Basic Sonnet 1 | Like Dandelion Parachutes

A Basic* Sonnet, for the us, the people of 2016.

*The term basic has dual meaning. Basic, because this sonnet has no rhyme or rigid structure, and doesn’t remotely resemble those of a Shakespearean, Petrarchan or Occitan nature (in fact, it’s probably an insult to all of these). And secondly, basic, as in that girl’s so fucking basic (Urban Dictionary). 
  1. Eastern thought wins. Karma’s a bitch or a friend. Keep it good with everyone. Every one holds a piece of you.
  2. Not everyone is a candidate to be your friend. Thank God for that.
  3. Those who were once friends will disappear, like dandelion parachutes. It’s not personal.
  4. Don’t make your words too thick. Keep it simple, brief. People don’t like paying attention to other ideologies for too long. Easily distracted and eager to return to own ruminations.
  5. Mean words often only sound mean in writing.
  6. Confrontation is not the the absolute worst.
  7. Books are getting harder to read.
  8. Frequently mispronounce words. Know what they mean and how to spell them, but evidently never hear them spoken.
  9. Location-based check-ins make sure that no one runs into each other spontaneously anymore.
  10. It’s useful to know where everyone is, so we can make sure we don’t run into them if it’s going to be awkward.
  11. Or that we do run into them if we have something to show off
  12. Why is everyone so terrified of awkwardness?
  13. Why are people chasing Pokémon onto highways and train tracks?
  14. Look up sometimes.

 

Selling Life Design

SOURCE: www.stocksnap.io

Seems like everyone’s a commentator on the saga that should be dubbed ‘The Flight of the Millennials’.

Recently, someone over at Virgin styling himself as a ’21st Century Career Strategist’ made an upbeat argument for the phenomenon of ‘life design’. ‘Life design’ and ‘designer life’ are not synonymous, but by the looks of some unique little snowflakes’ social media feeds, this might well be worthy of refutation. After all, technology, high-speed travel, and many other 21st century innovations have enabled mobility and cross-continental movement like never before. The article references Tim Ferriss, the author who suggested the rejection of the ‘deferred life plan’ that older generations have adhered to to in favour of a new approach that embraces flexible working hours and escaping the rat race.

The concept of life design has cropped up prolifically in online self-help lit recently (here, and here, and here), and even in formal research. The authors emphasize designing before (or instead of) planning. This is probably good advice, After all, you can only plan your life to a certain degree. Life’s unpredictable like that. It’s like trying to fit Jello into a key hole. It just doesn’t behave the way you want it to.

Life design seems to be the guiding light for young careerists seeking to transfigure the entire idea of what working life should be. The basic idea is that one should pursue the ideal existence by identifying what you want and design your everyday movements around attaining whatever it is you’re aiming for. This means making both long and short-term changes, slowly transmogrifying , machinating and maneuvering your daily habits to fit into the design you’ve conceptualized with a satisfying click!

SOURCE: www.stocksnap.io

SOURCE: http://www.stocksnap.io

So fascinating is the millennial’s flight (or plight), that companies spend millions researching our behaviour so they can market to us, just like they did to our parents, the well-meaning yet perhaps indulgent Gen Xers. Except this time it’s not the American Dream (or the post-war utopia, the home ownership dream, the the chunky retirement annuity dream, the baby-making dream, or whatever parallel dream that may occur in non-American societies).

Today, they’re selling us the dream of flexible, balanced lives; of not being answerable to anyone; of integrated free time, where adventure, travel and new experiences are no longer commodified luxuries but can become part of our everyday pursuits, even our careers! Underlying all of this is a clear message: you deserve it! And you bet we do.

You can see us millennials in binaries, depending on how you choose to view our well-documented traits. Each wonder-trait has its evil twin:

  • Connected or Perpetually Disconnected?
  • Pro Multitaskers or Distracted?
  • Tech-Savvy or Tech-Obsessed?
  • Balance-Seeking or Out of Touch with Reality?
  • Altruistic or Detached Slacktivists?
  • Collaborative or People-Pleasing?
  • Adventurous or Masters of Escapism?
  • Self-Confident or Narcissistic?

We have aspirations to paddle temporarily in the sea of corporate wage slavery for a decade or so, then get the hell out and do what we want to do, pursuing romantic things like unicycling around Africa or becoming a successful freelance calligrapher. All the while, others who weren’t brave enough to take the leap remain trapped in the throes of obligation, looking on admiringly while they tap-like your photos on Instagram and daydreaming about doing the same. It’s the most Instagrammable dream that ever happened, and it’s coming for you.

Marketers want us to pursue the new life design dream, and then they want us to Instagram it. They want us to document the process and get others on board, salivating with desire for what seems like a golden way out. Immanuel Kant said this: “In the kingdom of ends, everything has either a price or a dignity. If it has a price, something else can be put in its place as an equivalent; if it is exalted above all price and so admits of no equivalent, then it has a dignity.” The price in this case, is the market price relative to our universal human needs and wants. Basic economics. The price of something fluctuates according to demand. The dignity part is where it gets a little more complicated.

Price is the relative value. Dignity is the intrinsic value. Remember, we’re all about authenticity, right? What does that even mean? Well, Kant had the answer. Authenticity is the intrinsic value. It equates to the dignity we crave. And while Kant argues that dignity can only be found in human morality and nothing else, that was back in 1785. In 2015, exactly 230 years later, dignity takes a new form. We can achieve dignity not solely in being moralistic, but by way of our skills, our diligence, our imaginations, our collaborative inclinations and our drives to innovate. In essence, by our virtues as ‘millennials’.

