Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

15 November 2013

A Story About Dishes

I was my parents' first kid. This is a tough role: they were nervous and wanted to raise me well, and they filled me with all the things they learned to fear, in adulthood and in immigration. My success became first-priority; my capacity to think before acting, crucial.

In short, they wanted perfection. It was an impossible mission, one I could never fulfil, but I don't blame them for that. They thought it was the best way to keep me floating, like a cork in an uncertain world.

When they left me home alone, I memorised words from the dictionary. In the car with my dad, we listened to success tapes. I was put in Gifted and Talented programmes, taught music, and I learned to fold laundry like an employee at the Gap.

But there's one night that stays with me. It comes to me sometimes in exchanges with clients, or when watching superiors deal with assistants or interns. The night is this one:

I was doing the dishes. The dishes were porcelain and we'd had roast chicken, an especially oily meal. I'd been at the washing so long that there was almost no hot water left, making de-greasing long and tricky.

My dad came up behind me, picked up a just-washed plate lying in the rinser, and held it up. "This isn't even close to clean," he said. "Couldn't you tell? Can't you feel it with your fingers?!"

My dad is a big and powerful guy. He could look at you wrong and you'd shrink a foot. But when he yells, it's something out of hell.

He went on like that: What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you think? Are you lazy? Do you think you're the only one living here?

The shouting got louder. My mother came into the kitchen and folded her arms, watching silently. My hands started to shake, and I tried very hard to focus on the dishes. I scrubbed harder, and stared at the white of the porcelain until it blurred.

My dad kept yelling. And in one of those terrible betrayals that your body sometimes makes when it buckles before your mind does, I dropped a dish.

The yelling got worse. He hit me with his go-to rebuke: "Stop screwing up! Only people who don't think screw up. Stop it! Can't you think?!"

I dropped another dish. Then another. It was like a really loud waterfall. Tears rolled down my cheeks; the yelling didn't stop, and the pile of smashed porcelain at my feet got bigger and bigger. I started to have weird thoughts: think of all the elephant statues somebody could make with those. They'd look so sad, white elephants stitched together like quilts. They'd be greasy. The moment felt surreal; I started to slip out of myself, and still I kept dropping the goddamn dishes.

Finally my mother said, "You're killing her concentration. Stop yelling."

My dad stopped, took one last hot breath, and walked away. Eventually I stopped dropping dishes, but the fear that rose in me in that moment has never left.

I live in perpetual fear of making mistakes: disappointing people when I don't mean to, failing to think far enough ahead or consider all the variables involved. I'm working on this, because I know that I get really tense and freak out everyone around me, but it's work I have to redo every day. Mistakes always suck, but even small ones are hard; I repeat them in my mind for days, weeks, sometimes years.

Sometimes people treat employees like my dad treated me that night. I don't know what they're seeking to achieve when they do. Experience, and that moment in the kitchen, taught me it's ineffective and even traumatising; it doesn't improve the job people do later on, and it certainly doesn't improve matters in the moment. Whenever it happens, and however much I know it's not about me, I still can't help thinking: did I fail to do enough? Is something wrong with me? Am I a broken human who sucks at life? And even if those thoughts (or variants thereof) look productive, they aren't. They sit there, eating me inside like cancerous bits, erecting thick walls that slowly start closing in on whatever other — potentially creative, potentially useful — thoughts are left.

When I manage people I put myself in their place before addressing a disciplinary issue. I try not to make them feel worse than the situation calls for; I try to be kind. And I try, very hard, not to expect perfection. People fuck up. They fuck up worse when you put them on eggshells and make them question their roles, their careers, their very existence in the universe.

Don't do this to people.

20 October 2013

Inklust #12: Thirsty Demons

It is chilling, in fact, the similarity between alcoholism and good ol’ fashioned demonic possession, the kind seen in The Exorcist. Like the devil, an alcoholic just wants to hide in his room, curse God, puke on visitors, and die. Attempts to cast out either alcoholism or the devil get the same response: both demon and disease will deny they exist. And when exposed, both will try to make deals to survive, or threaten suicide, or lash out, or play dead. Alcoholism is well described as a sickness of the soul because it is in the soul that the alcoholic’s problem lies.
— Luke Sullivan, Thirty Rooms to Hide In


What is "Inklust"? Boy am I glad you asked. Here's the manifesto: part I and part II.

11 October 2013

Inklust #11: Sacrifice

I wonder if Ibrahim’s palms were damp as he walked his son to the summit. Did he tell him they were going on a hike? Did he take water? I think he must have glared at the knife until his reflection was part of the blade. I think relief must have replaced his horror when he unsheathed his knife and recognized his face. He must have known that what he was to do was of such significance it had already become who he was, and so he offered both his son and himself to the kinzhal’s edge.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra

I think the biggest lesson my dad wanted to teach me — the one he still regularly reinforces — is his firm belief that we become what we think about. Being an engineer, he acted on this concept the best way he knew how: by ensuring my input was as diverse as possible. On the day I was born he ordered the complete collection of Encyclopaedia Brittanica and accompanying Great Authors series. Every year he bought a new dictionary for my birthday. He made me write down and map goals, and he still sends me newsletters or ideas he finds edifying. His entire approach to the mind revolves around keeping the software up to date.

On some level I guess we know that idea to be true: a single thought, the suspicion of a thing, or the significance of some future event can so affect us that we get chills, can almost literally feel ourselves transforming.

