The mystery of the “magic moment” in advertising

Grant McCracken and Bob Scarpelli

Take a look at this recent AT&T ad.  Notice what the actress does at the 16:00 – 17:00 second mark.  That little thing she does with her hand and her eyes.

Here’s a second ad for AT&T from a couple of years ago.  Watch what happens at the very end when the neighborhood woman sends a glance to the neighborhood kid.

Here’s an ad for Volvo.  Listen to what the little girls says.

We know ads are designed to deliver information, the USP, the product proposition, the value claim.  And we can see the bones of these things in a lot of ads, especially in those agonizingly bad ones that are really just someone reading the Unique Selling Proposition.

“This product is good because [insert USP here].  You will like it.  You should buy it.”

But I have long suspected that the informational mechanics and the persuasive objectives of an ad don’t work without the little details we’ve just been looking at.   The little details, the flicker of the hand, the flash of the eyebrow, the little girl chattering on and on.  These are essential to the ad’s ability to make the sale.  I think.  Maybe.

But how?  They are so little.  So minor.  So easy to miss.  It’s a question that has rattled around in my head for a couple of years.  How do tiny details make the ad?

And today, I sat down beside Bob Scarpelli, on a flight from NYC to Chicago.  I know Bob courtesy of Rick Boyko who was kind enough to put us both on Sparkstarters, his enterprise designed to help clients or agencies rekindle their powers of creativity.

Bob and I fell into conversation.  He is one of those guys who is really easy to talk to.  I was busy gabbing about myself when it occurred to me that I really should ask him about what he was working on.  (I do this with great reluctance and some resentment but then I am an anthropologist and really it’s my job to ask people about their lives.)

It turns out that Bob is teaching a course with John Greening at Northwestern’s Medill School called Brand Content in the Social World (aka “What’s the Big Idea?”)  Bob and John spend a lot of time talking about advertising and creativity.

“Great!,” I thought, “someone who might know the answer to the question ‘Why do small gestures matter so much?’”

And hey presto, he did.

“Oh, I call those ‘Magic Moments.’”

And Bob recounted the story of Joe Pytka on the set of an ad yell at his actors, “Stop acting!  Just be yourselves.”  No magic moments come from acting.  Whatever they are, they feel like life.

Bob described a Budweiser ad that shows soldiers in an airport and the people who gather to applaud them.

There is a lot to like about this ad, but Bob says that the “magic moment” comes at the very end when one of the soldiers looks back a little disbelievingly at what just happened.  That is many things about America in the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart.  So magic moments are also revelational, suddenly revelational.  The tiny detail delivers a world of meaning.

Bob said that the magic moment is almost impossible to plan.  It is very hard to tell at the moment that strategy and creativity are being formed what the magic moment could be or should be.  Virtually impossible in fact.

You know it when it happens and in some cases not even then.  You have to wait for editing.  And there it is.   A gift from the gods of creativity,  spontaneity and the perfect telling detail.

You could call this a chasm problem.  (I borrow the term from Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm.)    On the one side, we can have the creativity and strategy, all the work performed by researchers, planners, strategists and creatives of every kind.  And on the other we have the spot which, if the gods of advertising are kind. is blessed with one of these magic moments.

But we can’t see the connection between the two.  We can’t figure out how things get from the left side to the right side.

Ember

So there are two mysteries.  The first is how to make a magic moment.  The second is how the magic moment does what it does.  How does it activate all the planning, strategy and creativity?  Something arcs across the chasm.  We just don’t know what it is or how it works.  How do these “hemispheres” talk to one another.

So things are a little clearer.  I now know what to call that telling detail, but I can’t say exactly what is, where it came from or how it works.  So there is some work to do.  Your comments, please.

More to come.  Watch this space.

Midori House: a culture accelerator

303px-TylerBrule

Intelligence gathering, pattern seeking, culture watching, early warning wanting, this is the name of the game for everyone in the creative space.

But it is one thing to gather this knowledge, and another to put it to use.

One interesting case study here is Midori House, which I visited last year.  (I am rolling it out now because I am on the road and serving up topics I have written about but not yet posted on.)

“Being Tyler Brule is a full time job,” says the intern, with a touch of irritation.  Tyler Brule (pictured) is the head of Monocle and Winkreative, this kid’s boss, and a man not to be crossed.  I wonder if the intern understands what this indiscretion could cost him.   Or perhaps, young and impossibly handsome, he just doesn’t care.

