Social media advertising and the human condition

Social media is ruining more than just little league try-outs; the gaming companies have all gone mad. Before we get stuck in and I give the industry the meat and potatoes on this subject, I want to make it plainly understood I am not some agoraphobe sitting at home lashing out at a changing world. I think social media is neat. Being connected to people with whom you otherwise may not be able to keep in touch is great. Similarly, social media as an extension of ‘the information age’ is only natural.
Sadly, we’re all unscrupulous capitalists and as such cannot be trusted to behave ourselves and indeed we have not. Now besides pop-up adds, fake ‘download’ buttons, a minefield of link bait, and aggressive spam bots, companies are actively seeking (and – annoyingly – finding) ways into our online social lives. Being who I am, I naturally object to this intrusion, although not for the reasons you may think.
I am no fool; standing in the way of profit margins in our society is as dumb as it is futile. Companies are always going to try and squeeze every last cent they can out of people (iPhone 6 anyone?) but – as unenlightened and annoying as I find that – this is not news. What is new is the way in which (gaming) companies have taken to belligerent harassment of their customers (player base) by incentivizing ‘liking’ their Facebook page (something never intended for companies to use) and subscribing to their Twitter feed. Doing so almost always nets the players some small gains but comes with a hidden cost; incessant, unrelenting, shameless, and ultimately highly annoying spam.
I do not use that term lightly; I use it to articulate in no uncertain terms the level of heinousness this has reached.
The problem is not merely the constant intrusions into my Facebook feed, but moreover the fact that most of what they post may be categorized as either ‘flogging’ – the shameless, self-aggrandizing marketing of said company or product – or as ‘information-based announcements’ – almost always a pretext to the former. It’s shit.

Most egregious of all of this are the ‘chance-to-win’ posts wherein the players are unapologetically told to provide de-facto word-of-mouth advertising by posting, re-posting, or absurdly hash-tagging something related to the product with a minute chance they will get some dubious prize which costs the company nothing. It is an insult to anyone halfway intelligent, but the marketing departments know their audience well; retards, every last one.

For all of us who have ever received a Candy Crush invite, it us all too clear that the negative impact of being a shameless corporate whore is drastically off-set by the extra revenue generated by aggressively manipulative social media campaigns. This is not unprecedented. We do this to ourselves. In short: we cannot be trusted. We cannot be trusted with the freedom to say whatever we want, nor can we be trusted with the freedom to do whatever we want.

More and more I long for a system of accountability that simply does not exist. A safeguard for basic morality and irrefutable logic that would prevent companies from saturating our lives with the half-truths, blatant lies, and creatively insidious marketing strategies we are inundated with on a daily basis.

I found out today that ‘skin whitening’ products will constitute a 20 billion business in 2018 with 80% of women in Nigeria already using such products on a regular basis, 20% of women in Korea have undergone at least one cosmetic surgery procedure, and perfectly good looking people are having their wedding pictures professionally photoshopped, and that tells you everything you need to know about marketing right there.


Japanese Sophistication

Are the Japanese becoming more sophisticated? Wine consumption is on the rise, in my neighborhood alone there are now three French bistros where once, not so long ago, there were none.

In answering this question I realized that its premise is wrong in that it is misleading. It preposes that the Japanese have not been sophisticated all along.

Let us not forget that as an ancient and long-time isolationist nation, Japan is a uniquely rich place with regards to culture and history. As any decent sociologist will tell you, sophistication – and its trademarks – are directly informed by the cultural and historical precedents of a particular people or region.

With that said, what we might consider the pinnacle of sophistication in the West may have no meaning elsewhere.

I will be the first to admit that a French bistro seems more sophisticated to me than knocking back beers, high balls, and shochu with chain-smoking, drunk businessmen at an izakaya, but as with most things in Japan, all is not as it seems.

The sophistication if Japan is not inherent in food or drink nor even a certain activity but rather in the rich nuance surrounding such matters. The tea ceremony comes readily to mind where the end product is no more important than the ritual by which it is made. Now let us remember that some of the most expensive, award-winning, snobbiest wines are still made by having some people stomp grapes with their feet. Hardly a model for sophistication.