Scientifically the idea is sound. I've read a lot lately that we can change our synaptic patterns based on actions, new habits, new input, even thoughts. Synaptic pathways define who we are, generally speaking, during those autopilot moments when you're just feeling and reacting to things.

So next time you find yourself snagged in a debate about determinism versus free will, you'll have an explanation for why it's neither and both.


What is "Inklust"? Boy am I glad you asked. Here's the manifesto: part I and part II.

09 October 2013

On being industry groupies

Today in Things Media Bloggers Love that No One in the Real World Cares About, Telemundo's Peter Blacker called pirates "super-fans" and said they're wonderful to study, to help, and to use for optimising proprietary channels.

It was the most magnificent thing in all the world ... and it happened just three years after Matt Mason said companies should use BitTorrent to do just that.

SCENE: I return to the newsroom with stars in my eyes and twitchy livetweet-mangled hands.
Me: "I'm in love with Peter Blacker." 
Stu: "Does this mean I can have Cécile Frot-Coutaz all to myself?"  
Two days prior, we decided to be mutually in love with the CEO of FremantleMedia, who's whip-smart and deliciously bullish about OTTs like Netflix.
Me: "Yes. No... no, no, yes." 
Stu: "We can have a double wedding." 
Me: "Let's have a double wedding, then go on double dates until we die." 
Stu: "This is not at all creepy." (Checks watch.) "It's Katzenberg time." (Smiles apologetically, then abandons me.)

The speakers are so good this year! I wish they had trading cards.

07 October 2013

Scenes from MIPCOM

Me: "So the new formats weren't so fun?"

Stuart: "No. Although I guess I liked the idea of the men who've secretly admired a woman for a long time going on a date with that woman dressed as a rabbit. Oh, there's also the one where you try to stop a bull by grabbing it by the horns."

Meanwhile, on Twitter: "If you see the half-naked Wiccans pitching the sex cooking show we recently got pitched, DO let us know."

02 October 2013

NMA responds to Marina Shifrin's quit vid: why it's worth sharing. BONUS: an update on me.

I just saw the rebuttal video that NMA produced in response to Marina Shifrin's epic I-quit vid. It provided a lot of thinking juice.

Marina's video started a worthy discussion about what it means to go viral. I really like Benoît Raphaël's distillation (sorry, it's in French): that she suffers from a culture that's increasingly less about creativity and more about numbers, a familiar refrain in any creative career. But Benoît also points out that creativity and viral ambitions are not mutually exclusive; the problem Next Media Animation has is that it's a victim of having produced what, at the time, was an innovative model, and it's spent the last three years beating that horse dead.

NMA's rebuttal drove me to this article on Gawker, where a spokesman speaks honestly about Marina's departure and how it affected the company, and invites people to ask questions about how things really go on at NMA. I won't defend what he says about its 9-to-5 policy, overtime compensation or the trips and opportunities they offered Marina over the course of her time there. Departures are complex; there is never really one reason, or even two, and anyway we can't really know how she lived that professional experience.

But it was nonetheless heartfelt, worthy of reading, and it got me thinking about our responsibility in the viral equation. Questions of creativity and numbers (primarily producer/client concerns) aside, we also endorse and condemn when we share without taking a second to think about the complete ramifications of that small, not-so-trivial act.

Here's my full reflection on that. I hope you'll read it because I think it's worth a look.

Onto the personal (the UNCENSORED!, if you will). I don't write here much anymore, and there are lots of reasons for that, but here are the big ones:
  •  I'm doing more strategy work lately, which I really love
  • It's been a long time since I've been able to sit and distill whatever it is I'm experiencing
A few years ago I was doing the hardcore-blogger loop: 16-20 articles a day under tight deadlines. Like Marina, the people responsible for publishing my material put me under a lot of pressure to perform under growing demand, with fewer and fewer resources. It was around that time that writing started to feel less like a calling than a chore, and that I started seriously thinking about exiting the will-blog-for-food lifestyle.

Online blog/journalism is thankless, ephemeral and robotic; I've critiqued ads and written long articles that I don't even remember because my output was so high. So I decided to change course: focusing more on teaching companies how to express themselves online, building fulfilling and meaningful identities, instead of pumping words out at an Olympic pace.

I'm finally at the point where I do more strategy than blogging (although I do still copywrite, which is simultaneously more creative and more chill). But I miss taking the time to synthesise what I'm seeing and experiencing. It's an important activity, both for me and for people who care about the media, tech and ad industries. So I'm hoping that eventually I'll write more — and more importantly, to write things worth reading.

There are small, sporadic moments when I'll succeed — like today. And like today, I'll share those moments with you. I hope those moments become more frequent, and that you go on reading.

15 June 2013

On Getting the Point of Cannes Lions

We're a breath away from Cannes Lions, and it's usually around this time that everybody starts wondering what The Point of this conference (or even our jobs!) is. Is it Awards? Notoriety? The Networking* that may lead to a Better Job, Awards and Notoriety? 

I'm in freelance. We get no Awards and probably no Notoriety (unless maybe we write a book). So for me, The Point has to be something else.

