Homayoon, on Friday night

I sat across the small round eat-in-kitchen table from him as I had been doing most Friday evenings during the years we lived in Indiana. We’d drive the kids over after work for dinner with my in-laws on the west side of Indianapolis. It was the closest feeling I had of living in a family compound with an extended family all around us. Most of the time a revolving set of cousins and family friends would join us for drinks, dinner and tea. Sometimes it was just us.

My father-in-law was an understated person, soft spoken and economic with his words. That evening as we sat together he was fixated on piecing together fragments of music he was replaying in his memory. Every now and then a melody would break from his lips, he’d tap a rhythm on the table with his fingertips of his right hand and the palm of his left. He gazed someplace over my right shoulder, humming and tapping, trying to align the sequences as he remembered them.

When he and I would be alone in the kitchen after we’ve all eaten and washed the dishes, and most of the family had gathered in the living room to drink tea and watch TV, he’d occasionally ask me a small-talk question such as “how was work today?” I knew not to complain about work. I knew not to complain about anything as he never complained about anything. I usually tried to steer the conversation to his life before he was married, before he arrived in the states. Having been born in 1930 he had seen a world in transition. Still, he’d tell his stories in a contrite and undramatic fashion, very matter-of-fact reporting though the subjects of the stories were far from boring.

That night he wasn’t annoyed, though if you didn’t know him you might mistake his remoteness for frustration. But he wasn’t that kind of person and his friends knew that. He was often doing equations of sorts in his mind, analyzing a musical tone, a colloquial phrase, a poor translation or use of a word. A vowel sound. A minor key.

Once, during a Friday night visit, he turned to me and said, “Listen to the ‘O’ sound in the word ‘dog’ when saying ‘hot dog.’”

“Hot dog.” I said.

“Hot…dog,” he replied, slowly, as if teaching me to speak for the first time and hot dog would be my first words.

“Hot. Dog.” I stated slowly.

“Hot dog,” he re-stated, “there are only a few times in American english where that ‘O’ sound occurs.”

Once, during a family trip to London, he handed me a small somewhat furry bean. We were sitting on the enclosed porch of a connected home in Mill Hill. He peeled the surface layers away to reveal a familiar pale brown shell that looked like an oval duck’s beak.

“Pistachio,” he claimed.

“Pistachio,” I questioned?

“Pistachio,” he defined. His eyes sparkled, he slapped my shoulder.

As I sat across from him that Friday night, while he was figuring out the melody in his mind, I asked him about his time in the Iranian army during the 1950s, when there was great tension between factions of the government. He’d typically oblige, but he didn’t want to talk about it that evening. He felt I was asking him to be boastful. Instead he surfaced a familiar refrain, “I’m just a simple person, like a small stone on a pile of similar stones.” He was regularly humbling himself, possibly a remnant of his studious practice of Islam as a young man. “I am just a small stone…” he started again and I interrupted him.

“No you’re not.” I said pointedly. He lowered his gaze from over my shoulder and to my eyes. He stopped drumming his fingers. He paused whatever orchestration he had accomplished in his mind.

“What do you mean?” He asked, quietly and slightly antagonistic.

“Everybody, anybody you ask would say that you are not a simple person.”

“I see,” he leaned back in his chair, “and who exactly would this ‘anybody’ be? Who would you ask?”

“You’re not a simple stone, you’re more like one of those stones in the natural history museum, they look simple on the outside, but when broken open they reveal gems and crystals.” I was sincere.

“Well…“ he started, questioning my metaphor.

“Not everyone is like you, I’d say there are simpler stones than you…”

He interrupted me with a heavy sigh, a resignation. His shoulders dropped a little.

“Let me tell you a secret,” he continued, “when you believe in who you are on the inside, have trust in what you truly are, then your friends will see your insides as if they are your outsides. I am still a simple stone, I just know what I am on the inside (he raised his hands a little from the table and turned them palms up) and live my life.”

He paused and took another deep breath.

“One day,” he continued, “sometime in the future, I will be tossed back on the pile of similar stones and no one will ever know what I was on the inside, but if I believe in myself and live my life the way I think is right, then at least I can try to leave the world a little bit better than the world I was born into.”

