The path not taken

Automated systems pretty much run our lives at this point, removing much of the need  - and the ability – to choose. They may make our lives easier, but are we increasingly offshoring our own choices? Algorithms define our Google searches, our Amazon purchases and the ads we see online, as well as things in the real world: they can create museum displays, design products and publish newspapers. They’re very clever, sure. But they increasingly define our interactions with, and understanding of, the world.

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Chairs designed by algorithm, by Autodesk

Amazon’s algorithm notices that I bought some children’s books, and then endlessly suggests kids’ products and parenting stuff as a result, in spite of the fact that they were a one-off purchase. Netflix notes that I watched some superhero film, then endlessly brings up all kinds of crappy sci-fi, in spite of the fact that the superhero film was a hungover choice that i’d be unlikely to make again. The basic premise of each of these services - If you liked that, you’ll like this -  funnels my choices into an increasingly narrow focus.

TV channels and movie studios are just as bad – if that one film was popular, lets make a bunch of sequels and prequels. If people watched that crime show, let’s make loads more like it.  What about surprise, choice, the shock of the new? And of course FOMO – what are we missing out on if we just follow the route created for us?

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Scene from the rejected pilot for Wonder Woman

A handful of innovators are looking to escape from the world of automated choices and explore the path not taken. Streaming service Screenhits is launching a Pilot Showcase, which aims to give airtime to TV shows that were rejected by studio executives. The site will offer 50 pilot shows for streaming for six months,allowing show-makers to recoup their costs, but also allowing advertisers and other studios to take on the projects and develop them into whole series.

Viewers can watch the shows for free, supported by advertising, and can pre-order any pilots that end up getting made. Shows that have been closed down by networks – such as Arrested Development and Community – have been revitalised online, so perhaps this service can lead viewers to discover new and interesting content that they actually want to support, rather than just absorbing the choices made for them.

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Learning to work

Now that I’m freelance, all my writing and trending energy has had to go into client work, so i’ve had less time for blog posts.

Protein Journal - the Work Issue

Protein Journal – the Work Issue

Here’s an extract from a piece i did for the great Protein Journal, out now

The path from education to employment used to be straightforward, but with fewer permanent jobs available and a glut of graduates, youth unemployment is a now major issue.  24.4% of under-25s in the Eurozone were reported to be unemployed at the end of 2013, while in the UK, there are 3.74 times more jobless under-25s than the national average. At the same time, higher education costs are rocketing – US education costs have gone up 400% since 1980 – leading many to find new paths between learning and employment.

Gensler senior associate Maria Nesdale comments, “Students are now clients and they are voting with their feet – they’re demanding more out of their education, and will go wherever offers the best value.” According to a poll by Time magazine and the Carnegie Corporation, 80% of US adults believe that the education received at most colleges is not worth it; 41% of college presidents and senior administrators agreed.

One of the key elements of the new value equation is, “will this course land me a job?”, so brand-savvy students are looking for opportunities to bridge the gap between business and education in innovative ways. Nesdale says, “The relationship between learning and work is getting closer every year – universities are starting to adopt corporate methods, while big companies are getting more involved with learning”.

Femi Bola MBE, director of employability and student enterprise at the University of East London, is collaborating with major London businesses to give students insight into the real necessities of the modern workplace. “The skills needed by employers are rarely fostered in traditional education: they’re looking for business acumen, great written and spoken communication, and an entrepreneurial attitude”, she says.

Entrepreneurial spirit is not lacking in the current crop of university students and graduates. A 2013 survey by the Kauffman foundation found that 54% of US millennials want to start their own business or have already started one, while BMO data suggests that 46% of students want to start their own business.

Hyper Island, Manchester

Hyper Island, Manchester

Chicago’s Starter School and the Boston-based Startup Institute are reinventing traditional business schools for entrepreneurs by offering courses that focus less on management theory and more on knowledge that’s directly applicable to current market needs. Starter School’s 9-month course on the coding, design, and business skills to build web apps is not cheap at  $33,000, but still beats the six-figure fees for leading MBA courses. Both schools emphasise their connection to industry, with Startup Institute students working with real startups, while Starter School participants spend 3 days a week working on projects for businesses such as Twitter’s Bluefin Labs.

