Posts tagged ‘society’


In the 1980s, I thought society would evolve to become more efficient and smarter

15.02.2020

Growing up in a relatively wealthy country in the 1980s, after getting through most of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world would just keep getting better and things would make more sense as humans evolved.
   From a teenager’s perspective: home computers, with a modulator–demodulator (modem), could bring you information instantaneously and from around the world. As an immigrant kid, that excited me: contact with people “back home” and from other places, making communication quicker. You could hear from others, and you could help others who needed you. And if you didn’t have a computer that could connect to a bulletin board, there was Teletext, which gave you regularly updated information through your TV set.
   Cars were getting more aerodynamic, which meant they would use less fuel, and that was understood universally to be a good thing. MPVs were very practical vehicles that had small footprints yet fitted a lot of people, or stuff, inside. Here in New Zealand, natural gas-powered dual-fuel cars were mainstream, and that meant we weren’t reliant on overseas oil. They also didn’t pollute anywhere near what petrol did—they burned cleanly.
   And since saving energy was understood to be a good thing, who knew? Before long solar power would be the norm for new homes and we’d be putting electricity back into the grid.


Alex Snyder/Wayne National Forest/Creative Commons

   I also heard about recycling for the first time as a teen, and that seemed like a good thing—all that old paper and plastic could have a second life.
   People were interested in being more efficient because no one wanted a repeat of the oil shocks of the 1970s. Nor did we want the government imposing carless days on us again.
   That same teenager would have thought that by the dawn of the 21st century—if the US and Soviet Union behaved—we’d have evolved to have recognized that we had the tools to make things better.
   When the internet came to our house in the 1990s, I saw it as a direct evolution of the 1980s’ optimism. It made sense.
   So through that lens, a lot of what the world looks like today doesn’t make sense.
   We have connected computers, milliards which are handheld, yet some of us are addicted to them and others use them to express outrage, rather than delight in having any contact at all with people thousands of miles away.
   SUVs outsell regular cars in some size segments. They are less aerodynamic, use more fuel, and are less efficient. We have American companies—Ford in the US and Holden here—saying that they’ll stop selling cars in most segments in favour of utility trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Petrol is expensive, and I complain about it, but I guess no one else thinks it’s expensive. Dual-fuel cars are a thing of the past here, for the most part, yet lots of people marvel at hybrids, conveniently forgetting we were decades ahead in the 1980s.
   And solar power isn’t the norm.
   We still, happily, recycle—but not everything we collect winds up being recycled. We have an awareness, but if we kept on progressing as I expected us to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age, then we wouldn’t have Greta Thunberg reminding us that we haven’t.
   I wonder if others in middle age realize that humans have the potential to go forward, and in many respects we do—but collectively there are enough of us who go backward and prevent any real advance in society.
   I like to have the same optimism as teenage me about the future. In terms of myself, many things bring me happiness, particularly in my personal and work lives. Yet in terms of society, I wonder if I can be as optimistic. I know deep down that we are interested in efficiency and treating our planet better (or we say we are), so then who are the ones holding us back, and what are we doing that stops us moving forward? Is it personal greed, hoping others will pick up the slack? Many of us choose products and services from companies that align with our views about what we want—yet are we doing the same when it comes to politicians?

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Posted in leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Sweden, technology, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Victor Billot on the 2019 UK General Election

22.12.2019

I often find myself in accord with my friend Victor Billot. His piece on the UK General Election can be found here. And yes, Britain, this is how many of us looking in see it—like Victor I have dual nationality (indeed, my British passport is my only current one, having been a little busy to get the Kiwi one renewed).
   Highlights include (and this is from a man who is no fan of the EU):

When reporters with their TV cameras went out to the streets to ask the people about their concerns, their motives, their aspirations, they recorded a dogs dinner of reverse logic and outright gibberish. BoJo had screaming rows with his girlfriend, made up policy on the go and hid in a commercial fridge. Corbyn however was seen as the weirdo. “I don’t like his mannerisms,” stated one Tory convert as the hapless Labour leader made another stump speech about saving the NHS. “Britain’s most dangerous man” shrieked a tabloid headline.
   Corbyn made a honest mistake in thinking that people may have been concerned about waiting lists at hospitals. It turned out that voters are happy about queues as long as they don’t have any foreigners in them, or doctors with ‘foreign’ looks at the end of them.


