Knowledge vs Intelligence

So Google is on the way to replacing our general knowledge.

http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/brian-cathcart/no-passes

Prompting the question, do we really need to know stuff?

Well, maybe not just to remember facts. That’s just about dumb information retrieval, which might well be better performed by some kind of giant searchable hard drive – wherever it is. It might offend those who believe that intelligence means knowing stuff – like dates of kings and queens – but in the real world, if we can always find the answer within seconds, why waste valuable cerebral real estate with stuff like that?

But.

Creativity comes from colliding facts together. Remembering something you’ve seen which is “relevant”, and recombining it with that thing you’ve just noticed.

In fact the idea of “relevance” is fuzzy, messy and not at all within the grasp of search engines. And what they certainly can’t do (yet) is experimentally collide concepts and fuse something new.

So if we want to remain creative we have to know stuff. Really know it. Internalise it, so it’s available to our subconscious brain (which is where all the thinking happens.)

As opposed to merely being able to access it when we need to know it.

Maybe all those duffers worrying about Google have a point.

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The Devil Has The Best Tunes

Sodding Fox news. If you’re a good liberal like me, you probably hate it. But it works – because it’s entertaining.

And the trouble with liberals really is that they have no eye or ear for entertainment. Entertainment involves simplification. It involves exaggeration. It involves appealing to old-fashioned moral systems like good and evil.

All a bit rightwing, non?

Watching the Lib Dems on Straight Talk, on the BBC on the 23rd of July (if you saw it), I was struck with the same thought. They’re very good. Very reasonable. Everyone always thinks so. But no one wants them to lead.

Could that be because they aren’t entertaining, charismatic leaders? They’re consultants. To win you have to be entertaining. And currently the Republicans Tories devils have all the best tunes.

Trends

Why do we keep on talking about predicting trends? We can’t, and we may as well admit it.

Here’s a new way we could talk about them without looking stupid a year down the line, when we inexplicably aren’t living on the moon, or wearing tweed plusfours, or downshifting.

Instead of making predictions that they will happen, why can’t we recognise that they are either allowed to happen, or not. Why can’t we treat them as potential force instead. A force which brands (for example) can either release, or contain.

Take the “trend” towards hiring rather than ownership.

Actually what this is, is three converging potential energies:

– the desire to have more space and be less encumbered

– the realisation that you can have MORE stuff if you rent

– innovation in answering these desires

Tut still the trend may not happen. For every trend is an opposing force.

This one is people’s desire to own their own things. We know the behavioural economics: we value that which is ours higher than that which is not, and we go for immediate rather than delayed ownership (because it could all be taken away tomorrow).

As well as simply recognising those barriers, brands can remove them and thus bring trends into existence.

Or they can bring out products that predict trends, and fail.

Either way seeing trends as dynamic potential energy, rather than future states, has got to be a more helpful way of considering them…

Bad Apples

There are currently two campaigns underway which attempt to level the massive disparity in desirability between Microsoft and Apple. One is public, branded, and not very good. The other is almost exactly the opposite.

I can’t stand Microsoft’s “I’m A PC” stuff. The pre-Windows 7 brand ads, which featured tattooists, schoolkids and normal looking people claiming to be a PC was apologetic, fake, uncool, indulgent, self-centred, and just about everything that Apple, at their best, are not. Watching it as a user of both Apples and PCs, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth they were trying to take on Apple at their own game (i.e. being the cool computer manufacturer)? It looked like they’d spent money on repairing executive pride, rather than addressing a real problem at a grassroots level – either among employees or users.

(Proof that it’s about pride, by the way:

http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2009/11/shareholders_quiz_ballmer_about_macs_windows_mobile_phones.html)

After all, just look at the energy with which Microsoft employees blog. Or the sheer number of people that use MSN messenger to keep in touch with friends. All of which would have made a better basis for an ad campaign than pretending you’re the computer of choice for LA fashionistas. When, clearly, you are not.

But if Microsoft really wanted to have a go at Apple, here’s what I humbly suggest they should have done.

They should have stuck to what they’re good at in their “official” comms.

Then they should have found all those clips and comments and other things about the Apple backlash.

(They do exist.)

Then they should have reflected, repeated, and spread them.