It is my contention that the Japanese are a tremendously sophisticated people – masters of the subtle hint, and easily misunderstood by those unable to distinguish the myriad nuances into which Japanese life is inexorably woven.


Interlude

I know my posts lack all semblance of consistency. I will not apologize for this; the muse descends at such a time and place as she sees fit. Also, I have bills and stuff and no one pays me for this.

 

Placeholder until I get a real post up: my Godzilla review

 

 

Enjoy!


Surfing the right wave of feminism

It was brought to my attention that there is such a thing as “second wave” and “third wave” feminism. This troubled me immediately. For one, the implication of metaphor is that this is the type of thing that comes on strong, breaks, froths around a bit, wets some ankles, and then subsides. As a feminist (as per the correct, dictionary definition of the word) myself, I find that worrisome.
Secondly, there seems to be some confusion what the differences are between these ‘second’ and ‘third’ waves. What do they stand for? What was wrong with the other waves?

Sparing you the (frankly embarrassing) details, suffice to say these people missed the boat quite completely.

Better – I think – to give you some examples of what has been going on through blogs, twitter, facebook, and the web as browsed by bored, stay-at-home moms.

Several women write that they disagree or oppose the (unhelpfully ambiguous) tenants of this new feminism if for no other reason than it being a massive help having a man around the house who can un-tighten stubborn jar lids.

This prompted me to stop ignoring this issue as the fringe lunacy of a few misguided Queens of entitlement and actively make fun of them instead.

Ladies, no one here is denying it is nice to have a man around the house who can help you do the things you can’t just as it is helpful to have a vibrator in the house to help you do the things he can’t.


I often hear pe…

I often hear people say “the future is here” usually followed by some contrite example of how some singular thing defines the now as the future we tell ourselves we were promised and entitled to. It is a self-congratulatory statement as it implies that all of existence as it is known to us – some 14 billion years or so – has been a prelude to the latest innovations of man.
“Duuuude! Flying cars, man!” someone will say, and the universe would mock our trivial smallness, our utmost insignificance if only it were an entity with such petty emotions capable of doing so and not a personified construct called into being to mock my fellow man. Even then it might decide it is better off ignoring us entirely because frankly it can’t be bothered.
There is another problem with proclaiming “the future is now:” the future being referred to is quite often (if not always) the purview of a desperately small percentage of the population. Flying cars exist – they are not particularly practical or anywhere near as sexy as we would like them to be, but they are around. The reason you have never seen one is because there are a number of hurdles beyond the development stage of these flights of fancy. Assuming you are part of the much ballyhooed 1% and can afford to buy one (there are no production models available), there are laws and regulations governing things that leave the sweet embrace of mother earth and take to the heavens. Don’t believe me? Ask someone at the FAA who Icarus was and how his gossamer wings relate to why you need to switch off your Kindle when you board an aircraft, to say nothing of flying cars.
No, friends, the world is a far less simple place than the chaotic hopefulness of our dreams and desires.
Even terrestrial cars – things we might all recognize as such – exist in categories ranging from economy to luxury and classic cars to space-age hyper tech. Looking at the inspired design of a Lamborghini Aventador in stark contrast to the Lada Niva for example or the humble London cab it is easy to believe the future is here, now, roaring past firing on all twelve cylinders, but again that is a privilege few among us will ever now. Worse, if you are the proud owner of a nice Lamborghini or even the latest electric cars whose engineering represents the cutting edge of what is possible in a production car you would still be driving on a road – not flying through the sky (something specifically requiring dedicated aerodynamics and a massive spoiler over about 135 miles an hour) as well as sharing the road with people who are all still driving relics of a past. You may have cocooned yourself in a little bubble of the future, but the vast majority of people couldn’t give a damn about the design or engineering of the future; they are in their hatchbacks and minivans on their way to work to pay the bills. They have very real concerns in the moment that must take precedence over their desires for the future.

