Archive Page 2

The Problem with Justice

pirateScreengrab from BBC.com

Short thought for a late night: 16 year old kid takes the fall for a failed state and desperate measures.  Smalltime traffickers on the border get busted for an insatiable national drug habit written into the DNA of pop culture.  Parking tickets are left on the windshield of an auto-obsessed city choked with inefficient cars.

Cap and trade policy turns heroes into victimizers and gives rebels the right to be cool.

It’s not that justice isn’t deserved.  But enacting it often means radically distilling complex problems; purposely foregoing the forest you can’t save for the tree you can burn while you have the chance.  It sets up asymmetrical power structures that are counterintuitive and confusing to people on the outside.  And at some point, it goes from momentum to monotony.

Justice can be a terribly hard thing to brand.

Research Questions for the Social Media Revolutionist

Moldova protest image from NYTimes.com

Meme of the moment: the microblog-fueled social change movement.  In the last fortnight alone, activist organizers around the world have used 140-character-or-less messages to bring together anti-government riots in Moldova and anti-Amazon.com tirades in cyberspace.  Fans have rallied behind actor Ashton Kutcher’s noble quest to become the most followed in the Twitterverse.  And around the nation, conservatives painfully unaware of the pop-culture meaning of ‘teabag’ have come together to, well, teabag.

This is by no means a new phenomenon.  Notable recent cases include the organizing and then reporting of unrest in Myanmar,  SMS-fueled demonstrations in China and the grassroots instigation of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Center protests.  Indeed, with a broader view, one could likely argue that short messages passed among social networks have been driving change for centuries if not millenia (I’ll leave that one to the historians).

But the microblog movements of the past two weeks at least represent a new chapter in this story, and may well be canonizing new rules.  They deserve to be studied in earnest.  I already have enough on my academic plate, so here are a few open research questions to get somebody else started:

First off, how is rallying behind a Hollywood star and his mundane messages different from banding together to attempt government overthrow?  It’s a fair question.  How does the decision making process work at the individual level and en mass — can you map the networks from influencers to influenced?  Is there an Oprah of the Moldovan movement, or is it more decentralized?  Do the individual actors on the ground have a more coherent idea of what they’re doing and why?

Secondly, what’s different about movements that spill into widespread ‘real-world’ action as opposed to protests which play out primarily in digital space?  Do they last longer?  Do they involve more people?  Did the action in Moldova share more similarities with the teabaggers in the US than with #Amazonfail and Ashton’s publicity coup?

And ultimately, what does decentralization and time compression mean for the future of political philosophy?  Are we really dissolving into a world of one-off stunts disconnected from justifying ideologies, or was there just as much evidence of flippance in the first tea party in 1773?

Is this really so revolutionary?


Everyone and a Roof: the Audacity of Imperfect Realism

EDAR featured on CNN

Last week, a co-worker tipped me off to the EDAR (‘Everyone Deserves a Roof’) — a mobile, multi-function shelter for the homeless.  It folds into a shopping-cart-like structure that can be used for mobile recycling (a major income source), and it deploys into a tent-like raised bed in less than a minute.  It costs under $500 to make, a pittance compared to the cost of building and maintaining shelters, and it appeals to many people who are wary of or unable to enter those shelters in the first place.  Its unique function and unlikely story have caught the attention of several news outlets, including video features put together by CNN, ABC, and the LA Times.

Domestic homelessness and is a huge, abstract problem that has at least one major difference from other huge abstract problems, like climate change or terror: if you live in any remotely urban part of the world, you literally and personally encounter its face almost every day.  It is possibly the only great social problem that is, in some capacity, not solely mediated for majority of the general population.

And yet, humanizing the homeless is hardly a daily occurrence.  Consciously acknowledging the deeply complex problems that exacerbate their plight is even more rare.  Something seems oddly novel about seeing homeless people interviewed on TV; hearing EDAR founder and movie producer Peter Samuelson chat with them like any other co-worker; watching the word ‘homeless’ appear under their names in the super with the same implied legitimacy of a public official or an eyewitness.  The problem suddenly becomes, if just for a moment, more difficult to drive past with a rolled-up window; less easy to brush off with callous feelings of superiority and uninformed allegations of what is and isn’t deserved.

The EDAR is, at best, a band-aid.  It doesn’t address the root problems of homelessness, it raises all kinds of legal and policy issues, it’s exploitable, and it’s far from a best-case scenario for fully integrated social services.  But it’s a bold, unabashed and intensely practical solution that completely bypasses circular discourse and challenges complacency.  It does something, today.

It’s a lesson for all of us interested in big, abstract problems.

Living on the Fringes

Sunward Cohousing Common Room, Photo via Concentratemedia.com

Grant has been prompting me to think about cohousing for some time now.  His compelling question this week: there’s a lot of evidence of pent up demand for stronger communities and a real need to cut basic living costs, so why aren’t more people building and flocking to high-density, semi-shared-space housing developments? Does cohousing have a brand problem?

