The PEN Story

I haven’t blogged in a while so this is a bit outdated but wanted to post it anyway. No post production, this stop motion film was made by taking 60,000 pictures, with 9,600 prints developed! It’s quite inspiring when you think of the effort involved. 

Voices amidst the cacophony

I chanced upon the work of Christopher Baker via Computerlove. He’s involved in a range of interesting projects, but my favourite without doubt is Hello World! Or How I Learned To Stop Listening And Love The Noise, a video installation that takes 5000 personal videos from YouTube to create a massive wall where they all play simultaneously. It will show in Gijon, Spain from 23rd October 2009 to 5th April 2010. He explains the concept behind it very well, and I really wish I could see it:

On one hand, new media technologies like YouTube have enabled new speakers at an alarming rate. On the other hand, no new technologies have emerged that allow us to listen to all of these new public speakers. Each video consists of a single lone individual speaking candidly to a (potentially massive) imagined audience from a private space such as a bedroom, kitchen, or dorm room. The multi-channel sound composition glides between individuals and the group, allowing viewers to listen in on unique speakers or become immersed in the cacophony. Viewers are encouraged to dwell in the space.

Here’s a video of the installation. Looks mesmerizing. 

The Israeli defence company’s ad that bombed

Israeli arms company Rafael really didn’t need to do this. First, the issue is arms, not a dating website, second the video is plain tacky. 

Before I continue with my rant, here’s some context: India buys a whole lot of missiles from Rafael, with defence deals amounting to about $1 billion a year. Rafael released this video ad recently with Israeli women dressed as Bollywood dancers and singing the most cheesy lyrics ever, ostensibly to ‘cement’ the relationship between the two countries. Sample this:

We have been together for long..trusting friends and partners..what more can I pledge to make our future strong?

Pardon me while I gag. 
Anyway, thankfully it hasn’t gone down well in the upper echelons of Parliament in India, and the Left wants the most recent deal to be cancelled outright. But the government is holding on because of other ‘crucial’ defence deals that are underway. 
What a wonderful web they weave…..

Extreme shepherding

In the span of 5 days, this video has got over a million views. This is a REAL viral. Regular readers of this blog may know that I have a dislike for the term ‘viral’ with the way it is bandied about as if people can actually ‘make’ a viral. You can make a video with the intent of it going viral, that’s about it. But anyway, great video. Check it out. Samsung were quite smart linking themselves to this!

Roman Coppola directs Sebastien Tellier’s song ‘L’amour et la violence’

One thing I did not know about Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford and brother of Sofia) is that he directed a few sequences of Love Actually, or so says Wikipedia. Anyway, I wanted to write about the music video he’s directed for Sebastien Tellier’s track ‘L’amour et la violence’. The video starts off focussing on the singer – for what seems like ages – then suddenly moves to shots of his Paris flat. But that’s it. No bigger focus of the video than the singer and his surroundings. You can either think it’s a bit too simplistic or that it’s very poetic.  

And the entire song is composed of these 4 lines:

Dit moi qu’est que tu penses?
de ma vie
du mon adolescence

dit moi qu’est que tu penses?
j’aime aussi l’amour et la violence

But the music, the music…is just beautiful. 

Similarities, differences and what could have been

On January 15th, 2009 T-Mobile (OK, their agency Saatchi & Saatchi) filmed a group of people in a supposed flashmob-style event at Liverpool Street station in London to reflect the tagline ‘Life is for sharing’. Lots of opinions floated around the interwebs following its debut on TV that day, mostly positive, from what I gathered. 
On February 6th, 2009, a bunch of people, almost 13,000 strong, performed a silent disco (I don’t think it was very silent, from what I can see from the video, though!!) at the same venue. They got together based on information circulated in a Facebook group, many reports declaring that they created havoc for commuters who were trying to get home because the station was too jammed. 
There’s been some debate about whether the latter was ‘inspired’ by the former – CNN says outright that it was, in this article. I can’t find any information to the contrary, but personally I don’t think so. For one, flashmobs aren’t a particularly new concept – they began as early as 2003. The T-mobile commercial merely took the concept and used it to their benefit. (Apparently there were constant flashes going off and cameras/cameraphones filming the event, which was what the whole point of the stunt was – unless even those people were actors). T-Mobile will probably go down in history as the first brand to create an ad based on the concept, good for them. But if you think about how spontaneous it was (and this is where the ad has faced criticism), it seems to suddenly lose lustre. It’s like you were cheated out of your money because the brilliancy of the whole idea was no more than a performance by some people who were paid to do their job. The Facebook flashmob, on the other hand, was a great example of the power of social networking – here you had 13,000+ people who were alerted by no other means of communication than Facebook, who came together on their own and clearly had no monetary motive. Where they fell short, in my opinion, is in the execution – I’d rather watch the T-Mobile ad than the Facebook flashmob – you can’t have a ‘silent’ disco with people screeching all around.
What makes any act of this nature special is summarised beautifully in the words of Charlie Todd, founder of the New York group Improv Everywhere:

