My work are recruiting for a graduate programme in the UK. I don’t know anything much else about this - how many slots there are, for instance - but we’re a global research agency which is good fun to work for and has one of the friendlier office cultures I’ve encountered. It’s fairly small for a global agency - 150-ish people worldwide - so you’d be put onto interesting, responsible work fast. Anyway, I thought I’d link it here.
I read this deck today, about “Gen Z” - i.e. teenagers. Obviously generations are something of a bugbear of mine, and this deck does all the usual generation-thinking things: goes overboard on distinctions, worships attitudinal data, fails to cross-analyse by other demographic groups, etc etc.
But it’s also an example of a problem that spreads well-beyond generation-level thinking. The problem is stacking - taking multiple separate quantitative studies and using them to tell a story about a particular group - not just generations, but ‘men’, ‘women’, ‘the rich’, ‘the emerging middle class’, and more.
You can anticipate a crisis for ages and then when it actually happens the exact form of it still takes you by surprise. For as long as I’ve been involved - as doer or observer - with social media research there’s been the awareness that given the right spin or situation the cocktail of observed behaviour, aggregation, lack of privacy or “informed consent” and blunt-instrument analytic tools could land someone in trouble.
Naively, I think most market researchers imagined it would be a research firm doing something seen as naughty - having put together codes of conduct designed to prohibit that. But the sad truth is that nobody cares what market researchers get up to with data - these days, there are bigger fish to try. If researchers can get away with signing up to a forum for the terminally ill in order to scrape it of data - as Nielsen did in the PatientsLikeMe breach in 2010 - it’s a sign that we’re basically Too Small To Epic Fail. No, we should have realised where the issues we predicted were likely to hit: Facebook.
WPP’s Cavalry raised funds to keep creative director’s Teddy Goalsevelt character at the World Cup
The World (Cup) We Live In: Ad agency creates stereotypical loudmouth fan character, then ASKS PEOPLE TO PAY FOR HIM via crowdsourcing.
I am pretty sure this is the first time I have seen an agency use crowdsourcing to keep a campaign going. There’s a devilish genius to it - if content marketing is going to use the platforms and forms of independent content, why not also appropriate the ways its paid for? But also, ew.
“There’s ways for marketers to use interactive media and social media but they have to understand that we’ve returned to really a medieval-era bazaar. It’s a nonfiction space where people are now talking about product attributes. They want to know, ‘Where are these cookies made? What is in them? Are they organic? What’s the supply chain? What’s the labor like? What’s the environmental footprint?” Not, “What’s the name of the elves in the hollow tree that supposedly baked them?”—Douglas Rushkoff. ReThink. (via peterspear)
A quote that sadly confirms even very smart people are not immune to the lure of filter bubbles full of what they’d like to be true.
If kids report that they’re transgender and have one leg and belong to a gang and have several children … take it with a grain of salt.
This is a good article on, basically, kids trolling surveys for a laugh. It happens a lot. If I was a kid in the age of online surveys, I’d do it too. Especially if it was one of those surveys where the sole purpose is a hand-wringing clickbait headline about how kids these days think the Earth is flat or would marry their iPhone or whatever. If you’re offered a ludicrous answer in a survey designed to confirm someone’s view of how crappy the modern world is or how dumb everybody is - well, it’s hardly surprising some people take the hint.
But as one look at the article summary tells you, this is also a real problem. What the industry euphemistically calls “hard-to-reach” populations - small minority populations, basically - are actually harmed by this kind of stuff. The article has a good example - a study that reported negative impacts of adoption turned out to show nothing of the sort when troll answers got taken out.
I am not part of any population that suffers from prejudice or bias - name a privilege and I benefit from it. But I am a researcher, so I see at reasonably close hand what happens to data. And it seems to me that data and representation have a treacherous relationship. Inevitably, since people find in data what they are looking for.
On the one hand, data can offer stark evidence of inequalities, different needs and priorities, and different experiences: numbers that can be vital in making a case for change. On the other, data can be the comfort blanket that tells decision makers that change isn’t important. Research can erase minorities by reducing them to the status of a statistical insignificance, or it can ignore the diversity of their experiences in favour of a data-enforced average. There is every reason for people to mistrust data and research.