The intern is giving me a tour of Midori House.  It stands in a London courtyard, about 90 feet long, 40 feet wide, and five stories high.  It’s about the size of a  ferryboat or small cruise ship.

I am here to be interviewed on the Monocle radio station.  This surprises me because I thought Monocle was a magazine.

And Monocle is a magazine, quite a famous one, in fact.  But it is also a design studio, advertising agency, strategy consultancy, and, yes, a radio station.   Typically, we see these 5 functions spread over 5 separate companies.  Bringing them altogether into so small a space would, in the old days, have brought a charge of indecision or promiscuity.

These days it’s a smart thing to do.

All of the Monocle bits and pieces run on the same thing: a knowledge of, and a feeling, for the state of our world.  Indeed, I found myself wondering if there was a pipe in the basement through which intelligence comes pouring into Midori House.

Let’s say someone in the design house is working on a project for Burberry, the clothing brand.  They go to the basement and pour off a pint size container called “the latest thing in luxury clothing.”  Someone working for the ad agency is looking for information on the way housewives think about breakfast.  The pipe provides here too.  The book review man for Monocle, is always on the look out for new books but for that great cloud of ideas and sentiments that make our culture now.

It sounds a little complicated, but there is a big idea here.  In fact, Monocle has found a way to maximize its return on investment.  What flows in from that pipe is used 5 times, as design, advertising, strategy, print on the page and words in the air.   Everything it learns, it turns to advantage.  If the print client doesn’t want something, the strategy client will.  And sometimes, a single understanding of the world pays off in all 5 of the Monocle faces.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a robust ROI.

And this is no simple “pass through” model. Monocle accelerates what it learns.   Inevitably, the people designing for Burberry end up talking to the ad people.  The ad people reply with their latest learnings.  And everyone listens to Dan, the book reviewer, because he knows what’s happening in the world of arts, letters and ideas.

And together the Monocle team members multiply their knowledge until Midori House rises on a tide of intelligence that may not exist anywhere else in London.  And this is a city famous for its sensitivity to the new.  London is filled with watchers of culture and makers of culture, people trying to divine and deliver the new.  Accelerators of the Midori House kind, there could be something to this.

Tahir Hemphill and the neglected genius of his rap almanac

photo

Last week, I had a chance to listen to Tahir Hemphill at the Office of Creative Research in New York City.

The OCR is 111 Bowery and you walk up two flights, up out of a neighborhood dominated by Chinese grocery stores.  It feels like moving up in space is moving back in time, like you are caught in something Victorian, entering one world secreted in another.  Think something out of Sherlock Holmes’ London.  A delicate, organized world now bursting with, on the verge of failing to contain, the forces that made it.  A little dreamy.  A little strange.

The Center does not disappoint on this score.  You enter to see 8 Oscilloscopes staring at you all in a row.  Back room science.  Wild inquiry.  The pursuit of knowledge running away from academic, professional and commercial convention.

Waiting for the talk to start, I fell into conversation with a guy from the “green tech” sector and for some reason, perhaps that Victorian vibe, we started talking about what great ghosts this building must have.  I was once part of the museum profession and we used to talk a lot about how to get the knowledge of the museum into the world.  Usable holographs were just then appearing on the horizon and surely some day, the green-tech guy and I agreed, every building would have hand-crafted ghosts that wander through and can be relied to tell you the story of the building.  This will be a standard feature of the well-appointed office space.  As in, “Well, I was going to work at start-up X but when I asked them what ghosts they had installed in the building (they have this great warehouse on the river), they just stared at me like it had never occurred to them.  Dude!  Dump the ping pong table and get some ghosts!”

And Tahir does not disappoint.  He started talking about his childhood, about parents who wanted him to concentrate on math and science, how he discovered art, and the talk sort of spiraled out of control like opium smoke rising (to evoke our Victorian theme again).  We were spell bound.  Only.

Tahir is famous for his searchable rap almanac, The Hip Hop Word Count.  I was complaining the other day that in an era of generalists, we are disinclined to dig deep on any given topic.  Tahir dug very deep.  Millions of people have supped from the hip hop well.  Hundreds of thousands have participated in the profit stream that ensued.  But far as I know, Tahir is the only one who actually charts exactly what happened and is happening now.  (This is a little like learning, first, that we have discovered a lost continent and that, second, only one person has mapped it.)