Often times the products and services we use have very little to do with being an accurate, contemporary representation of where the scientific or aesthetic frontiers are and everything to do with what is practical, dependable, easily mass-produced, and ultimately expendable. We have aircraft equipped with scramjets that are able to traverse the diameter of the earth, dipping in and out of suborbital altitudes at theorized speeds of Mach 24 (29,000km/h) and tested speeds of Mach 5.1 in less time than it takes you to fly to a different state. Worse still, the Concorde first flew operationally in 1969 and air travel has since slowed down significantly. The future was here, but now it’s gone.

None of this gets us closer to the point however; be happy with what you have, now, and let the future bring what it may, when it may.

The author does not drive a push-rod suspension, carbotanium, intuo-drive hypercar. No flying car for me, no personal jet pack, and long lines for an even longer flight with “modern” air travel, but you know what, it’s fine. I’m happy.

I will continue to marvel at the innovations of science and the groundbreaking designs of engineers, architects, artists, and visionaries, but I am in no rush for the future to find us at some artificially accelerated pace; time passes inexorably, all that remains is to enjoy it.


Quandaries of Procreation

The overpowering biological imperative to produce offspring can be so severe that women will settle for some guy simply because he possesses the necessary bits to fulfill her burning desire for a baby. You will note I say baby – in which women see things I know many men do not – myself foremost among these. Women find children – but babies in particular – fascinating in ways I do not pretend to fully understand. Call it emotional connectedness, call it maternal instinct, call it empathy; I do not have it in any measurable amount. Although far be it from me to rule out having children altogether, I think doing so is an act commonly grossly underestimated in both scope and severity, and one that has led to more than a few broken homes, shattered dreams, and rude awakenings.

Creating offspring is no great challenge; some 1,000,000 babies are born on every day of every year, and that number is growing. There are however considerations beyond the physical ability to have children; you also need to be able to take a child and provide it with 24-hour care and all its earthly needs save oxygen for the first 18 or so years at the very least. It comes as no surprise then that people say “having kids will change your life,” all misty-eyed yet full of unmistakable superiority, as though to rationalize for themselves the Hurculean effort they mustered, day in and day out for years, to take something that was little more than an uncanilly noisy, squishy, and highly fragile poop machine, and turn it into something recognizable as a person.
My outlook is admittedly grim, but then a realistic appreciation often reveals the less than ideal, overly romantisized, and unpopular reality.
Still, I understand that for many people having children is something they want to do whether it be for reasons good or bad, and I would not presume to stand in their way, but I often question their motives. What is it they hope to achieve and – perhaps more importantly – what do they believe they will miss out on if they wait until their lives allow for this unpresidented change. What would they miss were they to refrain altogether? I am unsure.
Pride, ego, and the natural desire to procreate all play more major roles than most (women especially) are willing to admit, and I believe this to be a mistake; we are the only species on the planet capable of higher reasoning as well as being in control of our reproduction, yet we commonly forsake both for the sake of having a baby on account of our base instincts and misguided ideas.
I often hear women say “I love children” and that may be, but unlike all the other things you may love, once arrived a child is ever-present, endlessly needy, and presents very real challenges for its parents no matter how well-meaning, loving, or otherwise intentioned. Often times the same people who can barely figure out their own lives have children of whom not much can be expected under those circumstances. Worse, there are too many children in this world whose parents cannot wait to be rid of them – released of the burden – all the romantic notions of childhood fleeting and gone once they reach some arbitrary age of ascension, and in many cases long before that.
Too many children are born into abject poverty, starting life at such a disadvantage that it will burden them for the rest of their – generally much shorter – lives. Too many children too are born to single parents, the physical consumation of their union symbolic for their relationship; all too brief. As difficult as it is to raise a child, doing so alone compounds that difficulty to a titanic challenge.
It is no wonder then that there are statistical correlations between crime, drug use, violent behavior, psychological disorders, and children who were deprived the benefit of two parents.
So now that I have insulted most of you in some way, let me make sure I get the last few of you fired up enough to leave your discontent in the comments; as usual, religion has made things worse still. By forbidding birth control measures, claiming all life as sacred, (excepting of course anyone who doesn’t believe what we do – those people must clearly be murdered, in God’s name, amen) and generally sticking their nose in procreation as though it is readily evident that what happens between a man and a woman is very much the church’s business, religions have had a frightful impact on both population and the social politics of man that govern it. To the thinking man proclaiming every life as sacred, determining that life begins at conception, and subsequently forbidding abortion, is akin to lunacy. The commonly cited example is the violent and traumatic rape of a woman who, being both unwilling, unable, and unprepared to have a child is raped and then raped again as the church commandeers not just her body, but her entire life as she is forced to raise the child of a rapist whose foul seed bespoiled her body. As sickening as this reality is to me as a man, I cannot begin to fathom how I might fear to leave the relative safety of my home were I a woman and subject to the perverse dogma of the church. (This incidentally entirely aside from the fact I do not understand why any women can abide religions that tell them they are subject to their husbands and should be publically stoned to death should they commit adultery whilst no such punishment would befall the husband under the same circumstances. “Good book” indeed!)

