The Devolution From News to Newest

The news media has fallen under the boot of “the forces of entertainment” said a prominent senator this week. Huh? Was this a battle that we missed somehow on one of those 500 specialized channels we can’t find the time to watch? Kiddo, that war is long over. Entertainment won. “Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle,” scolded Jay Rockefeller in a hearing that was supposed to be about retransmission rights between broadcasters and cable operators. He stayed on point, however, with his argument that consumers shouldn’t have to pay (and dearly) for hundreds of channels they don’t care to watch and that swamp the mindscape with bread-and-circuses triviality and ideological hokum. He noted the average monthly cost of cable service increased at triple the rate of inflation between 1995 and 2008, according to the Federal Communications Commission.. [] In any event, the yapping is going to just get more intense. Any day now expect to witness the debut of the The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s newest creature, eager to show its 24/7 social media pedigree by being available only on tablets like the iPad (a “game changer” declared the savvy old mogul during an earnings call in August). “We think it’s a great format because the tablet in general lends itself to a type of journalism that is really new,” said News Corp. heir James Murdoch. So just what is this new type of journalism? Reports [] have it that The Daily is experimenting with an investigative secret weapon called a “quadricopter” -- basically a drone with cameras that can be operated with an iPad touch screen. No celebrity will be safe. Just another example, Senator, of how the newest thing (a.k.a., technology) trumps news.

Games People Play

We’re just trying to get our heads around Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, squinting through the mourning veil we’ve donned for our beloved books (the real ones, not the “e-” variety), which Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab tells us will be gone in five years. Now we’re being told “decade of social” is over. What? Already? That’s the argument of Seth Priebasch, who writes in the Harvard Business Review (September 9, 2010) that the “decade of games” is upon us. While the last decade was all about connections and integrating a social fabric to every facet of our digital and analog existence, this next decade is all about influence. Oh, for heaven’s sakes! When he speaks of games, Priebasch is referring to the underlying behavioral dynamics, not specific game software such as World of Warcraft and Farmville or hardware like Nintendo Wii and Xbox. These dynamics, he predicts, will alter such non-computer environments as customer service, workplace, entertainment, and shopping. We should probably listen to him. He is 21 after all. And he’s the “Chief Ninja” (something oldsters quaintly refer to as "CEO") of SCVNGR, a mobile gaming company funded by Google. “I tend to think of life as a giant game,” he writes, “a somewhat poorly designed for sure, but one big game nevertheless. I enjoy watching how game dynamics subtly, often invisibly, influence almost everything that everyone does.” So that’s the game then: gaining influence, manipulating choices. The social network infrastructure was built so we could track and channel the traffic. Nice. Games are certainly the rage. President Obama recently announced two video game design competitions, one to encourage students to get more interested in technology (the winners will get $50,000 worth of computer stuff for their schools), the other for pros to conjure up a game to spark young interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Priebasch says there are seven game dynamics that can be employed to “get anyone to do anything.” His favorites:
  • The Appointment Dynamic -- a “player” must return at a predefined time to take a predetermined action. Happy hours would be an example, as would the online game Farmville. He foresees health care companies using this dynamic to improve fidelity to medicinal regimens or the government to reduce traffic overload with financial incentives.
  • The Progression Dynamic – the player’s progress (score) is displayed and improves with task completion. Example: Activision’s World of Warcraft, with 11 million monthly players worldwide or a café that offers a free drink once you’ve purchased nine.
  • Communal Discovery -- An entire community works together to solve a problem. can be used to solve immensely difficult problems in record time.
Malcolm Gladwell said later in an interactive discussion at “Oy. Save me. This is what drives me crazy about the digerati. They refuse to accept the fact that there is a class of social problems for which there is no technological solution. … Technology does not and cannot change the underlying dynamics of ‘human’ problems: it doesn’t make it easier to love or motivate or dream or convince.” To which I’d like to add: people playing games to manipulate other people. What’s new about that? All through recorded history, you can read about that. In a book. ***** ADDENDUM: Here's a link to how businesses are using games to boost sales, training, and productivity:

