The future of listening is … reading?

Here’s a randomly encountered post on the subject of how orchestras can use Twitter:

An orchestra gives a concert. Someone sends commentary tweets, in real time while the music plays, describing what’s going on. I don’t know how pinpoint the time accuracy might be, so maybe you can’t time something precisely to a downbeat. But you could certainly indicate major sections of a piece.

But it gets better. You could have a dozen Twitter streams. What does the conductor think about, while she’s conducting the piece? What’s the hardest part for the principal flute? What passage in the horns makes the principal trumpet player’s hair stand on end? All kinds of people in the orchestra could send tweets during the performance, or rather could write them in advance, and have them sent out at the proper time by others. Someone in the audience could decide which Twitter streams to follow, or could follow them all.

Knowing full well that I’ll be slammed as a dinosaur etc. if I say anything at all to question the mightiness of social media and like that: I find this a little odd. In-concert tweets “describing what’s going on”? Um, there’s an orchestra performing; check it out. (I’m remembering an old David Mamet interview where he talks about disliking it when reporters use a tape recorder: “Why don’t you try listening?” ) Or  maybe you’d get a tweet that says, “This is the good part, starting now.” Or just: “Applaud.”

And what’s this about what the conductor is thinking about while conducting — is the idea that s/he is waving the baton with one hand and texting with the other?

Having said all that, the problem here may just be that the example is throwing me off, and there’s some more interesting/useful application of the idea. But my immediate reaction is that this implies that an orchestra, by itself, simply playing music, isn’t worth your time. Like maybe what the audience really wants is a Twitter feed for their favorite baseball team, so they can pay attention to the game during the boring parts of the musical program.

What do you think?

Craft and “green”

A recent-sh installment of CraftyPod focuses on “Crafting Green.” What does that mean? That question is actually the theme of the episode, and if you’re into the whole handmade/DIYism world, and there’s any kind of consumption-ideology element to your interest, it’s worth a listen. (Especially, now that I think about it, if you have an interest in unconsumption. More on that soon.)

CraftyPodcaster Sister Diane has many useful thoughts on the subject — starting with a bit of skepticism of the overly simple word “green.” She notes that many crafters have been talking about buying fewer new craft supplies this year, and crafting from their existing stashes instead. This actually might be a legitimate example of converting economic reality (saving money in tight times) into something productive: The creative challenge of using what’s on hand. That’s Sister Diane’s take, and she has a point. She’s starting with an inventory of all her craft stuff so she knows what she has.

On the other hand, later in the episode, Sister Diane raises the point that it might make sense to budget a bit for occasional new purchases from retailers you want to support. Anyway, I’m generally a fan of the concept of appreciating — or at least evaluating — what you already have, rather than always seeking something new (including the buying of new “green” products, etc., as a way to participate in concern about sustainability. So I like her rather balanced take on the subject.

Anyway, she also has some interesting examples. At the more extreme end: Futuregirl pledges to “Use What I Have” in 2009 — and in fact is attempting to spend $0 on craft supplies for the year:

We recently shuffled around our apartment and I moved my crafting area into the bedroom.  As I was moving and reorganizing everything, I realized I have TONS of craft supplies that I *really* want to use.  Thanks to my blog, I know exactly when some of them came into my life, too … ugh!  It breaks my heart that so many wonderful supplies have been sitting around ignored FOR YEARS.

This, coupled with the economic downturn, means it’s the perfect time for me to cut back on my crafty spending.  The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that maybe I should try to spend ZERO on craft supplies this year.

Is that going overboard? Well, I’m not sure.

CraftyPod also suggests craft-supply swaps — see the show notes for links — and points out RePlayGround: “We’re recycling fanatics and just love finding new uses for old items. Your scrap is the raw material for our next design project.” Looks like a really interesting little company/design studio. Apparently they do design projects (furniture, packaging, etc.) for cleints, as well as sell kits to anyone interested in doing their own upcycling. Also mentioned: Lee Meredith, also known for making things from other things.

Plus she talks about “the craft potential” tied up in “unfinished craft objects (UFOs).” Perhaps, Sister Diane suggests, it’s time to confront those UFO projects — and consider giving up and reclaiming the materials for something new. Or combine that with a swap gathering. I’m trying to think about parallel behavior for the less-crafty among us.

