Archive: Society & Media
Dec 16, 2010 1
On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.
I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.
This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.
This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.
On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*
So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.
In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
Read the rest of this entry »
Oct 13, 2010 3
The world – and the media – is transfixed today by the ongoing rescue of the 33 miners who have been trapped underground for two months in a collapsed mine in northern Chile. As they emerge blinking behind sunglasses, into the desert daylight, we heave another sigh of relief. The unfolding story of their survival and planned rescue has brought hope to a world weary of bad news, and its successful executionn throughout last night and today is a testament to the power of planning, engineering, organisation, politics, money, hope, character, luck, faith…in fact, whatever people want to hang on this moment, they are doing so.
Throughout the morning, as news of the emerging miners breaks, I’ve had an earworm playing at the back of my head, which I’ve been trying not to give focus to, but here we go:
The song is the Ballad of Springhill, originally by Peggy Seeger (the version I know is by Martin Carthy) which was written about a mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia, in October 1958. An underground seismic “bump” caused the coal faces deep underground to collapse, killing many men instantly and trapping others. Over the days which followed, survivors slowly made their way to the surface and contact was made with a group:
“After five and a half days (placing it around the morning of Wednesday, October 29, 1958) contact was established with a group of 12 survivors on the other side of a 160 foot rockfall. A rescue tunnel was dug and broke through to the trapped miners at 2:25am AST on Thursday, October 30, 1958…. Of the 174 miners in No. 2 colliery at the time of the bump, 74 were killed and 100 trapped but eventually rescued.” [source]
Thankfully, it looks like all the miners in the Chilean situation will be rescued safely throughout the course of the next couple of days.
Tangent: I think going by their onscreen graphic Sky News will refer to this as “Miners rescued: 33/33 – Achievement Unlocked!” Though people seem to find the count variously tacky and/or helpful, I think there are many who echo the sentiment of this twitter user:
“Anyone else reminded of lemmings whilst watching sky news’s coverage of the miner rescue? They have a counter, so far 0/33 rescued”
The 1958 “Springhill bump” was notable for another reason, too: it was the first major international story in Canada to be covered by live television broadcasts — a new service being developed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) [more info]. Then, as now, the media circus camped at the minehead, watching and waiting.
While you watch the rolling news today, and follow the liveblogs and twitter updates, take a moment to watch this archive footage from CBC with interviews and coverage from the pithead. The events change, but the live media coverage is eerily similar, together with questions from the studio to our man at the pithead: “What’s going on right now? What can you see?”
Some things change, some stay the same. Meanwhile, in a Chilean desert, the miners rise one by one, blinking from what could have easily been a tomb. The world welcomes them back.
Oct 1, 2010 Comments Off
I was saddened this week by the story of the US college student who committed suicide after he discovered his roommate had secretly filmed his tryst with another man, and then published it online.
I add the emphasis, because it’s the most disturbing thing about an already tragic situation. Clearly we don’t know everything about the circumstances and there’s almost certainly a lot more going on than is apparent when a closeted teen commits suicide, but any way you look at it, his roommate’s actions were cruel, invasive, bullying and wrong.
There are two things jostling for attention in my head about this:
One: I’m not blaming social media, but I do worry about the habits that a social life (amplified by social media and networks) can fall into. Performing. Feeling like you have to constantly feed (/amuse/entertain/shock) a hungry audience, it’s easy to slither unawares across the line into behaviours and activities which are just wrong – like bullying – or stupid – like revealing too much about yourself online. I think some people – ok, many people – get seduced by the noteriety and enjoy the buzz of microfame, which means their boundaries of privacy and acceptable behaviour get ever so blurry. This can come back to bite them – or others.
Two: how do you support teens (especially) who are being bullied because of sexuality, appearance, intelligence, economics or anything else, especially within the artificial cruel crassness of a school or college dorm?
Speaking of supporting teens who are being bullied because of their sexuality, sex-advice columnist and podcast host Dan Savage recently kicked off an interesting and – I think – worthy initiative called the “It Gets Better Project”.