The takeaway from this  in relation to the careerist millennial spirit of 2015 is that there’s a price to pay for everything. It’s a law of being. The question is: what sort of career supports the attainment of dignity and how do we escape a fate of simply paying a daily price and receiving something unsatisfying in return? How do we transcend the price and avoid the unwanted toss-up between freedom-and-financial-instability and boring-job-and-financial-security?

Life design discourse has infiltrated respected online learning platforms, which are free to the public, and help thousands of people to discover how to achieve this elusive goal. A MOOC hosted by MIT OpenCourseWare and titled Designing Your Life was released in spring of 2009. It took salivating users from all of the world through the process of self -evaluation, creating a ‘life vision’ and resolving ‘haunting incidents’ in our pasts.

There have been criticisms of the utopian view of ‘lifestyle design’, however. This article lambasts Tim Ferriss for punting just ‘another distraction’ to those who remained ‘trapped in the system’. The underappreciated value of delayed gratification is all but forgotten in this exciting, new and highly palatable social paradigm. Once upon a time, patience was a virtue. It isn’t anymore.

We may have super skills, phDs littering our CVs, massive social networks and sunny optimism going for us, but patience certainly didn’t make the top 10 virtues of Gen Y. Our parents and grandparents knew the value of hard work and waiting for good things to come, while we demand instant gratification in all areas of our lives. But is this sustainable? What we will teach our own children about earning things, about having good things come to those who wait, and all that other crap about the worth of holding off pleasure (which, as a millennial, makes my skin crawl).

Corporations would have us believe that we are in pursuit of that which has a dignity: it is above commodity, and transcends the cruder products of capitalism.  You want an essence of being which you can design, control, foster and grow at your own discretion. They subtly provide the tools for doing so. And they’re making you pay. Kant may have been a philosopher, but he was right about this: if there’s a free market, there’s a price, even if corporations spin it as intrinsic and authentic. But are we, the millennials, willing to accept and pay it? Do we even realise that there is one?

Once upon a time, they sold our parents the American Dream. Today, they’re selling us a different dream, but a dream nonetheless.

South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Peninsula, Cape Town, Landscape, Table Mountain National Park

35 Things to Do in Cape Town for Under R120

This is not the first and last time someone will compile one of these lists. But I figured I’ve lived here long enough, so here’s my take on Cape Town’s must-dos on a budget:

1. Brandy and Fudge Pairing at KWV


SOURCE: kwvwineemporium.co.za

SOURCE: kwvwineemporium.co.za

KWV Wine Emporium in Paarl has come up with a new pairing: the sweetness of fortified wine plus the sweetness of fortified sugar, and voila! Saccharine enough for you? The tasting experience includes 3 KWV brandies, a KWV vodka, and 4 squares of locally-produced fudge.

16768-200R55  | KWV Wine Emporium

2. Watch a French Film at Alliance Française


 

alliance-francaise-cap

SOURCE: afducap.wordpress.com

Experience the best of French cinema with Cinémalliancethe Alliance Française du Cap’s very own film screening outfit. Films are screened in the evenings with English subtitles.

16768-200 Free | Alliance Française du Cap

3. Photo-Op at Kasteelspoort 


Perhaps one of the most Instagrammable rocky outcrops in the whole of the Table Mountain National Park, the spectacular ‘diving board’ at Kasteelspoort is certainly worth the 3km hike.

16768-200 Free

SOURCE: flickr.com

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How Outsiders Might Judge my Public Photos

SOURCE: lifeatleggett.com

SOURCE: lifeatleggett.com

Profile photos on Facebook are always public. The same goes for cover photos.

A profile photo is an advertisement for the self. It’s the epitome of the digital first impression. Psychology speaks of the primacy effect, a phenomenon that proves that impressions formed based on the initial information one receives about a person are likely to influence subsequent judgements about a person. This is a very powerful force and its effects are extensive, and often perilously invisible, on social media platforms.

Every couple of months, I review my Facebook privacy settings, just in case any of my public disclosures are a little on the ambiguous side and risk strangers forming incorrect judgements about me. This is especially necessary as a future health professional, and we have been warned several times about the dangers of irresponsible sharing on social media. Facebook and similar platforms allow one to take quick mental shortcuts and form personal constructs about others with little cognitive effort. Generally, people tend to form impressions of fellow users after seeing their profile photo, without even reading any of their profile’s content. A study by Brandon van der Heide of Ohio State University found that self-presentation through visual modes was far more telling than the any textual content post to one’s profile. Basically, your profile photo is your social identity drawcard. It matters.

So, here are some guesses as to how outsiders might jump to conclusions about my profile pictures. These expressions of identity run some years deep into my digital life-span and reflect distinct stages of self in my young, stupid life. The judgments are, of course, completely unfounded but demonstrate how powerful social media impressions can be when taken out of context.

July, 2008 

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‘She must have too much time on her hands.’

July, 2009

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‘Looks like a gambling problem to me.’

January, 2010

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‘The ghost of Joan Jett’s past?’

June, 2010

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‘Maybe she was going through a bovine-belle sorta stage.’

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‘I wonder if she has a failed YouTube channel.’

February, 2011

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‘She’s obviously into cosplay.’

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‘Kinda seems like she’s into hot dads.’

February, 2013

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‘I wonder if she’s in the habit of posing naked behind red umbrellas.’

November, 2013

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‘She probably drinks moonshine and lives in a trailer.’

January, 2015

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‘Yup. Definitely an Obama-lover and liberal AF’.

Why Your Customer Experience Needs an Occupational Therapist

SOURCE: http://www.mckinseyonmarketingandsales.com/sites/default/files/field/image/hero-co-creation.jpg

It’s been nearly a year since I left advertising. I don’t miss it, but from time to time, nuggets of reformist wisdom, mostly packaged in the forms of colour-blocked SlideShare presentations and bleeding-heart-progressive LinkedIn posts on innovative this and user-generated that, show up on my social media feeds. And I read them. I get it. It’s adspeak. I kinda like it. But my new field of interest begs questions that may seem somewhat unorthodox to most industry thought leaders: more specifically, it raises questions about how one should approach the meandering stomping ground that is customer experience (CX) design.