The Murdoch Press machine: predictably, business as usual.

and:

A curious aspect of the election is how the behaviour of the leaders seems to be measured by a new matrix of values. The more boorish, and arrogant, the better, in a kind of pale reflection of the troglodyte Trump in the midnight dim of his tweet bunker. BoJo, a blustering, buffoonish figure with a colourful personal life and the cocksure confidence of an Old Etonian, can be contrasted to the measured and entirely decent Corbyn with his Tube pass and allotment. Perhaps this is an inevitable side effect of the growing rage and alienation that bubbles under the surface of society, providing the gravitational pull towards the ‘strong man’ who will ‘make our nation great (again)’ in a world of other people who aren’t like us.

   I shan’t spoil the last paragraph but it all builds up to that nicely.

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Posted in culture, politics, UK | No Comments »


Modern masculinity doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel

29.11.2019

When Douglas Bader recorded in his log book on the aeroplane accident that cost him his legs, he wrote, ‘Bad show’.
   It was men like Bader, Audie Murphy, Claire Lee Chennault and Douglas MacArthur that my father spoke of as heroes from his childhood.
   There were plenty more from our own culture but I’m using these ones given my largely occidental audience, and Dad really did cite them as well.
   None of these men, by the accounts I’ve read, were braggarts. Most were indeed very humble about their contributions to their countries.
   But even my late pacifist veteran grandfather (he served, but desperately hated war) would consider these men heroes, as my father did.
   I may have blogged at other times about my first years in New Zealand, but I won’t go into depth about it as it would be too much of a digression from the point I want to make.
   Perhaps it’s growing up in an immigrant household that what your father tells you a real man should be trumps what you witness at school from your classmates about what they think masculinity is.
   And you see your own father display the qualities of what he considered to be gentlemanly. Children are good mimics.
   A gentleman, he would say, has the ability to refrain. A lesser man might act out, or strike someone, but that is not a civilized man. Society runs best when people are civilized.
   Those ideas of what we call toxic masculinity today were never displayed in my household and are utterly foreign to me—and as an immigrant, ‘foreign’ has two meanings in that sentence. I may be the “foreigner” as far as others (such as certain Australian-owned newspapers) are concerned, even after living here for 43 years, but from your own perspective, you can more easily distance yourself from any undesirable behaviour, saying, ‘That’s not who I am.’
   In the early years at my first high school, I may have had some cause to doubt the fatherly advice because what I witnessed was an extreme and intellectually stunted form of hero worship that might was right. That the brute force of the rugby player was true masculinity and if you didn’t have it, then you were a ‘poofter’ or a ‘faggot’. Brag, brag, brag, be it about sports or sexual encounters.
   This, as any real rugby player knows, and I have met men who have represented our national side, is a wholly inaccurate perception of who they are.
   They will tell you that true men display values of camaraderie, teamwork, quiet achievement, tolerance and decency. No All Black I know talks himself up as anything other than one of the boys who happened to be lucky enough to be chosen.
   Indeed, some of the bigger blokes who wound up in the school rugby teams, especially the Polynesian and Māori lads, were generally gentle and protective fellows with strong family values.
   Yet that misplaced perception held by immature high school boys, I fear, informs many young men of how they are to conduct themselves in adult life.
   They think that being jerks toward women is the norm. ‘Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen,’ is the familiar refrain.
   I’ve had comments over the years of, ‘Why didn’t you make a move on me?’ when I either could not read the signs or felt that forceful “masculine” behaviour was not particularly respectful. As a middle-aged man I wonder if the patriarchy, “just the way things are”, has warped expectations for heterosexual men and women. (I can’t obviously speak for our LGBTQI community.)
   However, what I do know is sending intimate pictures of yourself via a dating app or messaging service is disgusting (and, incidentally, has not worked for any man in the history of the planet), and that constant desperation is particularly unappealing.
   I remember a female friend showing me the sorts of messages she received from potential suitors on a dating website.