You Get the Writing You Deserve

Was there ever a more pernicious statement than “you get what you pay for”? How many times have you sat in a $250 plane seat and find out the guy sitting next you paid $129? How often have you discovered, too late, that you didn't have to pay that much for that steak? Or to have that website re-vamped? Or consider “crime doesn’t pay”: did the person who spun that yarn even read history? ... Hello? And how about that howler “cheaters never prosper”? Of course they do -- even if the cheaters don't recognize themselves as such because they feel entitled and may even have the power to set or change the rules that legalize their personal advantage. Oh, that's so depressing. Just ignore that. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? Oops, there we go again. The problem with truisms such as these is they don’t make it all the way to the truth. Good writing helps brings you to that point. Good writing is inseparable from the truth. As such, its purpose is less to communicate (anyone can spread lies) than to prompt clear thinking. You can't do that if you lazily rely on cliche and superstition. So when you find yourself in need of thoughtful professional writing, rely on PubArts instead.

Tiptoeing Through the Typo Minefield

So you’re writing an article about new laws. Being thorough, you do a computer spell check when you’re finished. Now, thanks to technology, you’re good to go. Too bad the word you meant to write as “statutes” came out as “statues,” and the computer didn’t think to correct it. Because statues is also a word. And because computers don’t think. That’s your job. Consider yourself lucky: you could have typed “pubic” instead of “public.” It happens. You have to be careful; there are so many ways to get caught with your pants down when it comes to professional communications. You may be writing about policies, but end up with polices. Resigned can become re-signed. Just. Like. That. Or you might type a word according to how it sounds and end up with sense instead of since. Or peak instead of pique (or peek), woe when you meant whoa. Editing is integral to good writing, and it has many levels, from structural to proofreading. The more important the document, the more crucial it is to have an outside editor assist you in your cause. Even as simple a task as proofreading may seem, it’s difficult to perform properly on your own work. That's because your brain knows what you meant to say and will read something that isn’t actually on the page or screen. Your brain is just trying to be helpful -- helpful like a lame friend who doesn't know how to tell the truth you need to hear. One way to avoid an ugly confrontation with yourself is to proofread your work backwards, from the end to the beginning. This forces you to read each word individually instead of scanning whole sentences. Still, reading backwards is most effective if you are only looking for incorrectly spelled words and less so for catching correctly spelled, but incorrect, words. So you might also employ the following trick: search for “danger words” after you’re finished proofreading. For example, if you intend to use the word “public” be on the safe side and search for “pubic” when you're done. Similarly for “manger” if you use manager in your publication, “contact” for contract, "county" for country. Or vice versa. A sloppily edited piece makes you look bad and may even cripple your objective. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or aptitude to proofread (or do other editing) properly, contact PubArts. We guarantee a 24-hour turnaround on small projects. We'll help you out. Unlike that unreliable so-called friend of yours, your brain.

Words Create Pictures in Our Minds

It pains me as a word slinger, but it's images that populate our craniums not words per se. Words are merely the "raw materials of thought," as David Schwartz puts it in The Magic of Thinking Big. He's right: we do think through images. Yet words are magical nonetheless, for they conjure up the all powerful images that fill our heads and establish how we feel about something. As such, they have to be handled with care. “When spoken or read, that amazing instrument, the mind, automatically converts words and phrases into mind pictures," Schwartz writes in the book first published in 1957. "Each word, each phrase, creates a slightly different mind picture. … The mind pictures we see are modified by the kinds of words we use to name things and describe things." When you tell people that a project has failed, the words create images of defeat, disappointment, frustration, anger, and grief. To encourage people to try again, Schwartz suggests you say instead: “Here’s a new approach that I think will work.” "Suppose you say, “We face a problem.” You have created a picture in the minds of others of something difficult, unpleasant to solve. Instead, he writes, you should say, 'We face a challenge,' and you create a mind picture of fun, sport, something pleasant to do." Schwartz encourages us to turn resolutely away from pettiness and negativity, and to be "big thinkers" who transmit optimistic pictures in their own minds and in the minds of others. Be careful what words you use, spoken or not. Schwartz's message resonates because it rings true. His book hasn't sold more than four million copies for nothing.
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