Re: Remix, Mash-Up, and the Individual Talent

If I were to assume that I’d only ever heard the songs in my iTunes library, I would have heard 15,063 songs—42.6 days of music.  Of course, I’ve heard more than this.  I’ve even listened to some of these songs as many as 95 times.  I write and record music, and my own songs are nested in my library between some of my favorite bands, and some bands whose names elicit only dim memories.  It seems a neat symbol for a terrifying, liberating fact: I cannot account for all the art to which I’ve been exposed, yet it is somewhere in my mind, and when I create, I can never be sure that I am not recreating something I barely remember.

This is a fundamental fact of the digital age.  The wealth of information has educated and oppressed the creator.  Steeped even more deeply than his or her predecessors in media of all types, “originality” has become ever harder to achieve, and failing to achieve it all the easier to discover.  How, then, can the digital artist be original?

In his 1921 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot wrote that the best poet must read widely in order to develop his talent: “Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour… the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.”  Thus valid artistic talent comes from a deep understanding of what came before.  Harold Bloom presents a similar challenge in “The Anxiety of Influence.”  Neither, clearly, was familiar with Google Books or Spotify.  Were T.S. Eliot cursed with these tools along with this philosophy, he would be single-mindedly wading his way through the 15 million texts on Google Books, and forgetting to write “The Wasteland.”

Jonathan Lethem suggests a new solution to the question of originality in the contemporary age in his “The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism.”  Rather than promote another avant-garde “with its wearisome killing-the-father imperatives” he calls for “ratifying the ecstasy of influence—and deepening our willingness to understand the commonality and timelessness of the methods and motifs available to artists.”  All texts are “woven entirely with citations…cultural languages, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony.”  All art in all times has performed this act—Lethem reveals at the end of his essay what he suggests in the subtitle: that his work is itself built out of thinly-veiled thefts.  What makes the digital world different, then, is that it is too difficult now to hold pretense to complete originality.  The past is a constant frame for our online productions, and to succeed as individual, the digital artist must embrace culling heavily from tradition.

Hence Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, or Girl Talk’s famous mash-up of the Notorious B.I.G.’s self-celebratory “Juicy” with Elton John’s sentimental “Tiny Dancer.”  Both are cathartic appropriations of the digital age.  They gleefully combine the incongruous present with the barely-recognizable past.  In these mash-ups, there is no privileged art, and the anxiety of influence is subverted in a joyous theft.  In so clearly taking from the past, these forms ensure their own originality by beginning from explicit appropriation.  The remix and mash-up are transgressive artistically and, sometimes, legally.  Yet they are undeniably, joyfully, original art in the age of unrepressed influence.

I’ve attached a mash-up I made a few years ago to give a sense of how easy it is to appropriate in this way.  It’s a combination of “Heartbeats” by the Knife, “Paper Planes” by M.I.A., and Jose Gonzalez’s cover of “Heartbeats,” three songs I’ve listened to quite a bit.

Original Post Date April 21, 2012

First, Ben, your mash-up is amazing! I hope you’ve continued to produce works like this.

I really enjoyed reading this post because you addressed how the role of the creator may change now that creation is becoming increasingly difficult to define.  I address this issue in one of my critical responses to this week’s class.

In addition, I appreciate how you bring in the concept of joy and how “unprivileged” art can nonetheless inspire feelings of happiness or even transcendence. There is undoubtedly something magical about the surprising compatibility between “Juicy” and “Tiny Dancer”. Perhaps instead of examining the process of creation, we should look at its outputs and effects (for ex: the spreading of joy) to help us fine tune our definitions of art and artists.

Re: Wikipedia and the skewed gender of contributors

Recalling the week’s discussion on the cost of E-Freedom, I recently found an article entitled “The Worrying Consequences of the Wikipedia Gender Gap” about the disproportionate Wikipedia contributors that are male. In fact, only 13 percent of the Wikipedia contributors are women. There are many reasons as to why this is compelling especially when revisiting the discussion question “What are the costs and benefits of the free information movements…?” I consider this approach when trying to understand the influence of such few female contributors to Wikipedia.

