An ever more reason why the internet is a drug

Recently reading this amazing article in Slate magazine, about how the internet, and its various means of "search" are merely the devils tools. Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are nothing more than just feeders to boost our dopamine levels. The "crack" of the digital world. Endless streams of information to seek, and explore, and satisfy, and seek some more. All those blogs, wikipedia articles, web pages, with hyperlinked words which "jump" you to more information, simply feed that need to "search" This stimulates our hypothalamus, boosting dopamine levels, creating a euphoric feeling... until we need more. They summarize:

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are particularly effective at stirring it.

The question then arises.. is this for the better? Are we evolving the way we think for the better? Or is this "crack" doing what real crack really does.. making us more and more and more and more STUPID. The point of this post and question I am asking is, are we more advanced and adept at surviving in an increasingly digital world because of the way these technologies make us think. I think not. I personally think that this resembles the rats in the Slate article too closely. This information is useless without an actual overarching plan which ties this quest for knowledge with a larger purpose. The senseless bursts of searching and quick finds may help in short-term needs, but for a longer term, evolutionary need, we have to focus this desire to search to a plan. In this vein of increasing desire to find, we find the the law of diminishing marginal returns applies. The "satisfactory" part of our brain is not tied directly to the seeking part, creating a disconnect between the two and then an inability to STOP. "So we find ourselves letting one Google search lead to another, while often feeling the information is not vital and knowing we should stop. 'As long as you sit there, the consumption renews the appetite,' he explains." Think "crackberry"

Our abilities to intelligently form a strategic plan of "searching" and executing it over a longer term for an increased return is destroyed by our want for senseless short-term spurts of searching and consummation. And repeat.

The Courtship of Physical & Virtual

Today, I went to an event by the founders of PSFK, called likemind. It was a "coffee meetup" to be held today, June 19, 2009, in over 40+ countries. I only knew about it, because of my virtual self. My virtual self was introduced to another virtual person a while ago. As those relationships grew, I was invited to this event. A realization. In effect, I was realizing all those online conversations and relationships into a morning coffee meeting.

Interestingly enough, as the coffee was poured, the conversation turned from.. so its nice to see you in reality.. to why we were there. We were like minded. The idea that we actually met through our virtual selves dissolved as the meeting went on, and re-evolved post meeting. Meaning, just as quickly as we realized our virtual relationships in the likemind coffee meetup, they returned to the virtual form. Linked-in invitations and emails were sent and received in the hours post meetup. The new people I met in reality, were now my virtual friends too. I think that this is a macro-level product of the blurring between the virtual and real worlds. This is a great social example of what is happening on a grand scale. Meetup by Scott Heiferman (ever-energetic) is a great example of this. Here, people find topics of interest and schedule a time and place to gather. They begin and continue their conversations through the online site, while injecting real meetup experiences as content generators. On a micro level there are technologies which are also blurring this line:

"Engineers at Duke University are developing a new way to enter information into mobile devices. Rather than typing on a keyboard, they have created a way to “air-write” short notes. Using a phone’s built-in accelerometer, their application registers a user’s mid-air writing and translates the gestures into text on screen. There are still details to be worked out so the application functions smoothly, but it’s at the very least an interesting concept."

Interesting concept. The interaction between the physical and the virtual is ever more blurred, and technologies like this are exemplifying this on a micro level. As we further bring ourselves to a co-mingling of the two worlds, we are presented with new ways of representation. We begin entering a world where ourselves in reality are constructed by ourselves in virtual-ity. Where do we begin to define the rules for engagement? With the construction of virtual selves (constructed through real interfaces, or virtual interfaces), we explore the notion of virtual relationships and what happens when they become "real" relationships. When they realize.

Another awesome mingling of virtual and real experiences, by MIT geeks.

Healthcare in the Design World

The consensus seems to be that we must move towards a simplification of our health care processes. Today, at PSFK, I noticed that there were two companies discussing the future of healthcare in the "well designed" world. One company, Help Remedies is taking the mystery and "upsell" or flare out of medicine packaging. This seems like a great idea, simplifying the medicine, bring it to pure, austere levels. The pitch was to look at Tylenol rapid release, and the packaging. How much "upsell" there is the package itself, like the Nascar sponsorship (making it feel like they are all about the SPEED, rapid release).

Another idea pitched was that for Hello health seeks to mediate the doctor process, and SIMPLIFY it through the web. By providing online consultation sessions health care becomes more accessible. They are creating an online forum for rating and reviewing doctors, and providing an advanced interface. But, is this really this case? At $200/hr they have a business model in place (sourcing doctors all over the world, vetting them eventually through community ratings, and capturing the profit), but it doesn't help the less fortunate. Those who have the access to computers and the internet (in its ubiquity) but are miles away from being able to spend so much on a short term consultation does not improve the process.

Also, for those who are lucky enough to have health care, I assume are not willing to absorb this cost. They want to pass the cost on to their insurance agency (as would I). This is a fixable issue, once the case is persuaded to the agencies.

The bigger issue with hellohealth is, are we seriously ready to let go of the need of the touch of the doctor. The real interaction, in person, provides me with a better feeling of security that my ailments have been properly evaluated, instead me trying to type it in and send it to a doc via email or video chat.

State of Greenwashing on this Earthday

Greenwashing, or the practice of marketing false claims of corporate responsibility is a response to growing consumer trends of conscious buying, specifically tailored to exploit this burgeoning conscious. Grown out of the "whitewashing" term for covering misdeeds, consistency and financial sourcing both can indicate the degree of truthfulness in a "green" campaign.