As nearly as I can tell (and this is me guessing) hip hop the most formative cultural trend of the past couple of decades.  It is now part of the cultural vocabulary of every cosmopolitan.  (Thanks to Jey Van-Sharp for illuminating remarks on this theme over drinks after the talk.)  It’s possible that some day we will say that hip hop made us the way people now routinely say that Shakespeare made English and the English.  (Speaking of ghosts, if Shakespeare is witness to hip hop, just how much do you think he loves it?  Very much, that’s how much.  By the way, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday is coming up.)

Tahir Hemphill has been a Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard and at The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.  So some resources have been available to him.  But as nearly as I can tell, he does not have people lined up the block to give him money.  This is distinctly not the fate of those guys who made a Hip Hop encyclopedia called Rap Genius and got bags of dough from Marc Andreessen.  And very wrong.

Really! When you think about how much meaning and value the artistic and commercial world has extracted from hip hop, this is not just wrong but  unimaginably weird.  Hemphill ought to look like a Victorian captain of industry, lauded, celebrated, admired, imitated and the person you go to when you are trying to figure out whether and how the brand or your music or your film can stick its finger in the hip hop socket.  As so many have done.

As it is, he keeps a modest office in a building that is surely the greatest story never told.  Tahir’s office is in the Millionaire’s Retirement Home, a Bronx building created in 1915 (almost Victorian!) expressly for the purpose for giving comfort to very wealthy people who have fallen on hard times.  I know.   The irony is too painful.  Many people have extracted material riches from hip hop.  Tahir is not one of them.  His wealth is all intellectual.

When you are ready to hire the very gifted Mr. Hemphill as your consultant, you can find more about him here.  

Imprecision, culture, and Nick Kroll

Nick-Kroll

I’m reading In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent.  My nephew is inventing a language and I’m trying to make myself useful.  (I can tell he’ll be absolutely astonished if I’m any help at all.)

Sometimes the motive for a new language is clarity.  Inventors want to eliminate the uncertainties contained in a sentence like “I spoke to a man on the boat.”  (Was he on the boat?  Was I on the boat?  Were we on the boat?)

It turns out to be tough to make a language that’s perfectly clear, and one of the pleasures of In the Land of Invented Languages is observing the linguistic and other conniptions that result from this quest for clarity.

Finally, though, Okrent wonders whether the quest isn’t wrong-headed.

Ambiguity, or fuzziness of meaning, is not a flaw of natural language but a feature that gives it flexibility and that, for whatever reason, suits our minds and the way we think.  Likewise, the fact that languages depend on arbitrary convention or cultural habit is not a flaw but a feature that allows us to rein in the fuzziness by establishing agreed-upon meanings at different levels of precision.  Language needs its “flaws” in order to do the enormous range of things we use it for.  (p. 258)

This will come as good news to the blogging community.  Personally, I intend to use Okrent’s discovery as license for the several places in this blog where you may be asking yourself ok, what’s he saying that isn’t really all that clear to you the reader as a meaning co-creator in so many different ways?

But the larger “take away” is “don’t look down.”  Our lives depend on architectures of meanings, as those come to us from language and from culture.  And these architectures are sometimes a little underspecified.  They are a little more like the “building concept” drawings than the actual blue prints.

Normally, the seams don’t show.  (Make that the “seems don’t show.”) We take for granted that the architecture of meaning can bear our weight.  Furthermore, a certain kind of story teller, entertainer and brander reassures us that we occupy a deep, resonant, redundant, completely seamless world.  (Other artists like to take us to the edge of the built world and invite us to look over the edge.)

Over the last couple of weeks here, I’ve been looking at the possibility that popular culture is improving, that it’s becoming more like culture.  But this, the imperfections and insecurities of meaning, may be the one place that popular culture will never go.  Well, let’s watch and see.  If and when popular culture does take us to the edge, this can be a measure of how much it has thrown off its “popular” mandate, conditions, and constraints.

And on this note, I’ve been watching The Kroll Show and Inside Amy Shumer on Comedy Central.  There are moments when it’s good (and wicked clever) fun, but there are moments when you are  being asked to stare into the abyss.  (Thanks, Nick!  Thanks, Amy!)  This might be evidence.