   ‘Holy crap,’ I said. ‘This is the calibre of men out there?’
   And when I talk to my partner today, she tells me that that was par for the course.
   But I have a quality relationship because I did listen to my father and behaved in a way that I thought he would approve of. Whatever he taught me wound up being hard-wired in me and I never aped the boys in my first high school. He was right after all, even if it took longer for me to be in a long-term relationship.
   No, I don’t have a massive list of “conquests” because it honestly isn’t about quantity and life is too short for empty encounters. And while my behaviour at uni age, and shortly after, wasn’t always exemplary, as I tried to figure out the norms, I’ve also come through this knowing that I didn’t have to lie to any woman, and not a single woman out there will be able to say I did anything physical without her consent.
   While I obviously told my other half of my career when we met (‘So what do you do?’), I never mentioned my mayoral bids till our fourth date, a month in to our courtship (she lived out of the country when I ran), and I admitted I didn’t always have an easy time in business during a period of my life, including the recession. I am human, after all. And if one can’t accept me for the bad as well as the good, then is the relationship founded on reality? Or simply fantasy?
   We’ve recently had a murder trial here in New Zealand with the accused a young man who is described as a serial liar, and accounts from women he had met were tragic: he would lie about his occupation, bigging himself and his family up, or pretend he had terminal cancer. Enough has been written on this creep.
   I had the misfortune to meet another young man who has since been exposed by the Fairfax Press as a con man, who also told constant lies about his life, thinking that talk of personal wealth would impress me and a co-director of one business we have.
   Mercifully, the latter case didn’t wind up with anyone physically hurt, and I know plenty of young people who would never behave like this. But it got me wondering whether the core of these cases tells us something about how certain young men feel inadequate, because of a misplaced hero worship of a warped form of masculinity that leaves them as outsiders.
   I’m by no means excusing the murderer because he frankly committed a heinous crime, in a premeditated fashion. I remain appalled at the victim-shaming that I saw reported as though the deceased, the one person who couldn’t answer, were on trial. I’m also not excusing the failed con-man who any viewer of Hustle would be able to spot a mile away: his actions, too, were his own. But I am pointing at society and how we men have shaped expectations.
   For I look at some male behaviour and they are entirely at odds with what a man should be.
   While examples like Douglas Bader might not resonate with young men today, because his example is too far back in history for them (the biopic is in black and white), surely we can find ones of humble men who accomplish great deeds and don’t have to go on social media to talk themselves up.
   Just tonight I was at a dinner for Merrill Fernando, the 89-year-old founder of Dilmah Tea, who was earlier today conferred an honorary doctorate by Massey University.
   When I asked if he was now Dr Fernando, he replied that he would still be Merrill Fernando, and that all the honours he had received—and they are plentiful—would never change who he was. His humility and his faith continue to inspire me.
   This is the mark of a decent and admirable man.
   And surely we can find examples where men aren’t being disrespectful to women and show us that that is the norm.
   Surely we don’t need to berate anyone who doesn’t fit the trogoldyte mould and use homophobic slurs against them.
   Because, chaps, I don’t believe what defines a man, a real man, a fair dinkum bloke, has actually changed, at its core, from what my Dad told me.
   There is room for the jocks, the geeks, the musos, the artists, the romantics, the extroverts and introverts, because we all have our strengths.
   One female friend of mine tells me that it’s safer for her to presume all men are jerks as her default position till proved otherwise, and I know fully why she would take that position. On social media she points to the ‘bros’, men who’ll gang up on women because they don’t like them for calling it as it is, or having a different viewpoint. In real life she has had unwanted attention, even after she tells them she’s queer.
   These men, the bros, the braggarts, the dick-pic senders, the liars, the bullies, the slanderers, are actually trying to change the definition of what a real man is—and that, to me, seems to be non-masculine, insecure and inadequate. We can do better—and history shows that we had done once.

