Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Blackberry can't be an Apple.

Perception is everything. Perception is a first impression, it's the car you buy, the shampoo you use, the clothes you wear, the puppy you choose from the litter. It guides us as individuals, corporations, consumers, and communicators. It determines how we react to someone or something and provides a foundation for drawing conclusions that are virtually unshakeable. Perception is 'the friend who comes to crash on your couch "for a few days" and never leaves' of the emotional world: once it's there, it's really hard to get rid of. Perception leads to choice. And in the corporate world this makes it either your greatest ally or your worst enemy. In a world where options are endless, so too are choices. We've all heard the standard explanation that choices are made based on how we want ourselves to be and what we want other people to think of us, thus confirming that we are what we want to be. Ergo, if a woman wants to feel rich, she buys a ridiculously expensive handbag (and let's be serious, by buy, I mean put on credit!) and people think she's rich. Men wear shirts that are too tight, so they can show their muscles and attract women and assert dominance over other men. A study in perception should truly be done in the defunct and yet still 905-infused "Club District" in Toronto. Taking people-watching to the next level!

Anyway, all that to say, what interests me most about perception form a corporate perspective is what do you do to change a negative perception? If you're lucky, you can anticipate the cause and nip it in the bud (see Tom Cruise, quick divorce settlement), but most of the time, the best intentions lead to a PR disaster (see Tom Cruise, couch-jumping). Aside from following the coverage of the TomKat Combat, which has been a fascinating and skilled example of PR and communications on both sides, I first got thinking about this when I was talking to my Dad about getting a new car. Without outlining all his extremely particular wishes, I'll just say that I suggested Audi as it best fit his bill. His reaction was fascinating, because he's weary. Despite all the consumer reports, reviews, design upgrades, changes in ownership and manufacturing, for my Dad, Audi will always be the car that was in the news in the 60s for its rotary engines randomly exploding. He just can't do it. Now, admittedly, my Dad is one tough customer, and clearly Audi has managed to overcome this perception in most people in the rest of the world, but the power of perception here is so evident. When my Dad hears Audi, his mind takes him directly to the engine troubles of the 60s. How do you convince someone to think about something in a totally different way when a perception has made it reflexive rather than contemplative?

To handle a negative perception, should corporations 'listen to their mother', and take responsibility for their mistakes? Own the negative perception and flip it back on itself? I think in the digital age, this becomes more and more the way to go, because that negative perception will live on in internet infamy for all time. That gaffe that happened years ago is still happening now. It's harder to leave the past behind when it's a constant in the present. So embrace it, use it to empower your brand, your business, earn the respect and eventually dollars of your clients and customers. Imagine if RIM started a whole ad campaign where it made fun of itself for bombing so huge in trying to BE Apple instead of pushing what made Blackberry special. Hell, use talking fruit. But admit what everyone already knows and apologize for the error - acknowledge it as such! And then get back to making a better blackberry and leave the apples alone. Ironically, RIM just needs to think different.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blink, and...damn it, already missed it.

I think it's quite fitting that my first post in (yeesh, I can barely believe it) over two years was compelled into being by thoughts on the much buzzed about fantastical, fearsome, and forboding entity that is "change." The year has changed, cellphones have changed, reading has changed, my facebook page has changed, and yet much to the disappointment of technodoomsdayers, the world continues to go on.

I got thinking about this as I was surveying the job market as reference for what courses and skills I might need to take or develop in order to keep myself on the move career-wise (and God-willing, city-wise). Obviously, these focus almost entirely on maintaining, or in some cases, catching-up on, my digital literacy. What strikes me the most about this utterly expected finding is that less than three years ago, I was enrolled in an MA programme that taught me the ways of the digital world and introduced the most cutting-edge of concepts concerning the capabilities of technology for the future. And now, less than three years later, none of that is relevant.

Now, it is the future. Now, much like I remember that thrilling day in 1996 when I opened netscape navigator on my original iMac and experienced the internet for the first time, I now remember that day in class where I could not believe the newest capabilities of Web 2.0. Now, accustomed to the expected luxury of all these things, I ironically ask Siri why the internet on my blackberry is so crappy, become enraged by less-than-optimal internet service, and wonder sincerely how and why people continue to live without PVRs and highspeed. And yet now, I realize that despite being on top of all these trends in terms of being a user, and despite all my education, in the time I've spent getting to know blackberry, iphone, twitter, and Chrome, technology has already moved on. In fact, we are living in a world changed so quickly by it, few really have the chance to see it happening (except of course the Jobses of the world who kept the change coming and will thus be remembered for changing the course of human history - ya, no big deal).