My short-lived engagement in CX revealed it as one of the most human-centred functions of an agency’s service bouquet. Where I came from, it was treated as a subset of user experience design, and although I had only occasional opportunity to apply it, I was fascinated by its emphasis on human behaviour. As a training occupational therapist (OT), I have come to view human behaviour not merely as something that one can control, manipulate and influence through clever messaging, but as the apparatus of meaning-making through purposeful occupation. CX traditionally addresses interactions in digital environments, maximising data-driven insights and aiming for a CX that is fact-based, meaningful for customers, and which results in greater customer reach and more conversions. That’s where the marketer’s rationale ends and the (somewhat unlikely) mindset of the OT stirs to life.

iStock_000023873896Medium-1024x682

The Occupation of Consumption

I’ll start by framing consumer behaviour in terms of occupation. As has been long since established, customers have increasing agency in what I will term the occupation of consumption. Within the occupation of consumption, customers engage in various activities, including research, comparison, selection, recommending and reviewing.  These are all activities associated with what is essentially a function of an enduring, evolving late capitalist system whose pre-Millennium structures are still in place, but whose interactions with customers are rapidly changing, thereby altering the way marketers view the people who buy their products and services.

Marketing conversationalists have a bad habit of dehumanizing customers, then furiously trying to amend this by evangelizing about real connections, real value, real conversations, sincerity, honesty and customer agency. We’ve heard it a million times. The customer holds the power. And the customer has an experience. That experience may have the return value of a gold bar or a chunk of coal, depending on how your brand designs and manages it. While the marketer may draw the line at KPIs, the OT-cum-CX-designer might ask softer, more probing questions, like: what values is your brand promoting and how do these impact health and well-being? That’s one question. But how does your customer experience do the same?

The Holistic Customer Persona

Consider your persona as a doing, being, belonging and becoming human. Consider, also, that every individual has a stockpile of biopsychosocial resources, which, according to DL Williamson and Jeff Carr’s 2009 paper in Critical Public Health, constitutes health and may be drawn upon by people when participating in society. This participation includes material consumption and, by association, brand engagement. Edelman’s 2013 study revealed gaping inconsistencies in customers’ expectations for brand engagement and actual brand performance. Somewhere, somehow, brands aren’t listening to their customers and many industry experts have taken a stab at how to remedy this critical shortfall.

Edelmanstudy

Occupations are patterns of doing. So are customer experiences. If occupation is a mechanism for health, and health is a resource, it seems logical to take into account how your customers contribute (or don’t contribute) to their personal stocks of biopsychosocial resources through their everyday behaviours, and how these influence their health status. What, exactly, do your customers do? And what do they do in order to be well? Does their current health status allow them to engage optimally with your product/service and related offerings? From where do they source their knowledge? What do they do with this knowledge? Is it really knowledge, or just information pollution?

From an OT perspective, the CX should satisfy basic occupational needs. These are reasons for engaging in occupation of consumption, ultimately leading to the purchase of a product or service, or, more indirectly, positive engagement with a brand to build equity. Base your customer journey on research. Challenge all assumptions. These are the mantras of good CX design. But, what about considering not only a customer’s material desires (that sweet spot that transforms tentative interest into impassioned sales) but also the customer’s desire for meaning, purpose and satisfaction? Once you’ve designed the CX, think about how you will manage the interactions that follow. Are you prepared for deviations or unpredictable patterns? Not even the most sophisticated predictive models cannot fully calculate the subtleties and irregularities of human behaviour.

A true customer journey is never going to be as seamless as those depicted by stock stick figures in sharp presentations doing cute things like purchasing a new toaster or deciding to upgrade to a new bank account. Understand customer personas as occupational beings that may experience deprivation, imbalance or alienation in their pursuits of meaning and purpose. We experience occupational alienation amid rapidly changing technology. It is alienation not from each other, but from our creative selves; imbalance, because we work too hard and simply don’t rest enough or do the things we want to do; deprivation, because societal structures, economic fluctuations, poverty or affluence limit our participation in meaningful occupation. Understanding these risk factors might just help you to design a more realistic customer journey.

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The Creative Customer

It is widely believed that the Internet has enhanced our ability to be creative, to access online tools for design, to express and innovate in unparalleled dimensions. This is not untrue.  However, many say it kills creativity, that it’s cocaine for your brain. I wonder, then, are we alienated from our true creative selves, but kidding ourselves that we’re not? Are companies trying to convince us that we’re indeed creative, self-actualizing beings, and will be more so if we help them to improve their brand equity, using the very tool that is impairing our generative selves?

Humans, by nature, are creative. This humanistic perspective, which also maintains that self-actualisation is everyone’s ultimate goal, is only one way of looking at the psychology of human motivation, but let’s go with it as a case example. Platforms like Cancer Dojo use creativity and content generation for healing: it’s a customer experience, albeit not-for-profit, that directly addresses achievement of well-being through occupation, using advertising principles to gain momentum and enhance its credibility.

It would be shortsighted to deny that the Internet has significantly increased global access to knowledge in all respects. It enhances consumers’ ability to engage in creative pursuits and to apply their knowledge by providing access to a variety of online design tools. Co-creation is another buzzword that appears in both adspeak and OT literature. As individual consumers connect with each other, they form communities, taking on roles of both consumer and producer.