It’s not just about breaking out on your own, though: many students and graduates are looking for innovative courses that augment traditional qualifications and boost their employment options. Hyper Island and General Assembly are very modern learning institutions, offering courses in highly marketable skills including app development, data analysis, digital strategy and user experience design. The idea seems to be working: General Assembly reports that 97% of the graduates of its 12-week immersive programmes find paid work within 90 days of graduating, and it now has campuses in innovation capitals including Sydney, London, New York, San Francisco and Berlin.

Mozilla Open Badges

Mozilla Open Badges

These kinds of education incubators – to borrow a term from the startup world – are just part of education’s new guard. As Megan Cole, Mozilla’s Marketing Strategy Lead, points out, “Today, modern learning institutions are empowering learning to go beyond just the traditional classroom and thrive in the online environment. They rely on technology as a way to help extend and transform learning all across the world”. MOOCs – or Massive Open Online Courses – have been hailed as the future of education, with venerable institutions from Harvard and MIT to Princeton and King’s College London throwing their hats into the ring. Leading MOOCs include Udacity, with over 750,00 registered users worldwide; EdX, which offers over a hundred short online courses to its 1.8m students; and Coursera,  serving 4m learners.

While some of the initial excitement around MOOCs has died down, new elements are being introduced to give them greater relevance to business, from new qualification standards such as Mozilla’s Open Badges, to brand-sponsored courses. Udacity is working with six major companies, including Google and Microsoft, to create classes in high-value skills such as 3D graphics and Android app development, while branding giant Wolff Olins has partnered with FutureLearn to develop a course on The Secret Power of Brands.

Cole comments, “Learning today looks very different than previously imagined. Learning is not just ‘seat time’ within schools, but extends across multiple contexts, experiences and interactions. It is no longer just an isolated or individual concept, but is inclusive, social, informal, participatory, creative and lifelong.”

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Being Mindful

I did a little piece for the excellent The Women’s Room blog about the rise of mindfulness culture, and the best mindfulness tools – check it out here, or an extract below…

2014 has been dubbed “the year of mindful living” - mindfulness  is a kind of meditation-lite, which encourages you to focus on how you feel, what you’re doing and what you think about things.

Research suggests that it can boost the immune system, alleviate medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and chronic pain, and also help with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, phobias and eating disorders.

Major brands and institutions are introducing mindfulness training as a way to help staff be happier and more productive, from Google and Transport for London to Nike, KPMG and the Home Office. Being mindful can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for a few minutes, or “body scanning”, which encourages you to think about how each part of your body feels.

But one of the key ways people are practicing mindfulness is through their smartphones. It seems odd that the vanguard of easy mindfulness training actually springs from the same place that causes us so much stress, but according to Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth, co-creators of the Mindfulness Daily app, “Technology is a tool, and just as a knife can be weapon or an eating utensil, an iPhone can access the world of information, or be a propagator of fractured attention, weakened relationships, drain of creativity and reinforcer of introversion”. So here’s some of the top mobile mindfulness tools…

Headspace 3Headspace is probably one of the most popular mindfulness apps – it was created by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, who guides you through a course of 10-minute meditation sessions for 10 days. Headspace calls the app “mediation for modern life”, and is designed to fit into spare moments in your day.  Free for iPhone and Android.

The magnificent Arianna Huffington is a huge advocate of the benefits of mindfulness, and has launched an app, called GPS for the Soul (free for iPhone or Android), that measures your stress levels and offers expert guides to help restore mental balance. You can also choose things that can help you feel calm, whether it’s music and poetry, breathing exercises, yoga, mediation or pictures of loved ones.

Relatively new to the block is Mindfulness Daily, and my personal favourite, not only because its creators Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth are so lovely. The app offers lots of different ways to get mindful, from 15-second “pauses” to allow you to focus on your breathing, to body scanning, and even “device meditation”, which uses the shape and sensations of your smartphone to help you focus and relax. Free on iPhone.

And if you really want to be totally 2014, invest in Melon, a headband that helps monitor the brain’s focus during different activities. It’s $149, but if you want to look like a futuristic hippie and know what your brain is up to, it’s priceless. Wearables + mindfulness? You cannot get more “now” than this.