All in all a very thoughtful discussion, and another example of why,  when I talk to people about the book and they ask me what I’m keeping an eye on this year, I still say it’s this DIYism subculture.

Surface Effects (re: Shepard Fairey)


A few years back I met Shepard Fairey when I wrote an article about him and his design firm, Studio Number One, for Inc. We stayed in touch a little bit, and I was later invited to contribute a piece to the book Supply & Demand. Normally I decline such offers, but for various reasons I made an exception in this instance. Lately I have decided that that it might be interesting to publish that essay here. Partly because Fairey is obviously much in the news, partly in order to mark the occasion of his first major museum show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and partly because people keep sending me email asking me what I think (or telling me what they think) about his work.

Keep in mind that this was written in 2004 and first published in 2005, so adjust the date references accordingly. (Among other things, there is obviously no reference at all to the Obama imagery.) Here it is:


imagesThe story goes like this. Some 15 years ago, when Shepard Fairey was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, a friend wanted to know how to make stencils. Fairey offered to show him, using picture of the wrestler Andre the Giant, chosen basically at random from the newspaper. The friend objected that this was a stupid image. Fairey said no, it’s a cool image — because Andre the Giant has a posse. Later they made some stickers, slapped them up here and there around Providence. That might have been the end of it, except that Fairey overheard strangers at the grocery store, discussing what the stickers might “mean.” So he put up more stickers, and a prank turned into a campaign. In a way, it’s a story that has everything. The never-ending of river of pop culture flotsam. The mastery and teaching of a skill. The seductiveness of persuasion. The power of repetition. And the curious human yearning for symbolic meaning.

That crude early image has long since shifted to a more stylized visage – the icon face — and is now most familiarly paired with the words “Obey Giant,” or simply “Obey.” It has been reworked dozens and dozens of ways, and as an open-source project that pre-dates the Internet, it has been spread by countless volunteer confederates all over the world. The icon face has been in movies, in art museums, it has been tattooed onto people’s bodies, and, yes, it has even appeared in commercial messages, and on clothing. People are still arguing about what it might “mean.” Read more

Flickr Interlude

empty sign nineteen, originally uploaded by arkansasridgerunner.

This is from a surprisingly interesting set called Signs of the Times. Check it out. I hope arkansasridgerunner keeps it up, because it has a lot of potential. In my opinion.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Just Looking

Via fffound.


Okay so I’m trying a new “theme” for this site — a new design template. I’m still messing around with it and no doubt will be for days. I think I’ve got all the “features” of the prior design here. Will explain more later, but thanks for your patience as I tinker.

Just Looking

By Mark Ulriksen. Via ffffound.

College/university Skype visits: Update

Back in November I made an offer to college and university classes to “visit” by way of Skype or similar means.

Those got underway last week with a great visit to Christine Harold‘s class at the University of Washington; it was a smart group and I had an excellent time.

The full semester schedule  is below if you’re curious.

Feb 12: University of Washington (rhetoric and popular culture class)

Feb 18: Tufts University (media and society class)

March 3: Penn State book club (courtesy of Alex J. Mann)

March 23: University of Rochester (publishing class)

April 8: Sonoma State University (introduction to marketing class)

April 21: Boston College (communications and promotions class)

Flickr Interlude

Truncated Livelihoods, originally uploaded by tnachtrab.

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Community and connection brought to you by…

Ad Age notes Meetup’s recent-ish decision to start courting sponsors. The article says co-founder Scott Heiferman was originally against the idea, but changed his mind because group organizers “said it makes their meetings better.” Ad Age says:

Sponsorships take a lot of shapes, but all involve a monthly donation to the group to cover organizer fees, buy coffee or just provide a free venue for a book club. The idea is to keep it small, cheap and simple so it can scale. American Express Open, Huggies, Sony BMG and e-mail-device maker Peek are sponsoring thousands of entrepreneur, parenting, music, sports and moms’ groups around the country.

Also using the tactic are smaller brands such as Peek (which I had never heard of), the maker of “an email device” that is sponsoring “about 100 mom-focused Meetup groups.” Apparently it’s the brand’s biggest single marketing expense.

“The goal is to get Peek into the hands into people we build the device for and we think its perfect for,” said Marketing Manager Jeremy Downs.