And cases like the adoption study one introduce yet another such reason - the possibility that careless research will end up magnifying the voices of the mischievous (or, let’s face it, malicious) and endorse stigmatizing myths instead of revealing anything useful. The remedies outlined - dummy questions in particular - are ingenious, and this kind of internal check should be routine in any important survey. But the uneasy relationship between research and representation - at the analysis stage as well as the collection stage - is harder to solve.
To that end, I reviewed a sample of 87 posts on the aforementioned Coca-Cola Journey site. To see whether people really are engaging with the stories, I documented the number of shares to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn from each post.
I discovered the level of interaction was negligible: The average number of shares from a post to Facebook was 238, to LinkedIn, 103 and to Twitter, 42. Each post averaged eight comments and two-thirds of posts received no comments at all.
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the implications: One of the biggest brands in the world generates next to no interaction through its primary window to the world.
It’s a few months old, but this is a good, damning analysis of major corporate ‘content marketing’. More impressive for being published in a content marketing blog, which has an interest in not examining the emperor’s wardrobe this thoroughly.
"Content marketing" is a good chunk of my job, so I’m hardly going to damn it outright. But it’s very worth asking what kind of ‘content’ a brand like Coke can credibly produce, aside from ads. Especially if - as seems likely, after reading this - Coke itself hasn’t thought much about that. It’s the same problem with ‘native advertising’. Either you talk about the brand, in which case it’s just ‘advertising’, or you don’t, in which case it’s publishing, and your people aren’t as good at that as the people whose nest you’re paying to cuckoo in. Not that they’re exactly getting rich right now.
Or put it another way. For years marketing people have called themselves “creatives” and have talked about what they do in terms of artistry, creativity, craft, emotion, beauty, excitement, engagement, and so on. What’s happening with native advertising and with content marketing is that the boundaries are coming down between marketing creativity and craft and non-marketing creativity and craft - journalism, filmmaking, pop videos, games, whatever. They get to compete on level terms.
And the marketing stuff is losing. Because the marketers, the ‘content creators’, the ‘creatives’ aren’t good enough at it.
There’s no shame in that, they never were and never will be. Back in the day the “problem” of advertisers not being publishers was solved elegantly and neatly with sponsorship - they didn’t create the content themselves, they paid for it to exist. You can see this particular cycle heading that way and re-learning that lesson. In the meantime, plenty of money will be spent on mediocre things, and the world will hardly see any of them.
Mobility once prioritized portability; today it is the freedom to explore the world.
Success was once about what was passed down; today it is about the things you create yourself.
Status once meant collecting rare objects; today it is experiencing and sharing rare stories.
Belonging or networking was once exclusive and alienating; today there is more value in inclusion.
Consumption was once opulent and ostentatious; today it is more purposeful and meaningful.”
Ignore all the stuff about “X was once…”, and look at the ‘now’ stuff. “Explore the world”, “Things you create yourself”, “Experiencing rare stories”, “Inclusion”, “Purposeful and meaningful”.
Those things might look familiar to you. They did to me. They’re all traits you see turn up quite often in pieces about Gen Y, ‘millennials’ or new ‘digital native’ consumers more broadly. There’s a broad agreement in these studies and pieces about what makes rich people interesting and what makes young people interesting.
This confluence of supposed attributes and motivations is intriguing to me, because while a lot of rich people these days are young, they certainly aren’t all young, and while a few young people are rich, they certainly aren’t all rich.
So why do marketing people and planners say broadly the same things about them?
A number of possible explanations present themselves:
This really is how rich people think and the only young people marketers really care about are also (relatively) rich.
This really is how young people think and the only rich people marketers really care about are also (relatively) young.
There is a broader global shift in attitudes going on such that any given study of any subgroup will pick up basically the same aspirations and shifts.
These attitudes are what sound good and socially acceptable in quantitative and qualitative research, i.e. claiming them makes you sound like a nice human being not a greedy dickbag.
These attitudes are what researchers, planners etc. find admirable (or perhaps identify with themselves) so they project it onto enviable groups (the rich or young).
These ideas are what researchers, planners etc. know will get them repeat custom and/or book deals.
These ideas already HAVE got people book deals and repeat custom and are now circulating as mix’n’match memes about modern living, forming a kind of path of least resistance whenever a study gets written.
Rich people and young people are special and I am horrible and cynical.
I am inclined to think that 4, 6, and 8 have elements of truth. Maybe 2 aswell. 9 is of course also half correct.