With that he raised his gaze once again, as if he spotted a bird or a flower over my right shoulder. The song returned to his mind and he began singing the complete melody while tapping the rhythm on the table top. Then he stood up, turned his shoulders towards the kitchen door, and taking small steps while whistling, went to find a specific book within the multitude of books on his floor-to-ceiling living room bookshelves.

The Retail Influence Story is a Flow from Pop-Ups to Pop-Ups

Walking down 5th ave in my Brooklyn neighborhood last weekend I had a moment of cultural economic clarity. The cadence of the shops, of different types and at different states of retail trends, told a story. There was a clear pattern, a trend wave that meandered from “new” to “staid” to “retro” and back.  There’s one particular block on 5th ave, between Union and Sackett that tells the story. On that block are both Brooklyn Industries and Goorin Brothers Hatmakers mixed in with the old and new shops. Both are “Local” style operations that channel the vibe of nostalgia for goodness and originality. These two operations are veterans of the “Local” style yet their growth mimics the path of well established “staid” brands.

Here in Brooklyn there’s a burgeoning  “local made” and “slow” movement similar to other cities such as Portland and San Francisco. Nearly all of these new local brands have the name “Brooklyn” as part of their branding in order to show their genuineness. I’ve also noticed a wave of “pop-up” and “food truck” style retail experiments this past summer. There’s a pattern happening. A connection of trends. Here’s a matrix I drafted to plot this pattern…

The X-axis defines where the items for sale are produced; offsite manufacturer is on one end…locally manufactured is on the other. The Y-axis defines whether the store is a temporary pop-up on one end…and a flagship (showroom for the brand experience) space on the other. I plotted a handful of retail brands within this matrix to map out the pattern.

The brands cluster on the matrix. At the top left are brands that are testing out the panache of having a pop-up experience. These are not focussed on sales as much as they are creating local instances to showcase their brands. At the top right are the true “pop-ups” who choose the pop-up space to sell their goods, relying on the agility and panache of a pop-up presence to lower costs while still reaching their market. At the bottom left are the staid brands who are building flagship style locations. Just above them are the new wave of brands that are seeking to have similar coherent successes. At the bottom are new brands, creating truly locally manufactured items with a strong element of “place” infused into their products. Thus why so many have “Brooklyn” in their brand names. Some have stores, some have store-hours at their “factories.”

I labeled these clusters based on their tone and style. At the top left are the “Distributed Flagships.” These pop-ups are seeking to create local brand awareness by appearing locally and temporarily to create buzz and awareness. At the top right are the “Agile/Lean” businesses, the start-up, who require a pop-up livelihood to build their brands. At the bottom left are the “Anchors of Stability.” This group seeks to further install themselves as the hegemonic international brands. I added the seemingly upstart brands such as Goorin Hats and Brooklyn Industries to this group as both are seeking national expansion and adoption. They are keeping the “Local” flavor while aspiring to become national brands. At the bottom right are the brands that embody the “Slow Food” movement which is being adopted by other categories other than food. These brands could be the “Slow Manufacturing” or “Slow Brand” movement. When mapped together, the trend wave becomes clear:

The story goes like this…The energy and innovations of the pop-ups are becoming manifested in the “Slow Brand” movement which is the next generation of the “Local” movement. These Slow Brands are influencing the earlier wave of “Local” brands who have now moved on to attempt to become hegemonic brands. These new brands are rushing at the gates of the hegemonic brands, inspring the hegemonic brands take new risks; by trying out the style and tone of the original pop-up movement, but in the way they know how…by re-creating pop-ups as flagships.

Thats the cultural economic story. The pop-up and slow movements are influencing the hegemonic brands to take new risks. Let’s apply this story to “The Map.” (If you’re unfamiliar with the ACE Map read this post)

When added to the map the impact roles of these clusters of brands becomes clear. What does this mean for you? For one, if you’re seeking to influence this category, you can define your tactics by understanding where these groups sit within the flow of influence. If you’re seeking to create influence and impact from your own agenda, see if you can locate yourself or your target influencers on this map and compare your path to the retail path identified in this post. What would you change about your program? What can you do differently now?

