Thursday, July 29, 2004

Poetic empty thought bubbles

Clearly I lied when I posted yesterday, cuz here I am again. This is actually prompted by something, though: today I got another packet of mail forwarded from my mom, and among the bills and stuff was a postcard from my middle school English teacher, Mrs. Ambler. She published a book for teachers with various exercises designed to encourage creativity through poetry for students of all ages, and sent me this postcard referring me to the website, because some of my own creations were used. A poem I wrote in the 9th grade is included as one of the samples for an exercise where you write something about the winter season. That this is here is ridiculous for two reasons: 1. I grew up in Southern California and hadn't the faintest clue what I was talking about, a few ski vacations notwithstanding. 2. I wrote this is my free time in high school (yeah, I didn't really run with the popular crowd), when Mrs. Ambler was no longer around encouraging us to write about whatever. It seems Michael Moore's proclivity for convenient half-truths is far more pervasive than I thought.

Another interesting find: the sample anthologies, several of which were done by people I went to school with and something of which I have several vivid memories of completing (I used to be pretty artistic, believe it or not... now the only (dubious) remnant of said creativity is my Absolut door. I know all my college peeps remember the Absolut door... I still have it.). I can only assume that the reason why my own anthology isn't on there is because my own credentials aren't nearly as impressive as those of the other students up there (a Master's from Northwestern at the age of 22 just isn't worth what it used to be, I guess).

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Leave of Absence

I'm not going to be blogging for a little while, a. because I just moved and have no internet (am sitting in a Caribou Coffee right now and mooching off a local resident's wireless... mmm, lots of cute boys here, too bad odds are against heterosexuality in this neighborhood) and b. because I have mono and thus don't have a whole lot to say anyway. I mean, I slept for 14 hours last night. That's not really indicative of an active lifestyle. I have, however, made a lot of progress on the book du jour, The Bell Jar. Had to stop reading because I started thinking I was going crazy, though. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, as it did at least motivate me to get up and go shower etc. I suppose it speaks to the artistic abilities of Sylvia Plath, but I feel cut off from civilization as it is and can't really appreciate the worst-case scenario that's being narrated in such a compelling fashion. (Have neither TV nor internet, so the only thing saving my apartment from resembling the Dark Ages is central air... and, uh, plumbing and electricity and all that. But to be cut off from TV and internet in the information age is... is... it sucks! What's a girl to do when she can't plan to lay around the apartment all day, confident that she'll be sufficiently entertained? Making the trek all the way to Caribou everyday is just unacceptable.)

Anyway, will update y'all if and when I do or think something worth posting...ok, ok, that's probably a bit over-confident as that has yet to happen in the first place, so I'll revert to quoting a favorite cartoon character: ttfn!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Quickie

Sure I'm sick and should have been asleep several hours ago, but the Roseanne marathon and Death Becomes Her on USA conspired to keep me up. And now the infinite entertainment available on the internet: Craigslist Rants and Raves. This is why I read them. And this. And someone plugged their blog, and it's actually really funny; if nothing else, at least check out the picture in this post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Consumerism

Our country is known for its consumers. Everywhere we go, both here and abroad, we spend money, and plenty of it. Shopping practically qualifies as a sport (I mean, if you're going to let golf in, where can you really draw the line?). Therapy, too. And I'm quite honestly baffled by it. Not because I don't enjoy buying stuff; rather, I'm mystified by how much I enjoy it. I just spent the last few hours making the trip out to IKEA (that entire chain has something against buying space in locations that are convenient to me) and Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy a few things for my impending move to new quarters (sorry to use parantheses twice in the same sentence, but have been meaning to mention that those of you who've been contemplating a visit to Chicago, now's the time... particularly if you're a Cubs fan, as they'll be my new neighbors. Ok, back to the topic at hand.). I just got home and I can barely remember what I purchased. I don't even really care. But I'm blissfully content. I can think of few other occasions that make me feel so completely at peace with the world.

Why is that? I can already hear some of your answers: "Well, it's because you're a shallow bitch." I know that already; besides that. Why does having stuff make us happy, particularly new stuff? Whence this fascination with novelty? I'm sure plenty would blame evil American marketers (heheheh... you have no idea) of the past century for cultivating these desires, but I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. I would argue that people have always enjoyed buying (or rather, procuring) stuff, we just happen to now live in a world where we're able to do so much more frequently. Granted, our distance--both mental and physical--from the physical production of the goods we purchase plays a large part in this. The contentment I feel now is very different from the contentment I'll feel after I've assembled all that freaking IKEA stuff and am proud of myself for having mastered that little screwdriver-key-thing. Right now, I'm gloating over the potential of my purchases: I'm anticipating their use for the first time. Clothing is the perfect example of this: when we're kids, we often wear something new right out of the store if we possibly can (I almost always did when I got new shoes). When we get older and (maybe) feel like exercising some self-restraint, we'll wait until that evening or the next day to wear whatever it is, unless we're saving it for a special occasion. It's the anticipation of the change that your material something-or-other can effect that makes us (and by us, I mean me) so happy with its possession initially. Once you feel that potential has been realized (whether or not it meets your expectations...usually not), it loses its magic.