“Public approval of Osborne isn’t based merely upon bad economics, therefore. It’s founded in psychological mechanisms which distort judgments. "Bourgeois" social science corroborates the Marxian claim that political beliefs can be subject to false consciousness. One other thing. Kahneman’s theory is based upon a study (pdf) of colonoscopy patients. In this sense, George Osborne is very much like a pain in the arse.”—
I’ve thought a few times that one of the attractive things about Kahneman’s thinking is how it posits a version of “false consciousness” where nobody gets to claim ‘true consciousness’, so to speak: he’s immensely pessimistic about the likely success of attempts to liberate yourself from distortions of judgement.
Mind you my understanding of Marx’s idea of false consciousness in the first place is surely utterly flawed - the legacy of University encounters with people who certainly gave the impression they were talking about a flaw that, like bad taste, only affected others.
On The New Edge Network and The Future of Local Commerce Steve Cheney (@stevecheney), 26 April 2014 Pretty techie introduction to how iBeacons are gonna deliver contextual awareness, written with a lot of excitement for how this makes the network more “intelligent” & the commercial applications. Less great on consumer applications, but nonetheless an important explainer.
"Most people don’t yet get it, but beacons as a platform are really a wedge into ‘appifying’ the physical world. They give context to a physical space. […] Beacons are truly a way of giving your smartphone eyes—place dumb signs around you and let your phone discover and read them."
Some very interesting stuff here. This made me laugh though - from the Cheney article.
"You may shop at Amazon almost every time you buy something online but you will likely never dine at the same restaurant 10 times in a row."
It’s always bloody restaurants! Restaurants are to the smart mobile web as fridges were to the Internet of Things - a kind of soft limit on the imagination of the tech people writing about it, that’s also culturally a bit revealing.
The “talking fridge” use case - your fridge will work out when stocks are running low and either tell you or order something for you - isn’t that useful to ordinary food shoppers (it doesn’t actually remove the need to make orders or go shopping, and actually adds an extra variable - if I buy this, will my fridge have bought it too?). But where it MIGHT make sense is in environments with a communal fridge and a steady rate of consumption of an unvarying set of commodities. Like, for instance, a startup.
And the “your phone will tell you about local restaurants” use case has its own implications - a culture where eating out of home is the norm, so the most obvious thing for a new technology to do becomes helping with that. Which it is among parts of the population - the age (young) and income (high) groups which a lot of tech workers will fall into. This isn’t bathetic, like the fridge was, because lots of people eat out a lot. But it’s still a bit funny and telling that it’s the go-to example for “what will the contextual internet do for us?”
This study, reported in Marketing Week, looks at “brand fatigue” worldwide. People were asked to conceptualise their relationship with a bunch of brands - friend, family member, enemy, or acquaintance. The reporting is a bit oblique, because presumably people were asked about specific brands and all the reporting talks about is an overall ‘relationship with brands’. But even with that limitation - which leaves you asking “which brands?” as you read - there’s still potentially a story here. People in the US, UK, and Japan report greater indifference to brands, whereas people in Mexico, the Phillipines and Brazil are more likely to conceptualise them as a family member or friend.
“Years ago, I did a study of the American expatriates in France. Long before it was in vogue, I decided to do what is today known as oral history. As I began to interview Americans who lived in France between the wars, I soon discovered that frequently they knew less about their lives than I did from reading other sources. I came to realize that often they were not telling me what actually happened to them. What they now called their own memory was actually a recollection of what had appeared in media about American expatriates. They had read all the autobiographies of others, all the many articles, had seen some of the shows and movies, had taken in the various journalistic accounts. They remembered being in places and with people when I knew from indisputable sources that they had arrived in France only later and had never been there when the others they claimed as comrades were. Finally, I had to surrender my oral historical effort: it was causing me more work rather than less. But I was both too young and too ignorant to see what I really had uncovered: the nature and function of a myth that had been created by the media, a myth so powerful that I even bright people (or perhaps especially bright and imaginative people, who after all had shared, at least in spiritual sense, the mythic expatriate experience or perhaps the expatriate travel-fantasy) believed it true for themselves.”—
It’s almost as if when you ask people about their lives, experiences and behaviour they can’t always give accurate answers.
(As Cis hinted in her tags there’s another issue, which is that we lap up “oral history” when it often has standards which would make a qualitative researcher, let alone a historian, blush horribly. I can think of two times offhand when ‘oral history’ type work is very useful - where the voices being expressed are marginalised (i.e. where the historian would most likely erase them - in this case their biases and inaccuracies, while still real, are nonetheless more valuable than the historian’s) and where the work is arranged to reveal more about participants than they’re saying - eg by highlighting the inconsistencies in accounts revealing myths, agendas etc.)