If you want to see the retail trends that will eventually live within the anchor brands, go visit the pop-ups. If you’re interested in seeing this next-wave in a more mature state, go visit the Slow Brands.

Please let me know your questions. -JM


Here’s a list of all retailers mentioned…

Fresh Pop-up Truck: http://blog.birchbox.com/post/27861814802/visit-the-fresh-pop-up-truck-in-nyc-this-week

H&M Pop-up in Miami: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2012/06/01/hm-pop-up-store-opens-friday-in-miami-beach/

Nordstrom/GQ Men’s Pop-up: http://www.freshnessmag.com/2012/09/06/gq-nordstrom-mens-shop-pop-up-store-new-york/

Target/Missoni Pop-up: http://ny.racked.com/archives/2011/08/29/the_missoni_x_target_popup_shop_takes_shape_in_bryant_park.php

Benetton’s Pop-up: http://www.benetton.com/popup/image-gallery/ny_store_2/

611 Lifestyle: http://phillystylemag.com/style/articles/the-magic-number

Brooklyn Industries: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/shopping/brooklyn-industries-chains

DURKL: https://popularise.com/cities/1/neighborhoods/1/projects/1/concepts/31

Goorin Brothers: http://www.nola.com/fashion/index.ssf/2012/05/goorin_brothers_hats_to_open_m.html

Apple: http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/21/watch-it-live-apple-opens-doors-to-its-nyc-flagship-store-for-iphone-5-launch/

LaCoste: http://www.refinery29.com/lacoste-fifth-avenue-store

Ralph Lauren: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/realestate/16scap.html

Brooklyn Watches: http://www.acontinuouslean.com/2012/06/18/hand-made-watches-from-brooklyn/

71 Pop: http://www.freep.com/article/20110731/COL36/107310332/New-gallery-71-POP-gives-emerging-artists-space-make-their-mark

D:Pop: http://dhivedetroit.org/dpop/

Cut Brooklyn: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/dining/12knives.html

Outlier Clothing: http://www.fav.co/reviews/andrew-hunter/outlier-clothing

Seagull Bags: http://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/print-edition/2012/07/13/bicyclists-flock-to-seagull-bags.html

Brooklyn Machine Works: http://www.highsnobiety.com/tag/brooklyn-machine-works/

Brooklyn Tailors: http://nymag.com/listings/stores/brooklyn-tailors/

Rickshaw Bagworks: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2351890,00.asp

Jeff Mangum, BAM, 1/19/2012

Jeff Mangum has created a unique catalog of songs that resonate with a troupe of wilting-flower intellectual Americans. He keeps his songs scarce, instilling the pre-digital value of songwriters in the eras without recording devices. Bottled-up and pickled in the cold shed he cracks the jar open on seldom occasion. Each time the vinegar grows ever dim, the sweetness fades, the brine stings less. I’m not sure if Jeff likes these songs anymore, but he seems to know there’s a proud-hearted audience that is decreasingly half-desperate for them.

These earnest sons and daughters with crisp-cuff jeans above their pale ale workshoes are crafting their lives upon grass-fed hopefulness. These kid-faced mid-life professionals secretly loathe the ironies of middle-class rewards, but hang the vinyl above their beds. Finding solace in the soft-faced muppets, they pray with all their secular might for a truth found within the cracked guitar tonks of Mangum’s photomatic broken-youth parables. They hope their live viewing of his near-pantomime performance will free them from the irritation of their destabilized generation.

In Jeff they see an available ideal, the soft hero. They find their salve through an album and a half of decade old songs, sung by a man quiet enough to allow intrigue in his bio. Maybe if they sing along, especially when he asks, they’ll scrape the genius from his air. In an era where the value of nearly everything is churningly reinvented, the decay of these songs is painfully obvious. Two years ago the audience would be standing, singing at the top of their lungs. At this event, we all sat in theatre chairs and half-sung self-consciously. Next time we’ll put him in a glass case and kiss the surface.

The songs are good. I wish Jeff the best, but wish even more that he’d write new songs. Still, more importantly, the songs he sang last Thursday night are songs that dance upon the string theory within our cells. They mingle with neutrinos that are older than stars and gape at our bones from amidst the eldest vibrations. My grandkids will like these songs. Eons ago there were apes who would find magic in these songs.

