4 Nov 2009

My iPhone loves me.

November 4, 2009 501A, responses Comments Off

I thought David Kelley’s discussion of user-centered design was pretty interesting, especially in light of the ideas we’ve already explored in “Welcome to the experience economy” by Pine and Gilmour. Isn’t that part of what’s being sold here, is the experience of the thing and not just the thing itself?

Look at the cubicle, for example, which aims to make work a more pleasant experience. (I remember when that was announced, by the way. I think I asked my boss if I could have a hammock, especially since a colleague already had a life-sized cutout of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the office. No, I don’t know why. And he said no to the hammock.) And the underwater camera helps give you an experience you might not have been able to have by yourself. That’s a bit more explicitly experiential, but I think the larger point is that good design is part of what users enjoy about a product. No one likes crawling inside the code monkeys’ heads — that is, no one likes learning how to use something based on someone else’s idea of what should be obvious. It never is obvious.

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19 Oct 2009

Twunk the whole world

October 19, 2009 501A, responses 1 Comment

Sometimes I find out about things backwards, which, when you think about it, is a legitimate part of viral culture. We didn’t all get swine flu from Porcine Mary, so to speak.

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Here we go, although I must say I’m a bit bored of Swift and West(on … Twunked likes her little pun).

The comments from my last post inspired me to consider this incident in a different way. Here’s how I see it:

We have four players: Kanye, Taylor, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Or rather, we have the constructed images that the real people known as Kanye, Taylor, Beyoncé and Jay-Z and others use to sell us “their” music. Or clothes, or perfume, or sunglasses or shoes or T-shirts or binders or anything else with their names and/or faces attached.

• Kanye steals the mic from Taylor and stomps on her moment, in a misguided attempt to defend the absent Jay-Z’s woman from a perceived slight, thereby removing both women’s agency. (Which … is its own post unpacking that particular piece of social baggage.)

•Taylor is shell-shocked and leaves without making a speech.

•Beyoncé reclaims her agency by calling Taylor back, which does not restore Taylor’s agency.

•Taylor completes her speech.

Each of these players is not, effectively, a real person in this situation. They are each the embodiments of their respective brands. And those very, very valuable brands are not created and shaped by our players as individuals. They are created, shaped, promoted and controlled by lots of people for economic benefits many, not the least of which are those four, enjoy.

In a very real sense, these are not people, they are enacted economic properties. And that is something each of them has chosen by becoming a public figure and not merely singing in their own showers.

Now, in this situation, Kanye acted in a way that was consistent with his brand, that is, a loudmouth jerkoff. Beyoncé acted consistently with her brand. Taylor acted consistently with her brand.

Therein lies the problem. Both Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s brands are carefully packaged and skillfully executed. But Beyoncé’s brand allows her to embrace her own agency, while Taylor’s limits her agency.

None of these brands is who these people actually are. They may be in some ways similar, but the brand is not the person. See: Martha Stewart.

Taylor Swift’s brand is, I believe, socially damaging. Millions of young consumers who do not have the critical thinking skills to unpack these ideas of branding are influenced by what they see as her actions as a person.

Beyoncé’s brand sends what I believe is a socially healthier message, because she retains her own agency. However, I would still have a talk with my child about how Single Ladies promotes what I believe are damaging notions, namely, that if a man respects a woman as a woman and as a partner, he will marry her, and that a woman’s goal is to be a wife. Which is not to say it’s not a fun — and very lucrative — single. (Waaa-ohh, oh oh ohhhh oh oh …)

But the really sick thing is, we collectively responded to this really minor pop culture incident in ways that show brands work. Even I was like “aww, poor little Taylor” and “Beyoncé is a class act, Kanye” for a bit.

Now, if you like, you can discuss Swift’s Road Not Chosen. Unfair, I know, but it’s my house.