Facebook emotionally manipulated me.

Surprise. Facebook has manipulated its users without their consent. Now at the one billion mark worldwide, the social network is in as good a place as any to play God with those who ‘choose’ to use the service each day—just as it did for a week in January 2012 when it manipulated the emotions of more than half a million people. All in the name of ‘research’.

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For the ‘emotional manipulation’ Facebook study, half of the subjects’ feeds consisted of ‘negative’ posts, while the other half was fed ’positive’ posts. Facebook then monitored them to see if their life outlook changed, based on the curated information. Whether or not you feel this undermines the already waning integrity of the social network, it’s clear now more than ever that Facebookers are little more than a product—churning out nervous heaps of data on a daily basis that are then sold and used to calculate how best to manipulate the soul on the other side of the screen into buying something.

Adam Kramer, the FB data scientist who executed the scheme in 2012, says the research was done to see if an onslaught of negative posts would cause people to leave or avoid using the site.

Forbes’ Kashmir Hill puts ‘research’ in quotes like I do, suggesting that Facebook’s data use policy has been used to rob permission from a conveniently trusting constituency, all to run psychological experiments from behind a consent form cloaking device. Creepy and a bit disconcerting considering how clinical depression might be affected by an all-negative feed, let alone the fact that Facebook engineers are in charge of telling us what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’ within our chosen social sphere. Kramer:

The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.

The message here is clear: people are products. And for Facebook to profit, it needs a full shelf. Maybe our FB overlords will one day take responsibility for the Gulag ‘social’ has become and see that, in the end, Facebook is the reason we leave Facebook.

It’s in my blood to leave.

We love our planet but we’re not meant to stay. Which is why I’m thinking about messages that prepare us to leave. Our jobs, relationships, toxic family members, our homes, the planet.

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“It’s in my blood to leave. I was born to leave. And I will never stop leaving, to make sure that no matter what I leave behind I will never be left with regrets.” Andy Bothwell, musician

Vimeo teamed up with Charles Schwab and asked Vimeo creators to explore how leaving can lead to positive change. Vimeo calls the results “touching, inspiring, and funny—it’s entertainment that won’t soon leave your memory”. Watch this “meditation on leaving, told through the experiences of Astronautalis, a touring musician who has been on the road playing 200+ shows a year for the last decade”, starring Andy Bothwell and directed by Isaac Gale, and think for a minute about what leaving means to you.

Watch Vimeo’s series of films about positive change, “Why I Left”, and follow on Twitter with #OwnYourTomorrow.

Gentrification to artists: Your ideas don’t matter.

By 2050 two thirds of the global population will live in cities. This mass migration and the swell of cities represents a sea change in the way we live and interact, and innovation will have to keep up. (I wrote more about it here.) It’s awesome to think about how we might harness the power of sustainability to make our cities cleaner, greener and more efficient, but there’s one problem. The gentrification of our cities is sending the wrong message to the creative class tasked with transforming them.

The message is simple: you don’t matter.

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Lovely NYC. Dragonfly, a metabolic farm for urban agriculture, would address food production and other issues in cities that are horizontally challenged for space. I live just north of here. More on this concept from Vincent Callebaut Architectures.

In The New York Times piece, “Where Rent Is Stabilized, Reopening After Storm Is No Certainty,” Elizabeth A. Harris chronicles the hardships of an artist and his wife fighting for their rent-stabilized TriBeCa loft following Hurricane Sandy. They’ve lived there for 45 years. Consider how the word loft has evolved in meaning since lower Manhattan first piqued our interest, then over time became more desirable, more inhabitable, more developed and as a result, out of reach. In the beginning, loft tenants built their spaces from nothing, in some cases installing kitchens and bathrooms where there weren’t any.

The building in question, a victim of structural damage before Sandy hit, was deemed uninhabitable by the city after 28 inches of water damaged it further, prompting the landlord to weigh the cost of repair against its worth—now the source of controversy with a lawsuit to boot. The story calls into question the viability of artistry as a means to make ends meet in the city, and it hints of a time, generations past, when options were more than stocks and creativity was a steel-toed wedge in the door. “But the building also carries signs of the city’s newest reality piled on the floor—paintings rolled up, smudged and molded, ruined by floodwater.”

Between the lines, a telling statement. Gentrification is the homogenization of consumer taste—taste that is seldom adhered to by truly independent artists. Gentrification, by definition, discourages individuality. Despite the jingles and tag lines and anthems that say, “be an individual—consume this product”, there is nothing individual about consuming something (soda, music, clothing, cars, computers) that millions of others consume.

Many artists find consumerism unpalatable for this reason; as creative individuals, they seek the spark of asymmetry—the uniqueness of exploration and discovery that consumerism lacks with its “seek and destroy” sensibility. The brands that break ground on every block—the impetus for said gentrification—are required to master the art of exploitation, on both consumer and labor ends. So prices rise to accommodate supply and demand—or rather, to drive it. Housing seems wise for keeping up.

True, the city’s artistic flair is no longer its sinew. In my relatively short time alive I have seen this city molt and change color several times. But it isn’t business that drives the artists out; it is us—our consumptive habits—our choices. We want so badly to feel unique that digging deeper into our pockets means reaching higher, over the masses, to the trinkets no one else can afford. In lieu of fame (and often as a result of it) displaying our wealth becomes a ticket to individuality, when in fact we are stomping on lives in a race to the top, to the edge of loneliness.