 

Enviro-elitism

As the rain is pouring down and the floodwaters are creeping up, it seems that extreme weather is the new normal. Vast swathes of the US, UK and Asia are becoming inadvisable places to live if you don’t want to put up with (at best) major disruption or (at worst)  risk injury and death. Australia is increasingly getting swallowed up by the desert at its heart, while America’s eastern seaboard seems cursed with storms, hurricanes and polar vortexes. It’s starting to become clear that living in vulnerable areas could be asking for trouble, which is why a new initiative in Nigeria hopes to create a luxurious enclave safe from environmental ravages.

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The Eko Atlantic project, launched in 2003, is a man-made island off the coast of Lagos, that aims to become a shining new 10 sq km city (the same size as New York City) by 2020. It may sound like one of those construction magnate’s follies, like the Palm Jumeirah and its novelty-island kind, but the Eko has been built precisely to safeguard its well-heeled inhabitants and businesses from environmental extremes. While the rest of the coast of Nigeria is under threat from rising sea levels, Eko has its own 8km-long sea barrier to keep it safe from encroaching tides, plus an independent water and energy supply to keep it going when mainland services falter. But such a glittering metropolis is not open to all, as only the elite can afford to live on Eko Atlantic, creating what Martin Lukacs in The Guardian calls “climate apartheid” :

“Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms,” says Lukacs. “Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising.”

With my futurist hat on, it seems that safety from floods and other extreme weather effects will become a more important consideration for many people when thinking about where to live. The Location, Location, Location decisions will increasingly incorporate distance from flood plains or the coast, shelter from high winds and independent energy and water supplies, rather than the usual priorities of  proximity to transport or ability to extend property. That’s all very well and good for the middle classes, who have some flexibility about where they choose to live, but those who have little choice due to financial, work or family needs could be stuck in the danger zones because they can’t afford to live somewhere safer. The affluent are safe on their high ground while the poor must bail out the homes and fields. That’s enviro-elitism right there.

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Flawless strength

Amidst all the noise about Beyonce’s new “surprise album” is a seeming shift in policy from Queen Bey. After sidestepping the inevitable “are you a feminist” question for a good few years — disappointing cultural commentators and fans alike — she’s now smartly aligning herself with feminism without actually answering the question, by sampling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s great TEDTalk on new track Flawless.

I’m ashamed to say i hadn’t watched Adichie’s talk before (there’s really a lot of TEDTalks and only so much time in the day!), but, led by Bey, i was captivated by it (as I’m sure many more fans will be). Powerful, thoughtful, touching and funny, the author talks about how women make themselves smaller to be less threatening to men, pretending to be less than they are and turning that pretence into an art form.

She also raises the excellent point that many of the characteristics that led men to be more prominent (such as physical strength) are decreasingly important in modern business, which instead prizes intelligence, creativity and innovation. Many writers and commentators say that these are “feminine” qualities, but I rather disagree (not least because it seems a conciliatory gesture  - “Men may rule the world, but women are creative, nurturing” etc.) Like Adichie, I believe that neither gender owns these talents or skills – they are up to an individual to cultivate and explore. Ascribing certain values to one gender or another – no matter if they are positive or not – keeps people in gender boxes, dictating who we should be rather than who we are. And while physical strength may have lost its prominence, the strength we gain — men or women — from being ourselves is an increasingly important currency. 

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Status update anxiety

Another extract from my conspicuous experience work for Viewpoint, this time looking at the downside…

With experience-driven consumption becoming the new status marker, social media, from Facebook to Instagram has become the shop window for people to sell the idea of their fabulous lives. But while consumers may feel relieved of the pressure to buy physical status symbols, they feel increasingly pressurised to showcase perfect lifestyles and experiences.

I share, therefore I am

Social media has helped shift the pursuit of experience from something personal and even spiritual to a trading card in the game of one-upmanship. And as people increasingly live online, the version of their lives that they choose to share on social networks can shape how others see them and how they see themselves too.

