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What does Mothers Day really mean?

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Before I start out with this deeply flawed post, I should say that I am deeply unqualified to be writing about Mothers Day as I have never been one, although I have had one (well, two but that is another story).

Mothers Day and Fathers Day are cons. That shouldn’t be a surprise for any educated, sceptical individuals but based on the length of the queues to purchase Cyclamens there are a good many people who should know better buying in to the whole horrible show. They should know better.

On each of their respective days, Mothers are nurtured and Fathers are applauded and sometimes allowed to get drunk. The same tired old narrative tropes about the modern nuclear family are reinforced: women give and require love and men love hard work and fun.

Apart from keeping the florists in business, the sole purpose of Mothers Day is to reinforce Women’s status as vulnerable care givers and nurturers, not powerful, respected, and equal members of our community. The media is full of stories abut how Mum needs a rest, how motherhood is hard, about how Mum needs nurturing, about how Mum needs new undies, to watch out for breast cancer, and as the evening news pointed out will need to cook dinner after her big day.

Surely we’ve moved past this anachronistic view of Mummy, Daddy, and the kids where Mummy stays at home and keeps house and Daddy brings home the bacon. To believe in this anachronistic “holiday” is to look longingly back to a past where no may have been yes, where women accepted that someone else was in charge, and where Daddy was right. Is that the right sort of message for our sons and daughters?

In addition to being an archaic historical gesture, Mothers Day is a painful reminder for Mothers that they may not be good enough, that they may not deserve the adulation, love, and praise because they have a careers, because they don’t have a career, or because they just think about these things more than men do.

This is not a call to disrespect Mothers or treat them badly. It is a call to celebrate our Mothers, and the Mothers of our children by treating them as equals, not precious and delicate objects. Traditional gender roles do women and men demean us all and put as at the mercy of the advertisers, the media, and the snake oil salespeople trying to sell us more fucking Cyclamens and Chrysanthemums.

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We need a new national day

The nationalistic vigour seems to increase in width and girth every ANZAC day. Like a steroid addict the media can’t get enough of lavishly promoting the ageing diggers and the teary eyed young folks brimming with pride from being draped in the union jack and southern cross. We are told that the spirit of the ANZAC’s defines us as Australians. To question this absolute truth is akin to treason.

Much of the fault is former Prime Minister John Howard who saw in ANZAC day an opportunity to promote his vision for Australia; conservative, white, fond believers in Queen and country.

In 2005 he said:

Those who fought here in places like Quinn’s Post, Pope’s Hill and the Nek changed forever the way we saw our world and ourselves. They bequeathed Australia a lasting sense of national identity. They sharpened our democratic temper and our questioning eye towards authority. We used to say that the ranks of the original Anzacs were thinning with each passing year. They are all gone now. Now what swells with each Anzac season is a hunger for their stories. Now we remember them not as old soldiers but as young Australians, often from the same suburbs, streets, districts and towns that we come from. Just as many of you have come here today with your brothers and your mates, so it was 90 years ago that the young of Australia surged forward to enlist along with their brothers and their mates.

The myth of mateship and bravery in the face of stupid odds or stupidity has framed much of the debate. The myth goes that the Australian identity was forged in the harsh battlefield of war, that as the Turkish bullets rained down upon the poorly prepared Australian soldiers, the colonials stood proud and strong and brave as they died in their thousands. This is the fabled Australian spirit, that notion that we amongst all nations are determined to prove ourselves in an uncertain and frightening world a national identity. This is a ridiculous concept. In fact the ANZAC’s saw the battle for Gallipoli as unwinnable and wanted to retreat by the second day and were convinced to stay by the British generals intent on continuing a flawed strategy to secure Istanbul.

The battle of Gallipoli was a tragedy for all involved, particularly New Zealand and Turkey, who had the most deaths per capita. In this context the 8,900 Australian deaths were fairly modest given the 60,000 who died in the “Great War”. That the war shattered an entire generation of families for little gain has been erased from the official telling of ANZAC day. Compare the original intent of ANZAC to commemorate the dreadful loss of lives to John Howard’s fiery language.