I find it problematic that there are more male than female contributors on Wikipedia. Firstly, Wikipedia is a regularly cited and visited website. As such, many online users often are dependent on this information as the first source to their respective online inquires or searches. This means that if a persistent perspective is being established on Wikipedia there is a potentially one-sided view being presented to and accepted by online users. Secondly, there is evidence that the lack of female contributors is changing the type of information being presented. It was found in a study on Wikipedia biographies of famous figureheads in the political and pop cultural sphere and “node” connections between Wikipedia pages that there was more information on male figureheads.[i] This was discovered in the way that famous figureheads would normally link to other famous figureheads, and these node connections would typically link an online user to a male figurehead (as opposed to a female figurehead). In other words, it was more likely that an online user would find information on a male figurehead than a female figurehead because “out of a possible total of 75, only three are women: Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher.”[ii] Overall, there is an obvious issue with Wikipedia as it relates to the dominant number of male contributors and the lacking information on women.

I wonder whether I find this skewed gender distribution so problematic because of the fact it is associated with and influencing Wikipedia. As I mentioned in the class discussion, Wikipedia provides readily accessible information and online users typically refer to this website in the beginning of a search. Usually a user will try to build off the information learned on Wikipedia, however, the proceeding research is possibly affected. Despite the fact that fields of academia, journalism and research rarely value Wikipedia as a credible source of information, American technologist David Weinberger finds that “at the end of “linking” you become a radical even if you started as a moderate.”[iii] Therefore, if mostly one perspective (in this instance, that of men) is contributing to Wikipedia than the opinion on the website is even more skewed due to the lack of diversity in contributors. Fortunately, as stated in the article, Wikipedia hopes to increase the contribution of women to 25 percent by 2015. However, as online users doing research, we should continuously keep in mind the perspective being presented on the “clicked on” Wikipedia page.

Original Post Date April 21, 2012

Martin Wattenberg, who also helped spearhead the Many Eyes project that we looked at briefly in class on Wednesday, created a visualization to track the edit history of articles on Wikipedia. Scraping the revision history available on all Wikipedia articles, Wattenberg and his fellow researchers Viegas and Dave used a new visualization which they dubbed a history flow, to show the relationship between the multiple iterations of a Wikipedia article over time.

The history flow visualization enabled researchers to gain insights into Wikipedia’s unique model of collaborative knowledge gathering at a glance through exploring the aesthetic and visual changes in their visualization over time. Since we only briefly touched on the topic of visualizations under the umbrella of digital art, I want to take this opportunity to advocate how digital technologies have changed our abilities to visualize data and as a consequence, understand and use it.

Pictured above is an example of the raw data format of the Wikipedia revision history. It’s obvious that it would be a time-consuming and taxing experience to parse this data “by hand” in order to achieve the same analysis tasks that Wattenberg et. al did in their history flow visualization.

Jen brings up the fascinating and important question of the gender gap in the authorship of Wikipedia articles. While Wattenberg et. al’s visualization does not address gender in particular, it does explore the social dynamics of Wikipedia creation. We have established many times in class how much data is created every day by our movements on the web. Visualization can be an invaluable tool for parsing through not only static data sets, but the dynamic social footprint we generate every day. While visualizing the connections in your Facebook network may individually simply feel like a exercise of curiosity rather than analysis, as a sociology concentrator, visualizations of social data may enable social scientists to reach a next step in research. It excites me to think how the seminal sociological work Brokerage and Closure may have been different if author Burt had at his disposal these data sets and the visual tools for exploring them.

Digital Art’s Consequences on the Role of the Artist

Original Post Date April 21, 2012

As a response to this week’s presentation, I created the above two “cinemagraphs”, which, as we discussed, some might consider an evolutionary artistic step for the animated GIF. These GIFs were inspired by the work of Jamie Beck whose work can be seen on her blog.

The woman depicted in the GIFs is one of my roommates. I created these GIFs by using a DSLR to take a series of photographs. My roommate was encouraged to move everything but the isolated element as little as possible, although the static nature of the other elements was primarily created through PhotoShop CS5. After I collected these images, I created a different layer for each frame. In each layer, I would delete all but the moving element so that the rest of the image appeared static. I created different frames with the single changing element as the only variable. Using PhotoShop, I moved through the frames at a rate of 0.1 seconds. While the animation in both appears to be relatively smooth, each animated GIF took less than 10 frames to create.

Prior to this exercise, I had never created an animated GIF before, although I did have experience with PhotoShop. However, understanding the concept of layers in PS and a quick Google search for an animated GIF tutorial allowed me to mimic the effect of Jamie Beck’s cinemagraphs, if not her skill, just by perusing through her work.