“Facebook has become a place where we brag”, says Nataly Kogan, founder of positivity-based social network Happier.com. “Our social circles on there are so vast and diverse, people feel like they’re on stage on Facebook”. According to a 2012 JWT survey, three quarters of US and UK consumers feel people use social media to brag about their lives, while nearly 6 in 10 felt that it was important that their social media presence conveyed a certain image about them – what the New Yorker calls a “casual predominance of personal branding”. Instagram alone has over 90m photos with hashtag #me – with a further 23m with the ultimate identity hashtag #selfie.

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With each brag, each filtered and curated experience posted online, consumers may aim to show off their lovely lives and boost their status, but they’re creating angst too. Kogan says “It makes sense that when people compare their own real life to others’ shiny, curated posts, they feel bad. While consumers know the effort that goes into creating their own perfected image of their awesome lifestyle and experiences, this knowledge deserts them when looking at others’ images.

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A study by researchers at two German universities shows that social media can be a minefield of insecurity and envy. Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction found that a third of people felt worse about their lives after visiting Facebook, especially after viewing others’ holiday photos or their social interactions and “likes”. The report also found that men and women tried to make their lives look better on Facebook by highlighting their personal achievements, social lives and their looks, but this can generate an “envy spiral” as people try to out-do each other with increasingly glowing images of their lifestyles.

A US survey by NBC’s Today show found that even Pinterest creates feelings of failure among women, who feel unable to live up to the perfect homes, crafts and kids’ parties that they see showcased on the site. 42% of mothers are stressed by trying to live up to these images of perfect family life, while the pressure to take pictures of every important family experience causes stress for 83%. Indeed, Kogan believes that rather than simply enjoying experiences, consumers are focusing on how they’ll look to their social network: “Instead of looking at that beautiful sunrise or tasting that delicious dinner, they’re trying to capture it for social media.”

Going dark

Consumers are beginning to question the way that sharing an experience can get in the way of experiencing it. Kogan believes “There is a focus shift towards appreciating what’s actually happening in our lives, not curating an epic version of it online”. One way to achieve this is for social media to stop getting in the way of enjoying experiences. A recent campaign by McCann Australia (under the guise of graduate Alex Haigh) encourages people to stop “phubbing” – “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. The website StopPhubbing.com suggests that the average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing per dining session, with the majority of phubbers using their phones to make status updates.  My Phone Is Off For You aims to counteract the problem of distracted smartphone users, by wrapping smartphones in a “phonekerchief” that blocks network service. Spanish phone network Movistar has launched an app called app I Off You that helps people enjoy mobile-free time with their nearest and dearest. Users activate an “enjoy” button when they want downtime, and if anyone reaches for their handset, an alarm sounds, demanding that the phone be left on the table.

Phonekerchief

The jury is still out on whether wearable technology like Google Glass can allow consumers to capture their experiences without detracting from them – several fashion insiders wore them during the spring/summer 2014 catwalk shows, but the technology is not yet seamless enough to allow recording and sharing without fiddling with the mechanism.  Instead, the new wave of wearable cameras, such as the Narrative Clip or The Autographer, quietly capture moments of the user’s day at regular intervals, creating a more realistic representation of their experiences. Kogan also points to ephemeral photo messaging service Snapchat as an example of sharing true moments as they happen, without the filter of trying to perfect one’s identity.

While experts expect the drive for experiences to continue to grow, the way they are recorded and  showcased is changing. The drive to keep up with the virtual Joneses may be a part of online living, but services that empower people to share what their lives are really like and allow people to connect in a more real way, could help conspicuous experience gain a new level of authenticity – and power.

Images from top: Happier.com; Planet Fitness No Pintimidation campaign; My Phone Is Off For You phonekerchief

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Conspicuous experience

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “conspicuous experience” this year – the idea that our experiences are becoming a greater status marker than our possessions, especially through the lens of social media. After going on about it to friends and colleagues for months, Viewpoint allowed me to turn my ramblings into a feature, an extract of which you will find below…

Post-recession, there’s still not much money to go around, which is leading many consumers to focus their spending on experiences that boost memories, relationships and sense of adventure, rather than products that will lose their thrill or usefulness quickly.