“It is a story of great valour under fire, unity of purpose and a willingness to fight against the odds that has helped to define what it means to be an Australian.”

The Australian character if there is one, has been defined by our remoteness, the White Australia policy, our geography, federation, immigration in the late twentieth century, and a fear of being alone in an uncertain world. Like any nationalist celebraton, ANZAC Day is more about the ties that bind us to a xenophobic past than a gaze towards a glorious present. The day Australia should celebrate to truly commemorate looking forward to an inclusive and pluralist future is 10 August, the day the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal People) 1967 which removed the racist provisions in th Australian constitution became law.

Or if the people really want to drape a flag around them and paradoxically raise their fists in defiance of the authorities in a national celebration then the Eureka Rebellion fought on 3 December 1854 is a perfect choice.

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The death of Amy Winehouse, what a tragic waste

I have a few memories of Amy Winehouse.

One is in Norway, which is an awful coincidence given the terrible shootings there this weekend. It was at a recovery BBQ for a Wedding, the weather was warm, the party attendees nicely drunk or hungover when “I don’t wanna go to rehab” came on the ipod mix. My brother-in-law, who has long struggled with his own demons, jumped up and said they’re playing my song  and started to dance; wildly, crazy, and free. The more senior members of the party looked at the ground or studied their wine glasses. The younger, more inebriated of us just laughed.

My other memories are purely tabloid. Amy drunk. Amy sad. Amy drug-fucked. Amy OK. Amy not OK

That Winehouse died alone (I’m guessing) after 10 years being a poster-girl for wasted youth, and a spectacle eagerly consumed by tabloids is a tragedy.  A look at Winehouse’s twitter page is instructive. One of the similar users is tabloid disgrace Perez Hilton.

Winehouse was the same age as my sister, who also died alone, a victim of addiction and destructive  hedonism. My sister’s battles were largely personal, unshared with her family and friends. Winehouse’s battles were a public spiral into the gutter which sold a lot of magazines. The end result is the same. Another life wasted because of drugs, alcohol, and desire.

Our society doesn’t tolerate wastedness very well except at mandated public events – Christmas, New Years, Melbourne Cup, and if you’re under 30, every Friday night. Being wasted on a Monday morning is to gaze into the Nietzschean void and loudly declare, “Fuck you all. Fuck corporations. Fuck your God!” To do it on a Friday is to be a joiner, a team player, or great bloke. The fissure between the two modes of behaviour is almost non-existent. A Friday drinking can turn into a wasted Monday for someone with poor support structures, depression, or a baggage too painful to bear alone.

The death of Amy Winehouse forces us to remember those who’ve also died too early, alone, and a victim of a Nietzschean rage at the world and themselves.

We should be able to do better for them.

Photo credit: Crikey

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.xxx coincidence or copycat

This morning I noticed that GoDaddy and NetRegistry had almost identical facebook posts.

First GoDaddy posted:

Then a few hours later NetRegistry posted:

Is it just the domain registrar Zeitgeist or is there some copycat marketing going on? .xxx is a curly issue for many in the industry so there is a chance that some market probing (sorry) is underway by both GoDaddy and NetRegistry. However, I have my suspicions that NetRegistry was scratching for relevant content for their Facebook page and were inspired by the big Daddy.

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Surviving the big idea

I was watching the Survivor final last week and was amused that the evil Russell thought that he had won “the game” even though Sandra had walked away with the $1 million.

Clearly Russell was playing a different game. He was playing the big man in town game and Sandra was playing to win.

I know which game I would rather be playing.

Often when working in teams to produce products or interfaces you come across someone playing the big man in town game. The thing about them is that they are always right and they can never be told what to do.

And unless they are a genius they are always a destructive force in any team.

So how do you make sure your own big idea can be launched?

Here’s how to cope with the Russell factor:

Don’t work with them
It might seem obvious but not working with Russell types is a great way of avoiding the manipulation and anxiety.

