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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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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HowThingsAreDone:

A little thing i did for the day job…

Originally posted on Iconowatch:

by Gwyneth Holland

European luxury shoppers are shifting to a value mindset, and global megabrands are getting left behind. Sales at top European luxury brands are down, as chic Parisians and Milanese can no longer afford to shop with them. At the same time, the much-beloved free-spending international shoppers (especially those from China, Russia and the Middle East) are no longer filling brands’ glittering flagships.

Over half of the 23 brands (such as Gucci, Hermès and Dior) recently surveyed by Reuters reported lower footfall from tourists (particularly Asian shoppers) in their European flagships. These stores have grown to rely on wealthy luxury travelers to stay afloat, but now the well-shod shopper is going elsewhere. Outlet stores are increasingly enticing those who love a label as well as those who love a deal.

After all, just because consumers have less cash to flash, it doesn’t mean they’re…

View original 165 more words

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Play time

I love Viewpoint magazine. It’s kind of an oddity – a lushly printed, highly visual and thinkful biannual magazine that charges £45 every issue (because it has no ads). You can barely find it anywhere, but it’s well worth seeking out, believe. It’s from the same stable as Textile View, View on Colour and Bloom, and it’s the first place I ever had anything published (at the tender age of 18). I’ve now been writing for Viewpoint for the last 15 years, off and on (including a stint as editor) and it’s a real treat to get to write for it still. I’ve previously featured extracts of Viewpoint stuff on this here blog (on Desire and Romance)and I recently did a thing about Play for the mag, so I thought I’d put an extract here for the internet’s delectation (Viewpoint is still stubbornly old media, so you can’t read it online).Play

Playing with the everyday

“Everyone wants to play”, says Sam Bompas, partner at food experience designers Bompas & Parr. “People have told themselves that they need to behave in a grown-up way, but in the right context they are happy to let go”. Bompas believes that the hugely popular interactive artworks by artists such as Olafur Eliasson and Carsten Holler have encouraged people to think about their environment in a new way, and delight in simple pleasures.

Just as Holler’s slides encouraged serious gallery-goers to reconsider what art can do for human interactions, Dutch design firm HIK Ontwerpers installed a slide at a rail station to help commuters reconsider their daily journey. The “transfer accelerator” was designed as a nice gesture for travelers, as well as a carefree way to speed up the morning commute and improve wellbeing in its run-down locale.

A competition to create a new bridge across the Seine also hopes to encourage Parisians to think differently about their environment. One of the winning designs is an inflatable trampoline bridge, which would allow people to bounce across the famous river.

Streetlife

For many, this kind of public play is part of a growing pursuit of extraordinary experiences in everyday life. Bompas believes, “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”, particularly for the benefit of their online social networks.

The result is an explosion of opportunities for play, as streets become playgrounds again – with games that are a whole lot more sophisticated than hopscotch.  Berlin’s Playpublik, the Festival for Playful Public Spaces, used the city streets as part of a series of digital/real games around the city’s Computer Games Museum. Games ranged from parkour to micro-board games and collect-and-swap contests.

Meanwhile, in London, Hide&Seek’s 99 Tiny Games project suggested simple games via plaques mounted in 33 different locations around the city during summer 2012. The plaques instructed passers-by in games such as Rushing Roulette, where players spin round with eyes closed, then try to point at the centre of the plaque, and Twickers, a twig-pulling game, where the loser is the one whose twig snaps first.

Immersive playgrounds

Some forms of play adhere to the digital culture that spawned them, using real-life landscapes as just another platform in a multi-level game.  Shadow Cities, a multiplayer online game, uses real streets as its playing surface. Smartphone users can form teams as they attempt to control the world of the game, which is overlaid on a real-world map, using GPS.

In London, Mudlark’s Chromarama game takes the geolocation-tagging and badge-winning appeal of Foursquare further by creating a game based on commuters’ routes around the city. The game uses travel data captured by players’ Oyster cards to award points for those who get off the tube early and walk to their destination, or those who go on quests to famous, or undiscovered, parts of the city.

Alex Fleetwood, director of social gaming agency Hide& Seek, believes this is only the beginning of online/offline play. “I think we’re going to see a deep integration of the video game culture as we presently understand it with older, more embodied, more situated forms of play – sports, parlour games, games in public spaces – linking everything that’s thrilling about computer-mediated games with everything that’s important about old-fashioned social play.

Conspicuous experience

Although much of the play renaissance is about the pursuit of release, variety and thrill, there’s also an element of competitive leisure. As Bompas comments, “The drive for experience is evolving. It’s not merely about going to a great event or getting involved with fun stuff, but making people stars in their free time. So play becomes a different kind of conspicuous consumption – it becomes conspicuous experience.”

After all, when money is tight, consumers are much happier to show off about things they’ve done, rather than things they’ve bought. But with brands, marketers and retailers focusing so heavily on the intangible value of “experience” over the last decade, palates for experience have become more sophisticated, and if a brand is going to get involved in play, they have to create an experience that’s truly remarkable, or just truly useful.

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Bladerunner in 60 seconds

One of my all-time favourite films, Bladerunner, got an animated and abbreviated makeover from Philip Askins, winner of Empire’s Done in 60 Seconds award. His monochrome figures and dispassionate voice-over add an even more noirish tone to an already wonderfully dark story…

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