Things that tell you things, and what they tell you: Roundup post

The general subject of things that communicate about themselves, as well as the (in my view) related idea of “transparency” in the material marketplace, keeps coming up. I’ve written and linked about it several times in the last two or three months, but all that material is scattered around, so even though I’ll be repeating myself I want to try to gather it all in one post that I can add to as new developments or resources emerge.

As you’ll see, if you have the fortitude to wade through this, I have mixed feelings about the supposed “transparency” trend, and about the usefulness of what things are telling us, and are going to tell us. But my real point here isn’t to convince anybody of anything — I’m gathering material. So, if you know of other interesting examples I should be aware of, I welcome them and I thank you in advance.

First I’ll note something that might seem off point: I was interviewed not long ago by Paola Antonelli for the blog for her upcoming Talk To Me show at MoMA. Here’s the first question and answer:

PA – Do things actually talk to you, or do you rather kind of read them?

RW – I guess some combination — things call out for my attention sometimes. But you can’t necessarily trust what an object says about itself, can you? Many objects don’t really want you to know their material or labor back story, or the potential unpleasant consequences of their use. They just want you to know their features and their beauty, the usefulness and their appeal. So once some interesting thing has my attention, it’s more like trying to read it. The interesting objects are usually the ones open several readings.

So that’s what I’m interested in — yes, things are talking to us more, as it were. But are they telling us what we (should) want to know? Please continue…

Are you “doing exactly what you want”? Bummer.

I saw this thing interviewing “successful people” who are “doing exactly what they want.”

I’m skeptical. Maybe these people aren’t doing anything they don’t want to do (or doing as little of it as possible, more likely). But I bet every single one of them would think of new things they “want to do” if someone forked over a billion dollars tomorrow.

In fact I bet they all have lists of things they want to do but haven’t been able to, for one reason or another. (Lack of an extra billion dollars, for instance.)

This phrase “doing exactly what you want” is very appealing to headline writers for obvious reasons. And yet if you really think about it, it’s sort of depressing. If you’re doing exactly what you want, then what will you do next? What aspirations are going to get you out of bed in the morning? What, in other words, do you have to look forward to?

Assorted Updates

Marketplace weighs in on the frozen-yogurt business in the slow economy. (Updates September 5, 2008 Consumed.)

Here’s a cool-sounding use of augmented reality to stage a show within MoMA that can only be seen with a smartphone. Also somebody has devised away to “augment” reality by removing objects etc. from video captures — “diminished reality.” See also “removing visual obtrusions.” (Updates November 13, 2009 Consumed.)

Alexis Madrigal on whether Hipstamatic / iPhone photos can be art. (Updates July 23, 2010 Consumed.)

The Imagination Age, a blog I learned of only recently and am enjoying quite a bit, notes Consumer Protection For Avatars, notably tips for avoiding scams in the economy of World of Warcraft. (Updates multiple Consumed columns and murketing posts dating back to 2005.)

Yoga imagery is starting to trend residual,” according Joshua Glenn, who is going to have to learn to tolerate cheap mockery from people like me now that he’s emerging as a Public ‘Brand Semiotics’ Guru. (Updates July 21, 2009 Consumed.)

Young America suddenly gets hip to donks. (Updates June 17, 2007 Consumed.) (More donkness here, here, here, and (sort of) here.)

BoingBoing points out a scraper bike doc. (Updates something I floated on the Consumed FB page back in May that was shot down as old news. Hm. Maybe I should revisit?)

Metafilter wises up to Jacqueline Rush Lee and other artists who use books as raw material. (Updates August 6, 2010 Consumed.)

  • If you are aware of an update to a column I’ve written, or would like to request an update, let me know in the comments. (By “update,” I mean anything from substantial developments about specific companies or brands, to new thoughts or ideas on a subject previously addressed in the column or its various extensions.)

In The New York Times Magazine: Mom blogs & advertising

The right to express yourself — and to make money doing it.

To understand what any of this has to do with empowerment, recall that the Web revolution hasn’t simply been about giving masses of people a chance to express themselves — it’s also about giving them a chance to sell ads against that self-expression.

Read the column in the October 24, 2010, New York Times Magazine (it’s a special issue — “The Women’s Empowerment Issue”), or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

Assorted updates

Boing Boing notes the winners of the Chiquita banana-sticker design contest. (Updates August 20, 2010 Consumed.)

Insane Clown Posse is actually a Christian band. (Updates August 27, 2010 Consumed.)

A Snuggie that tweets. (Updates March 15, 2009 Consumed.)

Cassette tape nostalgia (on film). (Updates April 23, 2010 Consumed). Thx: Chris K.

  • If you are aware of an update to a column I’ve written, or would like to request an update, let me know in the comments.

In The New York Times Magazine: Kitchen “incubators”

A cooking space where interesting back stories meet a business model.

