authenticity: truth is still the new gold standard

March 15th, 2012

fastcodesign.com just published an article proclaiming that “Fake Authenticity Is Now A-Okay.” has some great examples, summarizing the trends currently proving i was only close to bullseye in 1996 when i said “if information is the currency of this new age, then truth will be the new gold standard.”

at the time, i foretold a future where the signal to noise ratio was so weak there’d be high demand for anything that amplified the signal, or at least picked nuggets of it out of the mountain of information noise with some regularity. hence the rise of Google, for instance. i also believed that truth in that signal would be more valuable than any other era of history. that mountain of noise has turned out to be just as deceptive and distracting as i’d feared, mostly trivial, but also full of half truths and outright lies. we protect and prove our identities in ways unheard of in 1996. cell phone videos hold authorities accountable. if a politician changes his opinion, we now count on it having been recorded, transcribed, tagged and filed for the ages.

what i didn’t anticipate was that we’d be satiated by the appearance of authenticity, or “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert coined it in 2005. Fast Company points out F.S.C. Barber shops and Hipstamatic camera apps as examples of fake as hell references to the authentic past. i don’t think it’s mere nostalgia. these days, if it feels right—-without regard for critical thinking or facts—-it’s good enough. in our rush to consume information and experiences at accelerating rates, we make do without evidence or process, trusting that it will work out for the most part. twenty one hours ago, the New York Times proclaimed that Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print after 244 years. time will tell whether there’s much of a market for fact-checked info in a world where wikipedia.com is cited as a news source.

trouble is, dogs won’t stop eating chocolate until it’s gone or they die, and psychologists have proven we’re not far removed. we’re wired to believe what we feel, then rationalize it vehemently in defense of ourselves. what feels right is often bad for you, especially in a world that makes more money off your overfed feelings than your underdeveloped logic.

Jonathan Ives, SVP of Industrial Design at Apple, believes their products are successful because of discipline, “a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better,” rather than just superficially new or different. i believe there’s truth in that, but he chooses words that load his messages with authenticity for marketing reasons too. is the new thicker, heavier iPad genuinely better? what happens when a company figures out how to make their products feel authentic, without having to invest in penetrating design?

what happens when all leaders, food, and factoids are entirely focused on feeling honest, helpful, hopeful, and healthy, instead of being those things?

work-life balance

May 15th, 2011

glassdoor.com has announced the top twenty-five companies for work-life balance (2011). who they are won’t be of much good to you if you’re a video game developer, since none of them are video game developers. those of you looking to escape the verdant fields of youthful passion slash late nights and “crunch” weeks should definitely take note, though.

what did i notice as standout similarities?

  • flexibility, usually of schedule. Chevron innovates here with a nine-day fortnight system.

  • commitment to work-life balance, top down. in my experience, crunch is always—always—the result of a management failure: targets, estimates, strategy, tactics, etc., so interested game execs could start there.

  • perks that make employees’ lives easier outside work, such as food (healthy is often mentioned, and not just lunch, but breakfast too), laundry, gym (memberships, on-site, or fitness sessions), car servicing, and so on.

  • vacation days. since these are not work, seems like an easy way to increase the life end of the ratio. closely related, Autodesk offers sabbatical every four years.

spectacular failures, part 1

March 8th, 2011

i used to work near a mall. there was an A&W in the food court. i ordered a Teen burger at lunch one day, and the girl at the register started flirting with me, and continued when she put my order on the tray. they had just launched a new promotion, so i got “A&W bucks” or something with my purchase. she put too many on there, and made a point of it.

so i went back every day and got a Teen burger, a few A&W bucks, and—if she timed the lines right—a few coy words and sly glances as she took my order. i really liked Teen burgers, but even they lose their luster eventually. that didn’t stop me though. the flip side of loyalty might be some neurotic form of fixation. i wanted to see how many i could eat i guess. it’s about a month’s worth.

i learned about her a few sentences at a time, and she, me. she had extra thick eyebrows but i thought it was cute. her name was Elizabeth. computers frustrated her. she hated getting around without a car, and felt trapped when her roommate was out.

about a month after it began, i thought i knew enough. i got up the nerve and asked her out. i offered to drive. “we can go wherever,” i said. her face fell, and she held up the diamond on her left hand—the one that somehow hadn’t been there all month.

i retreated to the crowd and found a seat feeling a little angry and confused. she must have felt bad, because she took a break, a burger, and sat next to me. she hadn’t done that before. well, that was awkward. i don’t remember much, but she said something about being friends. i said, “i got lots of friends.” we ate our burgers in silence after that.

maybe she quit. i never saw her again, though i kept eating lunch at that food court, (i switched to cheesesteaks made by ex-felons), but couldn’t eat a Teen burger for a damn long time. i remembered my A&W bucks, and it turns out i had enough for a Root Bear puppet. i named it after her. also, i wrote a bad song.