I think it’s a question whose answer depends heavily on vantage point. From the perspective of a mainstream US suburban housing market that has lived for more than 50 years — and is now dying — on the idea of single-family homes surrounded by private space, the notion of weekly shared meals and common governance can sound like the radical whim of flower children.  But seen in the arc of a social movement that’s rooted in farm communes and architecture-obsessed personality cults, the concept of a common rec room, walkable lawns, and occasional monthly chores built into a modern condo complex hardly rings of revolution.

From where I sit, cohousing’s brand problem is also its brand strength: it lives on the fringes between a convicted niche and an chaotic mass market.  It draws on the energy and inspiration of an outsider, but is stuck with the symbolism of discomfort when viewed from the comfortable middle.  Being an approachable fringe is as much a matter of building an appealing brand for yourself as it is a challenge of overcoming latent apprehensions and preconceived prejudices that people have built for you.

This could mean that cohousing just has to wait for the slow-changing tides of social preferences to tip in its favor (as they certainly seem to be doing). But it raises an interesting question:

How do you un-brand yourself?

Advanced? Not so fast.

(image from Burbank Times via LATimes Blogs)

It’s been a while [yes, since I’ve last posted here, but also] since Kenneth E. Norwood of the Burbank City Planning Department sat down to write about what life was like in February 2009. It’s been, in fact, 50 years.

Norwood’s brief essay, composed as if it were written last month, was stuffed into a ‘time capsule’ (aka mason jar) along with a roll of film in 1959 and stowed in an overpass near the Warner Brothers lot. The Burbank Times has a feature article about its unveiling complete with a fun pairing of the 1959 photos to 2009 shots.

What’s really interesting to me is Norwood’s attept at imagining the future — how realistic and practical of a vision it is (in parts), how little of it has come to pass, and how much of it echos the daydreams we’re still having. You can read it in full scan format: [Page 1], and [Page 2].

Norwood’s fantasy is essentially a pedestrianized, walkable city full of mixed-use, live/work/shop/play spaces. He speaks of rapid-transit routes, massive adoption of multi-unit housing “made of plastic” and an asphalt imprint that’s radically different.  “Only partially distinguishable are the local street patterns of 1959,” he hopes.

As I’ve said recently, the future is fickle.  Norwood failed to anticipate (or didn’t see fit to mention) the Large Hadron Collider and the rise of Twitter, but he unintentionally nailed a vision of sustainable cities that is, all too unfortunately, still just a vision.

50 years from now, what will we dig out of the overpass, shake our heads at, and wish we would have spent more time on?

Announcing the Launch of MetabrandGreen.com (and the overhaul of my social media strategy)

Metabrand Green

I’ll admit it: when I started posting here back in October, I wasn’t convinced I’d last more than two weeks as a blogger.  Granted, it has only been a few months and I certainly haven’t hit the big-time yet, but I’ve found the experience to be a useful and rewarding way to keep my horizons open and my brain sharp.  So, I’m expanding.

Today I’m launching MetabrandGreen.com, a blog totally devoted to advancing the idea that has come to feature so prominently on these pages.  This will do a few important things:

  1. It will let me focus on metabrands properly, articulating the idea coherently and consistently (notice I’ve already dropped the hyphen) in the context of green business.
  2. It will allow me to publish a series of segments defending the idea of metabrand green in a public forum, seeking out some targeted feedback on the social web as the idea develops.
  3. It will free up Preparsed to get back to what it was founded as — a personal collection of a broad variety of interesting green- and brand-related topics to be saved for a later date.

But wait, there’s more!  I’ve also begun to experiment with Twitter… in other words, I finally stopped dismissing it outright and decided to try it for a few weeks before continuing to dismiss it.  Given the way things are going, however, I suspect my tenure in the tweetsphere might be more complicated than I originally intended.

Very interested in active feedback from anyone who feels motivated to share it on the MetabrandGreen project.

The Jurassic Past and Fickle Future

My comm law & policy prof is fascinated with futurology — the predictive daydreaming of technological progress based on what came before and where the margins are fuzziest.  It’s a weird science, to be sure, and I struggle to take him seriously when he claims that we’ll be living in total virtual realities by 2020.

But a nostalgic column in yesterday’s Slate and a funny clip from Conan (embedded below) have recently reminded me just how easy it is to take progress for granted.

It’s had me wondering: why do some meta brands, like computer electronics, seem to advance so directly on exponential S-curves while others, like ‘green,’ suffer the roller coaster of cultural fits and starts?  Thirteen years ago, when we were mired in the dark ages of hypertext, we already long knew that global warming was a problem, that alternative energy was a solution, and that innovation promised a boon to business everywhere.  The first modern biodiesel production system, for that matter, was patented in 1937 — the same year the Golden Gate Bridge opened.  I guarantee you there’s been far more change over the spans of the latter than the former has seen in the span of seventy years.  Why doesn’t Moore’s law apply to meta-brand green?

I, clearly, don’t have a good answer.  But there’s something to notion of momentum and inertia within the complex dynamic of meta-brands that’s worth a deeper think.  In the meantime, have a nostalgic chuckle:


thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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