Unusual events have almost become the norm for urbanites, who flock to site-specific cinema nights, secret supper clubs, salons, lectures and neighbourhood festivals. Pop-up events have gone mainstream, as consumers realize their value lasts long beyond the event: a one-time event can offer more surprise and discovery than even the most longed-for product. Brands have swiftly jumped on the bandwagon, with every household name creating pop-ups to launch or celebrate the experience of using key products, from Nike’s Feel London “exploration space” to Magnum ice-cream bars’ Pleasure Store in Toronto. While consumers continue to appreciate innovative and immersive brand experiences, they’re also looking for unique and personal experiences that help express and build their own identity.

NikeFeelLondon

As Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of recent book Happy Money: The Science Of Smarter Money, write, “Dozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are”. In the book, Dunn and Norton highlight 5 ways for people to gain greater happiness from their spending: the first is “Buy Experiences”.

Tom Marchant, co-founder of experiential travel company Black Tomato, believes, “People are realizing that its experiences that give colour and richness to their lives – they are defining themselves by what they’ve done.” Even luxury consumers are refocusing their spending on experiences, rather than goods. A Boston Consulting Group study found that sales of luxury experiences outpaced luxe goods by 50% in 2012, with even consumers in emerging markets beginning to switch their allegiances from branded goods to indulgent experiences. “All over the world, luxury shoppers tell us they’d rather spend more on experiences than on clothes and jewelry. They’ve gone from ‘all my friends and I wear Cartier’ to ‘I cherish spa days with my friends,’” says Michelle Eirinberg Kluz, a Boston Consulting Group principal. “Although experiences are more intangible than an item, consumers consider them more memorable.”

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But they’re not exactly keeping these extraordinary experiences under their hats – sharing (and even showing off) details of their experiences seems to be a key element of their personal value. James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, points out, before the advent of social media, status symbols only needed to be visible to those physically nearby: “what you owned – car, handbag, branded clothes – counted much more in terms of signifying status. After all, who knew you’d just been to the latest restaurant or away for the weekend?” But now, with the world increasingly viewed through the prism of Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter and even Snapchat, what people do has more impact than what they have. “Because of how many followers and friends you have on Facebook and Twitter, far fewer people will actually see you driving your swanky car or holding your fancy handbag than will know that you’re sitting on a chair lift in Chamonix, watching the sunset from the rooftop of your riad in Marrakech, or playing golf on the roof of Selfridges”, says Wallman.

This conspicuous experience can be showcased through stories at dinner parties or over fences or watercoolers, but is most powerful when told and filtered through social media. As edible experiences guru Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr  told me, “Consumers need to have more creative lives now – it’s no longer good enough to just go to the pub on the weekend. People feel they have to do something fantastic, and get the pictures to prove it”.

Sol-Wave-House-6

When it comes to experiential spending, travel tops the list for many consumers. Marchant says, “Many people don’t see travel as discretionary spend – they’re still pursuing value, but travel is something they’re less willing to give up. It’s something they can look forward to, so they’re willing forgo spending on other items”. According to McKinsey research, 30% of European luxury consumers are willing to spend less on luxury goods in order to afford experiences such as travel, while a TripAdvisor survey in Spain found that 58% of consumers would sacrifice buying new clothes to afford a holiday, while 55% would buy fewer gifts and 50% would reduce their alcohol consumption.

A key part of many trips is the ability to share the experience, whether through Facebook albums, live tweets or instant Instagram shares. Some travel companies are leveraging conspicuous experience to weave status updates right into the itinerary. A French ski resort in Vars enables has installed video cameras to capture skiers and snowboarders best tricks, which can be posted directly to Facebook. In Majorca, Sol Wave House has transformed itself into a Twitter-themed hotel, which allows guests to order room service or drinks by the pool via tweets. Sydney’s Instagram-themed hotel, 1888, all rooms are decorated with blown-up Instagram snaps (as well as the kind of nostalgic/authentic décor Instagrammers favour), plus a booth in the lobby for “selfies” (self-portraits captured by a smartphone camera), while guests with over 10,000 followers on the app, or those who take the best pictures of the hotel, can get a free night’s stay.