Twitter got its ad business off the ground by selling marketers on the premise that its service complements TV, and now Tumblr is treading a similar path.
Ignore the ad-related analysis and look at the main graph - this is really interesting in terms of how ‘cultural half-life’ differs enormously by platform. If you spend most of your social media time on Twitter, you will simply have a FAR different idea about how bits of culture - TV in this case, but it applies more widely - live and die online than if you spend it on Tumblr. Which relates to stuff I was just angrily ranting about elsewhere on my rabbit-hole network of blogs…
“In general, this research has interesting implications for the charity sector - it suggests that in this case at least, a promotion-focused regulatory fit encourages greater interaction. Further research might focus on three areas. First, whether this applies generally in the environmental sector (as Todermann’s research implied). Second, as Facebook naturally has a promotional frame, whether this applies beyond that immediate context. And third, whether this promotion focus has an effect on donations, as well as interaction, which was outside the scope of our study but seems a promising hypothesis.”—
Oh, this is up? Cool! This was for a conference paper (for a conference which then wasn’t doing papers so I feared it would end up in limbo) so I get to talk all fancy like about “the scope of our study”.
Will and Alain did the heavy practical and theoretical lifting here, yours truly just hammered away at the keys until a paper came out. But it’s quite an interesting study about regulatory fit and charity work.
Look at T4 [on Channel 4] – it went away, now there is very little youth programming going on. BBC3 was something that … of course there was the odd questionable title, as there is with any channel, but it was really specifically targeted at making documentaries for young people.
It was educating them, nurturing them, saying you are important, we are gifting you with knowledge that will arm you in later life. We are not doing that, we are expecting them to find it for themselves and everything is online now. Everyone is becoming very separated in the next generation, chatting on Facebook and Twitter. They are becoming isolated.
That’s Jameela Jamil, talking about the closing of BBC3 in the UK. I’ve no real experience of the channel, and so no real opinion about whether or not it’s a loss, but the idea of a generation being “abandoned” to the Internet is something that sticks in my head — I’m not sure whether or not I agree with the premise, or even if the idea that the Internet is less suited to educate people on life than television, but it sticks inside nonetheless, poking and prodding towards a question I haven’t managed to form yet. (via graemem)
This is the flipside of defining a generation as “digital natives” who are “constantly connected”. It gives you an excuse to ditch them in traditional media.
(While pampering 30-something and 40-something nostalgists: it’s no accident that when the BBC talked about closing down 6Music a couple of years ago, the cry “GET RID OF BBC3 INSTEAD” went up. Mostly, of course, on social media, where people my age are WAY more ‘influential’ than the teens and 20somethings we commentate on. Not saying they should have closed down 6 Music either, the people need their Supergrass B-Sides and all that. It was just telling.)
For once I get to break with tradition and link my latest entry in my #1 reviews blog from Blackbeard rather than my usual Tumblr - because the front half of this piece is a potted history of branding in the 90s and 00s and the problems with it.
At this point, you’ve probably already heard that the new FIveThirtyEight has some problems. It seems a little unsporting to pile on, but if Nate Silver is gonna be a dick, I’d like to make a nomination for FiveThirtyEight’s worst piece yet.
The piece, a blog post by Mona Chalabi, is…
So, when I saw Mona Chalabai was writing for the site I have to admit I a little sceptical given her work at the Guardian. I guess that wasn’t entirely unfounded.
Interesting that the problem isn’t just misunderstanding of rap music, it’s also basic sloppiness. This is the issue with FiveThirtyEight’s collision of data analysis and the rapid-content multiple-update model: good analysis takes time, particularly if (as here) you have to define your variables and outputs from the off. If you don’t have time - and running a fast-content site means you don’t - the output suffers.
This is not news - in particular, anyone who’s worked in the subjective-analysis biz - criticism, op-eds, and the political analysis that Nate Silver so despises - knows the corners that get cut when speed to publish is the main or only thing that matters, rather than just one important factor. Thinking takes time, and analysis (both pre AND post data collection) is thinking. The hubris is to imagine that because data analysis is a numbers game that this somehow doesn’t apply - that the “objectivity” (ha) of quant analysis speeds things up.