Co-creation strategies include crowdsourcing ideation, like what Starbucks did with mystarbucksidea.com, or Nike with its Nike+ platform. Even crowdsourced support tools from the likes of Google Adwords and Netflix shape communities of practice dedicated to making the brand, not just engaging with it. These are brilliant ways, in theory, of improving occupational well-being by meeting needs for affirmation, coherence and belonging. In fact, these kinds of approaches should help to counteract occupational alienation by reconnecting the human mind with his creative nature, and by showing him the fruits of this labour. In ad terms, it’s a great way of making customers feel like they’re building your brand with you, while the marketers gather valuable data on customers’ real needs and wants, from the source, and pull these insights together to ultimately improve brand equity. This ingenuous circular course of feedback-iteration-refinement, building on knowledge and using customers to improve the customer experience itself is integral to the zeitgeist-ish emphasis on creativity and its immovability. Seduced by the opportunity for creativity, customers – us – are essentially helping to market things – to themselves.

In researching for this article, I was hard-pressed to find a source that offered an objective analysis of the ever-praised ‘collaborative economy’. Sure, the latter ticks all the boxes for generating meaning and satisfaction through shared doing. But is it is enough? This article even claims the utopic collaborative economy is ‘dead’ and calls out self-righteous ‘neo-hippie’ types as the main partakers of the model. Co-creation is idealistic in many ways. I’d hazard a guess that it is exaggerated in many CX rationales, its virtues hyper-praised. Rachel Botsman was optimistic enough to commend such a system for allowing us “to engage in a humanness that got lost along the way.” But then this dream fell victim to human apathy. Apathy’s a real thing. And it should be factored into customer journeys, like, pronto.

Co-creation is cited as far away as in occupational therapy literature, making reference to the co-creation of treatment frameworks and design of specialised solutions for disability contexts. These solutions aim to increase independence and improve quality of life, and are related to intrinsic values that speak to our non-egoistic desires, such as benevolence, affiliation and universalism. Logically, these at odds with the extrinsic values that advertising messages embody, such as power, status and wealth. But can these be reconciled?

intrinsic-extrinsic-values

Just as there is too much focus in OT on restoring personal independence in daily living through assistive devices and not enough on being and becoming for long-term health and wellbeing, CX designers seem to focus too much on satisfying customers’ immediate, identifiable needs (often based on personas) and maximising conversions and not enough on enablement. Simply put, there is digression from important intrinsic values in both disciplines. The perfect CX appears as a ruse of genuineness, the experience that is created, not naturally occurring. It’s difficult to think of another way around this. How could it not be manufactured, simulated, or based on coercion? Perhaps intrinsic values do not have a place in commercial operations, such as advertising, if profits are to me made? But they are what makes us human. They are what make us feel from the inside out.

Advertising as a discipline often gets a bad rap for making sure that these pure, good things are overridden by extrinsic values punted by persuasive messaging. Perhaps it is time to tone down the flattery and reassess the occupation of consumption in its entirety, along with the roles of those enactors within it (customers, brands, marketers, investors, etc.), so that customer experiences may be designed not simply as a smoke-and-mirrors machination, but as an accurate portrayal of humans who are doing, being, becoming and belonging, not just buying.

As humans, we orchestrate and compose our occupational lives with the goal of achieving meaning and satisfaction. Throughout human history, our lives have been characterized by progressive deeds, some leading to stimulation and satisfaction, others in boredom, stress and alienation. The Internet as a place that augments modern anxieties. It is concerning that, in the present day, it is the territory of the largest proliferation of brand messages in history. It is vital, then, to understand not only your customers’ needs and desires, but their patterns of meaning-making, as well as their unique ways of negotiating the symptoms of the modern age: disintegrating relationships, increasing disconnectedness, apathy, boredom and excess. Designing an effective CX is only the start of a continuing inquiry into your customers’ daily patterns of doing and how your brand may fit into this intricate, highly personal occupational paradigm.

Short Story: ‘Zoning’

165H

Sea Point is like an accordion.

On either end of Regent Road, things are urbane, polished, new. The far side, where Bantry Bay begins, is flush with renovated buildings, gleaming office blocks and a glittering Spar with the Lindt counter and sushi bar and the Greek shortbread. And on the near side, where Regent flows into Somerset, a seamless continuation of arcadian Atlantic Seaboard living, with tequila bars and bistros that perpetuate deep into the City Bowl beyond Bree.

These microcosms, existing at opposite ends of one of the city’s longest main roads, are studded with businesses which purvey to the nouveau-riche who park their four-wheel drives in the loading zones; to the kosher dames with their Prada sunglasses which they wear indoors when buying organic shoe polish and designer cat litter; to yuppie businessmen and women who make power lunching a fashionable  urban sport akin to five-a-side futbol or hot yoga; to friendly coiffeurs who cut the hair of post-financial crisis trendsters.

The small huddles of affluence are Sea Point’s window-dressing. They create an illusion of a suburb determined to better itself, and by doing so, cleansing its bumbling streets of the griminess that has crept in over the decades. It is the steady infiltration of civilization into the unlovable streets; it is the force that replaces crusty fish-and-chip shops with gold-lettered delicatessens. It is the disarming sweep of benevolent classism that politely nudges the undesirables aside to make room for the artisans, the patrons of sustainable fishing and the free-range chicken suppliers.

The music is in the middle. Once you stretch it out, surpassing the newer, fancier establishments, you’ll see the meatier, rougher part of it. Furled in squalor, the place is puckered with dog-eared buildings, grimy apartment blocks, the waning Adelphi Centre, the dime-a-dozen Chinese shops that stay open late into the night. The pleats and folds of a small, street-level economy oscillate, bending with each tide of lunch-hour foot traffic, the music squeezing out of it as it moves, and as taxis heckle and hustle and clap their hooters, the commotion is accepted, relished even. It’s so much louder here. The noise keeps people going. Keeps them thinking, moving, walking. Colours and cultures fold, expand and contract, and the music continues.

