Sunday, February 21, 2010

Act like me

Everybody conforms in some way. It's common to ignore the evidence in front of us in order to fall in with the expectations of those around us.

We take the path more travelled because, well, it's easier to go along with the consensus. And sometimes there's a comfort in knowing you're traveling with the a crowd, even if they are heading in the wrong direction.

But the striking thing about conformity is that for each voice that rises up, even a single voice, the group's consensus can be considerably shaken. A single, competent individual can sway a majority view extremely effectively. Numerous studies have shown that one person in the crowd can persuade as many as two thirds of that subscribing group to adopt an opposing point of view.

Think about that for a moment, one person in the crowd can shift the focus of two thirds of that group opinion, as long as they are consistent, and competent.

Now think about your influence in terms of social media. How big is your crowd? How many follow/friend/subscribe to your thoughts? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?

Of course, there are a dozen other influencing factors involved. Do the group know each other? Are there cultural influences that might affect the outcome? Is there social pressure to conform? But these traditional influences on the crowd opinion change when you take your argument online. Often there's a leveling effect online that works in favour of the strongest argument.

Just look at the education demographic on Twitter: classroom teachers, administrators, students, specialists, lecturers, all from different walks of life, all exploring teaching and learning together. Learning in a space that strips away many of the traditional peer influencing factors.

Even if you have only a small following, if your argument is strong enough, it can be disseminated quickly and powerfully online.

So why am I talking dissent? Why am I so concerned about where the crowd is going?

It seems to me that influence over the crowd dynamic is shifting as fast as the pace of technology quickens. What if that more easily influenced two thirds in the crowd was that proportion of the population of Facebook or another vast social network?

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Memento

The word memento comes from the Latin phrase memento mori which translates as 'remember you must die'.

Vanitas, like the image above, carry reminders of our mortality, and were common in the 16th and 17th centuries. Time pieces, rotting fruit and delicate, easily broken objects were some of many reminders of the fragility of life, the notion of time passing, decay and of course, death. You'll notice the skull in the back right of the picture, which was one of the most common images found in Vanitas, for obvious reason!

Vanitas were intended to remind you of your religion, that your time on earth was fleeting and that there were higher obligations to consider. Another common interpretation is that vanitas were there to lift you up when you felt low, and bring you down when you were were too euphoric. A steadying influence if you like. They were also used to inspire reflection, and to remind an audience to enjoy what time they had remaining.

Morbid stuff huh?

Which leads me to a recent discovery, a new Vanitas app recently released for the iphone.

I have to say I was intrigued when I saw it, and have enjoyed opening and closing my Vanitas box over the past few days. What particularly drew my attention however, was the other work Tale of Tales are doing with video games and story.

Games that lack a linear narrative to tug you through to the end, or a constant stream of weapon improvements to feed your addiction to upgrade. These games are instead for exploration and reflection. They are intended to challenge our perceptions of what games should or can be.

Personally, I love the work they are doing. It's powerful, thought provoking, and games like The Graveyard seem to suggest a drifting story that is just waiting for you to fill in the blanks.

These games inspire imagination, in a way that 99% of what's on the market today is unable to achieve.

Take a wander through their site and see what you think. I'm going to watch for future developments closely.

The image at the top of the page is titled Vanitas Still Life by Pieter Claesz 1628

Friday, February 5, 2010


Fonts are one of those quirky things that people get obsessive about, compulsive, compulsively obsessive even. And they are amazing when you explore them a little more closely.

Choosing the right font is important, the typeface you select can have a considerable influence over how your message is interpreted. The right font can help warm your audience to your writing. A rigid font can suggest you interpret material more formally, there are some that can leave you cold, and some that are casual and distinctive.

The influence of your choice of typeface on your audience can be powerful, and its authority over your readers is often something they are quite unaware of. It reminds me of subliminal advertising strategies tried in the past.

Teaching students about fonts can also be very revealing. It's like owning a blue volkswagon. It's only once you have one, that you'll seeing them every day. Introducing the influence of fonts to children is powerful ... once they appreciate their impact, they'll start discovering them everywhere.

There are some wonderful places to source great fonts, and I'd encourage you to seek them out.

Da Font is perhaps one of the best, with over 10,000 fonts (yes, ten thousand) to select from ... it's also one of the easiest to navigate. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This set of images is so absorbing, that I'm going to do something you should never do when you write a blog post, I'm going to send you somewhere else. That's right, I'm asking you to take a look at these images and then come back to TDN, and read the rest of this post.

It's a risk, I'll acknowledge that. You could get caught up in something else, and I wouldn't blame you. The web is full of shiny distractions demanding our attention. But I'm hoping you'll remember to return afterward, and if you need a mantra, I've included one below.

I must return to TDN, I must return to TDN (and repeat)


So welcome back. This post, the first of the new year 2010, is about abandonment. It's a difficult topic to approach, as it inspires so many different emotions and many of them are unsettling. Abandonment is personal.

I should point out at this early point that I was never abandoned as a child. I don't have issues of attachment. I did have a long romance with the idea of being adopted, and abandoning my OWN family while caught up in the swell of teen angst many years ago. This post however is not about that, or any thinly veiled or perhaps unresolved feelings from my past. No, this story is about houses.

Well, let's rephrase that, it's about these houses, the ones in the photos.

Kevin Baumen, he's the guy who took the pictures, states on his site that 'the actual number of abandoned houses in Detroit is more like 1200'. The homes encompass an area of approximately 138 square miles. The scale is astonishing.

The thing that struck me about the images on Kevin's site, was firstly what criteria he'd used to select the pictures for his one hundred shots. Perhaps the depth of character they inspired? Certainly the sense of abandonment captured in each shot.

I found myself looking in the windows to see more, examining the periphery of each shot, trying to discern whether the next house was also abandoned, and if not, who might be living there.

Good photo's of course, capture more than simply what's there. They suggest a mood, and inspire us to invest something of ourselves in them. There's more to see than what's been captured in these pictures. More than the long grass on the lawn and smashed windows, boarded up doorways and broken front steps. These aren't the things that disturb and unsettle us.

What's most disturbing is what's missing. The families and couples, single people and grandparents, dogs and guinea pigs. These homes were places where birthdays were celebrated and domestic disputes spilled over. They were home to singing, and shouting, the smells of cooking and a sense of security.

It's the absence of these things that bothers us most ... perhaps. Abandonment as I said earlier, is personal.

What did they inspire in you? What story do you think they are telling?