I am certain having a child can be a wondrous experience. I am equally certain watching a child grow, become a person as unique as any of us, and then going on to have children of their own is without a doubt one of the most normal and genuinely fine experiences of life, but I fear merely aspiring to these positives ill-prepares would-be parents for the complicated reality they will soon face.


Opinions

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We all have opinions. They are part of what defines who you are. Your opinions sculpt the landscape of your individualism just as your looks separate you from the person standing next to you, and that guy, over there, and a good thing it is too.

If we all subscribed to exactly the same opinions, the world would be an unimaginably uninteresting place. Moreover, humans would have died out long ago. For much like the different paths of evolution that have led to us – homo sapiens – so too do differences in opinion lead to new discovery. I cannot begin to imagine the number of scientific, philosophical, and intellectual leaps that have been made spurred by nothing but a disagreement. Imagine if Nicolaus Copernicus had taken the Catholic church at it’s word and subscribed unquestioningly to their doctrine – we may still believe the earth to be the center of the (observable) universe. Aside from that assertion being so wrong as to necessitate the error being measured in parsecs, had Copernicus been complacent in accepting it, we – as human beings – would have missed out on the ripple effect caused by this one man’s willingness to risk his life to have a wholly different opinion to the accepted one.

Opinions, in short, are more important than people think they are – even to those of us who think they are very important indeed! Not only do they define who we are, drive us to critically examine the world around us, but they also provide for thoroughly interesting conversation which in turn helps people relate to each other, make friends, and even fall in love with the ‘right’ person. (for our current purpose we will blatantly ignore the appalling divorce statistics and my spectacularly unpopular opinions on that particular ball of wax)

Being in agreement with someone can be deeply satisfying, helps foster solidarity, and breeds peace and unity. Being of opposite minds meanwhile sparks discussion, conflict, new ideas, and advances us as a people. In other words, it does not matter if you have the same opinion, as long as you have one you possess all the necessary tools for joining in the debate.

Once said debate begins in earnest however and the stakes are high, things begin to fall apart. On a small scale that means my tremendously unpopular opinions have cost me my share of friends and girlfriends over the years, whilst on the macro scale we like to fight wars over differences of opinion like whether or not there is a divine being, and what we should call him (or her, as the case may very well turn out to be). That is where opinions get us in trouble. Not the opinions themselves mind – we all have them after all – but our obsessive need to have everyone subscribe to the same (preferably our own) opinion. In our 200,000 year history, not once have all people, everywhere, held all the same opinions, but in our infinite capacity for self-important arrogance that has not stopped us from trying to force our opinions onto others nonetheless.

It should be noted that we’ve actually become quite good at forcing our opinions onto others. For instance, if I am of the opinion you should give me your wallet, you will most likely disagree, but thanks to the 9mm automatic in my hand, I am reasonable certain you’ll come to see things my way post haste. You see, our opinions are for sale – susceptible as we are to coercion – whether it is for money, power, or the simple joy of having a robbery not turn into a murder.  What is worse is that since time immemorial the fact that our opinions are for sale has been enthusiastically exploited to further political agendas, religious propagation, and – crucially – to make money.

Now, you may say, “My opinion is not for sale! I am my own person!” Of course you are, settle down, no one here is saying you are not a special, little snowflake, but take a moment to consider what is being supposed.

