' updates Radio 4's concept for a modern age by encouraging people to cut through the noise and think about what really matters to them in digital form.

My invited castaways to the desert island arrive armed only with their smartphone and a wifi connection. However, the native, highly reclusive tribe are very strict about how much content they can access.

So just what will my castaways need to survive digitally?

Find out tomorrow when my first, and very special, castaway reveals his Desert Island Digital.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Are anxious career women the new Stepford wives?

Time was when the narrative of women revolved around finding a man, getting married and starting a family. Then it got updated so they could have a bit of a career before then finding a man, getting married and starting a family. Increasingly, however, I’m seeing the emergence of a new narrative and one no less limiting or frustrating for all concerned. One where a woman has a career, yet is made to feel so strung-out and anxious by her job that she has to give up even the notion of a personal life.

Hit series, ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Killing’, are both powerful examples of how the imagery and ideology of this new female narrative is entering popular culture.  In these stories, the woman is almost always ferociously intelligent, highly driven, and - surprise surprise - stick thin. But unlike her housewife counterpart wasting away on the Tracy Anderson “teeny tiny body” Method in the suburbs, this woman believes that it’s not just lunch that’s for wimps; surviving on caffeine, prescription drugs and late night junk food, professional ambition becomes her only sustenance. As celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe has said, “In the war between my work and my personal life, my work always wins”

Both shows’ protagonists are portrayed as being so absorbed in and by their jobs, that they can barely function in their real lives. In ‘Homeland’ Carrie is so focused on safeguarding the American nation that she has to sleep on her sofa and wash her armpits in the sink. While in ‘The Killing’ Sarah deserts her fiance, her son (and apparently her dress sense ) in the quest to bring justice.

While never addressed in male-lead entertainment, it seems that a woman’s ‘war’ between her work and home life has enough cultural fascination to become a key storyline. When we see Don Draper or Luther passed out on the sofa with a highball they appear manly and noble - a noir hero. Yet when it’s a woman on the sofa, she’s evidently unhinged, troubled and heading for a meltdown. Why are we invited to find a working women’s anxiety quite so appealing? 

In a recent article on anxiety in New York magazine, one female interviewee is quoted, “I use my anxiety to be better at what I do”. And it made me wonder why is the term ‘anxiety’ being used in place of ‘ambition’? Was that overwhelming, reverberating, buzzing determination to be the best you can possibly be being mis-interpreted as anxiety? Is the battle cry in a women’s work/life ‘war’ being experienced through a lens of guilt?

Ten years ago, before technology put the pace of modern life into fifth gear, women were presented with narratives that included an “and” - work and home, career and family, sex and the city. Today, in the face of economic upheaval and exponential change, it seems the scope of a female narrative is closing in once more. They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Now you can never be too anxious about your work/life balance as well.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Preference Setting (Part 1)

About a year ago I wrote a post entitled “20 Reasons Not to Date a Digital Strategist”. It was just a bit of fun, but since April that entry has had almost 10,000 views and travelled from the UK to North America, Canada, Australia and most of Western Europe. Clearly I was not alone in my exasperation - and amusement - at the undefined rules of engagement for social media when it came to real life relationships.  And, while corporations busily debate the financial value of a “like”, it seems regular people everywhere are trying to figure out its emotional value.

Claiming expertise in the management of connections and engagement online is a lucrative career choice these days - ensuring brands maintain consistent, rewarding relationships with their customers. Yet, there exist no guidelines (official or otherwise) for managing personal relationships across so many platforms. Recently Mashable reported that 1 in 10 people playing the Scrabble-esque word game Words with Friends has directly led to a "hook up". While Facebook is currently cited in one third of all UK divorces. For perhaps the first time in human history branded platforms - and the behaviour they nurture, encourage and, ultimately, manipulate for their own commercial ends - are affecting our interpersonal relationships. Ahead of Facebook's IPO, Zuckerberg even went so far as to admit wanting to actively "rewire" people and they way they form connections!

Social media brands nurture a behaviour that revolves around constant self-refinement. Their business models rely on our belief that we are only as interesting as our last post, or as popular as the number of followers we have. So much so that it's easy to get caught up in the expectation to continuously like, follow, friend, favourite, re-pin, and re-tweet. Russell M Davies said recently that social media is “networking for shy people”. Safely adhering to the rules of a predetermined user experience, it's easy just to pick out and present our best sides, our wittiest comments and our coolest links. But Facebook, Twitter and the like are all engines by which to curate ourselves, and it is these curated selves - not our real selves - with which we are now forming new, online relationships.

But what happens to the online, curated self in the real world, when the shy people have to meet up offline? Coping with the reconciliation of avatar to human being becomes a daunting, even stressful, prospect. Are we ever going to be as interesting, glamorous or funny? What happens if the connection formed online disappears offline? Suddenly, the potential for traversing an emotional minefield grows vast. Gone are the days when you could yank your phone line out the wall - 80’s movie style - and cry into your tie-dye leggings til you felt better. Now - connected across multiple platforms - you’re on the Internet, they’re on the Internet and, without really wanting to, you know each other’s every thought and move. The complex machine learning and recommendation engines behind Facebook and Google were designed for the group hug of the open web, not the late-night Internet-loitering individual.

So, I guess that number 21 on the list of reasons not to date a digital strategist is that we're going to over think this situation. The gender divide, the 'Digital Native' generation, and taking existing, real world relationships online are all part of it, and aspects which call for separate consideration. As brands and technological innovation impact on how we build interpersonal relationships, the opportunity for us to define the rules of engagement becomes greater yet harder. Without taking the backwards step of disconnecting altogether, we must learn to live our real lives whilst simultaneously plugged into an online world.

Photos via Ida Rhoda, Howard Grey, Henri Lartigue

Sunday, April 01, 2012

No more cat videos

I've given up cat videos. And pictures of cats. And their kitten counterparts. You may scoff at this insane declaration, but it's harder than you think.

It's not like I was really that into them in the first place, but they have become a mainstay of content sharing across every conceivable platform - starting around the Millennium with the dreaded round robin emails entitled "50 cute baby kittens asleep; please fwd or you'll die" and ending today with entire Pinterest boards dedicated to these feline time wasters.

Because that is what they are. During the SOPA/PIPA issue, Darren - my Creative Director - sarcastically wondered just how he might continue to encounter kittens and their cuteness were the laws to be brought into play. Just where, he asked, could he get his hit of small animals water skiing? It would be a crisis!

And that's when it hit me. I do not 'need' to look at photos or videos of cats. The me that has not watched a cat video on any given day is no different to the me that has just watched a cat video, except that I now have one to two minutes less time to enjoy my life. So why do I feel such pressure to continually click on anything prepositioned by the term "aw"?

So I stopped. I stopped clicking. That was easy. What I didn't expect was the outpouring of anger and animosity from my peers. "What do you mean you're not looking at cat photos?", "You should really just watch this one though!", "It's soooooo cuuuuute!", "But it's a kitten peeping out of a fuckin' basket, you cold hearted biatch!"

Why does it matter? Why were people getting so upset? In these modern times, with so few spiritual crutches to help us greet each dawning day with a sense of hope and positivity, are cat videos all we have left? In denying Kittah's right to be on the ceiling, was I in fact making a larger statement about human kind's desire to believe in something, anything?

Maybe. Maybe not. As I move on to eliminating dogs, lemurs and - one day - Justin Bieber - from my screen, perhaps I will suffer some kind of cute-deprivation related breakdown. But until then, I'm enjoying taking those extra moments previously wasted on tiny little paws, and applying them to something that makes me go "Hm", instead of "Aw".