Over the piles of time, songs have formed-up within cultures, combined like chemistry, and followed the math of notes and time. Uniform audiences warmly gawk at the modest majesty of a lonesome figure. Sitting, surrounded by sound-making tools that only they can play in a special way.

Like the slow salt-loaded waves on the moonless sea, these songs have seen their crest. They’ll soon be stacked within the basement boxes of polaroid portraits, cheap plastic school trophies, and mom’s love letters to a man who wasn’t her husband.

Retail will be a mash-up of experience and mobile

Retail will be a mash-up of experience and mobile

The history of retail, particularly the mall, was born from the experience of visiting circus-tent-sized panoramas. Early in our modern era, folks would gather together to view wide-angle-scoped scenes of far away landscapes. They’d walk within them, be enveloped by the magnificence of places they couldn’t imagine of seeing themselves, and ponder the expansiveness of the world. Film, as we experience it today by gathering together in theaters to be enveloped by the moving pictures, started from the same historical pivot.

It’s no surprise then, that retail has steadily been spiking the “brand experience” as a key element to strategic planning. As this trend continues, mixed with the ever-innovative feats of mobile technology and the digital components being layered upon the connected world, the demand for greater experience will grow in partnership with a greater demand for immediacy.

Greater experience

Who needs a retail space for brand experience? Brands should take these spaces and turn them into regularly-changing “living portals.” What if Levi’s created their retail spaces in the same manner they create their live-action ads? A space with growling self-proclaiming voice overs, stages with sparkling band-equipment, weather blown floor-spaces with spinning trampolines and campfires that shift into lamp-post street corners and wood paneled cabins.

By visiting this space I can chose my role, put on the Levis garments of how I envision myself within this place and then take part in the action with my fellow brand fans. Actors gallop throughout the space, wearing all the newest articles from the Levis catalog. They shift from the stations, from the band-stage to the trampoline to the lamp-light, with appropriate wardrobe changes, to showcase all that Levis has to offer and why. They show, don’t tell. I live in their space, not just witness it. The articles I wear then become souvenirs, the relics of my experience. They are infused with the spirit of the energy the brand gives to me.

The “added-value” is I get more take-aways then the clothes…I get a video of myself on the trampoline, photos with my new friends running with the “Go Forth” banner. I become part of a webcast, part of the play. My actions appear on digital billboards in Times Square, Picadilly Circus, more…I will leave the store refreshed, vibrant, recharged by the brand down the path of the lifestyle it represents to me. I am woven into the narrative and plan for my next foray into the Levis space. Wondering what Levis  will become next, what experience it will offer me, what I can become next.


Still, I do need some socks, a t-shirt, and a jacket. Anywhere within the Levis store I can use my phone (or a kiosk) to view the catalog, including my past purchases and recommendations. I can access this catalog from my phone later, anywhere. I can click through the characters I’ve seen and interacted with, and select their garments for myself. I can watch videos of them modeling the clothes, or wearing them live within the experience. I can even see the videos of myself wearing these clothes as these will have been uploaded immediately, in real-time. I can share these videos with my friends, my family, I can post them to YouTube, Tumblr. I can edit them into new videos and post them across the Levis network.

And once I have decided on which garments I need…I can have these new clothes delivered to me, either by an associate who appears magically from a secret door or by having them drop-shipped to my home, same day, or for a scheduled delivery-time I chose through an interactive calendar.

I want to be in the experience, and I want my stuff now. It’s possible. I expect this to happen in the near future.

‘Clovering’ to Make Sense of It All

Clovering: – verb. 1. Daily (minute) layering of potential options with social groups into adaptable data (thoughts) that mitigate complex decisions into simpler ones. 2. Activity of illustrating layers of influence into a graphic (clover leaf) to both discern and organize complex thoughts into simpler data. 3. A game played through charting a clover leaf diagram where the players submit ideas (either forces or goals) with the hopes to fully populate the clover.