I've been working in freelance for nearly seven years, only the last four of which involved Real Agency Work. One of the biggest things I learned when I actually got inside was how hard it is to do work you're proud of. All the vitriol people lobbed at me for critiquing their babies on Adrants suddenly made sense: when you've got crazy clients (vague briefs but high standards!), a political agency system, a fixed budget, and a pile of conviction-laden creatives in the mix, you just wanna go home at night

You don't want some coffee-fueled CPG epiphany to be your fucking cross to bear. Not when there's sleep to be had and children to (almost) watch grow up. Because this industry? It takes your whole life: complete sacrifice for cereal slogans, holding company positioning statements and the merits of Flash versus HTML5. If you go Joan of Arc every time things go pear-shaped, you really will lose your shit.

A certain freedom comes with the uncertainty of freelance. All that hopped-up agency madness? You can enjoy it for the lifecycle of a project, then peace out and take a nap. You can travel. You can do sports. If you're stuck on something, you can move onto another, then come back to it. You can say, "Catch you later, I'm going to Cannes Lions -- FOR MY BLOG!" and nobody can say "SIT YOUR ASS DOWN, THERE ARE NO AWARDS WAITING FOR YOU."**

Professionally, freelancers may not be part of a big agency network, but we do form groups: clients and other freelancers we look forward to seeing randomly throughout the year. It's more Lost Boys than Ogilvy, but it's people we like -- not the prickly ones you secretly hate and have to deal with every day until somebody finally leaves.

And it isn't just work relationships that bloom. I once thought there was no time for more than 3 reasonably good relationships in a life, but now the world seems full of people to go to dinner with, learn things from, collaborate with, and plan last-minute weekend picnics with. At any given time I feel a deep, meaningful intimacy with all of them. They aren't just local: with Viber, Gchat, iMessage, Twitter and Facebook, I feel intimately connected with people far away. Like my sisters. (Although the distance probably helps them like me more.)

The biggest tradeoff, though, is having to make your own success metric. It's hard to find; at an agency, you do a pipeline of good-to-great things, win awards, get promoted and maybe someday you'll be ECD. I don't deny I'd like that, and often wish I was drawing closer to (instead of farther from) it.

Now, work changes day by day; it's stuff that challenges and that I enjoy, so I don't question it or wonder what it's building to. But that Big Question -- what's the next step? -- seems secondary now.

At this point I feel strangely okay not knowing its answer. I realised today that while the projects are important, it's in great part because the people I've managed to cultivate in the Darwin Dice Toss of Freelance are so good. As long as I have time for them, and they for me, life seems full -- generous, even. The Bottom Line is no longer the metric, but it seems to take care of itself: it's hard to drown when there are so many hands around to grab you.

Then I thought, maybe this is The Point. The Point of Social: what we should be telling brands in the first place. The money, the endless search for more ways to penetrate a "consumer occasion", and the mind-numbing hammering of TV ads are not The Point. The people you can really touch, truly befriend, mean something to? That's where it is.

To make those connections, there are risks to take: a certain giving of yourself so that people can see what your insides are like. But in the commercial arena, that seven pounds of flesh will be withdrawn with or without your consent; it may as well be on your terms. Isn't it worth it? Because then you don't have to be scared. There'll be so many hands that you simply won't drown; at the worst of times they'll drag you kicking and screaming forward. They'll never lose faith if they can trust that you'll remember what The Point is.

Going into Cannes Lions, that enormously drawn-out stomach pump of an event, it's a reassuring thought. Talking to creatives high off a win (or close to one), they start waxing poetic about what they learned about people. Often the road to that insight was finally understanding something about themselves: I'm this way. I love this. I hate this. If the stars are aligned, you execute well and production and timing are just right. And like good comedy, this tiny propped-open window into your own naked and trembling subconscious yields an unanimous universal AHA! -- and for a breathtaking second you feel like you're holding hands with the entire fucking world

It's precious. That connection, the birth of something worth cultivating? That's The Point. And it nourishes the entire ecosystem.***


*Running into that Stockholm ECD who had an Alky Nap on your porch last year?
**They probably want to, though.
***It is true, however, that for every inspiring storyteller you come across there'll likely be a troupe of Certified Douchebags waiting to claim him. Our industry is rife with these and they are merely an occupational hazard. Make like a freelancer and RUN AWAY.

Running List of What My Parents Have Offered Me to Get Me to Come Back to America

  • Adult onesie
  • Trip to Waterworld
  • Gummy bear multivitamins
  • Peanut butter
At one point or another, these have all seemed like very effective reasons.

28 March 2013

Digital Detox

“You are now entering a technology and device free zone. Please refrain from using your cellphone inside this space. The use of WMDs (wireless mobile devices) is not permitted.” Word about the Device Free Drinks party, billed as an occasion to “enjoy a few hours off the grid,” had spread through Facebook and other social media ... and drew about 250 participants. But asking people to surrender their digital tethers at the door still required some coaxing...
- Andy Isaacson, "Learning to Let Go: First, Turn Off the Phone",
The New York Times

Eight years ago a much older friend said, "One day, only the rich will be able to disconnect." Hipsters off Union Square are hardly the richest slice of the populace, but their little Digital Detox shindig captures the spirit of his idea: disconnecting has become some novelty thing you do in a club over drinks with other giddy friends eager to "experiment".

But what really got me was the party's structure: little activity stations encouraged you to type, draw and chat in "analog" ways that, in order to reassure (or be relatable), still bore traces of the digital world: you didn't just draw; you drew profile pictures. And what would you type at the typewriter station, if not a tweet? Finally, perhaps for the most adventurous, a jar labeled "Digital Detalks" included strips of paper with questions you could ask others in order to start a conversation.