We get satisfaction from coming up with an awesome idea and making it come to life. In the process we bring excitement to otherwise unexciting locales and give strangers a story they can tell for the rest of their lives. We’re out to prove that a prank doesn’t have to involve humiliation or embarrassment; it can simply be about making someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.

Improv Everywhere were behind the Grand Central freeze, one of my all-time favourite conversational topics. Technically though, they claim their events are not like flashmobs at all. (CNN slipped up in this article – more about Improv Everywhere’s philosophy here). So if comparisons are being made, I’d compare the T-Mobile stunt to the events organised by Improv Everywhere – but with one crucial difference. People who participate in Improv Everywhere’s events aren’t paid – they simply do it for the fun of it, whereas the T-Mobile actors probably were. I can’t say this for sure, but I’m pretty much certain. Then I started thinking – does that one fact make a difference to me? I completely agree with what Charlie Todd said, and that’s what makes those kind of events strike a chord with me. So if I had to strip the T-Mobile ad down to its bare bones – yes, it does make a difference, even if I give them full marks for execution. If the people involved in the ad weren’t paid, however (highly unlikely!), then I guess my vote goes for it 100%. Similarly, I loved the *idea* of the Facebook flashmob, but wish they’d gone about it better. 
Moral of this story: Know exactly what you want to do, and what you’re doing it for. Improv Everywhere doesn’t do ads for this reason. People won’t buy it. The Facebook flashmob could have done something else (a sudden faint, a human chain, a mass huddle) in that venue. Or they should have made sure that not one person opened their mouth, which actually may have been a sight to see. But with 13,000 mostly teenaged people, that’s tough to control. And T-Mobile could have asked people to do something for the fun of it, and publicized that fact to their advantage.

Today’s election coverage

Today is probably the most important day in American election history that many will see in their lives. As we all wait with bated breath to see who will be revealed as the next President of the most powerful country in the world, here are a few things I’ve noticed about today’s election coverage by three websites and social media platforms: 

For one, the New York Times has a great video providing an overview of the elections so far. I would have embedded it, but as is usual with the New York Times, they aren’t very sharing-friendly. I think that is perfectly ridiculous, because it’s a very good video and any site that doesn’t proactively encourage link love is only doing harm to themselves. I hope someone is listening out there and changes that aspect of the site. 
Two, Facebook has done a Google and is encouraging everyone to go and vote with a notification on their main page. Conversely, Google, who usually come up with very inspiring logos for events not half as important (the first day of Fall and the Persian New Year, for example) have remained mum on the issue – there’s no change to the regular Google logo today.

Three, Twitter is going full-steam ahead with their coverage of the elections. Everyone knows by now that it can boast the presence of both @barackobama and @johnmccain, and that Barack Obama is way more Twitter-savvy than McCain. (Latest case in point: Obama’s last tweet was 7 hours ago but McCain’s was October 24th – as of 11.25am UK time today). More importantly however, Twitter is powering Current TV’s election coverage later tonight with live tweets, co-hosted by Digg, with a video from and a DJ set by Diplo.
4 years ago, George Bush and John Kerry weren’t half as spread over the internet the way McCain and Obama are today. It means a lot that these candidates can reach out to people – Americans who are not resident in the country, for example – in a way that they couldn’t and wouldn’t even have thought of last time. Technology and the growth of social media will also most likely result in way more young people voting than last time – and that means a greater number of people voicing their opinions. Essentially, that means a stronger democracy, and (fingers crossed) a better world for all of us.

Mena Trott on how blogs help build a friendlier world

If I were a teacher, I would ensure that I showed at least one TED video a month to my students. They aren’t just incredibly insightful, but very relevant and cover such a wide array of topics that it would be difficult for anybody not to find at least one interest of theirs covered. This one is by the co-founder of MovableType and TypePad, Mena Trott. (Her company, Six Apart, later acquired LiveJournal as well). She’s just a couple of years older than me. In this talk, she explains how blogs are building a friendlier world – and I agree. I’ve learnt so much about different people and their interests and unconsciously (for the most part) about life, simply by reading their blogs.