As newcomers to the neighbourhood, we’re ripe for discovering new places to eat. We possess only a microwave in our kitchen, which is bare and as small as a thimble. The kitchen, I mean. The refrigerator is full, however; its door clogged with beer cans stacked on top of each other, a one-litre bottle of Coke and a single Red Bull. Since we have no groceries and even less desire to brave the supermarket, we decide to venture out of the apartment into the cool, sea-breezed night.

We choose Empire Asian Restaurant on Regent, with the neon sign outside.

The place is clean and hideous. Potted plants suck at the air. The blanched tiles gleam. The red and white striped upholstered chairs and white polyester table cloths wait, patiently, for the next customers. There is abalone, hairy and grotesque, sliding along the walls of the glass tank. Desperately.

I feel sorry for them.

I wonder if it’s even legal.

I wonder if you can order them live.

Then I stop wondering.

There’s a fat slob in the corner, yelling things. A plain, dwarfed woman sits beside him in the booth. He is enormous. He has a head like a kabocha squash. As we walk by, he coughs explosively into an open hand and gags. Amidst the serenely bad décor, this cetacean creature is misplaced.  I wince inwardly as I pass him and his furnishings: the soy sauce caught in the moustache, the discordant smacking of the lips. In fact, to me, his presence is vaguely offensive: his philistinism undermines the polite, oriental mildness of the place.

We seat ourselves at a table in the corner. A surly waitress with dreadlocks and a gold tooth takes our drinks order. Behind us, in a glass-windowed annexe, a Chinese family are seated around a large, circular table. My suspicions about the quality of the pork start to abate as I lower the plastic-coated menu and watch the reflection of the party enjoying bowls of noodles and dim sum in the mirror in front of me.

“If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for us,” says my boyfriend.

Here we are, reassuring ourselves that my middle-class stomach would not be assaulted by something wanton, illegal or canine. After all, we’re in the centre of Sea Point. The peripheral ends of the accordion, with their dazzling storefronts and bicycle parking, are a sanitary distance away from the murky crooks and curves of the seedier side.

A toddler and his mother, part of the dinner party in the room adjacent, enter the dining area. The boy is dragging a plastic, Anglian duck that sings a childish rendition of ‘London Bridge’ over and over as we fumble with our chopsticks. The slob shouts something at the toddler in Afrikaans. I can’t see him, but I can hear him splattering.

Hallo, boetie. Hoeganit?”

Then the mother says to the boy: “Goed, dankie. Say ‘goed’.”

And the kid mumbles something in some plastic-duck vernacular, while the annoying thing keeps singing outrageously and the wretched abalone glide around their tank.

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

We exchange glances in silence. Our own conversation has become inconsequent; we’re listening, enraptured, to the ambient weirdness that now accompanies our dinner. The duck persists with its rhyming.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

The slob coughs again. We can’t see him from the safety of our nook, but from time to time, between mouthfuls of pork dumpling, we pause to exchange mildly alarmed glances when he lets out a fulminant series of coughs. Finally, he rises from his seat, pulling up his sinking trousers (while I watch, transfixed, praying that I am not privy to any further display yet unable to look away), and lumbers out into the flood-lit night.

My boyfriend makes a reference to Jurassic Park.

The Chinese dinner-goers soon arise from their circle and make a noisy exit. The toddler, exhausted, is resting on his mother’s shoulder. One of the men ducks behind the counter to thank the chef in a string of Chinese. The waitresses stand about, looking bored.  As the party leaves for the evening, I hear the last refrain of the duck’s facetious rhyming trailing off, mingled with indistinct chatter.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

We settle our bill, get a metallic, but sincere smile out of the waitress, and walk back to our car, which is parked in front of a Chinese medicine shop. Its dusty window display houses massage apparatus, incense burners and bamboo cupping sets.

“Well, there’s nothing like getting a taste of the real Sea Point on your first night in the neighbourhood”, one of us remarks.

And we drive away, through the folds (and within them, the tattoo parlours and night clubs and illumined schwarma dives), and we breathe a sigh of relief as we reach the ironed-out part of the accordion, where the folds compress and the sprawl becomes a destination, and we sink back into the comfort of knowing we can come back to this.

When we walk inside the apartment, the real Sea Point hits me like a ballistic.  I can still hear the delayed ringing of breaking glass, though it happened hours before.

Shattered glass all over the floor.  A hole where the pane used to be. The empty window frame outlines the twinkling view of the mountain side and the parking lot below.

It’s not just that there’s been a brick through the window.  It’s not that it’s surprisingly, even. It’s that I’ve taken offence. Not to the disturbance it has left behind, but to its audacity; how it could have not only questioned me, shifted me, exposed me, but deeply inconvenienced me. In a single violent moment, my coolly calculated distance from the centre has been breached.

The duvet and sheets have been ripped off the bed. They’re lying draped over it in a heap. What did they expect they’d find under the covers? The sheets themselves might’ve fetched a price, had they known they were Egyptian cotton. But they hadn’t known.

We stand over the mess in silence.

The apartment is a freeze-frame of destruction.  The brick lies in the broken shards, mocking us. Our flat-pack furniture.  Our multiple university degrees.  Our educated paranoia. Our Radiohead collection. Our pop-philosophy scatter cushions. Our untouched coffee table books on Vuitton, heirloom gardening and boutique hotels of India. It mocks our renovated, sea –facing apartment block. Our landlord bought it off some locals who’d lived there for seventy-three years. He pushed up the rent and drove them out. Then we moved in.

‘How’s that for redecorating?’ my boyfriend says.