Innovation Exhaustion and the adaptive manager

pottsThe last few years, management thinking has been dominated by a big idea: innovation.  And by this time a certain fatigue is setting in.  Call it innovation exhaustion.

Innovation is much harder than it looks.  And even when we get it right, it proves not to answer all or the biggest of our problems.

The biggest of our problems is not that we need to take a constant flow of innovations to market to win share and fight the competition.  Though, of course, we do.  The biggest problem is that in the meantime we must live in a world that bucks and weaves with disruption, surprise, and confusion.

In fact, we can innovate constantly and well, and still find our organization at sea.

I think innovation arrested our attention because it looks like a good way to make ourselves responsive to a dynamic, increasingly unpredictable world.  It was all part of that management philosophy that said is that the best way to manage the future was to invent it.

Recently, I’ve started to wonder whether the proper object for our attention should be adaptation.  This is the study of adjustment that interacts constantly with strategy.

Innovation is hard.  But adaptation is in us.  It is perhaps our great and defining gift.

Rick Potts is director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.  He argues that adaptability is the secret to our success.

“[W]e started out as a small, apelike, herbivorous species 6 million years ago in tropical Africa, and after a history of origin and extinction of species, what’s left today is us: a single species all over the planet with an astonishing array of abilities to adjust.”

This feels like an old story but in fact it resists conventional wisdom.  We are inclined to tell our story as if we (and it) were inevitable.  It’s a kind of presentism, as if nature conspired to produce us, and that this evolutionary development could not have been otherwise.

But Potts points out that there was nothing inevitable about our rise.  There were several hominid trials underway.  Our numbers were tiny, competitors were formdidable, and the environment changed radically.   Homo Sapiens was always an endangered species.

Why did we survive and thrive against the odds?  Why us and not someone else? It is, Potts says, due to our gift, our particular genius, for adaptation.

“My view is that great variability in our ancestral environment was the big challenge of human evolution. The key was the ability to respond to those changes. We are probably the most adaptable mammal that has ever evolved on earth.”

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Jill Neimark for the article in Discover Magazine.  Find it here.  And to Stephen Voss for the magnificent image.

Culture Camp London 2014

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I am doing a Culture Camp in London June 13.  Here’s the description.  Please join us!

Course Description

This culture camp is designed to do two things:

1) expand your knowledge of the big changes transforming culture.

2) develop your ability to put this knowledge into action.

Culture is at the core of the creative’s professional competence.  It is the well from which inspirations and innovations spring.  It’s one reason startups and corporations need the cultural creative.  This culture camp is designed to enhance your personal creativity and professional practice.

1. Knowledge of culture

We will look at 10 events shaping culture.

Half are structural changes.

1.1 The end of status as the great motive of mainstream culture.

1.2 The end of cool as the great driver of alternative culture.

1.3 The movement between dispersive cultures and convergent cultures.

1.4 The movement between fast cultures and slow cultures.

1.5 The shift from a “no knowledge” culture to a “new knowledge” culture.

Half are trends:

1.6 transformations in the domestic world (aka homeyness to great rooms)

1.7 transformations in the scale and logic of consumer expectation (from the industrial to the artisanal)

1.8 shifts from old networks to new networks (especially for Millennials)

1.9 shifts from single selves to multiple selves (especially for Millennials)

1.10 [this one is ‘top secret’ and will be revealed on the day]

2.  Using our knowledge of culture 

2.1  how to discover culture (using ethnography)

2.2  how to track and analyze culture (using anthropology)

2.3  how to hack culture (making memes)

2.4  how to build a brand

2.5 how to make ourselves indispensable to the corporation

Culture Camp is being sponsored by Design Management Institute and coincides with their London meetings.  It is also being sponsored by Truth.  (Special thanks to Leanne Tomasevic.)

The image is from Yanko Tsvetkov’s Atlas of Prejudice 2.   I am keen to stage the culture camp in Tomato Europe, Wine and Vodka Europe, Olive Oil Europe, and of course Coffee Europe.  Please let me know if you are interested in participating or sponsoring.

Culture Camp will be held 9:00 to 5:00 on June 13 at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, as below.  (Register for the Culture Camp here.  You don’t have to be a DMI or RIBA member to do so.

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Hacking culture (an April Fool’s edition)

EmberAds like this are springing up in Toronto as people contemplate the prospect of another term for Mayor Rob Ford.

