- Sorry not sorry.
- Everybody knows.
- I see fire.
- Please, someone call their eatery Ampersand&Ampersand
- IS THAT ENOUGH IRONY FOR YOU
- How are people still posting about yoga at a time like this.
- What else are people supposed to post, then?
- There is no single grand narrative. Only expensive and cheap ones.
- There’s still fire
- Can someone please put that out
- I mean it
I remember, in December 1996,
Christmas lights were killer that year!
They overloaded the circuit,
Blew the fuse with high-wattage cheer.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Nowadays it’s those cool, efficient ones that don’t emit heat.
Perfect holiday fire insurance.
Seriously, hazardous things (as pretty as they were),
Lights shivering as if it were winter
Short-circuiting oven before we got the lamb in,
Something burning (not the gammon).
Why – I ask annually –
did we make the entire household trip,
for the sake of something pretty?
- Lotus-eaters on Instagram.
- Ampersands in restaurants on and around Bree.
- Indicators at traffic circles.
- The events in a single literary day.
- The nostalgia of Christmas beetles.
- A touch of Google Translate between friends.
- A lock of hair affixed.
- Cheap wine & chopsticks
- Too much feeling all around.
- The scramble to reach higher ground.
- A sleeping totem above my head.
- Imitators under my bed.
- Speaking a far more dangerous dialect.
- Say with your mouth what is in your heart.
- The logic of doors and locks.
- The mindfuckery of keys.
- The vainglory of birds.
- The sweetness of basil.
- The tartness of acetone.
- The weight of Newton’s gravity.
- The contrivance of Panic! at the Disco.
- The consistency of Microsoft Tech Support phone scams.
- The flat tummies of ectomorphs.
- The vagrancy of socks.
- The stickiness of books.
- The importance of your thyroid.
- The Nobel Prize of Bob Dylan.
- The haemorrhage of Donald Trump.
- ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’ And a crop of many one-eyed agents does not make for two-eyed kings.
- The making and staging of victimhood.
- I always knew Brangelina was a farce! I was never once taken in by their impossible beauty, humanitarianism and multiracial brood!
- Places that sell mature, expensive cheese wheels seem kinda boring inside.
- Can I feed that Woodstock sourdough to the ducks, please?
- My leather ballet slippers molded to my feet after I washed them. They were so intimate with me.
- I am an amateur at pretty much everything.
- Hydroponics is another thing I’m amateur at. Since most people make things in jars a lot these days, like beer, and, well, beer, I decided to grow something that was not so yeasty.
- When you Google hydroponics, it becomes pretty clear that you can also grow your weed in there.
- I was talking about basil, by the way.
- Equivocation, doublespeak, triplespeak, circumspeak. Go on! distort the truth like a pretzel.
- Like some Illuminati mess.
- And that low, low sarcasm.
- Deep breath before the plunge.
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).
- Eastern thought wins. Karma’s a bitch or a friend. Keep it good with everyone. Every one holds a piece of you.
- Not everyone is a candidate to be your friend. Thank God for that.
- Those who were once friends will disappear, like dandelion parachutes. It’s not personal.
- 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.
- Mean words often only sound mean in writing.
- Confrontation is not the the absolute worst.
- Books are getting harder to read.
- Frequently mispronounce words. Know what they mean and how to spell them, but evidently never hear them spoken.
- Location-based check-ins make sure that no one runs into each other spontaneously anymore.
- 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.
- Or that we do run into them if we have something to show off
- Why is everyone so terrified of awkwardness?
- Why are people chasing Pokémon onto highways and train tracks?
- Look up sometimes.
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!
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.
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
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.
R55 | KWV Wine Emporium
2. Watch a French Film at Alliance Française
Experience the best of French cinema with Cinémalliance, the Alliance Française du Cap’s very own film screening outfit. Films are screened in the evenings with English subtitles.
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.
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.
‘She must have too much time on her hands.’
‘Looks like a gambling problem to me.’
‘The ghost of Joan Jett’s past?’
‘Maybe she was going through a bovine-belle sorta stage.’
‘I wonder if she has a failed YouTube channel.’
‘She’s obviously into cosplay.’
‘Kinda seems like she’s into hot dads.’
‘I wonder if she’s in the habit of posing naked behind red umbrellas.’
‘She probably drinks moonshine and lives in a trailer.’
‘Yup. Definitely an Obama-lover and liberal AF’.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.