I remembered a scene from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In the book, the US government is overthrown by a theocratic conservative extremist group, under which women lose most rights, including the right to read, and people's lives become tightly regimented. The country's name is changed to the Republic of Gilead. At some point the protagonist, a "handmaid" or concubine for a wealthier couple, finds herself at an underground party where people wear makeup, dance and dress the way they did before the Republic was established. There is something sad, desperate and deeply caricatural about the way people at the party interact, as they draw mainly from memories of how they used to behave -- memories that grow less unreliable and more cartoonish with time.

The purpose of a Digital Detox party is to remind us of the importance of establishing and maintaining real non-digital connections, but part of doing that is remembering how it's done. I guess that's why the activities, so heavily (if playfully) inspired by our digital lives, struck me as imaginative but sad: have we come so far that the only way we can be cajoled into drawing is by using the template of profile pictures? Or by pulling talking-points out of a jar...?

What'll a party like this look like 10 years from now, or even five? Maybe we'll only be able to paint if the utensils are arranged like Photoshop features: life's cheap imitation of digital. And I thought the iBook page-turner feature was sad.

I'm being glib. All this is to say don't let yourself get so disconnected from reality that you need a themed party to explore the concept. (I'm saying this for me, too: I'd be the first in line at a Digital Detox to turn my phone in ... then cry.) Digital will penetrate every aspect of our lives -- and our bodies -- soon enough. So soon, in fact, that once it's arrived we'll have no time to turn back and remember what the world was like before, much less ask ourselves what we've lost for this gain.

We're running out of time to relish in the freedom we really do still have. Why surrender it so readily?

03 March 2013

CentUp: Making Change for a Little Change

If you haven't already heard of CentUp, you will. Co-founded by our friend Len Kendall, it's an opportunity to improve content produced by hard-working folks like YOU (and US!) while paying a little forward to charities making change around the globe.

How it works: Alongside your standard sharing buttons, blogs and other content sites will have the option to add a CentUp button. If you like what you've read or seen, you can toss a few cents to the content provider; half of what you give will go to a worthy charity. It's that simple.

You have just 40 hours to contribute funds to CentUp's launch on IndieGogo. Take advantage; we think they're worth it, and not even just because Len proposed to his fiancée via meme.

01 March 2013

Girl-on-Girl Violence + the Danger it Poses to 'Feminism'

"Dare. Change", an ad for Peruvian clothing brand Saga Falabella. It is old but captures the spirit of this post nicely. It's a symphony of modern womanhood: our own battle with the timidity and shame that's strong enough to stay that next step. And when we do dare to fight those feelings, it's beautiful, right? So we should all get up and clap, right? So why don't we?

So Sheryl Sandberg, who's enormously wealthy and successful, published a book called Lean In, which is supposed to help women achieve career success in the context of a sexist environment.

This sounds politically charged, but it isn't. Any woman who has been in any primarily-male workplace ever has likely been made to feel uncomfortable, put down, come onto, or passed over for reasons that somehow tie back to her gender. It is not something I or any of us really complain about, it just is, and among the many talents of being a career woman is learning how to dissuade people, change perspectives, or find other loopholes to achievement without making this a "gender" thing. Because making this a "gender" thing can result in the worst alienation of all.

That is just life in the workplace today, and there are plenty of reasons why it is thus, and they are not really the subject of this post.

I haven't read Lean In, but I did read an enormous number of angry reviews about it -- most written by women. There have been so many, in fact, that Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast wrote a takedown of these critics, arguing that they're "aimed less at what the book says than at who Sandberg is."

Sandberg, as I mentioned above, is now filthy rich. I don't know if she was born rich, but she certainly wasn't born COO of Facebook. (Or VP at Google, or a Harvard MBA.) That happened later. When she was small, she went to public school, like a lot of us, and studied hard. That's something lots of women can relate to.

It's understandable that many women now feel she's out of touch with your average chick on the rise, but this isn't a critique we make of wealthy men who write success how-tos. Some also tout Sandberg's "war on moms", despite Sandberg repeatedly expressing respect for mothers. As Goldberg nicely puts it, "Her message isn’t that all women need to be corporate executives or high-powered lawyers or political leaders. It’s that we’d be better off if more corporate executives, high-powered lawyers, and political leaders were women."

Why did the book, or the idea of the book, piss so many girls off? I'm gonna cite Goldberg (and Sandberg) one more time before getting to my point:
Women are conditioned to compare themselves with one another. When we’re not wholly at peace with our own choices—and who is?—those comparisons sting. “There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions,” Sandberg writes. “As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken. Guilt and insecurity make us second-guess ourselves and, in turn, resent one another.”
All this got me thinking of girl-on-girl violence: its insidiousness, its ugliness, and the way it hurts women: as children, as teens, as adults.

In college I learned about female genital mutilation (FGM) -- from a woman, who was French, and who taught it through an optic that a male American sociology teacher wouldn't have. This is what was most telling about that lesson: studies and journals reviewing the act of female circumcision find that it is the women who most often perpetuate the tradition today.

I'm not taking the blame off men, who obviously got the ball rolling on this bad-boy. But give it a generation or two, and they don't have to do a thing. When you're a young girl in a culture that embraces FGM, the pressure you'll feel is from the women, who tell you that your honour is tied to this act. A woman is often also the one who orchestrates the circumcision.