Ridicule is the order of the day.  A decade ago, this would have taken place in Toronto bars and pubs.  (In this once Scottish Presbyterian outpost, spirits and mockery used to meet every day after work.)  But, hey presto, nowadays people can do a pretty good replica of the campaign sign.

What changed?  Well, everything, mostly.  The technology is there.  Anyone can find a printer willing to bang out campaign signs.  But the important change was the willingness to ape the experts and make culture for ourselves.  People were once cowed.  Making a campaign sign, not just for politicians anymore.

When culture was official, we didn’t dare presume.  We didn’t dare make it or fake it or board it or hijack it, borrow it or make off with it, or “have a little fun with it.” We didn’t dare hack it.  Now we do.

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Phil Jones inserted himself in someone else’s real estate ads.

Goofy realtor smile.  Matching shirt and tie.  Bad mustache.  Ill fitting wig, and all.  Phil missed nothing.

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People have made their own  memorials on Brooklyn Bridge.

D-I-Y memorials. Hacking public space for private purposes? That’s something.

 

UNICEF hacked the vending machine

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A Harvard student hacked the tour of the Yale campus.

Andre Levy, a Brazilian living in Germany, managed to hack the coin of the realm.   His art now goes everywhere.

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See more of Andre’s work at talesyoulose.tumblr.com.   

The hacking thing begins, for near-history purposes, with the advent of Punk.  Irreverent fans watched a band on stage and said, “Oh, I could do that, only like, way, way worse!”

And remember that jewel of the digital world in the 1990s when  everyone was wowed by All Your Base Are Belong To Us?  I remember several people saying, “Oh God, anyone can make an ad!”

That’s another difference.  Our standards have gone up.  We can all  dispatch a campaign sign, a painted coin, even a rehabilitated vending machine.  This used to be the kind of thing that only MIT engineering students could pull off.  Prankster acumen, even this is being democratized.

The spirit of hacking is everywhere.  It manifests itself even in your niece who bangs out NCIS fan fic effortlessly and with no sense that she is trespassing on anyone’s creative patch. Every consumer is now a producer, or near enough.

Everyone is in possession of the skill and the gumption to hack culture.  It’s just a question of imagination.   More and more, the public world looks like an opportunity for intervention.  And for the rest of us, everyday will call for the wariness we exercise on April Fool’s Day.  Could this be what it seems?  Or is my culture being hacked.

Post script

Thanks to Leora Kornfeld for letting me know about Toronto campaign signs.

Speaking of hacking Toronto politics, there is a great experiment taking place on Twitter.  It’s the work of someone (I will name him if he lets me) who has taken the name of Bert Xanadu and the persona of the Mayor of Toronto circa 1973.  Follow him as  @moviemayor.  It’s like Groucho got a Twitter account.

For more on hacking culture, see my book Culturematic.

My London talk in June

design_management_instituteIn June, I am
giving a keynote in London for the Design Management Institute.

Here’s the title and the abstract.

Title:

A revolution in the works
how design leaders can master the coming cultural disruption

Abstract:

Some 40 years ago, Robert Venturi asked the design community to decide whether it could “learn something from Las Vegas.”  In this talk, Grant McCracken will ask whether there is something to be learned from television (of all things).  Based in research he did for Netflix in the fall, McCracken will argue there is a revolution brewing in popular culture that will transform design and design leaders in a fundamental way.   This is perhaps the trend of all trends, the most disruptive change in our midst: popular culture is becoming culture.  No creatives or creativity will remain untouched.  Our question: How can design leaders use this change to make change?

The Pepys Now project: How to write a blog people will read in 100 years

pepyssmall[This piece was originally posted in 2005.  It got displaced in a transition to TypePad and this meant it lost its connection to the Samuel Pepy's Home Page, a connection for which I was grateful.  This reposting will generate a new link and I'm hoping Duncan Grey, keeper of the Samuel Pepy's Home Page, will post the link.]

Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) kept a diary for ten years, 1660-1669 (http://www.pepys.info/index.html ). He helps us understand the great fire of London, some of the plague years, the aftermath of the English civil war, and the English navy.

Equally important, he helps us see what life was like. We hear him kicking himself for “carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times.” A man fretting.

For recording the great and little events of the day, Pepys has been given immortality. We read him still.