The project is inspired by the suicide of 15-year-old Indiana teenager Billy Lucas, who hanged himself two weeks ago in his family’s barn after enduring bullying from his classmates.
Savage realised that the one thing he and others who had been through tough times and bullying as teens wanted to say to today’s LGBT teens was: I know it feels bad now, but it gets better.
In an effort to counter the despair and isolation that many young gay people feel, Savage has launched a YouTube channel to provide positive examples of gay adults living their lives and sharing that simple message — it gets better.
“It occurred to me that we can talk to these kids now,” Savage said. “We don’t have to wait for an invitation or permission to reach out to them using social media and YouTube.”
He’s inviting LBGT people to upload videos to a dedicated YouTube channel, describing how they may have been bullied in high school, and how life got better once they moved out into the read world.
Human, moving – and hopefully effective.
Sep 28, 2010 3
I sometimes play a game when I’m reading stuff on the internet. It’s called Commentogeddon – or, if you prefer, Crystal Ballocks. Do you want to join in?
Here’s how you play:
1. Read an article which has comments open. Since most things have comments these days – wisely or otherwise, YMMV – this can mean anything on a blog, news site, content portal or whatever. It helps if the comment count is greater than 0, but don’t read the comments just yet.
2. As you are reading the piece “above the line” (i.e the blog post, article, original content), try to predict the nature of the comments which will follow. Your prediction may concern form, tone or content of comments. For example, you might keep a mental tally (NB this is not the same as a mentalist tally) as follows:
– there will be a comment consisting of just one word
– someone will complain about the topic, insisting that this has already been discussed and concluded
– people will mention (and take issue with) the third paragraph
3. Now read the comments.
4. Award yourself a point for each comment type or form you correctly predicted would occur “below the line” as a result of the piece above it.
Over the years, you will hone your instincts to such an intuitive level that you’ll be able to accurately predict the content of any thread without needing to read it.
Whether you then decide to do so is entirely up to you.
Jul 26, 2010 24
In most digital workplaces, there’s an unwritten understanding that when someone has headphones on, they’re not to be disturbed. Most of the time, digital workers recognise that sometimes you need to get into a productive flow state, and that means being allowed and encouraged to immerse yourself in the task at hand, undisturbed.
Flow is important to web workers, because it’s hard to come by. As digital knowledge wranglers, just like the machines at our fingertips, we’re constantly context-switching, running multiple processes at once, streaming concurrent thoughts and projects and activities in real time, trying to devote sufficient time and attention to each, but usually failing because of unrealistic timescales, lack of data to complete the task in hand or multiple competing priorities.
Context switching is exhausting, especially if you’re doing it all day long. It takes effort to figure out the context when someone comes up to you and starts talking about that meeting or project, and you’re supposed to instantly know
a) who they are
b) what they’re referring to
c) all background knowledge about the context which may enable you to make a useful or insightful contribution.
I often find myself wishing people came with identifying headers, like email. Just a simple whois with a sensible subject line would do wonders for my ability to react reasonably and rapidly to a distraction, rather than staring blankly for a few moments while my brain variously clears to one side the other things I’ve been processing, then cycles through knowledge files to find pertinent entries, all of the while also trying to summon the person’s name and context based only on their appearance (I’m terrible with names) and the words “that thing we were talking about the other day.”
The phrase “continuous partial attention” was invented by Linda Stone in 1998, and it gets more true with every passing year, perfectly describing the constant infograzing state of the digital generation.
So for the most part, web workers need ways to signal to their colleagues that they are trying to crack on with something without distraction. For many, the universal symbol is ‘headphones on’ – even if you’re not listening to anything, it’s a way of visibly signalling to the world that your attention is in another place. Your body may remain in the room, at your desk, but your attention is in the task. This is what Bruce Sterling means when he wrote about “cyberspace” as the place your attention is when you’re focused on something else:
Cyberspace is the “place” where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. The place between the phones.
– Bruce Sterling, from the introduction to The Hacker Crackdown [PDF link to whole book]
So we work much of the time in cyberspace, trying to find focus and flow, trying to escape from constant distractions and demands on attention.