Celebrity endorsements are so common these days that our reaction to them is blasé. Yet, alarmingly to the discerning consumer in me, they perpetuate a dangerous precedent set long ago: pay someone enough money and they will say pretty much whatever you want them to. (or, in the case of women – and I am looking at you here Scarlett Johansson – they will show some skin and hug suggestively phallic champagne bottles) Advertisers know this, and the dividends show in the accounting office, and thus the world is run. If Oprah Winfrey says a book is worth reading then by God I am running to the store this instant to get it! Yes, our consumerism has been raised to a well-conditioned Pavlovian response. Lenin and Marx are rolling in their graves.

Still, even with our opinions readily for sale we find time to have our true opinions – our most valuable, most emphatic, most personally meaningful opinions. Aka: the shit we care about. No one is going to war over the brand of toothpaste their neighbor prefers, but mention a couple of the hot-button topics of this century (and centuries past for that matter) and the boys at the Pentagon start rolling out invasion plans for a dozen or so medium sized foreign sovereignties they think would be fun places for the 101st airborne to visit. This reaction is only natural – it is the natural, yet tragically overbearing extension of a defense mechanism in place in all of us to prevent being taken advantage of.

Thankfully there are other ways to disagree. Politics for instance are based on the stipulated fact that people (and countries) disagree about countless things, but let’s try not to kill each other over every single one. Indeed, let’s shake hands, have a cup of tea, and smile for a joint photo opportunity since fewer youngsters will have to be flown around the world to kill people they’ve never met in countries they’ve never heard of that way.

Thus discussion, debate, and great oratory are the virtuous means by which we shape our opinions. We support our opinions with fact, fiction, data, and conjecture, and at the end of the day we each go home believing what we believe, whether that is different from the assertions we woke up with that day or not.

Crucially, it is paramount to muster the supreme effort required to have some humility and accept that the world, the universe, and the physical laws that govern it, do not revolve around you, your opinion, or whether you are right or wrong. We all believe we are right – that is the essence of having an opinion – and more than a few of us are hesitant (if not down right stubbornly reluctant) in relinquishing our stance in an argument, but it is important to maintain perspective. Your argument, no matter how heated and thoroughly important to you at the time, is one argument, one difference of opinion, and one only. You have countless opinions, as do the people who disagree with you on this one issue. Perhaps they share some of your opinions on other matters. In fact, I guarantee that beneath the pride that prevents such people from acknowledging it, they absolutely do. I think we can all get on board with the idea that war is bad, and people should try not to kill each other, which is exactly why the US and the former Soviet Union never flipped the switches that would have taken us all back to the stone age; we agreed on nothing except that nuking each other into oblivion was bad. We agreed on that so perfectly that even the weight of all our differences (which, at the time, was pretty much everything else) could not motivate either side enough to give it a go with a preemptive strike. Sure, the two countries were not the best of friends at the time, and there were not a lot of joint resolutions being signed at the time for posterity, but neither did we allow our different opinions to destroy us all. We showed a surprising amount of restraint considering the foolish tantrums we as a species throw in daily life over the most trivial of matters, and – thanks to a half a century of hot, cold, and lukewarm warring – we made quite a few stunning technological advances, so there is an argument to be made that even the most radically different opinions can be equally meritorious if they lead us to greater wisdom in the end.

And that is the message here today; knowing that even in reading this you may not have agreed with some – or indeed quite a lot – of what I wrote, but you read it anyway. You read it, have an opinion, and if you are anything like me you know for a fact you are right. You are. Your opinion is yours alone and therefore you cannot be wrong. That is, you cannot be wrong until you close your heart and mind to revision of your opinions in light of new facts. You cannot be wrong unless your opinion also requires everyone else to subscribe to it as well – by force if necessary. You cannot be wrong in your opinions so long as at the end of the day you can muster the courage to accept that maybe tomorrow, maybe a week, or a year from now, you may need to alter an opinion slightly so as to account for the weight of all human knowledge, the vast experience of humanity as a whole, or just the simple truism you saw for the first time scribbled on a bathroom wall.

“All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.”

-Henry David Thoreau


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