That meant sending three Peeks to Melony James, organizer of the 224-member Toddler Adventure Group in San Jose, Calif. Peek also started depositing $30 a month in Ms. James’ Amazon account to cover her Meetup dues and snacks for the kids. “I like the Peek because it’s simple to use, not targeted at techies,” she said. “They pitched it quite well.”

Why is Peek doing that via her Amazon account?

Well, anyway, apart from that weird-ish detail, not particularly surprising, but worth noting, and keeping and eye on.

Dept. of updates

I have belatedly learned that KAWS was featured recently on, of all things, CBS Sunday Morning. See the video clip on Freshnessmag. Evidently the crew visited his studio back in October. In other news, the artist’s L.A. show at Honor Fraser is coming up on February 21. August 3, 2008 Consumed on KAWS is here.

Recently passed away: Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser. A May 18, 2008 Consumed about Taser’s adoption of more fashionable designs to appeal to mainstream consumers appeared is here. Interesting obit detail:

He got the name for the weapon from one of his favorite childhood books, “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,” one in a popular early 20th century series by Victor Appleton. In the book, the young Swift invents a rifle that shoots bolts of electricity. The story apparently continued to animate Cover’s imagination decades later, when he conceived the word “Taser” as an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.” (Cover evidently added the middle initial “A,” which does not appear in the books.)

And in new links on the roll news: Adding The Entrepreneurial Agenda by friend and former colleague Robb Mandelbaum.

Yes, I know you’re sick of Obama art & products…

535822… but, for reasons that would take too long to explain, I was just on a site called, and was surprised to see that the “most popular” embroidery pattern on offer was, yes, “President Obama Commemorative Embroidery.” Or “POOBAMA 1,” as the product reference code puts it.

Just Looking

maggie (florida), originally uploaded by geldenkirchen.

Here is an image from a Flickr set called The Maggie Project. Seems to be a series of images of a woman wearing a fairly creepy mask in a variety of situations. It’s quite interesting and I recommend taking a look.

Apparently these images were taken by Ofer Wolberger. The Flickr set includes an official statement that begins: “Photography has been a vehicle with which to examine notions of beauty and identity, conflicts of self perception and representation, and the role that visual culture plays in both. This exploration is expanded in (Life with) Maggie, by a fictional character who seems transported from another time and place, one presumably set in the past.” It continues in this unenlightening mumbo-jumbo vein for several paragraphs. I have no idea what any of it is supposed to mean.

However, again, the actual images are very compelling.

Via The Storque.

Get your Great Depression cultural products

According to Brandweek:

“There’s a financial cry in the country right now — and that’s going to translate into shopping,” says Karen Bard, the resident pop-culture expert for online auction site eBay. Bard’s not talking about how much people are spending so much as what they’re buying. Sales of just about anything related to the Great Depression have been surging since Christmas. In the last three months, eBay’s category “Depression Era” has seen a 15 percent increase in sales traffic, with specific spikes recorded for 1930s music (up 8 percent) and cloche hats (up 65 percent). At Amazon, December 2008 sales of Depression-related titles (including The Great Crash, The Forgotten Man and Ben Bernanke’s Essays on the Great Depression) were up by a whopping 750 percent (the company does not disclose unit sales).

Depression momentum started building just before the holiday shopping rush-which was, not coincidentally, the same time that bad news about the economy began to feel merely like harbingers of far worse. Between September and October, Netflix recorded a 10 percent rise in rentals of The Grapes of Wrath.

In The New York Times Magazine: Fail Whale

An unlikely social-media icon

This week in Consumed, how a service-interruption image got a fan base — as if a song heard mostly as hold music hit the Billboard charts.

As with many Web-popularity stories, there’s a lot of flukiness to Fail Whale’s rise. For starters, Lu had never heard of Twitter when she created the image (which she called Lifting Up a Dreamer) as an electronic birthday card for a friend overseas while she was still finishing her visual communications degree at the University of Technology, Sydney. In July 2007, she uploaded a number of her illustrations, including that one, to a service called iStockphoto. That’s where, almost a year later, it came to the attention of Biz Stone, a Twitter founder….

It probably took two specific factors to create the accidental icon. First, it’s a lesson in the power of raw repetition — the “mere exposure effect” identified by psychology studies that suggests we like things more simply by seeing them more often. Second, Twitter enthusiasts are almost alarmingly zealous….

Read the column in the February 15, 2009, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times’ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

“Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”