Images from top: Nike Feel London; Casestagram; Sol Wave House

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Peggy’s progress

Check out this great supercut from New York Magazine celebrating the rise of one of the most nuanced characters (and my favourite) on Mad Men, Peggy Olson. She works her way up from a secretary to chief copywriter, with plenty of battles and some triumphs along the way – she’s a rare character, not just for the 60s but any old time.

As m’regular readers may know, I’m always interested in screen representations of women in the workplace, and the progress of Peggy in the testosterone- and Jim Beam-fuelled days of early Madison Avenue is a simultaneously inspiring and frustrating journey. In spite of the heartbreaks and late nights and sidelining, Peggy’s a secret badass and she gets through things the hard way, which makes her story far more powerful than some Pollyanna media-dream-career-romcom nonsense.

The sixth series of Mad Men has just finished, so i’ll be spending the “summer” working my way back through the show from series 1, to prevent withdrawal.

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Dressing for the gaze

This is too cool for school. These dresses are gaze-activated, moving or lighting up when someone stares at them.

(no)where(now)here : 2 gaze-activated dresses by ying gao from ying gao on Vimeo.

The designer, Ying Gao, describes the project thus:

“Absence often occurs at breakfast time – the tea cup dropped, then spilled on the table being one of its most common consequences. Absence lasts but a few seconds, its beginning and end are sudden. However closed to outside impressions, the senses are awake. The return is as immediate as the departure, the suspended word or movement is picked up where it was left off as conscious time automatically reconstructs itself, thus becoming continuous and free of any apparent interruption.”

The movement is certainly mesmerising – and uncanny – but the science behind these dresses is the real amazement. Each dress is made of photoluminescent thread and organza, which is embedded with eye-tracking technology that is activated by a spectators’ gaze. As people’s gazes are constantly shifting, so the surface of the dress keeps moving. The idea of transience is really firing up my synapses right now (not least because of elusive communication forms like Snapchat!), but this is a really beautiful way to demonstrate transience as a positive thing, not a throwaway one.

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Clever things club

In my line of work, you have to be a sponge for everything that’s going on – reading everything, always listening and watching. Most of the time, that means reading anything I come across – Twitter links being the greatest boon to trendsters in finding things you didn’t know were interesting, without leaving your desk. But there’s another tool in learning about things which requires leaving one’s desk or sofa and getting out into the world – one which is so very old-school, but gaining increasing social currency.

The School of Life aphorisms (credit David Michael)

It’s going to lectures – something most people would never have considered doing once they escaped college. Sitting in a room as grand and legendary as the theatre at the Royal Institution, or a concrete-floored “space” in Shoreditch or in the private dining rooms of Soho restaurants, more people are literally taking themselves out of their comfort zones to go and hear about something new or different, or debate key contemporary topics. Sometimes you get to go to these things for work, like the great School of Life or  It’s Nice That events or even a TEDx, and so the inspiration and enlightenment you get from the various expert or visionary speakers has a useful outlet. But generally, it’s just exercise for the mind.

A couple of my friends and I like to watch out for interesting and unusual talks to attend on a lunchtime or a weekday evening, especially if it involves the promise of a sharp wine or artisan beer (these being the usual tipples offered with your ticket price). We call this Clever Things Club. Events range from talks by inventors, jellymongers, lexicographers and pornographers to discussions on the role of feminism in fashion or opinion in media. If i talk about people going to improving events like this with my work hat on, i usually ascribe it to people wanting more bang for their buck out of their leisure time – looking for culture, entertainment and a wine without having to shell out for all three, lectures are great value for cash- and time-poor consumers. But there’s something else too – the wonder of the new.

Filter-Bubble (1)

It’s easy to get caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of things we like, things we do, things we’re used to, people we know. The comfort of sticking to what we know/like is pleasant and all, but can also become a bubble, causing us to lose touch with the excesses, adventures and awesomeness in the world. Call it the Wheelhouse Effect, the Filter Bubble, or just plain getting stuck in a rut – whatever, it’s important to break out of the familiar algorithmed world we live  in and learn things, hear different opinions, appreciate others’ experiences and look at things in a new way. It might not always be highbrow, but if it opens your mind to something else even for a little while,  it’s excellent value.

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