Maybe it does - IF you know your data sets very well and the analysis is basically similar. If you’re working on a tracker, in other words. And polling and baseball data - what Silver made his reputation on - are pretty much the ultimate trackers. So the problem of FiveThirtyEight is the problem of what happens when tracker analysts start trying to deal with ad hoc data sets - like this rap one they’ve made up - and don’t take into account something as astonishingly basic as songs having more than one MC or instrumental breaks(!).
It’s conference write-up time. It’s 1700 words about the Market Research Society event this week..
I appreciate this is quite a few words, so the “6 lessons” are, very roughly.
1. Do more split testing, and if you can’t, at least think like a split tester sometimes.
2. But also, price big risky ideas into yr innovation “funnel” or whatever you’re calling it. (This one was a bit vague, I just liked Tim Harford’s way of framing it so I gave it its own point).
3. Storytelling is a false friend to consumer and researcher alike, and even for marketers it’s a lot more dangerous than it looks.
4. Don’t be bounced into crap decisions just because you want approval from people who aren’t going to like you anyway. (And don’t stick to your guns just because you hate the people disliking you - basically, if somebody’s angry with your company, do not trust your own reaction: get other opinions).
5. If you want to reach “hard to research” people, recruit some as fellow researchers not just as participants (this is NOT a new approach at all, but there was a good case study).
6. And to be honest, make improved diversity in the business a priority anyway, because it’ll make the whole industry better.
I have a ton of other notes, too - though not at all evenly distributed from the various sessions.
“more than 60% of consumers said they were less likely to trust a product review if they know it was paid for by the company selling the product”—Naturally this is presented as a ‘significant hurdle’ for marketers to ‘overcome’.
Not actually seen all of it it. I pressed play on it, but, you know, heart of stone. Anyway it’s a bit of content marketing about snogging that’s been viewed 24 million times before word that it’s an ad got out. Cue disappointment.
Did FK pretend not to be an ad or not? The version on the brand’s website is an ad (a long, slow, content-y, post-Dove Real Beauty kind of ad, but an ad nonetheless) - it’s only been seen 48k times though. It has the brand (Wren) on the title screen.
The one that’s been seen 24m times doesn’t have the brand name in the video, but if you see it on YouTube it does have a link to the brand site. So it’s buried the brand link deep but not at all denied it.
Which goes to show how few people click on the links in YouTube, or check back to YouTube in the first place.
In my experience, which is not absolute, anything which gets that many views on YouTube that quickly is either Zapruder-footage level newsworthy footage or has money behind it somewhere. This isn’t an absolute rule but it’s true often enough for it to be anyone’s sensible first assumption when encountering some “viral content”.
i.e. if it looks like an ad and quacks like an ad, it’s an ad.
Ah, but does it quack like an ad? I think this is the root of some of the feelings of disappointment and betrayal - not just that there was ‘deception’ involved but that a lot of people found that their aesthetics weren’t as separate from the aesthetics of modern content marketing as they might have hoped.
There’s only so many ways to skin the feelgood shortform video cat, basically.
"You Loved It Because You Were Told To Love It" (Flavorwire’s heading) is offbase, "You Loved It Because Marketers’ Job Is To Know What You Love And Some Of Them Are Occasionally Good At That" is more accurate.
Though it’s always grotty to find out something’s an ad. I’m not denying that, and I’ve been fooled myself often enough.
Luckily for the free will of humankind there is still a lot more crap content marketing than good. But yes this will spawn a lot of imitators, this is a big moment for this kind of stealth content marketing. For you, gentle viewer, the battle is over. For me, the case studies and First Company articles are just beginning.
Whether it was a good/successful ad is more open to question though - Wren may well have conceded too much in seeding the unbranded version and only becoming associated with the video in the backlash phase. But would Buzzfeed etc have carried it otherwise, and would people have viewed? Probably not. But these caveats matter less for a little brand than they would for one of the bigger ones.
The “What does Facebook think of me?” game - judging the kind of person I apparently am by the kind of sidebar ads I get - has taken an interesting turn.
Until very recently, Facebook’s opinion of me was that I was a total scrub. Despite being listed as married, all the ads were about casinos, lonely housewives, hair loss treatments, brides-of-the-world, easy credit… all sleaze most of the time, basically.
This has suddenly and dramatically changed. The current line-up of ads includes:
Widowed photographer learns passion for life after 40
Dude, it’s time to build a conservatory
Schools Fining Parents: Classic Or Dud?
and - yes! - MOTORBIKES WE KNOW YOU WANT ONE
With this last in particular I feel I have really arrived in 40somethingland.