But this is not a laughing matter.  Nor is it a burglary. This is an iconoclasm.

Things had been going so well. There are no bergies hanging around near our block.  The rubbish gets collected promptly every week. The neighbours are respectable enough and keep to themselves. Plus, there was still the ‘real’ Sea Point if you felt like venturing into that working-class crow’s nest further down Regent Road once in a while. I thought we’d struck gold.

Yet, here we stand, with a brick, punished because of rising real estate value. The attractive housing market, the plush rentals and the power lunching have finally caught up with us.

I suddenly feel ill.

Classical music drifts up the stairwell from someone‘s tinny hi-fi downstairs.  A dog barks. But there is only one song in my head.

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

The curtains blow gently in the breeze, because we’d left the windows open.

 

Creativity Is Getting Too Fashionable

205H Talented is a word commonly used for those who do creative stuff with their hands. They’re commended for their magicking of ideas and concepts into forms. Form is the key. Not function. Not really. I’m not a strictly functional person. I find function to be a boring, necessary word. But I’m not hugely ‘talented’, either, if used in that context. I don’t draw or dance or sing or play music particularly well. That doesn’t mean I’m not creative. Creativity is the domain of talent, of mastery, of innate capability, and talent is one of the grand prizes of humanity’s proclivity sweepstakes. You either have talent, or you don’t. But, if talent is a cultural prerequisite for creativity, is it possible to be truly creative without having natural, God-given talent? Can creativity be developed or even learned?

Creativity is romanticised. The pedestal on which it is placed in modernity stands tall among the great artists, thinkers, composers and architects, both past and present. If you’re a ‘creative’, you assume a particular identity, along with certain affordances and expectations from society. You’re seen as an enigma, a genius creature shrouded in mystery and capable of a sort of percipience that is as worldly as it is esoteric. Those around you will wait in anticipation for you to come up with your next masterstroke. The Information Age craves creativity. Its knowledge-based structures, deeply rooted in customer-centrism, efficiency, logic, mobility and globalism, depend on the constant transmission, analysis and gathering of data, which in turn require the invention of new technologies. Its very survival is predicated on innovation. What, then, if our congenital creativity superseded the dominant values of the Information Age, where imagination, not information, became the primary commodity?

The Imagination Age first appeared in Charlie Magee’s 1993 essay “The Age of Imagination: Coming Soon to a Civilization Near You”.  In it, Magee proposed that the fittest human populations in history were those that had access to information and knew how to use it. They had superior communication systems. They could shape, share and disseminate information. Michael Cow, Chief Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, points out that creative occupations are on the rise. Photographers, artists, architects, designers and software engineers, spokespeople of the Imagination Age, are turning human talent into a powerful currency.  Creative thinking creates economic value in this projected period in human history, and so, naturally, everybody wants to know how to get creative. 93H

To prove my point, I often find myself in a conversation that goes like this: “So what kind of job are you hoping to get once you graduate?” says I.

And they’re like: “Uhhm. Well. I dunno. I kinda want a job that gives me creative freedom, you know? A way to express myself. I don’t want a boring nine-to-five thing with that corporate ladder nonsense and the lame water cooler socials. I want something real, where I can really develop my inner creativity.”

Me: “Uh-huh.” “…Oh, and something that’s meaningful, too, and does some good for humanity, and stuff like that.”

Me: “UH-HUH.”

I used to be that sucker. In some ways, I still am. I worshipped the notion of creativity. I treated it as a god. Essential for social salvation, for a creditable image among peers, to be seen as a prodigy, a genius, a soul untamed, misunderstood, etcetera. In fact, I wanted to embody all that comprises the creative nomenclature: all the naming words associated with its manifestation in a society that claims to value and nurture it. Practicality becomes a swear word while the enigma of ‘creativity’, in all its the undefined looseness of term, prevails. In the lexicon of creativity,  genius, mastery, dexterity and prodigy join talent in a quiver of estimable titles that go together with ‘creativity’  like tomato soup and a grilled cheese.

It suited me well, this creativity buzz. For a searching adolescent in identity moratorium, hurtling towards adulthood with barely a sound philosophy to hold on to, the notion of absorbing ‘creativity’ into my identity was reassuring. But not everyone is cut out for creative occupations. Certainly not all jobs allow for the luxury of being ‘creative’, and even the ones that do (advertising?) are nothing sacred.

Cecilia Conrad’s article in the New York Times made the point that “creativity thrives in an environment where individuals have the freedom to devote time and effort to ideas and projects that may not have an immediate pay-off”. Yet the mechanisms and reward structures of American society, to which Conrad is directly referring, as well as my own experience here in South Africa, do not afford such a freedom. It’s a dog-eat-dog, pay-the-bills-on-time kind of panic. Everyone’s in survival mode. Conrad’s ideal of an incubator for creativity as one “that gives the individual autonomy and flexibility” is arguably a well-meaning pipe dream.

Society’s current modus operandi, while certainly in a state of some flux, is still bound to the structures and hierarchies of late capitalism. The possibility of creativity extends to specific environmental and contextual affordances (for example, funding from altruistic sources  such as the MacArthur Foundation), the likes of which are hard to come by in South Africa. Even when funding is made available, it rightly serves the lowest socioeconomic brackets, made up of those who most need the financial leg-up. Creatively-speaking, and practically so, the middle class is on its own. photo-1429277096327-11ee3b761c93

Earlier this year, I took an online course titled ‘Medicine and the Arts’ on FutureLearn, the first-ever MOOC to be hosted by the University of Cape Town. One of the modules discussed the link between reproduction and innovation, investigating how creative thought is cultivated, and how the mind is receptive to stimulation which results in innovation.

