During the Sydney Cafe siege on 15 December I watched Twitter melt down into a morass of self-congratulatory compassion over the #illridewithyou hashtag.

In an incredibly short time there were 120,000 tweets from Australians bravely standing up to anti-muslim behaviour by offering to ride with Muslim’s on public transport. described it as a twitter movement which would “restore your faith in humanity”.

Buzzfeed thought that it was “one of the few positive things to come out of the horrific events in Sydney.”

The Sydney Morning Herald was a little more measured, seeing it as a bulwark against the “climate of fear and uncertainty” and praising Australians for taking a stand against anti-muslim sentiment.

That the climate of fear and uncertainty may have been created by the hysterical 24/7 coverage of the siege was completely lost on the SMH.

The Guardian thought that “It’s a beautifully conceived reminder that such attacks, whether carried out by Isis or a lone wolf, are antithetical to nearly all Australians.”

For me it brings to mind Guy Debord’s seminal text, The Society of the Spectacle, where he writes

“In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”


“The spectacle presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned. Its sole message is: “What appears is good; what is good appears.” The passive acceptance it demands is already effectively imposed by its monopoly of appearances, its manner of appearing without allowing any reply.”

Debord nails the crazy way we represent ourselves on social media.  It is spectacle legitimatised by feelings that reflects our truth back to us. We are all spectacle,  observing ourselves in others and differentiating through our sameness.

That three people (yes three people) died is an deniable tragedy.

What disturbs me (and it disturbs me that I feel this way) is that a mere sentiment, a feeling, is somehow made mega meaningful. It’s nice that people feel compassionate enough to speak out in support of their fellow Australians, but ultimately a tweet is an empty gesture, a fashion statement, without action. Trust me, I love social media, but am deeply suspicious of collective misery, rage, anger and compassion. A mob is still a mob.

I agree that speaking out is important but can’t get past the emptiness of the gesture. It feels so like, White Middle Class People Doing Good Things For Poor Defenceless Dark People.

Fairfax’s Daily Life has laid down the law in a post titled, “#I’llRideWithYou is helping, attacks on it are not”. Jenna Price writes that

“#illridewithyou is an offer and not a demand. Of course a hashtag won’t cure the problem of racism – but it’s not nothing. It’s speaking out. And that’s something.”

Maybe I feel this way because racism and the demonisation of others has always been at the heart of Australia. From the moment that Governor Phillip landed in Sydney Cove and surprised the residents with boats loaded with criminals, soldiers, and guns, to the White Australia policy, to the stolen generation, to the shameful state of indigenous health, to the current asylum seeker policy, to the everyday racism.

Can 120,000 well-meaning tweets change that? I just don’t know.

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Australians the world’s richest? Don’t believe the hype

As a model of how our society works, you can do a lot worse than Monopoly. When I was a kid I loved playing (and cheating) the game. With the racing car as my token I would accumulate as much real estate as possible, focusing on buying railway stations and utilities, as well as having a very special relationship with the banker.

I rarely lost a game, but that was due to my exemplary cheating rather than any innate talent for imaginary wealth creation.

The distinction between talent and luck is important.

Last week after Credit Suisse released their Global Wealth Report, the Australian media went into back-slapping congratulatory hyperdrive snorting that Australians were the wealthiest richest in the world. (more…)

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Why you should give up coffee and create a better world

Coffee was once seen as a sophisticated antidote for a society drowning in the ill-effects of alcohol.

In 1887, in the Alexandra and Yea Standard under the heading Progressive Melbourne an enthusiastic writer wrote that Melbourne was the “most comfortable city in the southern continent” for the “casual visitor” chiefly because of the coffee houses which were “intended originally as a corrective to the baneful effect of the numbers of drinking shops”.

In 2014 coffee is still making news in Australia. (more…)

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Chinese Property

Unbelievably, I have written about the Australian property market, Chinese investors, and negative gearing. It’s pretty scary.

This is an odd post for me that I am not really qualified to make, so if you’re a qualified economist please accept my apologies. If you believe the papers,, you would think that Australia is being swamped by Chinese investors, who armed with thick wads of cash are driving up property values and making owning a house unaffordable for ordinary had-working Aussies.

Here’s a sample of recent headlines:

I reckon the reality is a little different. A combination of sloppy journalism and good old Australian xenophobia as resulted in the influence of foreign (Chinese) buyers being massively exaggerated. (more…)

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What the f***k is an existential threat?

I’m late on this but in the past two weeks it seems every second politician or pundit has been warning us about an “existential threat”. I only became aware of the use of this silly term because of a most excellent article by Bernard Keane.

A quick look at Google Trends shows that existential threat first gained currency in 2009 with The International Herald Tribune warning Pakistan faced an existential threat from militants, and that the term is being used more and more in 2014.  Our very own Australian Attorney General, George Brandis recently blustered that ISIL “represents or seeks to be an existential threat to us”. (more…)

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The secret lives of customers

Last night I heard a story.

The zoologists at the Melbourne Zoo thought they knew their animals pretty well, but wanted to check out what they were doing at night, so they started videoing what went on. What they discovered surprised and amazed them.

There was a kind of clash of civilizations between the native fauna – brushtail possums  – and the imported Zoo tenants.

When a possum trotted across the elephants quarters, the elephants would stamp on the unsuspecting possum crushing them into a mess of blood and gore. Unsurprisingly Possums don’t know much about elephants and elephants must get grumpy when a possum tries to teal their food.


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What Jack Dorsey’s Square can teach us about good product management

Square, the financial services business founded by Jack Dorsey one of the Twitter co-founders has just released a pretty cool new appointment and scheduling product. Founded 5 years ago with a elegant mobile credit card reader and app for micro and small businesses, Square now offers an impressive range of products that streamline back-office operations for small to medium businesses in a very slick way. What they are doing is fantastic product management and a quick review of their approach offers some some great learnings for product managers. (more…)

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I checked out Google Domains and GoDaddy should be worried

The domain name business isn’t easy these days. Margins are squeezed by high competition and high acquisition costs, profitability depends on achieving a high attachment to additional services like email or hosting and cross-selling services like privacy, security, or “premium registrations”, and the regulators are requesting more diligence with data verification. Add to that the basic fact that domain names aren’t as sexy a proposition as they once were, due mainly to Google improving their algorithms to remove spammy parked pages from their index, and the explosion of social media and mobile apps. Businesses now have a multitude of choices to go online that don’t require a domain name. (more…)

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