There is no shortage of diarists these days, not with billions of blogs on line. But will bloggers find immortality? No. This is not just because there are so many of us. The trouble is we assume the things readers will want to know in 100 years.

There are, for instance, countless blog entries from people experiencing the flu.   But what history will care about are all the details that struck us as too obvious or banal to mention.

What the “flu” was like, what we took as “medicine.” The “pharmacy” we got the medicine in. The conversation we had with that man in the lab coat. The advice we got from friends. What we wore while recuperating. What we watched on TV. What was illuminated by that faint light in the “refrigerator.”   The idea, for instance, of “comfort food.” (What was it?  What comfort did it give?) What we talked about on the “phone.” What “emails” we wrote. What happened to personhood?   What was it like to be us, as we lost momentum, as our affairs went into suspension, as our life began slowing to come undone. Where did the mind turn in this rare inactive moment. What fretting did we do?

In 100 years, the flu will be an exotic experience.   (We read Pepys for his accounts of the plague; we know longer know what this was like.)   Historians will hold conferences on the experience of sickness and curing.   And they will consult our blogs mostly with unhappiness.

A conference paper in the year 2103:

We have 3.74 million references to “flu” in the blogs of the early 21 st century.   We have the medical accounts of what it was and what curing was.   But we do not know what it was like as an experience.  

These bloggers were talking to one another.   They were not talking to us.   

But I am happy to report that I have discovered one web log that offers a meticulous record, one might even say Pepysian account, of one flu in one life.   

Using the weblog entries of one Sarah Zupko , I intend to show how the “flu” worked as a social, cultural, emotional, physiological and medical event in the life. 

With this as my platform, I will seek, then, to illuminate key aspects of everyday life.   Sarah Zupko ’s account of the flu she suffered in the 14 th week of their year 2003, in conjunction with other records we have at our disposal, help us to see how the “self” was constructed, maintained and, in a word, lived.

In an odd way, we owe this now vanished virus a debt of thanks.   Under its duress, Zupko was moved, meticulously and with rare sensitivity, to reveal not just what it was to be “sick” but what it was like to be a creature of this historical and cultural moment.   

Blogs for their time

There are two strategies here.

The first is simply to document everything we can and let history do the sorting.   In the case of “blanket documentation,” we don’t need to choose because we seek to capture everything.

1. The blanket documentation: a week’s regime

(do this once a year)

Monday:

Recording place:

Photo documentation:

Home, work, neighborhood, local store(s), other places we go,

Do 5 level of documentation from broad to the individual object

(e.g., our neighbourhood, house/apt., rooms, objects, contents)

Tuesday:

Recording time:

Prose documentation

Structure of the last week

Things that were scheduled

Things that were spontaneous

Who, what, where, when, and why of each event

Wednesday:

Recording things:

(Clothing, furniture, art, fridge magnets & other possessions)

Photo documentation

Prose documentation

Link the two, prop a photograph of your favorite sweater in front of the computer and describe where it comes from, where you found it, things that happened as you wore it, what it means to you know, how it interacts with other articles of clothing, the last time you wore it and anything else it brings to mind

Thursday:

Recording media:

Music, movies, television, websites

The regulars

The occasionals

The discoveries

Prose documentation of and for each.

Friday:

Recording people:

Diary entries:

Video documentation

Do interviews with everyone who will put up with one.   Set up your video camera (if you have one) and leave it standing in the living room (if you have one).   When someone comes over, sit them down and ask them these questions… and anything else that occurs to you, and capture anything else that occurs to them.

Saturday:

Review, reflect, spot holes, capture the things we’ve missed

Sunday:

Review, voice over commentary on each of your bodies of evidence.   There are two imperatives here:1) capturing the assumptions that did not get onto film and that do not normally get into blogs; 2) showing the interrelationships of all the pieces we have know documents. What are the wholes that organized the parts? What was the lived experience of this world

There will be moments when you’ll think to yourself, “Oh, what’s the point, this is so obvious.” But think about what you would give to have account like this from your life, say, 20 years ago.  If would be a dear possession.  Think about what you would give to have this account of your father’s life when he was the age you are now.   Think about what you give for an account of your great, great grandfather’s life.   By this time, you have materials that historians would be pestering you to have a look at.

