A parable about hubris and an ongoing digital tragedy

Row of Postal Clerks Processing Mail

This post was originally published on Medium

It feels like a lifetime since the Pushers left and the Communicators stepped up. Before then, the Pushers shaped the Message, told us how we would feel about their brand, their products and services. We either accepted what we were told or, well, we didn’t have much choice.

Then, it all began to change. The Manifesto taught us that “markets are conversations” and even though the Manifesto was soon overlooked by a younger generation, its central social message persisted and shaped our interactions with brands. This new generation, the Communicators, began to explore what a more collaborative, engaged conversation would sound like, feel like and what it could do for brands desperate for attention in an evolving digital world where we didn’t have to accept what we were told. Over the course of a few years, we discovered we had our own voices, choices and perhaps even power to influence others too.

As the Communicators rose from among us, we joined them in their journey and became their followers, their fans and co-creators. For a while we were on this wonderful voyage together, Communicators and followers. We formed new communities and we shared our lives more freely than we ever had before. We looked up to our new leaders with great admiration. They were like us and we loved them.

We had a brief Golden Age when we were finding our individual voices. Facebook brought us closer together, Twitter brought the world to us with such immediacy we were astounded at first. More services and tools followed and, today, we have so many ways to share, we are forced to choose based on where our communities are strongest. Once we thirsted for creativity, today we are inundated with it and we use terms like “overloaded” because we haven’t developed effective tools to filter our consumption. Still, its a good time for self-expression and there is so much of it.

The Communicators embraced these new tools for the brands they serve and they used them to capture our attention, share wonderful stories that entice us and weave new fabric to clothe those old brands the Pushers told us about. The Communicators learned more effective techniques as time passed and as they rose to greater heights and found that the brands they served worshipped them and their mystical magick (we knew it was nothing of the sort but then we still believed we travelled with our new prophets). Slowly, almost imperceptibly to most, the Communicators began to believe the praise heaped on them by the brands that also paid them richly. The Communicators began to believe they were the embodiment of the new Social Message and rather than being its interpreters, they started shaping it to suit their vision of this new era. They created new mantras and new laws.

Perhaps the rarified air and great heights led them to forget their earthly origins with us. Perhaps they simply saw themselves as the Pushers’ rightful heirs. Either way, our Communicators changed. They demanded more attention, more praise and they did it in subtle ways. They hosted grand parties and dinners and treated us as beloved followers, graced us with their attention and public praise as if that would somehow sustain us or even elevate us. Some of us became officials in their courts and rose above the rest of us, enjoying success for as long as they were in favour.

Then the Message changed. Our conversations became distorted. We only heard stories of joy, success, praise and favour. We didn’t heard stories about tragedy, disappointment and failure (well, except where failure was heralded as the seed of success). We noticed that officials in their courts disappeared and were replaced and heard quiet rumours about followers who fell into disfavour, were cast out and exiled. Nothing confirmed and yet the rumours persisted.

As the Communicators rose to even greater heights it was as if the Sun shone even brighter on us all and it was tempting to believe times were never this prosperous but this new light didn’t shine everywhere anymore. With this great light came more shadow. The Message was shaped even more and something unfamiliar crept into it: intolerance. Once again, we are told how we feel about brands, their products and services. The Message is no longer a shared construct, the Communicators shape it for us. For the most part we like it and, if we don’t, well, does that matter?

Writing about the ANC’s perspective on power

More equal than others

The ANC’s response to the Public Protector’s report on the Nkandla controversy highlights its twisted perspective on its position as ruling party. I had to express my outrage and did it on Medium in an article titled “More equal than others“. Here is how it begins:

If you have paid much attention to the ANC’s responses to controversies it has been embroiled in (usually due to its leader and current South African President, Jacob Zuma), it should be pretty clear to you that, with the ruling party’s reaction to the Public Protector’s report on the president’s Nkandla compound development, the ANC has left our reality and its claim to power seems to be based on a modern version of the ancient Divine Right of Kings.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier preview through its soundtrack

I am a bit of a music soundtrack nut (the instrumental soundtracks, not the pop music compilations) so I am frequently more excited about the soundtracks for upcoming movies than I am about the movies themselves. Soundtracks usually give me a great feel for the movie itself before I watch the movie and, this afternoon, I’m listening to Henry Jackman’s soundtrack for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I’m still working through it for the first time and it hasn’t really grabbed me yet. The title track, “Captain America”, is probably a nice representation of what I have heard so far:

I think I prefer this to Alan Silvestri’s score for the first Captain America movie but neither are as stirring as my current surprise favourite: Steve Jablonsky’s soundtrack for Ender’s Game which has been on repeat for about a week and I still love it. Jablonsky also did the Transformers soundtracks which are also better than their movies. One of my favourites from the Ender’s Game soundtrack is “Dragon Army” (difficult to pick a favourite, they are almost all fantastic):

When will we stop using cash?

Commercial and Agricultural Bank of Texas $3.00 (three dollars) private scrip

When will we stop using paper money (and coins)? Doesn’t it strike you as wasteful and risky? I love the idea of virtual wallets which you can use to pay anyone for anything but we seem to be quite a way away from that. One of my pet hates is the ubiquitous parking paypoint we see in shopping malls and almost any other place parking is managed by someone else.

I just read an interesting article titled “The disappearing paper: Why cash is a dying payment method” which touches on this question and raises a couple really interesting points about cash money. To begin with:

The arguments for ditching notes and coins are numerous, and quite convincing. In the US, a study by Tufts University concluded that the cost of using cash amounts to around $200 billion per year – about $637 per person.

This is primarily the costs associated with collecting, sorting and transporting all that money, but also includes trivial expenses like ATM fees. Incidentally, the study also found that the average American wastes five and a half hours per year withdrawing cash from ATMs; just one of the many inconvenient aspects of hard currency.

Cash is expensive, inconvenient, wasteful and unhealthy – it’s time to call it quits with physical currencies.

The one challenge to the proposition that paper money and coins be replaced with some sort of digital equivalent is that lower income groups and small businesses often rely on cash quite heavily but there are a couple digital wallet/payment options which are being developed which are designed specifically for these consumers and business owners. At least one of the more interesting ones I have seen uses USSD which works on every mobile phone.

An interesting consideration that I haven’t come across before is that cash keeps us relatively honest. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, conducted a study on this:

Even more worryingly, a study by Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, found that transacting without cash makes us less honest.

Subjects in Ariely’s study had to report – honestly – how many maths questions they were able to solve from a test sheet, receiving a reward per correct answer. Those rewarded with tokens (which could be exchanged for cash) were twice as likely to lie about the number of questions they answered than those rewarded with hard currency.

Ariely concluded that although the tokens had an equal monetary value to the cash, subjects perceived a lesser value – and so were more likely to lie – because it was not actual money.

I really don’t see cash being around for very long. The cost benefits and convenience of using digital wallets and payment options must prevail over what will probably amount to legacy attachments to cash at some point. Well, hopefully.

Load shedding is probably imminent

Update (2014-03-04): Load shedding has started so check the schedule and plan for the interruptions:

If you haven’t heard already, load shedding is probably on its way. Eskom has declared a power emergency:

You can check the load shedding schedule on Eskom’s load shedding page. It’s worthwhile making sure you have emergency lights and plan for the possible load shedding timeframes. Keep your devices charged and scout out take out spots and stores that will be open and have power if your power goes out.

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