Now, expectation and anticipation of a good's ability to change your life are propagated by advertising. However, I still think that advertising is simply augmenting this desire, rather than originating it. However much advertisers may want to, they cannot make you buy something against your will (note that 'will and 'better judgment' are not the same thing, and one is also assuming that they're playing fair; outright lies and other such underhanded tactics are another subject entirely)--people only pay attention to marketing messages that they think are relevant to them. Even I, one who can appreciate commercials from a purely academic/intellectual standpoint, cannot and do not pay attention to ads for video games (a few PS2 ads have made it through my filter because they don't show game play right away, most notably this one, where they turn the guy into a chicken).

I think anticipation of a change, however exxagerated it may be as a result of advertising, is spawned by having a choice. If our world was like 1984, where everyone had the same things and did the same things and obeyed the same rules, you wouldn't get any joy out of getting something new because everyone got it; it was standard issue. You were required to have it, and thus having a new, say, bandana would mean nothing because your having it doesn't say anything about you. You can't choose the color to identify yourself as a 'green' in a world where everyone wears bandanas. You didn't save up your pennies to earn a bandana so you could be like whichever bandana-wearing geeks you thought were cool, who stood out because of this rather eccentric accessory. And though you knew other classes of people had access to different things, you knew that you did not, and so while you might desire, say, a journal, pleasure derived from actually obtaining such would be that of stealing the forbidden, and it would be tempered by fear. This past century, the rise of consumerism has coincided with an increase in marketing, yes, but marketing exists because there is choice. And consumerism is increasing because we have more choices than ever before. It's a necessary by-product of capitalism.

P.S. Now it's late and I'm not entirely sure that made sense. I do know this though: bandanas are hot.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Politics

Oh the excitement of an election year. When Americans everywhere have the chance to shape the future of their country by voting for the candidate that they feel will best represent them in a little thing we like to call Democracy. Or a republic. Whatever. The point is, ad agencies and Comedy Central alike can take advantage of the political climate to beguile us attentive citizens into paying attention, thinking we're learning about the platforms of real candidates. It began with Miller's campaign against against Budweiser. Now NetZero has begun running commercials in support of one Candidate Zero. Frankly, I have my doubts about this candidate's potential to garner a substantive portion of the vote, being such a johnny-come-lately (and we all know the former can't even qualify, being South African and all. And, uh, not human.) Don't underestimate him though--he's got a blog. Just like Howard Dean. And we all know how that went.

Life of Pi

While I've learned a ton in grad school, sadly, I've also developed something of an aversion to reading. I avoid course readings as, well, as a matter of course, unless some sort of assignment forces me to do them. I feel so guilty (really! ...kind of) about not having done the reading that I won't allow myself to read anything that isn't what's been assigned. Except for the WSJ and friends' blogs and stuff while I'm in class (have apparently developed an aversion to listening to people talk, too...God knows how I've managed to learn anything here). Anyway, I used to be a big reader and it was something I really enjoyed, and I'd like to again during the summer while I have the time. But somehow, none of the books I began could hold my interest--the last book I actually read cover to cover was the Da Vinci Code, and that was partly out of peer pressure (everyone's read that book...except Chris. Freak.) So I've been looking for a book to help me get back in the groove, so to speak. A story that has me staying up till 4 am just to finish it. Being able to read it for hours at a time without getting distracted by, say, the South Park marathon (ok, nothing could keep me from watching the South Park marathon, I love that show).

I picked up Life of Pi at the bookstore because I thought I'd heard some friends talking about it, and the plot sounded interesting: a boy stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger. It was a brilliantly-told story (one of those books where everything comes together just right), and while it wasn't, as some of the characters say, a story to make you believe in God, it was a story to make you believe in storytelling. Not just because it's an enjoyable read, but because you get two versions of it--one with animals and one without--and have to choose. And there's no question as to which one would prefer: one is triumphant and the other horrible, and the mix between the two is heartbreaking. The animal story had its share of horrors, but it is easier to deal with such behavior from animals than it is from humans; suspension of disbelief is a marvelous thing.

Bottom line: go read this book.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Something worthwhile

I'll actually be making some attempt to live an interesting life over the next couple days, and in a capacity where I have to write about it: I'll be attending the Ad:Tech conference here in Chicago and blogging about it on the Ad:Tech blog (I hear a more obvious name was in the works, but focus groups liked the enigma this one presented). I know you're all just gagging to see my contribution there; I'm a bit curious myself. Check it out.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Time well spent