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Fighting intolerance is the key to a tolerant society

01.04.2019

Hat tip to Mauricio Freitas. Source: Pictoline.

   Quite simple, isn’t it? I sense my parents’ generation (who were kids during WWII) would have understood this, but I worry about my generation and the ones following.

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Posted in culture, politics | 1 Comment »


It takes 10 years (and sometimes 50) for the establishment to wake up

28.11.2018


Given the topic of this post, some of you will know exactly why this still, from the 1978 Steve McQueen movie An Enemy of the People, is relevant. If you don’t know, head here.

Admittedly, I was getting far more hits on this blog when I was exposing Facebook and Google for their misdeeds. Of course I have less to report given I use neither to any degree: Facebook for helping clients and messaging the odd person who’s still on it (but not via Messenger on a cellphone), and Google as a last resort. I shall have to leave all this to mainstream journalists since, after a decade on this blog, it’s all finally piqued their interest.
   It also seems that my idea about pedestrianizing central Wellington, which appeared in my 2010 mayoral campaign manifesto (which I published in 2009) has finally reached the minds of our elected mayors. Auckland has a plan to do this that’s hit the mainstream media. I notice that this idea that I floated—along with how we could do it in stages, giving time to study traffic data—never made it into The Dominion Post and its sister tabloid The Wellingtonian back in 2009–10. Either they were too biased to run an idea from a candidate they “predicted” would get a sixth of the vote one actually got, or that foreign-owned newspapers suppress good ideas till the establishment catches up and finds some way to capitalize on it. Remember when their only coverage about the internet was negative, on scammers and credit card fraud? Even the ’net took years to be considered a relevant subject—no wonder old media are no longer influential, being long out of touch with the public by decades.
   To be frank, my idea wasn’t even that original.
   If you are on to something, it can take a long time for conventional minds to come round.

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The easy-to-spot signs of the social media racist