Digital technologies have blurred the lines between imitation and creation as all media can be reduced to a precise sequence of bits. They have forced us to ask time and time again where the threshold of innovation is and thus what constitutes as a copy, a remix, a mashup, an entirely new creation, or anything in between. That we have had to think more deeply about our standards of novelty has also changed our conceptions of self as our role as creators changes with the definition of creations. While this is not a new issue, digital technologies have only further confused the arguments.

On another note, I’ve been thinking about why people seem more resistant to consider digital art, art. It’s beyond the scope of this critical response to suggest a definition of art but I think it’s indisputable to claim that art is an expression of self. That the creation of art is now being mediated through a machine instead of being produced directly through the movements of our body (drawing, singing, strumming, dancing), is, I suspect, why we feel more hesitant to define the work produced through digital technologies “art”. However, why is the computer distinct from from other instruments with which we create art such as the paintbrush or the guitar?

I think a large part of the answer to this question has to do with how computers and other media-productive technologies feel more autonomous, more life or even human-like than older iterations of instruments. In the creation of art, the relationship between an artist and a digital technology feels more like a collaboration of strategy (humans) and execution (technology). Going back to some of the ideas that we visited in our unit on Robots, I wonder if the perception of an increasing closing of the sentient gap between humans and our technologies not only leads to a perception of robots as more life-like but also humans as more robotic. As scientific advancement seems to demonstrate that biologic nuances are not infinitely complex and thus increasingly reducible to lines of code, I think the fear of convergence between humans and robots or digital technologies in general is motivated by not only a sense of humanization of robots, but also the automation of humanity.

Re: Virtual Shopping

Unrelated to recent discussion topics, but perhaps of general interest to the class: Recently, Koreans have embraced a “virtual shopping experience,” where the consumer can select digital items and have their real counterparts delivered to his/her home. For example, shopping chain Tesco uses QR technology to allow people to scan codes with their smartphones and receive the scanned items through delivery. This invention has enabled the  store to gain market share without opening more physical locations.

I am interested to see how this technology will spread.

Virtual subway store, using smartphones:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGaVFRzTTP4 and http://www.adverblog.com/2011/06/23/tescos-subway-virtual-store/subway_virtual_store/

Virtual store, shop by touching the screen to purchase items: http://imgur.com/2Gb3y

Original Post Date April 2, 2012

I’m glad we have a chance to discuss e-commerce and online retail; I worked as a merchant intern for Bloomingdale’s this summer and will be returning in the fall as an asst. buyer so this topic really interests me. Speaking only from a Bloomingdale’s perspective, although I suspect this is not a unique case, e-commerce is growing at a much faster pace than our brick and mortar business.

However, I would highly doubt that brick and mortar stores will ever be fully replaced by digital storefronts. While online retailers have some advantages such as convenience and enable easier comparative shopping, brick and mortar stores are crucial brand ambassadors. In other words, the physical experience of being in a store is an essential driver of business to the digital storefront.

In addition, while I find the Tesco Homeplus experiment to be really cool, I really question its generalizability. First, I think that it is difficult to get consumers to buy things online that they’ve never bought in person. For this reason, the Tesco experiment makes sense because groceries are such a ubiquitous part of our lives and we know with a high degree of certainty our preferences of certain brands or products. Since most categories of goods are purchased much less frequently, they are less easily saleable in digital or online formats. Second, different countries have different cultural comfort levels with the use of technology. While I can see how this might work in South Korea or even Japan, I question the success of its implementation in the US, at least right now.

Re: “Twitter Revolution”?

    Since the 2009 Moldovan Twitter Revolution (also known as the “Grape Revolution,” in reference to the Color Revolutions that occurred across the Commonwealth of Independent States and Balkan states in the 2000s) and Iranian Green Revolution, Twitter and other Internet sites have been featured as catalysts for political change. Individuals use these sites for a variety of purposes: to coordinate meetings and other plans (e.g. through hashtags or Facebook pages), to express national and international solidarity (e.g. supporters who changed their Twitter avatars to include a green overlay),[1] and for information sharing (e.g. personal narratives, journalism co-created by professionals and activists,[2]and live updates). Although participation on such sites is undeniable—for example, the Egyptian protest page “We Are All Khaled Said” garnered over 500,000 supporters, and in the most recent Occupy movement, there were over 1 million Facebook posts between September and October 2011 alone—detractors claim that the role of the Internet has been overblown. In this post, I hope to investigate such claims and come to preliminary conclusions about revolutions and online information sharing.