Of course, there are exceptional circumstances which mean it’s OK for someone to break into the attention zone. Indeed, we give certain people specific permission to breach the bulkhead. We switch on our “busy” signals on GTalk, but our loved ones know that it’s OK to ignore it. We set up our phones to divert all calls except those from the boss. We instruct our desk phones to deliver a voice message to all calls telling them to email instead. Then we sift through emails when time and attention allow.
We generally prefer forms of contact which can be skimmed, triaged and prioritised. We want to be in control of our time, in a world which makes it increasingly difficult to be so. We tend not to like interruptive, demanding contact like phone or face-to-face disruption, in which someone else takes control of the when, where and how much time the query will take – as well as what else we’ll be able to do during the contact.
Face to face interruptions can’t be compartmentalised, multi-tasked or pomadoroed: it seems rude, when in fact the imposition is on the part of the disturber, not the disturbee. But it’s hard to tell someone to IM instead when they’re looming over your desk. As a result, we digivores get a reputation for being anti-social; for preferring email to facetime; for conducting hour-long sporadic conversations via instant message rather than spending ten minutes on the phone.
So in a distracting and demanding world, we crave the perfect, all-too-fleeting feeling of flow, when dedicated attention combines with lack of distraction to form a productive, devoted, happy state. Nothing beats it: fingers flying, synapses firing: words (or code, or ideas, or photoshop actions, or whatever you do) spilling productively, consistently and cogently onto the screen almost as fast as you can process them.
That’s why dedicated attention time is important, and why geeks (technical, creative and otherwise) resent distraction. We’re not just grumpy sods: we need mental space to focus. Music through headphones helps. Switching off the IM and email clients helps. Making yourself unavailable to the world despite your continued presence in the office helps too, but can prove more problematic.
A year or so ago, in the face of a writing project which demanded lots of head-down time immersed in passages and focused on the screen, I made a little makeshift notice to put beside my desk. It said “Trying to concentrate, please don’t disturb”. I saw it as the physical equivalent of the notice on my GTalk status (“Trying to concentrate: email me instead”) or the voice message I’d set (“Hello, you can leave me a message if you want but I’d really prefer an email to…”).
It was small, and people didn’t notice it. I felt too much of a sourpuss to point it out to them, so it became pointless.
A week later, I came in one morning and discovered a new sign beside my desk, made (I think ) by a sneaky elf in the design team who sit not far from me. In brand-consistent font on a hot pink background, the giant-Toblerone-shaped sign said on each face: “Meg is trying to concentrate”. There could be no mistaking it from any angle. The message was clear.
I’ve tried to enforce a good routine with the sign over the last year. I only use it when I’m actually trying to concentrate on something specific (not multiple things which are distractable). I use it in combination with headphones as a double signal to the world of my unavailability. I take it down when I’m done focussing.
Here are the interactions I tend to get, when the sign is up. Each of these is accompanied by hand waving designed to induce me to take off the massive headphones I am wearing when the sign is up:
- Are you actually trying to concentrate?
- I like your sign.
- Hahaha. Meg is trying to concentrate! Very good! Does it work?
- I know you’re trying to concentrate [waves dismissively at sign] but I’ve got a question about…
- Are you interruptable?
- Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to talk about…
- Ooh, where did you get your sign from? Did you make it?
- Can we talk about….[no reference to sign at all]
and perhaps most often:
Why do they do this?
I’m at a loss to know what to do next. Current favoured options include:
- A Lucy-style “The Doctor Is In/Out” sign
- Ignoring people if they ignore the sign when it’s up
- Teenage-style eye-rolling and deep sighing when interrupted
- Getting a bigger sign
- Amending the existing sign to include the words “Please do not disturb”
- A deli-counter take a number/now serving machine
If all else fails, I’m going to get a big piece of black cloth, and attach one end using velcro to the outer rim of my monitor, and drape the other end over my head, like a Victorian photographer’s light hood. This idea is, of course, based on the popular toddler belief that if I can’t see them, they can’t see me to interrupt. It also has the added bonus of shutting out all non-digital stimulus, which might help me to focus a bit better.
How do you find focus in a world of competing attention? Any suggestions?