Independent artists then become undervalued, disrespected, forgotten—or worse, seen as enemy combatants, a threat to the status quo, to consumerism itself. In a world where homogeneity is king, individuality seems an innocent bystander to its own demise; but in the end it’s our vicious engagement to be better, stronger, more beautiful and successful than “the other” that may in fact be the cause.

Amidst the retail chains and rising prices, science is a way out—a connection back to the environment, and to our senses—through a conceptual framework of “networks” and “ecosystems”. Life and society are filled with a slew of unique elements that contribute to systems in their own way. It’s essential for urban innovators to mix and match these elements in ways that speak to how we live and interact with one another, recognizing who does what exceptionally well. This is where corporate messaging can help.

Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, puts it like this: “A hedgehog concept is not a goal to be the best, it is an understanding of what you can be best at.”  In this way, artists make up an integral part of the future city vision, and so we shouldn’t alienate them.

We’ll have to accept the fact that beautifying and making our cities more safe and resilient isn’t about catering to certain groups of people, but rather about being flexible, finding what works, and knowing how each industry and occupation contributes to the whole. This paradigm values coexistence, collaboration, and a greater sense of community, and it makes our future a hell of a lot brighter. I can’t think of a better way to achieve balance than by combining scientific and artistic sensibilities. (A win-win!)

Individuality, creativity, and inquisitiveness are all markers for intelligence and innovation; any collaborative system based on innovation must take all of them into account. Science is taking charge. Now what we need is for science and art to make a home together.

Hercules & Love Affair ft. John Grant, “I Try To Talk To You” (Official Video)

When it comes to love, the word “communicate” might as well be “complicate” because that’s how it feels sometimes. The more you try to make sense of it the crazier things get and before you know it you’re in couple’s counseling screaming about cheating or snoring or some other heinous crime. Think of how many times you’ve told your lover you’re not a mindreader and this video will make loads of sense. In their latest, Hercules & Love Affair “capture the sincerity of a lover’s quarrel through modern dance”. Beautifully made. It’s a way to blow off steam between sessions, anyway. Therapy never looked so good—see for yourself.

Ideas are networks and coffee shops rule.

That’s what author Steven Johnson says in his TED Talk here. Ok, there’s the thing about how coffee shops helped deliver us from the Dark Ages (and I love this because I live for coffee), but it’s really about understanding how idea-making is a collaborative process of “stitching together” what we learn from the next guy, no matter how different that guy might be. Now think for a second how great it would be to make an idea in the steampunk paradise pictured here. Now keep reading.

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Photo by Shanna Jones. Truth Coffee in Cape Town was named “best coffee shop in the world” in 2013. Scroll down for video.

Johnson wants to know what the environments are that lead to unusual levels of innovation. Like this pic suggests, stimulation is a good start (diversity of color, style, face). Historically, innovation favors chaotic spaces where social architecture facilitates ideas born from diverse mindsets and backgrounds (hence the analogy—coffee houses were the original think tanks), which incidentally makes me feel a lot better about my caffeine addiction. Johnson says organizations built to mimic these environments will facilitate innovation, adding that the best ideas won’t necessarily happen overnight. He explains how Charles Darwin’s notebooks suggest he may have had the full Theory of Natural Selection in his head months before his supposed epiphany—good ideas “fade into view over long periods of time” and hindsight is 20/20.

The challenge now is to be proactive, to create spaces hot enough to spark innovation yet cool enough to notice the next big thing. This is where creative management plays a vital role in cultivating innovation. Creative leadership is an asset when it can recognize and nurture creativity within the group over time—mentor, empath, facilitator. In my opinion thought leaders are best conditioned for the job because they frequent the “chaotic” environments where innovations are likely to form, giving them the keen sense that leads to insight. (I’ll be talking about leadership messaging a lot, so stick around.)

Re intellectual property and scooping ideas, Johnson says “we should spend at least as much time, if not more, valuing the premise of connecting ideas and not just protecting them”, which follows what MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito says about transparency and competition here. It’s not about keeping your ideas inside—you’re better than that—so bring them out. Watch the TED Talk and Truth Coffee vids for more good stuff. And viva la coffee!

Where do you find your best ideas? Let me know in the comments section.

This blog looks at how messages are made, delivered, and used.

I like to think out loud about communication—to theorize about trends in messaging, to comment on what works (and what doesn’t), and explore strategies that build on traditional and emerging technologies. Because people will always need to talk to each other.

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A self portrait I took in San Jose, Costa Rica. I love technology but have a rustic sensibility. Old wooden doors speak to me.

I’m a communications consultant with a background in hard and social science (see my LinkedIn profile), and my approach to understanding how and why people talk to each other takes into account how content, delivery, sender and recipient are all variables in the “communication equation”. I’m especially interested in media and comms theory, data, storytelling, leadership messaging, advertising and hailing (ideology), and interpersonal and technical communication. Here I’ll draw on my experience and interest in bioethics, networked global philanthropy, techno-progressivism, journalism, genetics, and popular culture. But don’t worry, it’s not as dry as it seems. Breaking down messages can be exciting, fulfilling, even frightening, depending on, well, lots of things. That’s something I hope to uncover here.

I’m inspired by the phrase, “the medium is the message”, coined by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, where the mode of delivery (medium) shapes the meaning and trajectory of a message, and vice versa. Our messages define us, individually and collectively. The resulting relationship between technology and messaging continues to shed more light on the intricacies of human relations and motivation, and with any luck we’ll use this knowledge to master the messages that bring us all together and move society forward.

I hope you find my posts thought-provoking, and that you’ll join me in sharing your stories and asking some serious questions! Until then -

See you on campus,
Chris

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