Focus on your idea
Be motivated by your idea and your vision not the politics.

Don’t be intimidated

People like Russell believe attack is the best form of defence and they will do their utmost to attack you and make you doubt yourself.

Don’t play their game.

Ask questions
Asking questions is a great way to make the swaggering big man in town Russell get off the attack and really engage with you.

Use silence
Silence does not always equal consent when negotiating with a Russell. When negotiating, hold back on answering or responding. A Russell will quite often keep talking and dig themselves into a hole.

Don’t lose your temper
Punching a Russell in the face might seem like a very good idea but it won’t help.

Don’t do it!

Never trust them
You might think that you’re BFF’s but trust me, a Russell is out for what they can get and you are an obstacle in their way.

Remember Russell thought he was playing a very different game that only he could win as the master manipulator. He underestimated the straight talking Sandra who won the hearts and minds of the voters.

Focus on the real game and side-step the swaggering Russells of the world to get your big idea out.

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You and me, and the evolving web 2.0

Since Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle introduced the term Web 2.0 five years ago, there has been an explosion of web tools and Internet-connected gadgets that foster conversations, interactions and discoveries.

In the past five years startups have built massive brands by harnessing communities and conversations. Brands like Twitter, Facebook, Stumble Upon, Ebay, Amazon and many others grew massive audiences by offering means for related and unrelated people to connect using Internet technologies. By crowdsourcing these brands provided platforms for collective interactions that create useful and cool tools like book reviews, movie databases, online encycopedias, map annotations, link resources .

There has also been a lot of chatter about what’s next. The teleological nature of the term, Web 2.0, lead some to focus on what web 3.0 might look like. Is it the mobile Internet? Is it the fast(er) Internet?

O’Reilly and Battelle see Web 2.0 simply as “harnessing collective intelligence.”

I always found the term a really useful rallying cry but overall a spurious oversimplification for what the web was always meant to be. Web 2.0 for me is a great epochal term expressing the evolution of how we use and interact with technology rather than a concrete real-world thing. And the danger with epochal terms is that we focus too much on the term, defining and justifying it, rather than the really interesting stuff that helps us understand the intersections between culture and technology.

In a new paper “Web Squared“, O’Reilly and Battelle write about how the web is on a “collision course with the physical world” through a proliferation of Internet-enabled devices, smartphones and real-time
microblogging platforms like Twitter.

For the authors Web Squared is “Web meets World” and they mount a compelling case for web technologies being applied to solve the problems of the world using the principles of “openness, collective intelligence, and transparency”.

I found the article to be both insightful and inspiring. The idea that the web is an entity comprised of devices and the collective intelligence of millions of users, which could be applied to the real problems of the world really speaks to my aspirations and vanity.

I can’t help think that O’Reilly and Batelle are speaking from a very privileged position as elites in the most webified economy in the world and that the global problems including hunger and poverty, drought, global warming, war, slavery, health, corruption and despotism are a long way from being solved by a bunch of well intentioned web developers, designers, strategics, venture capitalists and well-intentioned twitterers.

Not straight away anyway.

There is a direct line between the invention of the printing press and the breakdown of the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. The opportunities offered by being able to easily and quickly distribute information meant that the monopoly the elite (the Church) had on knowledge was no longer tenable. The consequences of this “revolution”  took hundreds of years to emerge.

My point is that we’re too close, too involved, too emotionally engaged to really see whaat the epochal implications of the Internet revolution are. It is entirely possible that the Internet having been responsible for the breakdown of Western media empires dominance of the distribution of knowledge and information will be the catalyst for the breakdown of the Western economic hegemony. If 80% of the populations of China and India get access to the Internet and relative economic security the world and the web will look completely different. It will be dominated not by the privileged citizens of the West but by the “Other”.

The rise of the Arabic TV network, Al Jazeera and their release of broadcast quality footage from Gaza on a Creative Commons license puts this evolution in real context. I can’t see CNN, the BBC or even the Australian ABC putting their syndication deals at risk.