Professor Alireza Baghai-Wadji, an electrical engineer, launched a discussion on cultivating creativity through meta-perspective: he encouraged us to think creatively about creativity, to question its origins and understand its erratic nature. He proposes that conscious awareness through observation. Observation of ‘phenomena’ in our worlds: non-linearity, dispersion and dissipation, to name a few. Seems pretty abstract at first glance, but essentially, engagement with ideas, through reading, for example, helps to inject the mind with stimuli, so that it is better equipped to recognise phenomena.

Creativity manifests in ‘spikes’ of innovation, which occur by way of the continued practice of conscious observation. Essentially, Professor Baghai-Wadji suggests that creativity can be acquired through devoted practice. Devoting extended periods of time to observation allows us to develop new habits that are more conducive to creative, critical thought, and ultimately eliminate non-conducive habits in a kind of cognitive natural selection. 172H

This notion challenges the idea of innate talent and its modish, overrated status in our society. If creativity involves the persistent seeding of the unconscious, can creativity be seen as a habit, rather than something naturally granted? Should we then criticise the elevated status of talent, as something exclusive that some have and some do not? If this proves to be true, what will become of creative occupations ?

Jobs in ‘creative media’, such graphic design, copy-writing and art direction, appear to be entitled to histrionics, ‘artistic licence’ (who ever earned that, anyway?) and reverence from the other less imaginative fields. They are ruled by the enigmatic ‘creative types’ who base their occupational identities on the notion of exclusivity. They possess talents that others do not, and are afforded the coveted ‘creative’ status.

However, it’s possible that this long-standing VIP club is about to be overturned. If, indeed, anyone has the potential to be creative, how long will the isolated, fashionable domain of the ‘creative occupation’ last?

UX and OT: A Comparison

SOURCE: nos.twnsnd.co

There are some surprising similarities between user experience (UX), advertising and occupational therapy.

Both are pretty exotic.

Both professions are shrouded in obscurity. UX, a little-known acronym outside of the digital marketing industry, is a very new field compared to veteran disciplines like copy-writing and strategy. Still, it remains a vital part of the digital tool-kit. User experience design is truly effective when the UX practitioner has the right skills, thought processes and approaches to solving problems. There are those that masquerade as UX thinkers, UX designers and the like, but offer little true value to the design process. Because it’s such an ambiguous field, it’s open to vocational hijacking.

Occupational Therapy (OT) is also a somewhat enigmatic profession in the mind of the general public, and, at times, among other health professionals. But, unlike UX, OT is regulated, as you will need a University degree and registration with a health professionals board in order to practice. It’s not very likely that you’ll encounter someone claiming to be a therapist on the fly. Alongside better-known professions like audiology and physiotherapy, or celebrated professions like medicine, OT doesn’t get much publicity.

OT and UX are mindsets. 

Long-practising OTs will tell you that occupational therapy will change the way you view the world and the people in it. Back in advertisingland, the UXers will tell you the same: user experience is a mindset, a thought process that will become second-nature with extended practice. Within the professional lexicons of both, meanings and terminologies translate, both roughly and seamlessly, to form an overlapping world of ergonomics, human factors, concepts and design. OTs design for well-being; UXers design for ease of use.

Either way, they’re about crafting experiences – whether medical interventions or commercial quicksands – that make us take action. In the past few months I’ve perked up on several occasions, and noted how concepts split and fuse along the parallel pathways of these two seemingly polar professions. Yes, there is stark differentiation in some areas, but, more interestingly, the carry-over of meaning appears more prolific. While there may be different meanings in different contexts, similar meanings across UX and OT endure.

Human factors, for example, is the study of designing man-made objects that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities. This is a key area in both professions and requires that practitioners consider the demands of the task (whether it’s driving a car or navigating a website), the capabilities of the performer and the shape of the environment in which they are acting. While UX is usually confined to the intangible, rather limiting environment of digital, OT expands into multiple dimensions, including physical, spatial and social. To delve even further, OTs can influence the realm of advertising to modify messages disseminated to various publics. In his book Role Emerging Occupational Therapy, Matthew Molineux imagines how OTs might be able to shape popular opinion and the messages conveyed through advertising, such as an ad campaign that promotes the health benefits of occupational engagement. Like UX designers and admen, we can influence how these messages are constructed, what they say and to whom they are said.

SOURCE: www.mind-sets.com

They’re About Human Behaviour

My short stint in marketing strategy was interesting enough: consumer insights, market research, wants needs, desires, buying patterns, ethnographic and psychographic insights, behaviour traits and patterns constituted a pseudo-psychology that formed the stuff of elaborate PowerPoint presentations, booming pitches and minuscule outcomes. But it was a limited perspective. Its ultimate purpose was to understand enough of the world in order to identify weak spots, to pinpoint sites of susceptibilities, paranoias, gullibility, appetites, inclinations, fears, neuroses, desires and to fill these gaps with products.

This was not the lens through which I wished to view the world and the human condition. I was interested in all of those. And more. But I wished to take it further. To fill these clefts of susceptibility, psychological rifts and fissures of moral, economic and social destitution not with products and services, but with effective interventions that would empower people, rather than faithlessly disempowering them by propagating a culture of want.

Both are Person-centered

User-centered design is a process in which a user’s needs, desires and wants are placed centrally to the design process, and requires iterative testing and multi-stage reinvention in order to create the best, most accurate experience possible. In following this methodology, the practitioner is able to fulfil the goal that the product has for its users. In OT, there is a persistent call for client-centered therapy in the theory. This means that the client is afforded the opportunity to develop a sense of autonomy and level of participation in the treatment process. It is interesting to note the ways in which each profession places its subjects, and how each relates to these.