It's the same with slut-shaming in high school: the trauma associated with being called a "slut" usually finds its roots in other girls. I was a "slut" in high school: girls gave me that name, it had nothing to do with promiscuity, and there was nothing I could do about it. I'll venture to say that the adult female equivalent of those chicks who sullied your reputation because they didn't like how you dressed is today's "war on moms" instigator. She's not the only species, but this is the one that rears its ugly head in the Sandberg story.

Working mothers sometimes, and guiltily, lament that the toughest thing about going to PTA meetings are the stare-downs from the "stay-at-homers". They get this enormous sense that they aren't really doing their jobs as "real" mothers because they haven't made that same 24/7 commitment. I'm sure that stay-at-home moms also feel pressure, intentional or not, from women who seem to be able to "do everything", even though we all know this is never the case: nobody can do everything. There is no choice that's easier to make than any other, particularly when it comes to how you're negotiating your household.

All this shit about Sandberg has been needlessly tied to "feminism" and how she's somehow hurting The Cause, but I'm going to argue that anytime a woman hates on a life choice some other woman made, however different the path, that is what hurts feminism.

Like Sandberg I had trouble calling myself a "feminist" because the word is loaded. A lot of people look at me stupid and say feminism is just about believing that women are equal beings, and that's just dandy. I'm all for equal beings. But I also know that identifying as a "feminist" carries a lot of baggage that I'd rather not be associated with: abusing women you don't consider to be "feminist" is one of the biggest. But it's really just the same old demon: garden-variety girl-on-girl violence. The act is so prevalent that some women pride themselves on "having no girl friends" or being "unable" to get along with women -- they think it makes them look less passive-aggressive and more pragmatic. That is a shame, but it's also not their fault: women can be vicious to other women.

At Berkeley, some women behaved like I was carrying the patriarchy on my shoulders because I shaved my legs and wore high heels (I had a job at an office, which I usually ran off to after school). They whispered about me in class and gave me mean looks when I walked into a room. That was pressure I didn't need to feel; it's not like I was doing it to please some guy back home on some tigerskin rug by the hearth (and if I was, who cares?). I like to shave my legs, and I like it more than not shaving my legs. We can go into why I feel that way and the history of hair removal and constricting footwear and how it's all very patriarchal, but this post is not about that either.

In this life, you pick your battles, and you decide who you're comfortable being based on an unending number of negotiations with yourself and with the society at hand. There are no easy decisions. So why fight each other over the ones we did or didn't make?

Being a woman, and making another one feel terrible about some choice you would never have made, is not a constructive or empowering act -- the feelings that should fuel feminism. It's demeaning and shaming -- the emotional WMDs that keep patriarchy ticking. It's a vicious, horrible thing we've been taught to do to keep other women in line, and it improves the lot of exactly no one, including the perpetrators, who feel just as shitty as the perpetrated do.

So ladies, lay off Sandberg. If you don't like her book and don't feel it applies to you, then you're in luck: you don't have to read it, change who you are, or wage some misguided war to protect the honour of Women Like You. It doesn't have to be any of your damn business. And if you read the book and didn't like it, write about the contents of the book. Don't write about Sandberg. We don't need to invent another cafeteria slut.

On Being Fired from a Really Visible Perch

I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you.
-- CEO Andrew Mason of Groupon gets fired.

Also, I love that he starts it with "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today." A little legerity in a rough situation never hurt anyone.

28 February 2013

And for tonight's insomnia-fueled reflection...

It sometimes freaks me out when GDocs says someone else is looking at my doc ... and that other person is me.

21 February 2013

If ever you're tempted by such an offer... deserve what you get: bought friends* with zero investment in you.

Seen on.


*Probably just robots, actually, mixed with a couple of mercenary guys that nobody can make any sense of.

09 February 2013

Content: The King that's Usurping You

How many of these do you actually need more context for?

Today I had a conversation with my boyfriend about Pinterest. We were discussing it in the context of the idea that the US is the only place in the world where companies consistently blossom into million -- or even billion -- dollar entities without making a dime worth its weight. This isn't something that really happens in Europe. Part of it is culture but a lot of is also comes down to lack of a unified market of US proportions and lack of an ever-replenishing investment ecosystem.

This isn't to say it's altogether great to throw money at companies that don't make any back. Most such investments end up duds (consider all the hyper-funded Twitter spinoffs), but many -- Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flipboard -- flourish until they're fixed utilities in the culture -- and then they have to learn to make money. But learning to make money once you're flush and loaded with employees and resources is very different from learning to make money when you're living on ramen and coding in the dark.

When a crazy-sounding valuation claim gets made, people naturally start thinking about the company's roadblocks to market stability. The Man pointed out that one annoying problem Pinterest has is dying links. Pinterest has effectively made it so that the image -- a single piece of supplementary content pulled out of its natural context -- becomes more powerful than its source site. Pinterest sends piles of clickbacks to the parent sites that host its images, which increasingly benefits e-retailers -- but in the end, click-throughs happen way less often than shares of the image they're hosting. Indeed, the image can go on being shared long after the site's gone dead, even if it was only meant to be a teaser.

Of course this is problemic in the sense that it makes Pinterest host to what are essentially dead links -- pretty ones, but nonetheless non-functioning. That can be really disappointing when you've Pinned a recipe, and, once ready to prepare it, click through to the site only to discover that the page is busted. Something should be done about this -- maybe a little red flag in the corners of images that can show you with a quick skim which host sites are no longer functioning. But in the end people don't really care about most of the host sites that kindly provided all that eye candy.