I realize that this blog (and by blog I mean hit counter) is barely being supported by a handful of friends and my own irrational need to constantly check said hit counter. And that’s probably as it should be, as I don’t post too terribly often and the vast majority of posts are pretty self-indulgent (this one is case in point). So instead of taking this as a judgment of just how dull my life/opinions are (I could so do a compelling blog if I felt like it), I’ve determined that the reason for this is that I’m leading such an active and intellectually stimulating life that I simply lack the time and inclination to tell you chowderheads about it. A brief rundown of how I pass the time each week:
  • read the entire contents of no less than seven major newspapers on a daily basis, including at least one from a foreign country
  • read two books, preferably nonfiction or new/obscure titles by famous authors
  • watch a few documentaries on the History and Discovery channels
  • try out several new recipes, preferably low carb/fat/calorie and made entirely with organic ingredients
  • drink smoothies made from fruits and vegetables fresh from my garden
  • run twenty miles
  • donate several hours of my time to community service
  • think about a way in which we can all just get along
  • do lots of yoga
  • add twenty pages to my draft of the great American novel
...and by that, I mean I:
  • read the entire contents of the Onion
  • guilt myself into reading a few pages of one of the many unread books I own before wondering what’s on TV
  • watch Elimidate
  • try a new variety of Lean Cuisine because they’re on sale
  • drink beer
  • limp around and complain about how my foot hurts
  • try not to litter
  • make fun of Michael Moore
  • think yoga’s a funny word
  • hired someone just to write this

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Blogs and advertising

This is sort of a corollary to the previous post, but doesn't appear there in an 'update' section because it, uh, isn't really an update. There I discussed the issue of treating bloggers as if they were journalists, in a more traditional sort of PR fashion, but companies have the ability to exert even more control over blog content by encouraging employees to start and maintain them in a practice Rick Bruner calls 'adverblogging.' When Rick first posted about this a couple years ago, he had only one example to support his newly-named "trend": a blog run by a Macromedia employee that contained news and information about a newly-launched product. Even now I can only contribute one more off the top of my head: Google's new blog. The Macromedia blog ended up being a great source of customer support information in addition to PR and advertising, and the Google blog began the day after the company-owned Blogger was relaunched to aid in supporting it...that company really hasn't needed any extra help with advertising or PR though, what with the upcoming IPO. I'm sure other companies have gotten on board with this, because an unanticipated benefit to running a company blog is the free boost obtained from search engine advertising, which is one of today's hot topics. Because they're constantly being updated and have links to numerous other pages across the web, blogs tend to get much higher pageranks and will often top the lists of results when they contain relevant material (case in point: Gizmodo tops the list for the search string 'gadgets,' Chris is first for the 'Baylor 1L' search and is on the first page of results for 'Baylor Law'). Here again, blogs reside in a sort of neither-here-nor-there world, but the ones who figure it out will undoubtedly be rewarded for their trouble.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Blogs and PR

The role of blogs as a communication medium is still something marketers are trying to figure out. Certainly they have the potential to reach a wide audience, and because it's a high-involvement medium, they can wield a lot of influence over that audience. So it's only a matter of time before someone tries to take advantage of this. Given the current political state of affairs, that particular sector is receiving what I consider to be more than its fair share of attention (though the picture of the Democratic party candidate holding a giant gun on Drudge was worth a laugh). Bloggers can basically be likened to journalists, but unlike journalists, they aren't tied down to any sort of standards--truth in reporting, fair and balanced, correct spelling, blahbitty blah blah (foul language is usually on that list too, but the Post had to go and change the rules on us)--and because of that they're dangerous. Bloggers that have proven themselves will likely be invited to newsworthy events more and more often instead of having to piggyback on the AP, and that's the issue addressed in this article with respect to the upcoming party conventions.

The Democratic party has planned to invite a few bloggers to its convention in Boston this year. The GOP will likely do the same. On the surface it makes sense: inviting bloggers with a large readership gets your message out to that many more people. However, credibility is what's really at play here. In an ideal world (for the Dem staffers, anyway), you invite influential bloggers to your convention who go home and sing the praises of the party such that a lot more voters are convinced to change their political leanings because they're reading the opinions of people whom they respect. Bloggers have earned a unique sort of trust amongst their readers because they (readers) know they (bloggers) can say whatever they want (well, the readers can too, come to that). And this presents the first set of problems with the above scenario: 1. Truly independent bloggers have the potential to be a loose cannon that would cause more harm than good (particularly given the medium in which they're communicating, where a popularly-voiced dissenting opinion can attract a lot of notice and links). 2. Bloggers who are not perceived as independent lack credibility. The middle ground is a space already populated by columnists that are invited to such events: their political preferences are already known and they are read and respected by a large readership base. But the vast majority of those readers are like-minded, and so you are unlikely to win over anyone new.

It could be that the invites are simply a nod to the blogosphere in an attempt to be viewed more favorably, however small that change may be. The cost-benefit analysis is inconclusive, since it's unlikely that it costs the DNC much to invite a few bloggers in addition to the massive press corps that will be in attendance. As my friend Chris said, in inviting bloggers, all you're doing is eliminating a few hyperlinks from what they'd be posting anyway. They'll write whatever it is they're going to write, but the DNC probably doesn't stand to gain a whole lot by officially sanctioning any of it.

Whole27: Recap

So we didn't quite make it 30 days. On Thursday, we looked at the prospect of a dry Memorial Day weekend (and the Friday leading up to i...