In nearly every second of our day, we’re layering and integrating piles of data and information to make sense of our world. Tech and media companies barrage us with a host of tools and services to filter, aggregate and process the incessant information. We carry around toolkits including hardware (phones) and software (apps) — our tiny robots, our little helpers, extensions of ourselves — that help mitigate the river of data that is rampant within our western-culture lives.

We live within these layers. We float through them, they wave over us. If you were to illustrate our era, it would look like a shifting pile of translucent pancakes. You’re looking through a shifting screen of layers, viewing the incrementally cranking inside mechanisms of a clock; it would look like a massively layered Venn diagram.

It is no coincidence that Venn diagrams have become very popular. I see new diagrams every day, including a non-Venn (and a personal favorite), the “clover” diagram. As a culture we’ve been producing these layered illustrations to try to figure it all out. In a way, they are telling us the story of how the era is progressing. Back in ’09, HuffPo provided a slideshow, Jesus, Karaoke, And Serial Killers: The Funniest Venn Diagrams The Web Has To Offer.

This interest-spike in ’09  of Venn Diagrams denotes a cultural shift — one that suggests acquiescence to the data and a method to find joy within a seemingly unmanageable data-pile.

At WE Studio D, we were playing with a clover diagram to discern and divide up communications in order to find “viral.” This is more of an organic puzzle than a locked-in solution:

It’s satisfying to be able to lodge certain criteria into a position, to feel the sense of order, even if it’s fleeting. I am an open proponent of “clovering” and believe it could be a great tool for brainstorming and filtering down to the root elements of any complex scenario.

Ever since I’ve shared my interest in these clovers with friends and coworkers, I keep finding more and more. I received this clover from a friend who knows I dig diagrams. This one is also from ’09 and tries to define “what is a good information design:”

Edelman Digital also uses a clover to help define media:

In all three clovers, the middle spot seems to be the “answer” to whatever problem we’re trying to solve.

Recently I’ve begun to practice clovering as part of my creative routine. I’ve introduced it to friends at dinner (where we used it to determine the joy of coffee) and in the office with my co-worker Matt (to investigate the balancing act of client relationships). In Matt’s clover, the answers wasn’t in the middle, it was actually one of the side layers …Evolution!

Give it a try, see what you come up with, and let me know if you want to share it here on this blog.


Thought Marketers, Crossing the Chasm and the Cultural Terrain

(This post was inspired by my conversation with Michael Roston of The New York Times. I’m deeply grateful for his insights.)

I’ve been working on a diagram to anchor the digital-strategy conversations I have with clients. I wanted a map of the current landscape to reference when speaking about “why” we need to implement these strategies. Over the past two months, I’ve been sharing this diagram with my peers and refining it down. Then, just when I thought I had created the final version, two peers (Michele Clarke and Natalie Lieblick) noted it was reminiscent of Geoffrey A. Moore’s “Technology Adoption Lifecycle,” which he developed in his book, Crossing the Chasm (1991).

This is true, but instead of it being a bummer, it was a spark of evolution. In comparing my diagram to Moore’s theory, we can specifically identify what’s changed from then to now. Hurrah!

The initial “Chasm” theory points out the hurdle new technology needs to traverse in order to gain widespread adoption. Here’s a diagram that illustrates Moore’s “Chasm” theory:

Over on the left is the Chasm. Moore speculated that somewhere within the early adoption process this Chasm ate up most new technology, with only a few making it to the “Early Majority” market. This symptom still exists, but in our current era the “Early Adopter” zone is populated by a new set of behaviors.

Over the past 20 years, marketers, communications professionals, new technology startups and advertisers have been actively seeking to fix the Chasm. Right now the new fix is You, the digitally connected individual. The cultural forces that impact our lives have us focusing greater and greater time and energy within the online “networking” space. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc., have pointed our activity right at the Chasm; we’re reverse-mining the Chasm by filling it up with the immense amount of content we share. While marketers and communication pros used to focus on getting people across the Chasm, the need now is for marketers to minimize the impact of the Chasm, by re-engineering it altogether to make it irrelevant.

In my new map, an evolution from Moore’s theory, I’ve identified the behaviors of the entire terrain. While similar to Moore’s, it includes new overlaps, new definitions and updated behaviors.

