Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Future of Data

After watching this lecture by Hans Rosling (professor of international health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute and founder of GapMinder) at last year's TED conference, it's even more clear to me that we (the human race) are still in the very early stages of being able to make sense out of the vast amounts of data we've been collecting on our world. Rosling's visualizations, which simplify and enliven massive sets of abstruse data, hint at the way we'll process information in the years to come.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

George Trow was a Genius

February 12, 2007 issue of New York Magazine:
"When it is more important to be seen than to be talented, it is hardly surprising that the less gifted among us are willing to fart our way into the spotlight,” sneers Lakshmi Chaudhry in the current issue of The Nation. “Without any meaningful standard by which to measure our worth, we turn to the public eye for affirmation."

George Trow for The New Yorker, 1980:
"In the New History, nothing was judged—only counted. The power of judging was then subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do. In the New History, the preferences of a child carried as much weight as the preferences of an adult, so the refining of preferences was subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do."

It's been 27 years since Trow penned "Within the Context of No Context," and no one since has been able to match his eloquence and precision in defining what it means to live in America today.

My question: who is the George Trow of 2007? Surely not Seth Godin.

Can't See the Forest for the Super-Computers

Everyone has heard about the Quantum Computer recently unveiled in Vancouver. And despite any nay-saying about the machine's actual capabilities, one thing is clear: no one expected any technological advancement of this sort for at least another decade or two. So what's the rush?

Google as Meta-Research

In his famous essay "Within the Context of No Context," George Trow noted:

In the New History, nothing will be judged, only counted.

The New History is our present history, and it is a history of demographics, of preference, and of choice. This new form of history requires a different mode of historical record-keeping. Fortunately, Google is our official historian.

I'm talking about Google Zeitgeist, and we may consider it an accurate measure of our times.


This may well be the future of the advertising industry. Just don't tell the folks at the Future Marketing Summit (yet).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Magazines as Cultural Artifacts

This post inspired by ASME's Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years, an excellent tool for planners.

Magazines are of great use and importance to the strategic planner. We go to the bookstore, expense 5 or 6 of them (BlackBook, Print, Wired, Anthem, The Believer, and Harper's are my favorites), and spend the afternoon pouring over bleeding-edge trends in music, art, fashion, tech, and whatever else we find useful to the refinement of our sense of the world -- the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, per se. This is part of our job as planners -- to understand culture as completely as possible so that we might enable our clients to engage people more resonantly.

Recently in school, I was given the task of resurrecting the GAP brand, and it was a magazine that catalyzed my insight into what the GAP brand truly stands for. The magazine was the 1966 TIME "Person of the Year Issue", and this was the cover:

The Person of the Year in 1966 was "Everyone Twenty-Five and Under." Sounds a bit like a more recent addition to the list.

Anyway, this issue of TIME didn't help me uncover any trends or contemporary cultural hot buttons. In fact, I didn't even open it. But the power of the ideas evoked by this singular image and what it meant in its cultural context led me to an insight that can't be found in the pages of a cool-hunter magazine.

The point here is that planners should look at magazines as rich cultural artifacts that are clear signs of our times, not just harbingers of the cool and the new.