All this speaks to a phenomenon that's way more interesting. I don't think Pinterest is worth $2.5 billion, but I will say this: along with Tumblr -- which did for written content what Pinterest does for images -- Pinterest effectively proves that content can live on and bring people value independently of its host.

Once you've published an article and the image that accompanies it is Pinned, the image suddenly carries a shareable value that supersedes your written work -- and your site -- entirely, even if it continues to send you traffic and readership. In the universe of Pinterest, the image no longer needs you: it can live on, getting discovered again and again, while the rest of you can be taken or left.

05 February 2013

#AdBowl Winners + Losers in 5 Short Paragraphs.

Find my above-mentioned Super Bowl recap here. (Sorry, I know it annoys you to click through one more time, but I really want Google's spiders to love AdVerveBlog as much as I do. So there.)

I feel guilty about posting it so late, especially because so many ad pundits -- who stayed up all night and published way earlier -- shared my same views but with a lot more detail. (Token mentionables: TheSkimm's roundup and basically everything Adfreak's doing.) But it's kind of a bitch to do the live #AdBowl from abroad: it's a 6-hour time difference and for obvious reasons I can't actually see the commercials on TV -- which was my favourite thing about doing this in the first place. My main shtick now is sitting around online and furiously hitting "refresh" as other people Tweet and liveblog the event from the comfort of their chicken wing-infested living rooms. So I sat this one out, watched The Hobbit with a giant plate of brownies, and revisited all the ads after the fact.

Last night I played with the idea of going Hardcore Purist and just skipping the whole damn thing. Actually, I'd been thinking about it for weeks. In the end, I couldn't. The Super Bowl is the one time in the year when rowdy, drunk family members are as into the ads as I am, and I miss that rare sense of community that wed us, like the pigskin itself.

When you're an expat you take what you can get from afar and sometimes you just have to sit stuff out. But that doesn't make me forget how much I love being in on this, and how badly I want the ads to be good.

Aaaand I'm not really sure what I'm trying to justify so I'm gonna go ahead and stop writing. Catch you guys later.

03 February 2013

Super Bowl Ads are 'Cheap'.

By designating the Super Bowl as the Super Bowl of advertising, Madison Avenue has created something utterly unique: A national media event where people beg the room to quiet down so they can hear branded messages brought to them by multinational corporations.

At $4 million, that's not a rip-off. It's a steal.
- Derek Thompson, "Super Bowl Ads Are Still Super Cheap: $4 Million for 30 Seconds Is a Bargain", The Atlantic

However you justify this cost, and there are many ways to justify it, I still think it's irritating and irresponsible to insist a price as dramatically inflated as that of the Super Bowl is bargain-bin cheap. It's irresponsible in the same way adults used to tell us college is cheap when you consider the reward, even though the United States suffers the world's most inflated and unjustifiable university costs, and living rooms across Manhattan are littered with babysitters bearing law degrees.

I love college and the Super Bowl; there are immense benefits to both if we invest in them wisely and thoughtfully. But to call them cheap, to suggest we should be raring to throw our cash onto the table and partake willy-nilly in some kind of once-in-a-lifetime bull's harvest? Let's not get drunk on our goddamn Kool-Aid. This assertion -- that they're bargains -- makes the expense sound less like a calculated risk, which merits strategic reflection, than an aggressive jeer against those too stingy, too poor or too stupid to leap facefirst into boiling water.

But whatever. Justified or not, for $4M a :30 pop I better have sponsored sparkles in my eyes by the time tonight's game is over. Which is pretty likely, if only because of this:

24 January 2013

There was only one social network … but most of your friends died of dysentery.

Microsoft's produced an Internet Explorer ad that ties an audience of hipsterfied "individuals" to the decade that unifies them: the '90s. Yeah, you may have novelty shoes now, but you still played Oregon Trail, didn't you?

It's the one MSFT ad in a decade that makes you smile -- and not ironically. It may even make you long for the period when times were simpler and Microsoft was, indeed, the shit (the whisper between the lines). If a fond reminder of neon green DOS commands had been tossed in here somewhere, it wouldn't have been out-of-place.

The ad wraps with an invitation to try the new Internet Explorer -- a browser that's grown up, like you. And while the finale music is triumphant and warm, we're brought back to the Current State of Affairs with almost alarming rapidity.

Yeah, we've grown up. We can't try the new IE, because Microsoft's cut it away from the generation that opened its doors and wallets to Mac ... although we still have to reverse-optimise online products for clients that still use IE6, which doesn't endear us to the brand either. Our Word docs still crash and the usability of Surface tablets make us cringe. Our everyday loves and losses revolve around Android and App Store apps. And if we even bother to remember a browser that marks this period, it'll probably be Chrome or Firefox, because they're part of the brigade that constructed the ruling user experience alongside us, instead of forcing us to play by constricting, bug-ridden yardsticks.

Looks like the only thing we have left in common today, old friend, is a general dissatisfaction with what the other's grown into. No hard feelings; that happens. The only problem is, looking fondly back on old times may be fun for a night, but it won't save a relationship. That's another thing we learned growing up.

Via and via and originally posted here.