The “as if from a glass bottom boat” documentation

This is the second strategy. This is the documentation of a single thing, person, place, object, event. It could, for instance, be the flu. Now the trick is to tear ourselves away from the familiarity that, blessedly, makes so much of our experience intelligible and manageable. Only thus can we deliver what historians want (and what we will be pleased to have in 20 years).

There are a couple of aids here. One is surprise. Surprise occurs when assumptions are violated and it represents an opportunity to capture what these assumptions are. I was standing in Grand Central Station last week and a man passed me wearing a burgundy red fedora. It was too stylish to be a prank, too odd to be a simple act of style.   It forced me to think about hats and to see the conventions that govern them.

Another is humor. This too depends on violated assumptions. Victorian jokes now strike us as not very funny. And this is because we no longer share the cultural assumptions they assumed and on which they operated. Take a moment of humor and supply the archeology on which they rested.

A third is what the Russians called deformalization. The banal example here is repeating a word over and over until it becomes strange to the ear. (Try saying, “saying” thirty times and see if it continues to deliver meaning as it once did.).   The trick here seems to be just concentrating on something for long enough that its “taken-for-grantedness” begins to fall away. Think long enough about a kitchen and this begins to happen with surprising ease. (CxC assumes no responsibility for the dislocation that will follow.)

A fourth might be called the Goffman effect. Erving Goffman sought out the company of people who had forgotten or misremembered the rules of everyday life. They stood too close to him.(Ah, so there is a rule that says we must remain 12 to 16 inches from a conversational partner.) They gave too little eye contact or too much. (Ah, so there’s a rule…) They shouted or whispered. And so on. The trick here is to treat social error as an indicator of social convention.

(A fifth is the alienating effects of drugs and alcohol, but CxC is forbidden from recommending this path to illumination.)

What we really need here are pen pals in mainland China , correspondents who read our accounts and say, “sorry, I still don’t see how this person, place, event, or thing made sense to you.”

Storage

Once you have performed your Pepys scrutiny, burn it on a CD or DVD and send one copy to the youngest responsible member of your family, with careful instructions that they are to do the same in 20 years. Send the other to the Smithsonian. Congratulations, you are now immortal.

Tweeting television (now locked in a box)

spreadable-media-libro-71784I have a friend who believes  every article, post, tweet he needs to read will come to him every day by new media.

And he’s right.  We  act as editors for one another.  We see something, we say something…on Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, LinkedIn and elsewhere.

But he’s  wrong.  I bet he misses things.  I know I do.  Plus, some things can’t get into new media.  They just don’t.

Take TV.  We watch a lot of TV.  And my Netflix research winter tells me that we watch this TV with new attention to detail and a deep inclination to talk about it.  We find favorite scenes, brilliant bits of acting, very special effects, but all of this remains locked in the box.  It just isn’t  ”spreadable,” to use the language of Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Josh Green.  (That’s their book cover above.  Highly recommended. Forgive the Italian subtitle.  Buy the book here.)

This is a classic case of the old media failing to seize the opportunities opened up by new media.  Imagine how many of the shows that failed this fall season might have made it if their early fans could have got the word out.

What we need is some tech overlay that makes clipping and sharing easy and possible.  Build it into the remote control.  Put on an IN button and an OUT button and a CLIP button and a SHARE button.

I am sure there are legal issues here, but I am equally certain Lawrence Lessig  or Jonathan Zittrain could sort them out over lunch time.  The copy right holders are, after all, deeply incented to permit the passage of small clips.  Permit?  What Jenkins, Ford and Green say about spreadable media, applies especially to every new season of television.  If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.

In the meantime, we can resort to efforts of our own.  Here’s a clip from one of my favorite shows, Being Human.  This is Sally, a ghost, explaining how she intends to protect the house from sale.  (Remember, she’s a ghost and therefore invisible to  mortals.)

I shot this with my iPhone.  Something less that stellar quality.  But good enough for the  internet, as they say.   Some people are put off by Being Human because it’s on SyFy (they don’t like science fiction) or because the show has such a weird premise (the creatures “being human” are a ghost, a vampire, and a ghost).  But I think this scene takes us beyond odd premises into the heart of the show.  Several “barriers to entry” fall.  SyFy wants this clip to click.

God knows, we have quite a lot of content circulating on line.  The numbers are simply breathtaking.  But the fact of the matter is that TV preoccupies us.  And it’s getting better.  As it stands, this part of our culture is excluded from the conversation.  This should change.

new rules for making culture