The positions in which OT and UX place the individual are markedly different: in UX, the individual is an anonymous user, or consumer, armed with an internet connection and a certain level of digital literacy. It is the UXer’s job to ask bulleted questions about this user, make assumptions, and then test these. The end result? A digital product or experience that reflects these insights, based on the UXer’s informed decisions. In OT, the individual is the reason and the embodied goal. The individual determines the immediate direction and outcome of treatment. The therapist is the facilitator, but the client shapes the end product: a more independent, satisfying life. stocksnap-free-stock-photos1

The Occupation of Protest

SOURCE: fineartamerica.com

SOURCE: fineartamerica.com

In recent months, I’ve been forced think about meaning, purpose and meaninglessness in the context of protest. I’ve thought about how protest is sparked, and why. What are the sociocultural, temporal, political and environmental influences on protests? Why do some debates flare up, die out and resurface again in historical cycles? Why now? And what now?

In light of recent heated debate and the resultant widespread polarity, I have come to view the black experience as inherently political. And with that being said, I would like to say that if that is so, then the white experience is one of resistance. We resist participation. We resist being outspoken. We resist confrontation. We resist change. We seem to leave all that excitement to our black counterparts. I say this, because it’s what I have noticed.

And I have the right to say so.

In fact, I should say so. And I’m not saying so in an apologist capacity, or as a bigot, or a racist, or a brat.

White people need to participate in the occupation of protest.

If black students and academics have the right to defend their cause, to demand legitimacy for their pain, struggle, injustices (past and present), then I, as a white human, shall adopt a defence of my role in the occupation of protest. I adopt the position that I am not a perpetrator, but indeed, an inheritor. I have inherited certain affordances, privileges and opportunities. But, these inheritances do not make me an enactor, or advocate, of the hurts, injustices and suffering you speak of.

I believe that black voices should not be seen as simply adopting the offensive position, while whites remain on the defensive. This creates polarity. It creates division. It creates a rhetorical war. Right now, I am on the defensive, as I’ve just told you, but not of my privilege. I am in defence of my role in the occupation of protest. I believe that I should participate, and should be given the opportunity to do so.

Further, whites should not have to be fearful that their views will be squashed or dismissed or labelled. I appeal to all members of society: black voices need to allow white voices to speak within the occupation of protest. Because not all of us are Internet trolls. In turn, I encourage whites to be willing to interrogate themselves, their positions, and where they locate themselves in the occupation of protest. That takes some humility.

I recognise that it is the subjugation of black voices that is the cornerstone of the current national debate around transformation. I ask, however, that within the realm of this debate, all voices be welcomed. And truly welcomed. That means refraining from chanting, booing and drowning out oppositional voices that surface, no matter how much to resent or disagree with them. Without these, it is not a debate. It is a rally. And that is not an impartial, fair space for dialogue.

I will also not accept racially-loaded views that I have an illegitimate presence in my country. I will not accept that as a white human, I ought to leave my country, where indeed the ghosts of colonialism still roam, and find a place elsewhere. I reject threatening rhetoric that undermines my culture and heritage, even if this originates in the intellectually-bankrupt chasms of the Internet.

I accept that I have as much a right as any other South African to engage in the occupation of protest, and I will not fear being bullied, booed, having fists waved at me, or having my voice drowned out by subversive discourse, and claims that ‘I do not listen’. I have listened. I am listening. Listening is part of my occupational identity. But you, as a fellow participant in the occupation of protest, have the duty to listen to me equally. This is not a one-man show.

The OT Reportback

IMG_1122

I’ve been an occupational therapy student for three months since leaving my advertising job. So far, it’s been a relief. A relief because it wasn’t the wrong choice. And because I’ve managed to ease slowly into the transition from working life to university, and in the slide down the rungs from postgraduate level all the way back to first year.

  • Favourites

My best part about beginning this journey as an OT student and future practitioner is observing how, as each day passes, the values of the profession unfold and begin to correspond with my developing sense of identity. I feel like the profession fits who I am, and I hope to contribute to its progression in future. I enjoy learning about the human anatomy, particularly on ‘Formalin Fridays’, when we get to examine specimens in the lab. Cadavers don’t freak me out, but the icky chemical smell certainly does!

So far, my studies have revealed a great deal about myself as an individual, and about the selves of others. I’ve had to reflect on my own prejudices, forcing myself to be patient and empathetic, even when I feel the opposite most of the time. Self-critique and cultural tolerance are two things that are sacred to this profession. I’m still getting over how trite they both sound, but for what it’s worth, they are invaluable skills that we need to have if we’re going to work in diverse contexts and environments that are very different to what we’re used to. A gentle nudging out of the comfort zone should do the trick.

  • Not-Such-Favourites

I’ve experienced a lot of impatience and frustration this semester. This is mostly because I am an older student among peers who are five years younger than me. I feel like I’m on a foreign planet at times. Academically, the environment is often stifling and juvenile and does not offer the same challenge as the level I worked at before. I’m sure this will change soon, however. I’ve heard it gets harder! I’ll admit, sometimes the course content can seem a little pedestrian (how many times can I possibly describe my thoughts, feelings and behaviour?!). It’s necessary, though, to learn about ethics and professionalism and moral principles, because malpractice in South African healthcare (especially in the public sector) is a pressing issue, and professional bedside manner is often lacking.

  • OT Goes Social

I recently felt that there was a need to represent South African occupational therapy perspectives in the social media space. So I created this Twitter account, which offers stories, articles and ideas for South African OTs and OT students. Of course, the account also posts content of international concern, because OT is a global field and is particularly active in developed countries, where the bulk of the literature is produced. I hope that, in time, South Africa might establish itself as an authority on the profession, because the African occupational identity is a truly unique one.

You can follow the account here: @OT_SouthAfrica

OTTwitter