It was a co-founder of Twitter who himself best summarized the arguments against the “Twitter Revolution” moniker: When asked if he thought that Twitter overthrew the Egyptian government, he answered, “No. People did that.”[3] A number of others agree. In these individuals’ opinion, Twitter was a useful tool for spreading awareness of ongoing events, but it did little to actually catalyze change. New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell best summarizes this argument in his article “Small Change.” He points out that Moldova had few, if any, major Twitter users, that people discussing the Iranian uprising were predominately from the West—in short, that any online activism was the work of inconsequential outsiders. As Gladwell quotes from an article in Foreign Policy, “Western journalists who couldn’t reach—or didn’t bother reaching?—people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection…Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.” Moreover, any social networking activism relies on the strength of weak ties, which are inherently ineffective at creating coherent goals. People join groups willingly but have no incentive to support the cause in question. For example: I, Lawren Tilney, can join over 100 Facebook groups claiming to “Save Darfur,” but the page creators ask nothing of me in return. Gladwell finds the same of every online movement. As he states, “[Social networking] makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”[4] Thus, we can all make our Twitter avatars and Facebook profiles green in support of Iran—but it does not mean that these actions have a real effect.

In many ways, Gladwell has a point (indeed, there is a term for it: “slacktivism”), but he ignores the sea change brought about by the Internet age. First, international awareness generates a public opinion about issues that they would otherwise ignore. Take Biz Stone, mentioned above, who explained when asked about Twitter’s role in the Grape Revolution that “the truth of the matter is, I had to actually look up what was going on in Moldova. So there are things happening all around the world at any given point in time, and we find it incredibly meaningful work to foster this open exchange of information and to watch as people around the world do their thing and make the world a better place.”[5] Such awareness of Moldova would not have existed in the pre-Internet era—and awareness is key to action, both unofficial and offical/governmental.

Additionally, Twitter has become increasingly important since the Moldovan and Iranian revolutions. The website played a large role in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings of 2011 (although less of a role in the other movements of the Arab Spring)—not only in fostering awareness, but also in allowing people to organize on the ground. Indeed, when the Egyptian government shut down access to the Internet to hinder protesters, Google created a voice-to-tweet service that allowed citizens to relay messages from their phones. Twitter had become the tool of choice for organization, mobilization, and information-sharing, whether one was internal or external to the movement. Please see this link for further discussion of recent movements powered by the Internet: http://www.zeemaps.com/338054. At this page, I have created a map of “Twitter Revolutions” and “Facebook Revolutions”that have occurred since 2009.

Thus, I must argue that the Internet does more than foster mere “slacktivism” or “small change.” Of course, real-world action is necessary for political change, but real-world action often would not (or could not) occur without virtual planning. Yes: It is easy to support causes with a mere click of a button. Yes: It is difficult to reach the next step, to do something. However, these statements do not imply that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and similar sites are useless. Rather, they illustrate the importance of coupling virtual calls to action with physical meetings, rallies, and decision-making. The Occupy movement has exemplified this fact. Although protesters use the Internet in ways that resemble the tactics of their Arab Spring predecessors, they also rely heavily on real-world consensus building (e.g. the General Assembly). We will see how, and if, future movements do the same. Will there ever be a revolution that occurs only online?

Original Post Date April 2, 2012

I definitely agree that organization and communication may be roles that the digital can play in the proliferation of social movements. However, I don’t think this refutes the point that the extremely low threshold of “participation” can actually be meaningless, if not potentially harmful, towards a cause. As I noted in a previous post, I think one danger in using digital technologies, whether it’s games or social media, to bring awareness to a cause is that these technologies may actually abstract too far or even act as a distraction for the real issue at hand.

On a slightly different point, I think in terms of publicity alone, people often argue that all awareness is good awareness. This was an argument that was employed often in defense of the KONY 2012, even in light of the Russell public masturbation scandal. On one hand, I am inclined to see the merit in this statement. In a political climate that seems to be defined by bipartisanship and general civil apathy, it is heartening to see that a campaign for human rights can gain such momentum. It is in particular inspiring because this is a movement that has originated and gained traction in the web and given its medium, has presumably ignited a contingency of people, particularly young ones, transcending geographical boundaries. The internet is a powerful medium for social change and I wholeheartedly hope that we can continue to come up with creative ways to engage and inspire for important causes.