But what on earth did I do to achieve this metaphorphosis from lecherous slob to Facebook Dad?
The answer seems to lie in FB’s lens on my marriage. I was listed as married to my real actual wife, Isabel. Which seems fair enough on the surface of it. But Isabel signed up for Facebook 5 years ago and never visited it again, with the result that she had 1 other friend and a blank profile.In other words, I reckon Facebook had noticed that I was “married” to a blatantly non-existent (in FB terms) person and decided in its all-powerful algorithmic brain that “married to fake woman” meant I got its special “shady scumbag” tranche of ads.
BUT! Isabel has now signed up again on a different email, so last week I callously abandoned her fake profile and am listed simply as “married”. Until she ticks the notification box to confirm I’m married *to her*, I am in a benefit of the doubt limbo where I get the most generic 40something dude advertising ever.
(Or of course, Facebook knows me even better than I know myself, and I DO want a conservatory.)
Twitch Plays Pokemon’s anarchy/democracy dual control system is a rather good illustration of Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 model/metaphor for human judgement.
System 1: fast, impulsive, enormously powerful, but whose emotionally led decisions sometimes make little rational sense and may even be counter-productive: anarchy.
System 2: slow, time-consuming, effortful, necessary to make complex and difficult choices (eg teaching yr starter Surf) but exhausting and frustrating to apply for any length of time: democracy.
Having noticed this parallel there’s nothing I can do with it - the crossover between people following TPP and people I’m involved with at work applying dual systems theory is, er, not large. So it ends up here.
Would someone tell me how this happened? We were the fucking vanguard of shaving in this country. The Gillette Mach3 was the razor to own. Then the other guy came out with a three-blade razor. Were we scared? Hell, no.
I somehow missed the ten-year anniversary of the best thing ever written about innovation and marketing.
This is the text of a talk I gave for “New MR Explode-A-Myth Day”. The myth I chose to explode was “Millennials Are Interesting”. The talk had a strict 5-minute limit. I gave it a new title for its blog edition - a “mary sue” is a character in a story (often a fan-written story) transparently written as a wish fulfilment substitute for the writer.
The myth I’m exploding is that millennials are interesting. But I’m not talking about the reality of people in their 20s, in their enormous diversity. I’m talking about millennials – their idealised, blanded-out marketing zombie version. Young people are awesome. Millennials are a construct designed to make them safe for marketers. The “millennial” is to a real twentysomething as a stock photo is to a selfie.
Before we talk about millennials, we need to define them. Or maybe we don’t: nobody else has. Millennials are a ‘generational cohort’ that starts and ends at the convenience of whoever’s researching them. The upper age bound is anywhere from 25 to 37 – I’ve seen the lower bound as low as 8. Every study is different. But even if there was a fixed definition – people 18 to 34 right now, say - the concept is still a scam.
IIEX Europe: The Best 6 Things I Saw (And The Worst Thing)
IIEX (Insight Innovation Exchange) is the most content-centric conference I’ve been to for a while - I saw something like 50 presentations across the two days, and missed another 60 (!) cos they were on different tracks. It’s a pretty brutal schedule - I stuck it out but I could feel myself getting overloaded, and frankly I ended the second day covering the “Sustainable Fishing” panel with a bunch of puns about fish because otherwise I’d just have been slumped in my seat looking like one. (It’s a mark of how fast the schedule was that for once, both the panel debates I saw felt too short!)
Last week, the chilling visage of David Shing was thrust upon the world. Equally horrific was his job title—“Digital Prophet.” That’s something you can be for a living? Yes, and there are plenty of other make-believe jobs out there, too.
I basically have one of these jobs, albeit not realllly in “tech”, though I’ve pushed back against suggested wacky titles and ended up with the relatively sensible “Content Director” (translation: “He writes stuff”). The Valleywag article is a bit of snarky fun, and I goggled at David Shing’s video too, but there’s a genuine hostility behind reaction to these roles which is interesting to unpack a bit.
Some of these people will be bullshit artists, some won’t: most jobs are similar in this regard. David Shing is quite possibly a bullshit artist, though the “bash the freak!” reception he’s been getting makes me - a shabbily dressed square who’s never had a tenth his sartorial confidence (however misguided) - warm to him a little and feel guilty at my initial boggling. Nathan Jurgenson isn’t a bullshit artist, though, or nothing I’ve read by him suggests that he is.