04 January 2013

What It Is to Be American

When I lived in the US I thought I knew what it was to be American. I was comfortable with it; there were things I disdained and things I generally liked, things I rebuked -- like having to drive everywhere -- and things I knew I couldn’t live without -- like how easy it is to get curly fries, anywhere, at any time of day or night.

I once read that the Lost Generation, our fabled and beloved American writers of the ‘20s, were able to write so well about America -- not because they were in Paris, but because their time outside taught them to see home with new eyes. I suppose that was one draw for leaving. I had a vague suspicion that would happen to me, but didn’t really see how it could. I thought, like an adolescent, that I knew who I was and how the world worked.

But I left anyway. January 12th will mark my fourth year in Paris. Some years flew by less quickly than others, and I often feared I’d lose my ties to the US: to friends, work opportunities, my culture and my family. But technology has sprung up around us to bind ties I thought I’d lose.

I changed a great deal. There are things about Paris, and about the French, that I had to embrace in order to do that. I sometimes worried I’d lose myself, then learned that if you open yourself to a place, and to being changed by it, you can’t lose yourself: you are simply transformed, richer in nuance and in depth than if you had fought yourself stagnant. You are more yourself than ever.

I know for certain that in the four years since I arrived in Paris I became a woman, and a very different one from the one I would have become in California or New York. It isn’t just a question of environment; it is also about what the culture passes along to you: how the people, the movies, and the media teach you to become an adult in this society. There were shaky moments: I sometimes wondered, while choosing a scarf or when foregoing rice in the interest of bread, whether I was nullifying some aspect of me that I needed to protect. There were misses: I still don’t get French comedians. And no matter how many movies or YouTube videos I watch, I’ll never fully grasp the nostalgic pop culture or other reverberations of recent past that colour the language, humour and identity of the Parisians of my generation.

And of course there were successes: I was incorporated into families and made friends. People started expecting me places. I was, as the French are so fond of saying, integrated. I learned, again, how to dress myself: what suits me best in the culture, how to integrate what I like with what makes sense here, and where to find that mix. (This is surprisingly one of the toughest nuts to crack when you move somewhere new for a long period of time.) I learned, all over again, how to buy shampoo, take care of my body, eat and sleep. The products are different here; the rhythm is, too. Having to stumble through all this again made me feel like a lost adolescent in the Personal Care aisle. I puzzled over what to take for a headache or a cough, what deodorants were best, and what to put in my hair. Because in this new climate, with its harder water and different kinds of food, everything I thought I knew about my body changed.

I changed inside, too. I noticed different things, began to think in different ways. Language isn’t just about being heard; it’s a framework for thought, with its own rhythm and history. In another language you are forced to think in a different way: the sentence constructions and rules of grammar are different, forcing your brain to perceive things twice: the way an Anglophone would, then the way a Francophone would. The logic behind each approach is different, sometimes diametrically opposed (a good example is how both cultures believe in the separation of church and state, but approach the problem in ways that are opposite in the extreme). Then, as you grow comfortable with manifesting words in your new tongue, you go back to perceiving things just once … and what becomes hard is remembering how you saw them in your native way.

I sometimes forget words, or how to turn a small, niggling phrase in English. Culture author Mark Tungate once told me he goes out of his way to read books in English for this reason. “We do it to protect our craft,” he emphasised. “If we lose our mastery of it, we lose our livelihood.” That’s something I never would have learned at home.

But I think most telling is what I’ve learned about being American. The French relationship to Americans is complicated, distinctly love/hate, and I’ve concluded it’s because we’re much too similar. As a much wiser person once said, “Americans have to win and the French hate to lose.”

Many of our cultural differences resonate in my workdays: the adoption of new technology is more rapid in the US; the French take their time, and I know we can’t always afford that luxury when opportunity arises. What the French are only coming to realise is that markets can no longer remain local, taking the time to grow in their bubbles, particularly online. You’re competing with everyone, catering to everyone, the moment you open your doors. It’s too easy to say Americans understand this intuitively; the truth is, we don’t have to. We speak the world’s business language and have one of the largest, most influential markets in existence: what flies in the US will likely fly globally, simply because we’re fortunate enough to have a culture that’s built to export. We also have a generous investment ecosystem that keeps ideas of merit in business for years before they turn a profit. This simply doesn’t exist in Europe.

As I struggled to keep sight of myself, even as I transformed, the French are struggling to maintain identity in a world that now threatens to leave them behind. Even its prime industries are suffering: luxury, fashion and wine are no longer an exclusively French export, and seldom now do we need a French name on a product in any of those three categories to feel sure about its quality. Simplicity, efficiency, and the importance of tight yet ever-evolving UX design are intuitive to a connected American; it is less so in a country that values deep reflection over immediacy, protectionism over autonomous action and tradition over an uncertain future.

French journalist Pascal Lechevallier of recently gave me a simplified description of the difference between Americans and the French. “In America you talk with ease about technology because it’s part of your education; in France we talk with ease about wine because it is part of our education. You can be French and talk about technology, and you can be American and talk about wine … but you will never be fluent.”

I don’t know yet if that’s true; I think it’s too early to be sure. I think the primary takeaway is that what we find is self-evident really comes down to the education our culture imparted to us. But I remain optimistic that, however painful this transition is, and however long it takes, France will change. It must, even if it makes terrible mistakes first. Here I demonstrate two distinctly American qualities that I love and deeply value: optimism and openness to failure.