So 2012 begins with me in a place where web word "search" is completely appropo. Search for new opportunities, seach for an escape from Capcity lock-up, and search for courses to keep myself current, because when it comes to being up-to-date, the user is just as important as the technology.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

History in its Natural Environment

As public historians, we aim to connect the public to history using methods that are relevant and accessible in the public realm. We must balance our academic desire for historical accuracy with the public’s interest in heritage and the popular power of nostalgia. In class, we have often discussed the popularity (and pitfalls) of “living history” and the public desire to interact with the past. Landscapes offer a unique and somewhat literal version of “living history,” because they can represent natural, cultural, and material history. As the Glassberg article says, “Landscape is history made visible.” Whether viewing the Grand Canyon or the site of JFK’s assassination, landscapes allow people to “see” the past through knowing they are in a place of historical significance.

The public’s interest in history is frequently driven by the urge to know “what it was really like.” Driven by nostalgia (often second-hand), people want an experience with places and events significant in history; to physically be in a place where something important happened. This desire has fueled the historical tourism industry and has led to the mass popularity of sites such as Colonial Williamsburg. It has also encouraged droves of tourists to visit battlefields, assassination sites, and the homes of important people. Much like our contemporary obsession with celebrities and tabloids, people want to know what life is/was really like in other times, situations, and places. Landscapes allow us to vividly imagine this and therefore produce a unique connection to the past.

How humans have interacted with the natural landscape represents our cultural and practical past; things of beauty and status or things of function. We leave permanent structures when something is important enough to remember. Monuments, cemeteries, castles, railroads; all of these things tell us something about the human past. How we have perceived the environment around us and given it meaning offers insight into the past, and often determines how a particular environment will be used in the future. As much as we like change, we don’t like our change to deviate too much from what has been done before. We are all for all those new condos going up in downtown Toronto, but utterly against the ones that are proposed in cottage country. Humans react very strongly to their surroundings and are very easily offended by attempts to alter a place’s natural state, whether real or imagined.

Whether we intend to or not, we have already classified our environment to serve specific purposes. We want to live in our constructed worlds, but have an innate desire to observe a world without us, as if this is a whole new dimension of “seeing” history. We are dedicated to preservation and conservation, as exemplified by the various National Parks in Canada and the US. These systems came about (not coincidentally) when modern progress and change was first appearing on the North American scene. By preserving nature in its “pure, untouched by man” state, we reveal several key characteristics of our culture and society; the depth of respect we have for our environment and landscapes; the belief that preservation and conservation will redeem us of our past offences against it; our desire to maintain a constant in a rapidly changing environment; our continued idealization of nature as a place of refuge and purity; and the comfort we find in knowing that there is something greater and more powerful in the world than we are.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bottom's Got a Brand New Bag

In the 1970s, there was the "social history revolution." Now, there is immense focus on the internet, and how it has ushered in another major movement in the world of history. The concept of history "from the bottom up" that was popularized in the 70s has taken on whole new meaning with the opportunities provided by the internet. Social history intends to offer the many perspectives on the past that have traditionally been marginalized or ignored.

In response to the popularization of history/heritage, museums, heritage sites, and history professionals have been scrambling to offer a usable past that is appealing and approachable to an increasingly interested public. Historians - academic and public - have shown mounting interest in presenting the past of regular people, and improving the accessibility and relevance of history by offering perspectives that the public audience can relate to. Storage rooms and archives are being re-examined to uncover 'new' history to present the public with an idea of what "real life" was like from the perspective of "real people."

With the introduction of the internet, history "from the bottom up" has its strongest advocate ever, and professional historians face some serious competition from the very audience they're trying so hard to attract. Never has the "average joe" had more power and influence in the field of history than now. The accessibility of the internet cannot be matched, nor can its audience be limited. In addition to granting people the capability to learn at their own pace according to the exact specifications of their interest, the internet also allows anybody to record, synthesize, and present the past of whatever and whomever they choose. Networks like facebook and twitter, blogs, and websites' user comment pages permit people to create totally unregulated archives of everyday life. Rather than having professionals decide how history "from the bottom up" is remembered, presented, and preserved, the internet has tossed the rulebook and given the public ownership and authority over their past.

The public has made clear its desire for "authenticity," real or imagined, when it interacts with the past. In the 21st century, the internet has given new (and more literal) meaning to these theoretical terms that surround the concept of social history (the internet is certainly full of content that constitutes the epitome of "bottom"). I wonder if the history revolutionaries of the 1970s ever imagined this dimension of history "from the bottom up" when they coined the term and if it would be seen as the ultimate fruit of the their intentions or as their most outrageous threat?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In the business of history

Perhaps the largest challenge that faces the public historian is that we have to strive to maintain historical integrity, while catering to the demands of popular history and promoting a very often, selective past. We are trained to drag our heels on issues of historical accuracy and academic integrity. However, in the real world - well one in which we'd like to be employed anyway - we cannot ignore the fact that history is also a business. Rarely does integrity trump success and profit when it comes to any business venture, and the business of history is no different.

Historians who are willing to bend the rules of the Ivory Tower actually have many employment opportunities available to them. After all, history is everywhere, and everyone and everything has one. The tricky part is, that nobody wants to record a history they'd prefer not to remember. History is revised throughout the world. It's as extreme as denying events like the Holocaust and the Cultural Revolution even happened, to as minor as a corporation or business choosing to omit a controversial piece of its past from presentations of its history. The latter revision is one public historians must struggle with all the time, and decide what they can and cannot expose within the parameters of a project or job.