"The Record" of Stockton, CA did an informal "review" of consumer products found in a neighborhood store and come up with these types of statistics:

  • 1,018 consumer products analyzed
  • Only one did not make false or misleading claims (TerraChoice)
  • Most used hidden tradeoffs
    • One environmental advance at the cost of others
    • End result is a greener image on the shoulders of the minor advanc
  • A review of garden products found that 10% of all claims were meaningless

As a result of this blatant disregard for brand transparancy and authenticity towards sustainability communications, the FTC has decided to impose new regulations in a crackdown on greenwashing (Washington Post 3/4/08). In new proposed regulations, the responsbility for the authenticity of the communciation will fall on the brand manager. With the last review and modifcation to guidelines in 1998, time is up for a change.

Brands play a dangerous game when they practice false advertising, consumers can end up hating or vilifying the brand and it can alienate the consumer from what is supposed to be a transparant process.

Brands need to practice brand-balancing and understand regultory, distribution, competitive, investor, and general public pressures that face the company. If they find that they are aligining hot topics with little substance, trying to have superhero image, walking a fine line between truth and lies, and generally ignorning consumer dialog, the brand will find that they will not perform up to expectations through their "green" marketing. We found that the brand story needs to be consistent and measured against consumer benefits, and teach consumers. Also enabling brands that allow consumers choices and options and invite them to be a part of the ongoing dialogue about their needs and wants in terms of sustainability and transparancy, will be more effetive green communications.

FreshDirect in NYC

FreshDirect faces a few strategic issues and problems in the expansion and development of their made to order grocery delivery system. While the company focused its efforts on cost reduction through its centralized warehouse and producing efficiency as a core competency in the fresh grocery delivery market, key competition, excessive waste, and negative public relations exposure all deal FreshDirect a problematic hand.

One of the largest strategic obstacles for FreshDirect is the negative publicity it currently endures. Although the company is taking steps to align itself in a positive light, fallout from negligent practices have ultimately hurt the company's ability to thrive in a community based environment. Customer perception starts to become a key factor in competitive staying power as the market matures, and with over 10 years of market maturity, this started to become a factor. Negative perception and publicity of FreshDirect largely stemmed from public awareness of its negative environmental impact.

Firstly, the conveyer packing system forced FreshDirect to use an excess quantity of cardboard boxes. Without a strategic and well thought out packaging return system, FreshDirect was seen as a squanderer of precious paper products.

Second, the oversized and often times under stocked delivery trucks that congested New York streets were of concern not only for local residents but worldwide citizens as well. The trucks could be easily replaced with energy efficient, smaller, hybrid powered trucks but were nevertheless larger, more dirty, and smog producting trucks that negatively affected the chemical makeup of the local air and globally impacted global warming reduction efforts.

Finally, negative publicity and protest against FreshDirect came from their impact on local businesses (i.e. grocers in neighborhoods) and how they could undersell and eventually breakdown these community landmarks. These local industries provide safety, foot traffic, and physical interaction in neighborhoods.

FreshDirect has only taken only to rectify the latter of the above causes for the overall strategic planning issue of negative publicity. Even in this case they have not totally cured the problem at hand, but instead are starting to contribute to local economies by sourcing their stock from local and organic farmers. On the other causal factors, FreshDirect has neglected to address them. The packaging and delivery trucks remain to be detrimental requirements of FreshDirect’s continued operation and thus prove to pose a serious risk in an industry that is centered upon responsible and clean reputations.

iPhone: Planning vs. Implementation (REVISIT)

One year ago, in January of 2007 I posted an item about the introduction of the iPhone. Referencing the unorthodox nature of its advanced announcement and marketing efforts, and its intuitive interface, the analysis was one of those who would pay and those who would abstain. Quote from the original article:

What the iPhone does for us creative types is help provide an alternative to the highly formal blackberry or treo. We are no longer mislabeled by the phone we carry, and we can succumb to our ever-vocal choice in electronics
I would like to update this commentary, based on recent developments of the iPhone market.

The value embedded in owning the iPhone is incredible. Just like my previous analysis:
Apple knows it has cornered a certain type of market and is seeking to expand that market everyday (see the latest TV ads obviously geared towards older PC-using men).
There is incredible value in the conspicuous ownership of the iPhone, as is a functional benefit. Nonetheless, I still know of, and see, here in New York, many many people required to utilize two phones because of the ever-difficult business functionality of the iPhone. Blackberry and iPhone ownership represent the dual nature of the business telecommuter. One for play and one for work. The weak email application is partially to blame for this observation.

Additionally, the iPhone has lost control of its inventory. With over 1.7 MILLION phones missing, of the some 3.1 million produced, the "unlocked" iPhone black market is HUGE. A large percentage of these missing and unaccounted for phones are surfacing in markets where the iPhone does not even have a carrier arrangement: Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Eastern bloc european countries.

Here, the iPhone is unlocked and then distributed as a hacked phone, with the ability to insert a SIM card and use on local wireless carriers. This, I feel, is represented by the iPhone's strict standards because of their carrier contracts, like here in the US with AT&T.

The iPhone carries with it that inherent playful and intuitive value, that Apple so cleverly has accomplished in its brand recognition, yet the facts are cold and true:
  • Millions of phones are already hacked and have circumvented Apple's ability to profit off of its carrier contracts.
  • Apple does not utilize business productivity as one of the driving factors of selling its device, thus requiring many business people to keep two phones (one blackberry) if they want an iPhone
  • The iPhone's post launch price drop and recent introduction of new and superior models have soured some Apple fans.


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