In my experience - certainly my experience in actually doing this kind of thing - a lot of these people do Minister Without Portfolio jobs, hired because they have good, flexible, connective brains rather than to fit a particular role. Once you’re in that kind of job - which I’ve done badly and (hopefully) well - a lot of the skill in it is getting yourself into useful places. Sitting at your desk running off digital prophecies isn’t going to win you any friends or give you much of a sense of worth in the long run. Getting stuck in on projects, responding promptly to calls for help, working out how interdisciplinary stuff connects, knowing stuff other people have been - through no fault of their own - too busy to know, and applying it humbly and helpfully… that’s the kind of thing free-floating workers try and do, dumb job title or not.
There’s a strain in tech which doesn’t like the idea of these soft jobs. It’s a strain that’s been quite prominent lately, with much hue and cry about making, prototyping, etc. The same strain also doesn’t really approve of qualitative research work, ethnography, or the application of theory in general. It’s related to a general, long-standing antipathy to social sciences from the business class - largely reciprocated, to be fair - and since tech culture is the Scrappy Doo to business culture’s Scooby, there’s no surprise in seeing it mirrored. Combine that with the post-80s trend to ever-smaller, more rigidly defined workforces doing longer hours and it’s no surprise there are howls of indignation at anyone whose role is opaque.
In a tech start-up, though, this strain isn’t completely unhealthy - companies do indeed need to do and make stuff. It should probably influence tech thinking, but not totally dominate it. If Snapchat employed twenty sociologists, I might raise an eyebrow at their priorities. I think, though, that they’re extremely sensible and far-sighted for employing one.
Some of it is, perhaps, a defensive fear. In a world with 19 messaging apps, the coders of the 20th need to have someone to look down on to reassure themselves they aren’t *total* parasites. There ARE significant problems with “bullshit jobs” in tech but they’re the same problems you see played out in every tech job - a myopic lack of diversity, for starters (which I have, obviously, personally benefited from), which is doubly bad when the unspoken common role beneath all of these jobs is to widen an organisation’s perspective. But the existence of the jobs themselves doesn’t strike me as a problem. Though of course, it wouldn’t.
Doing research for the mini-presentation I’m giving at “New MR Explode-A-Myth” day, which means reading a bunch of recent presentations and hype pieces and websites about “Millennials”.
The first thing I noticed is that very few of these bother with what seems to me a very basic definition - when do they start? When do they stop? This info is sometimes deep-buried, sometimes absent entirely. You can search for a long time - I just did - on the specialist youth agency site YPulse without coming to any firm conclusion as to what they actually mean when they say “Millennial”. And they say “Millennial” a LOT.
The second thing I noticed is that when they do offer a definition very few of them agree on what it is. Don’t imagine Wikipedia will help much either.
(This isn’t the point of my talk - in fact it surprises me slightly, I assumed by this point there would BE consensus among people using the term - instead it’s become one of those words everyone uses but nobody needs to define. Like influencer, or engagement, or insight, or brand - a list of old linguistic frenemies which should give the thoughtful researcher serious pause.)
“To what extent the sudden movement that brought us together was attributable to sentiment felt years before; to behaviour that was almost an obligation within the Templer orbit; or, finally, to some specific impetus of the car as it covered an unusually bad surface of road, was later impossible to determine with certainty. All I knew was that I had not thought it all out beforehand.”—
I’m reading Anthony Powell’s novel sequence A Dance To The Music Of Time at the moment. This passage comes from the third book - the narrator has met up with Templer, an old friend, and Templer’s wife and sister. On a drive back to his friend’s house, the narrator suddenly finds himself kissing Jean, the sister.
It’s an unexceptional bit of prose but it tickled me, because the attempts at self-analysis follow exactly the structure we use at work for thinking about ‘System 1’ decision-making, looking at personal influences (“sentiment felt years before”), social influences (“behaviour that was almost an obligation”) and environmental influences (“some specific impetus of the car”) - leaving aside planned intention, which is not usually the main factor.
Reblogged because a) this is the most sensible thing about sparkly magic neuroscience I’ve read in a while, and b) IT’S A TRANSCRIPT OF A TED TALK thank you thank you wonderful typer, now I can absorb 17 minutes of content in 3.
Like, hooray for #storytelling but I am a grown human and sometimes I prefer to take stories at my own pace i.e. READING THEM.