The hesitation I have with social movements that generate a lot of internet hype is with the occasional lapses in discernment that people have when seized with a cause. It’s hard to argue that any publicity for human rights campaigns can be harmful; yet there are ways in which non-profit organizations can exploit the same people they presumably aim to serve. I’m thinking particularly of the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit founded and run by Greg Mortenson, who was so successful in generating support for their cause (building schools in Central Asia) that Barack Obama himself donated his prize money from the Nobel Peace Prize to the organization. Unfortunately, investigations have revealed gross mismanagement of funds including personal embezzlement from founder Greg Mortenson. Also, while schools have indeed been built, many remain unused because of impracticalities which could have been avoided by communicating with the populations they actually intended to serve.

While it is unequivocally a positive thing to get people engaged in social movements, it is also important to be informed about the organizations you support and hold them accountable. Even non-profit organizations can betray their supporters. Yes, digital technologies have lowered the threshold for participation in social movements but I want to argue that it has also lowered our standards of fact-checking and accountability. When you can support something with the click of a button, the inclination to research and confirm the legitimacy of what you’re supporting is much lower. While we should all feel free to support whatever causes we believe in, I think that this is a decision we should make and encourage others to make with eyes wide open.

Re: Gaming for a Cause

David Perry’s TED talk, “Are Games Better than Real Life?” features the powerful tale of a man who has become addicted to gaming and virtual reality. The young man discusses the dangers of games: They create increasingly realistic worlds that can brainwash players and encourage obsession. Moreover, increasing numbers of people are vulnerable as the real and the virtual become more closely integrated in everyday life. Thus, he argues that video game creators have a responsibility to create games that encourage good rather than ill. If they do not, they hold the power to brainwash the masses in ways that promote violence, misconduct, even conformity. As the man explains:

But maybe brainwashing isn’t always bad. Imagine a game that teaches us to respect each other or helps us to understand the problems we’re all facing in the real world. There is a potential to do good as well. It is critical—as these virtual worlds continue to mirror the real world that we live in—that game developers realize that they have tremendous responsibilities before them.[1]

This idea is not a new one. In this post, I hope to discuss instances and implications of responsible, social games—ones that entertain their audiences even as they help the world. These games represent the potential for future programs to educate, assist, and connect people across the globe, and I can only hope that programmers use them as a template for future endeavors.

(1) Gaming for a cause. A number of online games assist others by harnessing human brainpower. One, the “Free Rice” game run by the United Nations World Food Programme, donates ten grains of rice for each question answered correctly. To date, the program has donated over 95 billion grains to hungry individuals around the world—with each billion capable of feeding 50,000 people for a day.[2] Not only does this act help the needy, but it also raises awareness of the global hunger problem and encourages players to contribute to the cause in other ways. For an explanation of the Freerice program, visit the following link: http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/1442.

(2) Solving world problems. In my opinion, one of the most brilliant methods of problem-solving is online crowdsourcing. Some methods are rather straightfoward: The movie provider Netflix, for example, created a competition to improve its content recommendation system, and reCAPTCHA uses humans to transcribe words from books. These ideas have yielded great results, but they fail to engage the individual on a deeper level. Hence the success of Foldit, a website that integrates gaming with problem solving. Foldit allows the user to “solve problems for science” by playing with puzzles. The user’s activity helps to predict the structure of proteins; researchers can leverage their efforts to understand a protein’s role in disease and other aspects of daily life. In this way, the gamer’s activity directly impacts scientific research—a level of engagement and a form of empowerment unparalleled by standard video games. For more information on Foldit, visit: http://fold.it/portal/info/science.

(3) Learning through games. Finally, games can directly teach players about the world. This example adheres most closely to the narrator’s argument in the TED talk: that video game creators can spread knowledge and promote a civic community through their game’s messages. I benefitted from this phenomenon even in my own youth, for I learned about spelling and grammar from a crude, 1990s Reader Rabbit program. I (like the video game addict) relished this game because of the emotional connection I created with its characters—in this case, with a simple rabbit on my screen. I required no sophisticated graphics to believe that this rabbit was my friend; I truly loved the creature and wanted to help it navigate an online world. Modern games can and should do the same. As James Paul Gee explains in “Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines,” the player should be an “empowered learner”[3] that enacts change through knowledge and application in a virtual setting. In this way, she takes greater responsibility for the things that she learns.