The Cultural Terrain:

The Cultural Terrain defines where ideas start (not just technology products), where they are amplified and where they are adopted. From left to right, all of the roles within this Terrain are (I’ve defined each role in more detail at the end of this post):

–          Trailblazers

–          Futurists

–          Pundits & Thought Leaders

–          Thought Marketers

–          Consumers

–          Late Adopter

–          Lurkers

In the space where the Chasm used to be, there are now three main behaviors:

–          Futurists

–          Pundits & Thought Leaders

–          Thought Marketers

The new, key re-engineering role is being populated by the “Thought Marketers.” The number of participants within the Thought Market is growing exponentially as anyone with an Internet connection can now partake in the Thought Market. You yourself are probably a Thought Marketer. You don’t have to be “mainstream” to be a Thought Marketer; you can be either a Consumer who is participating within the public dialogue (posting status updates, sharing videos, new links, blogging, etc.) or a Pundit who seeks to influence your thinking. In fact, this influence is now a two-way street. Consumers have greater voice in defining the conversation around ideas, versus 20 years ago when this conversation was more passive.

When I post links to content I’ve found that I want to share with you, I’m Thought Marketing.  A friend post photos they want me to see and when brands post messages they want to me act on, they’re Thought Marketing. A journalist shares handheld videos that support their articles, my cousin shares a video of his kids — they are both Thought Marketing.

This behavior has created a new type of ecosystem, mostly seen through the growth of social media, that hopes to create influence through activity (I tweet every day in order to make sure people see my Tweets) and trust (I hope to gain more friends so you want to be my friend too, then I can share my ideas with more people). Thought Marketers are all hoping to inject and amplify their “thoughts” into the conversation to influence the conversation, to gain some recognition and to somehow prosper from their activity. If I share my photo with you, which is seemingly innocent, I am actually making an exchange with you, providing something I believe has value with hopes it influences your life, even modestly with a “like” on Facebook. More friends, more fans, more purchases…more influence.

As more and more people are engaging within the Thought Market, Thought Marketers have to increase their activity in order to gain results. As example, my Facebook news stream is full; I often miss photos my friends are hoping to share with me. I share news items over my Twitter feed — only a small percentage of my friends actually see my Tweet. Still, this activity can be very rewarding; if your message receives a spike in attention, your reach and potential influence can be immense, but it sure does take a lot of time.

Everyone who seeks to influence anyone wants to be in the Thought Market, and social software continues to provide more entry into this zone on the map. The role of the consumer and the marketer is blending as word-of-mouth, bloggers and tech startups continue to fuse these roles together.

So, if it’s getting so crowded in the Thought Market, and it’s taking more and more of my time to be influential there, what’s next?

I’m working on some thoughts right now and will market them to you next week.


The Cultural Terrain Roles:

Trailblazers: These are the fiercely innovative individuals and organizations who are inventing the future. Their greatest concerns are for newness and innovation, regardless of monetary rewards or who hears about the technology. They are the true “bleeding”-edge.

Futurists: These folks are the glue between the “bleeding”-edge and the amplification of new trends. They are both pushing the envelope while seeking to communicate their learnings to the larger group. They are aware of the tightrope they walk — knowing they are sharing discoveries that might be “too early” for the popular market but see the deep value these trends will bring to the future.

Pundits & Thought Leaders: This group identifies which of the new trends map to their own agendas and work to configure the trends for either personal or organizational gain. They are reliant on the Futurists to do the initial filtering, but take it the step further to create ingestible, adoptable plans integrating new trends into the lives of their markets and audiences.

Thought Marketers: This is the “stock market” for ideas where thought-brokers seek to amplify key trends, news, stories, etc., to attract Consumers. They aim to craft sticky and compelling content that will either resonate with a current audience or attract a new one. This is the main arena for advertisers, marketers and communicators. The thought market is where nearly all the obvious activity is taking place, primarily through the exponential growth of social media.

Consumers/Purchasers: This is the buying market. The individuals and organization who determine their purchases and take steps to make the new products and trends mainstream.