History is a very powerful and persuasive tool. As Aunt May so wisely said to Peter Parker, "with great power, comes great responsibility." What is a historian supposed to do when you discover a fascinating perspective into the past of an institution, but you are forbidden by said institution to use this information? First, you will get angry and annoyed. You spent time and effort researching and preparing the information, and you think that to leave it out would be lying about the past to serve a selfish interest in the present. However, you've been hired by a client to represent their interests, so is the customer always right?

As a public historian, you have a responsibility to history and to your employer. Your job is to act as the bridge between history and the public realm. Although you'll have to make sacrifices sometimes, you can feel good that through your efforts, you've at least ensured that more knowledge has been put out in the world, which is never a bad thing. The best you can hope for is to find a place of compromise within yourself that allows you to accept that throughout your career, you will have to constantly adapt in order to balance two completely opposing objectives. But that's exactly what it takes to succeed in the business of history.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Rhetoric of Hope

History surrounds President Barack Obama. From blackberry to basketball games, it seems everything this man does is of historic proportions. As the first black president, he personifies both America’s greatest achievements and its most infamous flaw. His “audacity to hope” represents all that is good about America and speaks to a glorified past and a promising future.

Shiny and new President Obama has aptly recognized history as a powerful and persuasive instrument of leadership. Patriotism is palpable in America. Americans are fervently proud of their past and exhibit a deep trust in their history. From every ostentatious Fourth of July celebration to every movie where a tattered American flag is the only thing left standing, America is determined to promote its history in the present. However mythologized it may be, its strength as a source of unity, pride, and hope is undisputable. Facing the peril – economic and ideological - of a deep recession, Obama has very wisely turned to history to guide the spirit of the American people through hard times.

Obama’s campaign, election, and evidently, his presidency are all about the utterly compelling, yet totally intangible hope. With its international reputation soiled, its home-fires running out fuel, and the economy up the creek, Americans need something to believe in. Delivered by a vibrant and talented orator who leaves audiences starry-eyed and full of it, hope can’t lose. Obama has an economic crisis and a war on his presidential plate, and America has an itch only a “great man” can scratch.

Hardly a trailblazer, Obama is drawing on the same rhetoric of hope that the beloved FDR used to pull America through the Depression and the Second World War, and is channeling the New Deal to justify his controversial Stimulus Package. He is proactively using history as a salve for present fears, and as reassurance in the company of uncertainty. He has reminded the people of the nation’s historical highs and lows, and of America’s courage and survival through them. With a dash of modern celebrity, Obama is poised to rally the American people, ideal guns a’blazin’ and charge into a future where America can be good again.

Above the people, and of the people, President Obama has indeed, learned from the past.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

With all the hype surrounding technology and the things it allows us to do, there is a tendency to assume that everything it permits us to do is brand new, never been seen before, and deserving of awe and/or praise and/or fear. However, little that we see online is as groundbreaking as it seems. Certainly, the technology is new, but much of what we do with computers is nothing more than teaching an old pony a new way to do the same tricks. The Google library, crowdsourcing, and photoshop are innovative concepts, but none of them are based on new ideas. Reading more about digital history has shown that while the internet and technology offer endless possibilities for the collection, distribution, and creation of information, all of these things were being done well before computers even existed. We're so accustomed to the convenience of computers, yet we remain romanced by each new feature and capability, and sometimes forget that before computers existed people did write, they did capture images and share them, they did read and assemble libraries, and they did assemble in groups to share knowledge and find answers. Understanding technology from the perspective that it offers us new ways to do old things, makes every new advance easier to comprehend and accept.

Technology's capabilities concerning the manipulation of images receives constant attention, simultaneously as one of technology's most valuable assets and greatest evils. I think this has to do with the impact images have upon human beings, and the idea that "seeing is believing." Images are powerful and convincing, and strike the senses in such a way that it is difficult to resist their message. We are accustomed to questioning the written word, or doubting what someone tells us, but our brains are wired to believe that what we see is real. Herein lies the power of images, and the foundation to an entire industry of print media. Tabloids present us with stories that aren't true based on doctored photos, magazine covers feature digitally enhanced and altered photos of models and celebrities, and governments and news organizations present us with photos that communicate the desired message more often than the truth. We know we should doubt them, but it's easier said then done.

Since technology allows us to manipulate images, we must now assume that because people lie, images can lie too. Photo Tampering Throughout History by Hany Farid shows us that both people and photos have been lying for a long time. Doctored images are not a product of computer technology, but of human nature. In many ways, it's no different then cavemen discovering fire, or that spears made hunting a lot easier - computers are just another tool that humans have adopted to make things we were going to do anyway, easier and more efficient. Looking at it this way, we can humanize technology, and subsequently, become more comfortable with it.