Someone, possibly Peter Mandelson, was apparently challenged on why he didn’t have a singular, central idea for the Labour Party campaign effort once. He replied that he didn’t want one – he wanted lots. He wanted to light lots of fires, and see which ones took hold.

There are loads of reasons people might hate Apple. They’re closed. They’re not good when things go wrong. They’re used by pretentious idiots who have more money than sense. All of which people already say online, and all of which Microsoft should be seeking to spread as far and as wide as possible.

That’s got to be a better bet than trying to pretend they’re rebels too.

Editors

Came across a tweet from Spotify recommending a playlist that features “most of the NME’s albums of the decade”. And suddenly realised that shareable playlists, created by expert curators, are what make Spotify if not the platform of the future, then at least a good blueprint for it.

For the most part, you control your own content. Great if you want to listen to something random – like, say, Siamese Dream. Great if you want to explore and do all those things that new media consumers are supposed to want to do.

But the thing I don’t like about content-on-demand, as a consumer, is the solitariness of it. I sit there on my headphones listening to early-90s grunge while next to me a good friend listens to something I’ve never heard of. And we don’t discuss it.

That’s why I love the idea of shared playlists so much. It gives listening to music back its sense of community. I can perfectly imagine having a conversation about great playlists with my mates down the pub, in much the same way I currently have conversations about what was on Jools Holland. It’ll help break new acts, and help keep music from totally atomising, aside from highly localised scenes based around a few venues.

Made me wonder whether this kind of approach could apply to other kinds of content, too. Movies might be a bit long to share in this way. But what about youtube clips? What if the comedy format of the future is a playlist of amazing 20″ clips that does the rounds? Like a longer-form version of a viral? You could talk about it in the same way that people quote one-liners from Will Ferrel movies at each other, and it would be a great combination of user-controlled but curated.

I don’t know about you but I could do with some curation now and then.

The Internet: Arguments, Not Facts

The internet isn’t full of facts. It’s full of arguments. As demonstrated by this article on the New York Times’ site:

http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/acorn-in-the-age-of-post-journalism/

which quotes Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, who says that “work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win.”

Bad news.

But it makes sense when you think about it. All that content on the web: think about who’s providing this stuff. Every single entry posted by an amateur on the web is probably going to be from an interest group. Someone with an agenda.

And it’s compounded by another problem: people look for things that confirm their own beliefs.

http://www.livescience.com/culture/090608-media-message.html

I’m not a creationist. But if I were, I could find ample evidence on the first page of google for my beliefs.

The idealised neutrality of the internet actually entrenches beliefs, rather than expanding horizons.

And this is where people get their facts from. Wikipedia, and Google (which could be replacing general knowledge…)

http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/content/brian-cathcart/no-passes

Reputation, choice or effectiveness?

Apparently the government is worrying about reputation of local councils:

http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=7816238

Given it’s our money they’ll be spending, I wonder whether they should be. Apparently there is no correlation between satisfaction with council services and satisfaction with councils. I can see the argument for making sure people are happy with services: they need to be used to be useful, and people won’t use services they don’t think are any good.

But it’s not as immediately clear why it’s in the public interest for people to be happy with councils. Just as brand campaigns can be a corporate indulgence, shareholder value squandered by the pride of senior management, I can see this campaign squandering public money on a private vanity project.

I guess there might be arguments to the contrary. Maybe people are less engaged with politics if they are dissatisfied with their council. Maybe people commit social crimes if they feel disenfranchised. But if that’s the case, it isn’t clear from this article.

I think this is important. Government should have a clear effectiveness mandate which makes sense to us as shareholders. Even if we devolve executive responsibility to them, we should be clear on why they’re making the decisions they’re making.

A classic example is choice. Government thinks choice is something people want. It’s at the heart of the philosophy of the modern NHS. It’s something councils also think people want. And yet. According to the article quoted above, satisfaction with a council doesn’t really depend on whether they can make their voices heard. According to research I’ve done on perceptions of the NHS, choice isn’t really as important to people as the idea of a reliable safety net. In fact people would rather they were just told where to go, as long as the basic level of care was consistent. Many suspect choice is simply a way of dressing up uneven quality of delivery.

Again, I think if the Government were clearer on exactly why choice is a good thing people might not be so suspicious. Unfortunately, though, I wonder whether they have a reason. To a lot of people it feels like inappropriate import of commercial, consumerist ideas. They might be right.