In fact it could be the case that the real revolution could be the emergence of a new global heterogeneity in the distributiom and consumption of knowledge, rather than the homogenous US dominated Internet. This has less to do with Web 2.0 than multi-lingual domain names and the rise of affordable Internet enabled mobile devices.

When we talk about conversations and interactions, most of us still have what Edward Said would have called an Orientalist point of view: “There are a lot of them and their economy is going well, but we invented Google and the iPhone”.

If we are to have a rallying cry to use the web to solve the worlds problems then it needs to be grounded in those radical ideas that provide the economic tools, including the Internet, to the world’s poorest peoples.

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Catching the wave

When I was a kid I loved to surf. Now cruising to the beach with my thruster and catching a few waves was not an easy thing to do when I lived in the middle of the country five hours from the beach. It was frustrating that my nascent surfing skills would develop over summer and then slowly wane during the year. Each beach holiday I would need to learn again.

Google obviously had a window into my frustrations about catching waves, recently announcing Google Wave, “a new model for communication and collaboration on the web”.

Cute metaphors aside the wave looks very promising offering a new way of interacting with others on the web. The Wave offers live editing of documents and chats so you can see what others are typing at the same time. Much like my stop-start surfing career this prevents the sometimes haphazard chats where multiple topics can be confusing and difficult.

There has been a big buzz around collaboration for as long as the web has been around. The web itself is a massive collaboration tool, as is email, social media, email, SMS. The difference with The Wave is that it appears to have the potential to transform how we interact and work with colleagues on documents, how we comment and interact on blogs, how we make a smart arsed comment about Darren’s status update.

Google have made interaction synchronous bringing the fantasy offered by a multitude of tech sci-fi films even closer. The problem with many models is that they are asynchronous, all participants must be equally invested in the conversation for communication to be effective. The Wave doesn’t make it as easy to interact as me having a coffee with a colleague but it makes it easier.

Google Wave is a play that may provide Google with a means to aggregate and ‘own’ social media. It changes the game massively.

Details are still scant at this stage but I’ve signed up for a trial and will be watching The Wave very closely.

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No one should get left behind

I live in a beautiful place on the edge of the city. We’re on the edge of a forest and have a view out west over the city and to the You Yangs and the ocean beyond. Unfortunately it is also an area prone to bush fires.

We have only been there a short time and this summer have evacuated 3 times. A guy I met last night has been there a month and evacuated 3 times.

This is the reality of living in such a beautiful spot in the Australian bush. A worthy sacrifice for not living in the inner city or the bleak homogeneous suburbs.

To cope with the threat of bush fire the community has evolved networks to assist people be informed of any fires and be given time to flee or fight. This network is called the Phone Tree or Fire Tree and consists of a number of branches of residents who call each other after being informed of a threat. The tree is headed by a monitor who listens to the CFA scanner and ABC radio, and looks for dangerous weather patterns.

The tree sometimes breaks down when people are not contactable which causes some angst and frustration.

Listening to the members of the tree debate different methods for strengthening the branches it struck me that the sophistication of any technological solutions are only as good as the technical competance of the members of the community. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are not, by themselves, a solution. SMS is not a solution. Some people do not have mobiles, some have bad reception and in the case of a crisis the network may be overloaded.

What is needed is a set of technologies appropriate for all members of the community. The early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and the luddites. No member should be penalised for not being on Twitter or having a mobile.

I do think there is an interesting solution to this problem that utilises a set of technologies with a broad reach.

Solving this problem is kind of like solving a conversion problem. There is a community or set of buyers each with a different persona, different needs wants and ideas. The job of the marketer is to persuade each member of the community to engage and to get some benefit from our product and service.

As relatively fearless adopters of new technology it is easy to leave a few behind, because “they don’t get it”. Our job needs to be to treat each buyer as an important member of our community. We owe them the respect of understanding their needs and concerns so we can address them and make them happy.

It may not be as urgent as ensuring your neighbours safety during a bushfire but it is bloody important to your bottom line.

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