02.10.2018

As Twitter (and other social media) descend, what’s been interesting is seeing how many of us Kiwis aren’t being terribly original. No, I don’t exactly mean Dr Don Brash thinking that he can import US-style division into New Zealand wholesale without understanding the underlying forces that helped Donald Trump secure their presidency (in which case such attempts here will fail), but I do mean how later Tweeters hunt for keywords and arguments to defend institutionalized racism, sexism, and other unsavoury -isms, then use imported techniques because they saw on television that they worked overseas.
   I recall one not long ago who was evidently looking out for white male privilege, with some pretty standard Tweets prepared and an odd refusal to address fundamental questions—that sort of thing. There’s little point getting into a debate with nobodies who troll, and it’s all too obvious how they emerge on your radar.
   Once upon a time social media didn’t have these types, but then once upon a time, email didn’t have spammers. It’s the natural development of technology that humans tend to mess up pretty decent inventions. But, like spam, we find ways of dealing with it.
   Race was one that came up over the weekend. Now, if you’re against racism, it would stand to reason that busting false stereotypes would be something that you’d savour. Ditto if you’re battling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
   I’ve mentioned some of these before, e.g. ‘Asian drivers’ somehow being terrors on our roads, something that statistics don’t bear out. (Or, for that matter, the total lack of truth about ‘women drivers’, who are statistically safer than men.) Among tourists, we’ve established Australians and Germans are the two most dangerous groups. Food has been one that’s been on our minds lately, since my other half managed to find herself ill from eating at two occidental restaurants, and given the amount of research she’s done into the area, I’ll defer to her on the subject. Again it’s an area where I hear myths about Chinese food repeated ad nauseam.
   The thing is that busting stereotypes gives racists less to go on, less of a feeling of superiority, so they’ll begin countering. Women know full well when sexists attack, and racists follow the same pattern.
   A very funny chap sent two swear word-filled Tweets which—and this is the only interesting thing about them—were extracted fully right out of the racists’ playbook. I was only surprised that this was still going on in 2018, hence this blog post, since I thought these signs were so clear by now that no one would be daft enough to try them on.
   Their overriding message: dissing a western stereotype makes you a racist.
   Akin to the ‘I’m not the Nazi, you’re the Nazi’ Tweets and comments seen overseas, there was a suggestion that my lot was just as racist. Now, I don’t deny that any majority race in any country can be racist. It’s how I met one gentleman in Hong Kong who pointed out racism in a schoolbook that had a Filipina caricature—I reached out offering to help. Or calling out the treatment of Malays and Indians by certain business people among my own lot in Malaysia. When you’ve been the minority for most of your life, you can spot it, and you find it particularly tasteless when it’s perpetrated by your own race. (Thanks to #MeToo, it appears some men are getting better at calling out “locker-room talk”, too.)
   But this is a diversion meant to cloud the issues. The intent is to criticize the person (by their race) in order to devalue the argument they make, and not deal with the argument itself. They miss the irony of this and it actually validates your original point. If you can’t answer something civilly, then you haven’t answered it at all.
   In Tweet no. 2 (I wish I had taken a screen shot, as it has been deleted—I didn’t expect the cowardice) was a variation on ‘My best friend is Asian.’ This one was about his partner and stepchildren being Asian, and his own son, who is half-Asian, and how he considers himself Asian. Um, no, you’re not, not from the exhibited conduct, but it’s a feeble attempt to scramble to give his own position a status above yours. Again it’s not about addressing the argument (a classic move in social media), but about debasing the opposition. Another one to look out for.
   Now, if you really were to address this, wouldn’t your best friend being Asian, or having a child with Asian heritage, mean you have a stake in busting myths that could harm that person? That’s not something they really care about, even if it harms those supposedly closest to them. (And those of us in New Zealand have a negative history with the term ‘Asian’, so I doubt you’d actually use it in referencing your ‘best friend’. You’d actually know their heritage, whether it was Iraqi, Asiatic Russian, Japanese, Kazakh, or whatever.)
   Then there are the emotive overreactions, the falsely placed righteous moral indignation that this group is particularly good at. It’s to make you think (unconvincingly) that your statements have potentially offended not just the racist, but, shock, horror, all right-thinking people.
   Think about how a normal person would have reacted, and you have to conclude that no one jumps to uncontrollable shaking anger, the keyboarding equivalent of firing a gun as a result of road rage.
   There’ll be aspects of one or more of these in social media, and those who are combatting prejudice would do well to spot the signs.
   To me, these are signs of unstable characters, akin to an adult having a tantrum. Or they specifically fish for things to make them angry. Now, I don’t know how they dealt with their powerlessness ten years ago, but now they surf among us, hoping in vain to drag you to their level.
   So given they are still around, the local body elections next year are going to be interesting, because you don’t need the Dirty Politics crowd to coordinate it now: it’s a lot easier to provoke this dying group with fake news and let them run riot. On the other hand, it’s also a lot easier to spot them and see the conceit behind them.
   We’re a small enough country for most of us to know this by now anyway. Or so I hope.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


A three-decade time capsule hanging on my door

15.07.2018

There was an Epson bag hanging from the back of my bedroom door, hidden by larger bags. I opened it up to discover brochures from my visit to a computer fair in 1989 (imaginatively titled Computing ’89), and that the bag must have been untouched for decades.
   I’ve no reason to keep its contents (if you want it, message me before Thursday, as the recycling comes the morning after), but I wanted to make some scans of the exhibitors’ catalogue for nostalgia.
   Let’s start with the cover. It’s sponsored by Bits & Bytes. Kiwis over a certain age will remember this as the computer magazine in this country.