Failure is instructive. It isn’t in my nature to face failure with relish, just as it isn’t in my nature to be gregarious and extroverted. These are things I learned were important, despite myself, because I grew up in the Bay Area. I don’t particularly care about the last two; France gave me a gift in showing me it isn’t wrong to be reserved, inside myself and slow to warm to others. (I often felt it was in the States.) But I do recognise that some qualities, however natural, are best tempered: I make an effort to be open to failure, because I have had to fail so much to get here. Early on, failure felt like condemnation; it is only recently that I’ve learned it’s just another wave in a wide ocean, and the trick is less to take waves personally than it is to learn to read them.

In Paris I’ve met creatives who believe in the industry and want to move their clients forward and embrace new technology, even though many large European clients still wave social media away. They call it trendy. Or, too often, they’ll give social media a cursory nod -- start a Facebook page, say -- but remind their agencies not to get too “crazy”: they don’t want to deal with users, they don’t want to change their products.

I’ve met startup founders here that know the European VC space is conservative and tight-fisted, that the market isn’t open to change right away, and that the French government is generally hostile to the entrepreneurial spirit -- maybe, as Gerard Depardieu and Maurice Levy believe, hostile to success in general.

The dreamers are nonetheless here, ready to take risks and compress the fear that comes with fighting a tide so much larger than any I fought, having grown up near Silicon Valley -- where societal condemnation comes not from being ambitious but from lacking the ambition to create something for yourself. That’s pressure I recognise. But it doesn’t compare to having to step outside your comfort zone and try dragging your country, kicking and screaming, into the new world order. Their jobs aren’t easy, and few can blame them when they throw their hands up and leave France.

I’m often asked, “Why are you here when you could go back to where change happens so easily?”

It’s true I didn’t make life easy for myself by moving to France, and it certainly wasn’t the career move of the century (although it’s changing every day, and for the better). Things are easier, smoother and faster in the US, particularly if you’re young, hungry and talented. And I often miss the competence and certainty I felt at home, the optimism in the air, the positivity that radiates from Americans because, in the end, "complainers don’t win".

But I stay because of the things that make me American. I’ve mentioned optimism, and having to face the fear of failure head-on. We’re also good at sharing, unafraid of losing what we put out into the open: our culture, even our language, is open-source. We want to impart our learnings, and we believe that the ecosystems we live and work in are better for it.

We try to stay positive, even against terrible opposition. As a small example, I’m often teased for calling a concert, a movie or a bloody web mockup “fantastic” or “awesome”.

“Sorry,” my friends -- sometimes even my clients! -- will say to unacquainted companions. “She’s American.” In France you critique first and ask questions later. It’s easier to say something is not that great than it is to be wrong -- or worse, in bad taste.

We seek friends in strangers. We tell the stories of our lives openly, trying earnestly to expand our positive connections in the world. I’m often told I ask too many personal questions or share too much. But I wouldn’t exchange discretion for the life’s wisdom I’ve accrued on plane rides, in cabs, from waiters or old women at the bus stop. They have given me life experience I didn’t have to sweat for -- an immeasurable gift -- and I am always trying to pay that back.

We try new things. Maybe a little too readily. Christophe Asselin, a native Frenchman who now leads ad:tech London, laughingly told me that the difference between the US and Europe lies in their attitudes toward the new. “Americans are always so quick to adopt. They rush into things, they make all the mistakes. We watch, we wait.” We may make all the mistakes, but that’s gold: those are where the best practices lie. You can make lots of money remaining just behind the cutting edge, but we crave the cutting edge itself. Like infants experiencing a world of new senses, we simply want to try.

We like solutions. One of the toughest things I had to do in France was adjust to how everyone complains all the time. It is literally the world’s most pessimistic country. They complain about the weather, about the upholstery, about the service … they complain to make conversation. “If you’re not complaining,” a colleague once told me, “you’re not alive.”

It wore me out in the first year, and with time I figured out why: Americans are taught, first not to complain, and secondly to find solutions. My brain was constantly at work, proposing solutions to problems that had none, because nobody wanted any. Once I understood this, it was easier to bear the barrage of complaints and to take them in good humour. But even today, when someone approaches me with a complex problem, I still relish in the work of gathering the variables, looking at all sides of it, trying to find the key.

Finally, we mean well. A favourite critique of Americans is that we barge into situations, disputes, societies, whole countries that aren’t our own, then start throwing money around and trying to “fix” things without first gathering sufficient information. There are often terrible consequences to this; I’ll be the first to make that concession. I have always been a fan of “information as artillery”. But I also know we do it out of some fundamental conviction that we can help lift a burden, or out of hope that we can provide an unexpected, never-before-considered solution. Even if I would change the approach, I wouldn’t change the spirit of the gesture: we like to be helpful.

If I remain here it isn’t because I love my home country less -- although, as in the case of the Lost Generation, I do see it with more critical eyes, which I nonetheless associate with love. I’m here because I feel there’s still work to do connecting our two cultures, and because I still want to do it. It’s the challenge I accepted, and I’ll either succeed or fail. I’m here because I believe that my American perspective is useful to clients making baby steps in social engagement (we made the mistakes already!), and because I believe France will meet the changing world halfway. It has no choice. But it does need people who want to help carry the load.

I’m here because I’m American, and I want to give France what it gave me: openness to change, and the sense that if we surrender ourselves to the process, we’ll come out fuller, not less rich. If that sounds naive or arrogant, I’m okay with that: those, too, are American qualities.