Late Adopters: These are the late bloomers to a trend. They do eventually get around to purchasing an item but typically long after the marketing campaigns are spent out and Thought Marketers have moved on to a new trend or idea.

Lurkers: This group waits until a trend has passed before they potentially participate. Still, they are a large group with buying power but are the hardest to influence. In Moore’s chart, these are the laggards.

Layered on top of this terrain is the “Popular Scope.” This is the arena at which most of current advertising, PR and marketing campaigns are aimed.

Throughout the timeline is the power of influence. Influence starts with the Trailblazers, moves through to the Consumers, and hits the wall at the Lurkers. Once it hits the wall, influence then reverbs back into the Consumers, typically as kitsch, irony and snark.

It’s not Kenneth Cole. I’m the problem. My finger points back at me.

Kenneth Cole posts an awkward tweet and I cringe from his statement. Not because he said it, but because he’s telling me something about myself: I am the insensitive one, not him.

I have become desensitized to the world because I am disconnected from the world around me.

I am disconnected from the stuff I buy and eat; I am disconnected from the people who provide for me.

The Egyptian people sacrifice their lives; I buy another bag of frozen organic broccoli that was probably picked by children. Where were my shoes made, by who? I point my finger at Kenneth Cole, I point my disgust at Groupon, and my finger points right back at me.

How many shoes have I purchased that were made in China? How many boxes of Chinese-made discount furniture have I purchased? I’m doing business with a totalitarian, anti-democratic regime.

Groupon makes an ad that showcases my own aloofness from the world, not its own. I sit on my Chinese couch in my oil heated house, and throw anger towards my Chinese TV. I reach for my Chinese phone to Tweet about it. I point my finger at the TV. My Groupon disgust points its finger right back at me.

I need shoes and food and furniture and clothes, yet I see Kenneth Cole and Groupon as separate from me, as separate as the distance between me and the people who make the things I buy and eat.

What can I do! I yell at myself. It’s all so intertwined, mixed up.

Something! I yell back.

It’s not Kenneth Cole. I’m the problem. My finger points back at me.

Life, Death, and Digital Traces

(originally published in 2010)

Jamie Livingston took one Polaroid snapshot everyday from March 31, 1979 until the day he died, October 25, 1997. This immense series of images is the richest modern-day autobiography I’ve ever “read.” Literature fans debate the fate of the “Great American Novel.” I think Jamie has written it within the silence of his Polaroids, but it’s not a novel, it’s a memoir.

At the very end of Carl Raswan’s 1935 travel journal, “My Life Amongst the Bedouins,” is an epilogue that describes a vibrant day of falconing on the desert. It’s a brilliant reward for your interest in all of the previous detailed pages on pre-petrochemical life in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a clear window into one beautiful day, in a far away place, during an era before most of us were born.

At the very end of Jamie’s series is the unplanned, melancholic and honestly natural document of the final half-year of his life. It’s slippery, a hazard, it unbalances you. The clarity of the day-to-day details of his life: friends, food, stuff, are all passively present, aligned, and expected. Then the path shifts. He becomes ill. The world tilts, the vision narrows, and the previously consistent flow of images skip, jump, and come to a jarring rest. Though it’s been fifteen years since the last image was recorded, we witness his life, and death, in a strikingly present way.

Jamie didn’t post his images to a blog or to Facebook, there weren’t any blogs then, no Facebook.  Jamie saved these pictures in small dated boxes, offline, in a case. “Save them all for what?” I ask aloud at the webpage that contains the images from 1997. Ten years after Jamie’s death, his friends posted his images online as a memorial to his life. Could he ever have imagined that we’d be looking at them now?

An old acquaintance, who was really a friend of a friend, was in a motorcycle accident a while back and was paralyzed. I remember learning about the accident when it happened, feeling a gnawing pang about the awful news, and worried sympathetically about her well-being. I continued to hear about this acquaintance in bits and pieces here and there, but she wasn’t really a “friend,” and I didn’t think it was my place to ask about the details of her difficult life.

On Facebook I’m connected to my friend, the one through whom I met the young woman who had the accident. I was checking my Facebook news feed when I noticed my friend wrote a note on the Facebook wall of the woman who had the accident. My friend then posted to her stream that she loved and missed her friend, then uploaded a gallery of pictures of the two of them together. “Oh no,” I thought. I clicked the link and found a stream of status-updates of love and remembrance.