Future game developers should strive towards similar, if not greater goals. Gee explains that educational games need not—and indeed, should not—be “dumbed down” or “boring,” nor should they force the player to learn in a specific way. When designed successfully, games make learning automatic—and even fun. Just ask my younger brother, who received a perfect score on his World History SAT exam simply because he plays Rome: Total War. I wish that I could enjoy gaming that much!

Like Lawren, I was struck by the suggestion that perhaps the all absorbing power of games can be put to good use, by encouraging people to play games that educate as well as entertain and developers to make these games available and attractive. The examples she listed are compelling cases of how social and individual good can be achieved through gaming.

I wonder however whether the social and individual good that can be achieved through these clever games negate the issue of the magnetism of virtual games in the first place. In other words, I am wondering if the real-world ends achieved (rice for the poor; proteins for scientists; learning for ourselves) can truly justify the disengagement with the real world required by the intensive engagement with the virtual/ digital. After all, even if we are engaging with real world problems, is it not problematic that these problems seem to be necessarily abstracted in order to be appealing and entertaining?

For example, I just spent at least 30 minutes playing the “Free Rice” game. For those of you who haven’t played it, I assure you that despite its simplicity, it’s extremely addictive. The game simply asks you to define words, or perhaps more accurately, find their synonym in a list of four. If you get it right, you donate 10 grains of rice and the next prompt is slightly harder. if you get it wrong, no rice is donated. Your donation is represented by a simple sidebar next to the game interface which shows a graphic which updates as the number of rice grains you donate increases. The words tested and the game in general have nothing to do with the greater cause of donating rice grains.

As I mentioned, the game is addictive. For a while, the vocabulary tested is fairly basic and you can pick out its definition/ synonym at a glance. After a while though, the words do become more obscure and when you get a question wrong, your level progression stagnates. In addition, the question you missed will continue to appear, frustrating your progress, until you answer it correctly. The impulse to play until you beat all 60 “levels” is strong since the gameplay itself is so simple. I have no doubt that many people waste a substantial amount of time playing this game every day and the number of aggregate rice grains donated has been substantial.

What I find problematic about this game is that it abstracts the goal of starvation and malnutrition alleviance from the engagement entirely. As I noted, the vocabulary does not seem to bear any relationship to the issue at hand. On the game page itself, the visual interface features the game prominently and the relevant social impact information is relegated to the second half of the page, which requires scrolling down. Given its secondary placement on the page and what we know about people’s internet and page surfing behaviors, I wonder what percentage of people who land on the page ever bother to scroll down or explore the website more in depth. Thus, even spatially, there seems to be an inherent tradeoff between the prominence granted to the game and possibly the number of players it can attract, and the education and awareness the site is actually promoting.

Let me be clear in saying that I do not think that games and social impact are inextricably at odds with one another. I do think that there is something to be said about creating channels of engagement that are aligned directly with the brand and issue at hand. One summer, I interned at PR agency Weber Shandwick and sat through a presentation given by their Corporate Social Responsibility practice group. While we can debate the authenticity and ethical nature of a company outsourcing their social responsibility campaigns to a public relations agency, I find it indisputable that smart, brand-aligned campaigns are more effective in both promoting the company and raising awareness for the cause. For example, Weber Shandwick helped Nike develop a campaign to transform the used rubber from their sneakers into soccer balls for children in Africa.

To provide an example of a game that I think has a lot of potential to achieve a greater good, play Spent in which you play an unemployed single parent with only $1000 in savings. Spent highlights the tough and seemingly impossible choices that millions of Americans struggle with every day through gameplay. This game and its developers are commendable because Spent combines relatively rich and entertaining gameplay while staying true to the issues at hand. Though the game is obviously a simulation and a simplification, it is not only not abstracted from the issues at hand, but works to actually make them more tangible. Games with social and individual impact can and should be developed, but I think greater emphasis should be given to clever and appropriate design rather than entertainment value.

Default Anonymity

Original Post Date March 23, 2012

Rob Walker’s very cool project of gathering the default anonymous avatars from across the web. See the ongoing project here.