You can tell this is a product of the 1980s by the typesetting: someone couldn’t be bothered buying the condensed version of ITC Avant Garde Gothic, so they made do with electronically condensing Computers and Communications. In fact, they’re a bit light on condensed fonts, full stop, as they’ve done the same with the lines set in Futura.
   While the practice is still around, the typeface choices mark this one out as a product of its time.
   Inside is a fascinating article on the newfangled CD-ROM being a storage medium. Those cuts of Helvetica and Serifa are very 1980s, pre-desktop publishing. It should be noted that Dr Jerry McFaul remained with the USGS, where he had been since 1974, till his retirement. The fashions are interesting here, as is ITC Fenice letting us know that he’s speaking at the Terrace Regency Hotel, a hotel I have no recollection of whatsoever. I can only tell you that it must have been on the Terrace.
   The other tech speakers have a similar look to the visiting American scientist, all donning suits—something their counterparts in 2018 probably wouldn’t today. In fact, the suit seems to be a thing of the past for a lot of events, and I often feel I’m the oldster when I wear mine.
   The article itself makes a strong case for CD-ROM storage, being more space-saving and better for the environment: it’s interesting to know that the ‘depletion of the ozone layer’ was a concern then, though 30 years later we have been pretty appalling at doing anything about it.



   The second article in the catalogue of any note was on PCGlobe, supplied to the magazine on 5¼-inch diskette.
   Bits & Bytes would have run the catalogue as part of the main magazine, and did a larger run of these inner pages, back in the day when printing was less flexible.
   It’s a fascinating look back at how far we’ve come (on the tech) and how far we haven’t come (on the environment). Next year, we’ll be talking about 1989 as ‘30 years ago,’ yet we live in an age where we’re arguing over Kylie Jenner’s wealth. Progress?

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Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Are you close to quitting social media?

14.11.2017


Above: Just another regular day on Facebook: find more bots, report them, Facebook does nothing.

A friend asked today, for an article he is penning, whether we were close to quitting social media on his Facebook (I realize the irony). Here was my reply (links and styling added). What are your thoughts? Are the big social media sites coming to an end? We’ve definitely passed peak Facebook. Peak Twitter has been and gone, too, given that the platform now entertains 280 characters and has effectively said people who abuse its terms and conditions can stay if they’re newsworthy.