Sometime within the past few days the woman who had the accident passed away, her death caused by her lingering injuries. The messages from her friends and family turned her wall into a memorial of her life. Old pictures, new pictures, found pictures; there she was, as she used to be before the accident, and after the accident. New posts are added every day.

As I scrolled down the pages, I reached the gap where her postings had stopped and the memorial began. In here, in this plain uncomplicated space, she had died. I lingered over the few, simple, unemotional lines of texts. A friend wrote, “Looking forward to seeing you…” Then a day passed, then another day. On the third day a new message was posted on her wall, “Love you.” Then a dozen more, then another dozen. Then notes of loss, written in the present as if she’s still checking her Facebook page, “I don’t think you even know how much everyone loves and misses you…” “Your like family to me, your so beautiful inside and out.” Then more pictures, videos, messages, and remembrances.

I scrolled back to the top and re-read my friend’s message, “My heart aches. I love you so,” and I had to stand up. I walked away from my computer.

I looked out of the window and gazed over the trees, the dirt, the weeds. I looked down at my hands and wiggled my fingers. I looked up at the sky, at clouds and a pale half moon obscured by daylight. I turned off the lights inside my office to see the moon more clearly and remembered a physics lesson a high-school teacher was once wondrously intent about.

He’d pace across the front of the class, rub his hands together and say, “Energy may not be created nor destroyed; it’s ever present and can only change states, it can only transition.”

Our digital traces spill over with the fervent life of people being people, minutely, brazenly, both boringly and with verve. Our energy is the magnet, life upon life, layers of life, sucking us together into the loudest celebrating sirens. In unison we take our paths and seek the joy of things we hold dear: people, findings, and connections. However loose these things may be, we seem to have much more of them in common than we have any differences.

Our digital traces are sparks that flare across the lives of friends and strangers alike. The machine churns, it makes this magic. If you listen to it carefully it tells you its secret. I found these two life-capsules posted by strangers upon the digital sea. They’ve washed up on my digital island. They say, “look at me, you’re looking at yourself, all these things are temporary.”

And I say back, “Time’s got nothing on the energy you’ve shared. It lives; it’s eternal. I can see it. I can see you.”

It’s your energy, my energy, the energy, energy, energy.



Jamie Livingston’s Polaroids:

Jamie Livingston on Wikipeidia

The Black Tents of Arabia: My Life Amongst the Bedouins

NOTE: I am not posting links to the Facebook pages I mention above. They are private. At a time that the family might make a public statement I’ll provide a link.


After working at a handful of start-ups (and before that, 6 years of art school) Jason Moriber helped launch Wise Elephant, a business/marketing strategy and tactics firm. As of October 2010 Jason is now the Director of Digital Strategies for Waggener Edstrom Studio D. Jason has an MFA in drawing, has played in 4 bands, created and implemented programs for auditors, start-ups, and organic farmers, and am in constant awe of the amazing people he learns about, meets, and fortunately gets to work with. You can read more of Jason’s writing at  NewCommBiz. Engage with Jason on Twitter: @jasonmoriber

I’m all confused about the Pixies show (Chicago, Aragon Ballroom)

The Pixies owe us nothing. The elder siblings of our alt-rock post-punk revolution, we look to them, yearning for the brilliance of the late-80s surge of misfits, outcasts, and town criers who led us away from stadium rock and tight pants and towards the emotional sleeves of wheat paste, second-hand duds, and endless cigarette monologues. Their mix of mind-opening lyrics and whine-high instrumentation was the minstrel music, the bang anthems, for a few generations of college-smarty-pants who sought a less than hardcore way to be edgier than the mainstream lives they would soon live themselves.

Analyzing Trends: The Pendulum

Trends swing like a pendulum, creating waves of fashion, art, culture, business, you name it…there is a cycle to trends (if not everything). In order to find, uncover and act on burgeoning innovations I visualize this cycle (as the following slides will display) and play with this visualization as a “game.” You can use almost any trend, idea, history, business for this game and see what you uncover.