Markets and communities have similarities but also differences. For an example of how this gets reconciled by a “kitchen incubator,” it’s useful to look at one of the better-known examples of the form, La Cocina, in San Francisco

Read the column in the October 10, 2010, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

Winterhouse Awards

I mentioned earlier I was a judge for the Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism. (The “jury” was me, Steven Heller, Paola Antonelli, and jury chair Jessica Helfand.) I’m sure that ever since I mentioned that you’ve been on the edge of your seat, wondering how it would play out! Well, whether that’s true or not, you still ought to be interested in the winners. Here’s the deal:

NEW YORK—October 5, 2010. AIGA and the Winterhouse Institute announce the two writers selected to receive the fifth annual Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism: Daniel Brook is the recipient of the professional Writing Award, based on a body of work; and Aileen Kwun is the recipient of the Education Award, for the single best piece of writing by a student. A program of AIGA, the professional association for design, these annual awards were founded by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand of Winterhouse Institute to recognize excellence in writing about design and to encourage the development of voices under 40 engaged in critical thinking about design and visual culture in the United States.

More here.

What I can add is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading a lot of great entries, and perhaps even more than that enjoyed the conversation with my fellow “jurors” leading up to the decision. It was surprisingly fun, probably because of the people involved.

Big congrats to the deserving winners.

Support the hypothetical

In The New York Times Magazine: “Grey’s Anatomy” scrubs

Selling real-life scrubs with references to a fictional hospital drama.

“Grey’s Anatomy” scrubs have been popular with medical professionals pretty much from the moment they were first produced.

Read the column in the October 3, 2010, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

It says, “Murketing.” (I assume.)

Above from the table of contents to the Korean translation of Buying In.

Not sure when this came out, but I just got a copy in the mail today. There have been several translations, I think the only other one I have is the Chinese version, which I posted here. I did get an image of the Croation cover — posted here. I am a sucker for these, I think they’re really fun. Below, note the front-cover blurb from Salon.

I have to say, the Korean-language version, as an object, is pretty great. It’s well-done hardcover and even has one of those little bookmark ribbons. Classy!

In The New York Times Magazine: “Junk”ing up carrots

A vegetable borrows from the junk-food branding vernacular

It’s hard to say who gets the last laugh here. The makers of Doritos aren’t exactly complaining. (“We’re happy to serve as inspiration,” a Frito-Lay spokesman told USA Today.) And the reality is that marketers have long since recognized and accepted that “how your snack looks” makes a difference, to kids in particular.

Read the column in the September 26, 2010, New York Times Magazine, or here.

Discuss, make fun of, or praise this column to the skies at the Consumed Facebook page.

Dept. of Where can I get some of those?

I think it might be useful to have some of these SECRECY ENVELOPES.


Here’s me interviewed by Paola Antonelli of MoMa. (Update: I’m tickled, yes tickled, to see Bruce Sterling’s link: “This is truly a provocative, orthogonal, and erudite conversation. I consider myself quite up to speed in matters of this kind, but the people in this discussion constitute a global elite of two.”)

Here’s Unbeige on Hypothetical Developments. Here’s Alissa “no relation”  Walker of Good interviewing me about that as well. And here’s someone writing up that very same project on the Huffington Post.

If you think Hypothetical Development sounds like a neat idea, then donate so we can make it happen.

Dept. of Awesome: The LuvSound Sampler

Recently, longtime friend of Murketing Marc “Disquiet” Weidenbaum became a father. is a site that he’s run for years, covering the world of ambient/electronic music and all things related, because he’s interested and because he loves it. Disquiet regularly gives attention to musicians, and a corner of the music world, that others tend to overlook. It’s a great thing, Disquiet.

And it turns out that the musicians who are often the site’s subject really appreciate it. Because when the word got around about Mr. & Mrs. Disquiet welcoming a new member to their family, a bunch of those musicians teamed up and created the 11-track Soothing Sounds For Baby.

Now that’s a gift.

You can listen to and even download said gift over at Disquiet, right here.

Support the Hypothetical Development project!

With collaborators Ellen Susan and G.K. Darby, I’ve launched a new side project: Signage depicting imaginary building uses in New Orleans.

In a nutshell: We’ve identified a number of buildings around New Orleans that appear neglected and seem to have no future. We have devised imaginary future uses (The Museum of the Self, The Loitering Centre, etc.), and are illustrating those and printing onto 3’X5′ signage. These are meant to be “displayed” on the buildings (starting in December), and later in a gallery show (probably in April) in New Orleans. It’s a comment about “future use” advertisements in the down economy; it’s a new form of storytelling; and it’s fun.

We’re raising money to print the signs on Kickstarter and made what I think is a not-bad promotional video there. In addition to the Kickstarter pitch there’s a further explanation here. Your support is much appreciated; a lot of people have volunteered a lot of time to get it this far, and I truly believe that if we pull it off, it will be delightful. I hope you will take a look. Thanks.