[Name omitted], here’s my take on it.
   I’m cutting back on Facebook for a number of reasons. The first is that this site doesn’t work. There are too many bugs, too many times when I cannot like, post or comment. Facebook has bragged about forcing people to download malware scanners (I can provide links) that have nothing to do with malware being on the user’s systems. I wrote this up on [m]y blog and tens of thousands have read it. While that’s not millions of users, that’s still a lot. And I think the reality is that millions are affected.
   Besides, Facebook has lied about its user numbers. As a business I can’t really support it. I have businesses I am involved in here where I don’t have a 100 per cent ownership, so those still spend. But when Facebook claims more people in certain demographics—millions more than in government censuses—then that is a worry.
   That leads me on to another point: bots. This place is full of them. I used to see more bots in my group queues than humans. I report them. In probably 40 per cent of cases, Facebook does nothing about them. So even for my businesses I wonder if there is any point posting here if I am getting a bot audience. My group numbers are shrinking in some cases, so I’m not alone in wanting out of this platform.
   And what more is there to share? I used to share photos but, frankly, I no longer can be arsed. I have Instagram for that, and that’s sufficient for me. My life is interesting but those who need to know already know. I will have seen them IRL. Just like the old days. There aren’t many things I want to update people on because my views on them haven’t changed hugely. Facebook is my Digg anyway, and has been for years. And if they carry out their promise to move news articles off the main feed (as they have done in some countries), then there’s no point sharing those either. You know statistically personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year on year for the last few years, so we are not alone.
   Twitter I have read your concerns about, but to me it’s the better platform for having a chat, but there I am incensed that there is a double standard. Politicians can stay and abuse people because Twitter says they’re newsworthy. Everything is newsworthy to someone. They should not be the arbiters of that. While I haven’t seen the level of outrage (must be the people I follow) that you wrote about a few weeks ago—if anything I find it better now than in 2013–14—it has become less interesting as a place to be. All platforms, as I might have said earlier, deterioriate: remember how good email was before spammers? Or YouTube without brain-dead comments? Or, for that matter, any online newspaper? They attract a class of non-thinkers after a while, immovable when it comes to rational dialogue. We cannot level the blame solely at social media, it is society. You quit this, then there is no reason not to quit Stuff, for example: poor writing, no editing, and the comments, oh the comments! Or life in general: you and I wouldn’t walk into a redneck bar and talk diversity to the locals. Therefore we wouldn’t frequent certain places on the ’net. It isn’t just social media we would avoid overall: there are millions of sites that we just wouldn’t venture to, and we have to ask where we would draw the line. And maybe, then, these platforms do have a place—but we watch our privacy settings, and we don’t look at the main feed.
   I have been advancing the idea of going back to long-form blogging anyway. You control who comments. You determine who you converse with. And if they made it through your post, then that took more intelligence than getting through a Stuff article, so at least you’re cutting out a certain type of person. Maybe the past is the future. We’re not hiding with those blogs, but we are setting the bar where we want it—and that might just deal with the problems you’ve observed in social media.
   There are sites like Blogcozy, a blogging platform inspired by the old Vox (before Six Apart shut it down). I’m on there a lot, I have a nice following of a few dozen trusted people, and it blends the best of both worlds: long-form writing with social networking, posts shared only with those I choose in my settings.
   In the 14 years I’ve blogged—a lot less than you—I’ve had decent comments, so maybe it is time to fire up our own platforms more and get eyeballs on our own work.

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Getting inspiration from Douglas Rushkoff

03.01.2017


John Nowak/CNN

I’ve had a 52 Insights interview with Douglas Rushkoff open in a Firefox tab for nearly half a year. It’s a fascinating piece, and I consider Douglas to be spot on with a lot of his viewpoints. I’ve revisited it from time to time and enjoyed what Douglas has had to say.
   Here are a few ideas I took from it. The italicized parts were added by me to the Medinge Group version of this post.

  • There are a lot of idealistic ventures out there, but to grow, often founders have to compromise them. It comes back to our thoughts at Medinge over a decade ago about ‘Finance is broken.’ Because of these compromises, we don’t really advance as much as we should, and some brilliant ideas from young people aren’t given the chance they deserve. This needs to change. We already have branding as a tool to help us, and we know that more authentic, socially responsible brands can cut through the clutter. When these ventures start up, brands are an important part of the equation.
  • How are governments going to fund this universal basic income if they themselves aren’t getting a decent tax take? It’s the same question that’s plagued us for decades.
  • Douglas sees ventures like Über to be the same-old: its customer really is its investor, and that’s not a new concept at all. It’s why we can’t even consider Über to be a good brand—and the tense relationships it often has with governments and the public are indications of that. It’s not, as Douglas suggests, even a driver co-op. It’s still all about making money the old-fashioned way, albeit with newer tools.
  • Worrying but true: some of the biggest companies in the world are required to grow because of their shareholders. As a result, they’re not creating sustainable revenue. ‘If you’re one of the top fifty biggest companies in the world and you’re still required to grow, that’s a real problem.’
  • Kids these days aren’t as into all this technology and social networks as we are. Thank goodness. When Facebook reports another billion have joined, you’ll know they’re BSing you and counting all the bots.
  • Many people see things as though they were created by God and accept them. Douglas gives the examples of Facebook and religion. I can add the capitalist and socialist models we have. If people believe them to be God-given, or natural, then they feel helpless about changing them. We need to wake people up and remind them these are human-made constructs—and they can be unmade by humans, and replaced with better ideas that actually work for us all.

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