Jun 28, 2010 5
On the bus earlier today, I overheard a woman on the phone telling someone “I’ll missed-call you when I’m near your place, so you can come and meet me”
I mentioned this on Twitter, and various people responded, sharing their own versions of this little trick.
“My mum says ‘I’ll give you 3 rings’” (@a_williams)
“Brings back familiar sound of a trimphone ringing three times after grandparents got home safely” (@crouchingbadger)
“Even better, in italian, they have a proper word for it: ‘squillino’ which means ‘miss call’ or ‘buzz’” (@dvydra)
“V standard in Italy…they call it giving someone ‘uno squillo’” (@ron_n)
“In Australia, we say ‘I’ll prank you’ referring to a prank call you’re not supposed to pick up” (@lukely78)
“Known as the ‘one-ring’ round my parts” (@genzaichi)
“When I was little, my mum would get ‘three rings’ when I was heading home from a neighbour’s house” (@philgyford)
I’ve known for a while that people in (especially) sub-saharan Africa have used the missed-call functionality – calling someone, letting it ring once, then hanging up before they answer, so they see a missed call from the original caller, and use their mobile credit or account to call back. They call this “Beeping” and there are established social rules for doing it.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, I’ve heard (but can’t find a reference for, sorry) about pirate radio stations using hangups as a way of collecting votes on a particular track (“If you like this track, beep me now….that last song got 87 beeps”)
Twenty years ago or so, when I was living abroad and travelling around a lot, I used a nifty way of checking in with my family periodically, without costing anyone anything.
The ruse was simple, and played out as follows:
1. Place a collect (reverse charges) call to your family back home via the operator
2. When the operator asks for a name, you tell them you’re called “Alice Oakey”
3. When someone answers the phone, the operator says “I’ve got a collect call for you from Alice Oakey. Will you accept the charges?”
4. The hapless family member says no.
5. The operator disconnects the call, but by this point – for free – your family knows Alice Oakey…or to put it another way, “All is OK” (A friend subsequently invented another version which involved the name “Amy Fine” and a male friend later created an alter ego of “Noel Probbs”)
This means that if you ever had to place a call that needed a response, or you were in trouble or anything, you could give your real name and your family would know to accept the charges. But at all other times, the message would get through, without cost.
I’ve no idea whether this still works, or if they’ve changed the way that collect calls are placed. But at the time, it was rather handy for periodic messageless checking in.
May 11, 2010 3
A couple of years ago, P and I went to a wedding on the North York Moors. We stayed in a rather faded (but decently-reviewed on Tripadvisor) hotel near the prom in Scarborough, and aside from a wobbly start when we arrived and discovered that the room had been cleaned but not the bathroom (eugh!) we had a perfectly pleasant stay for a couple of nights.
We barely spent any time there, just dashing in to shower and change outfits in between the social engagements which cluster around a wedding for old friends. But we made a point of having a decent breakfast both mornings, because you never know when you’re going to be fed at someone else’s nuptials, do you?
On the first morning, we showed up at the high-ceilinged breakfast room at eight, and were shown to a table in the window. Unsurprisingly for a hotel at the seaside on the first weekend in August, there were plenty of guests in residence, most of whom were already seated, in even-numbered clumps at tables adorned with white cloths and posies of plastic flowers in unnatural colours.
As we perused the menu, a man with a slightly Fawlty-esque moustache walked in carrying a pot of coffee. He approached the table to the left of us, which held two slightly rotund and red-faced couples wearing floral blouses (shes) and pastel polo shirts (hes).
“Right then, who’s for coffee?” the man with the pot bellowed
“Me please,” said one of the men.
“And me, Frank,” said his floral other half.
“Tea for me, thanks,” said the other man.
“Oh aye, I might’ve known there’d be trouble,” said the proprietor, “there’s always one awkward one.”
“If it’s not too much bother, Frank…” said the man who’d asked for tea,
“Bother? Oh no. It’s no bother to go all the way back to the kitchen for the other pot. Not with my bad knee; don’t you worry about it, Geoff. I’ll be right.”
“Well, while you’re there, how about some more toast?” asked the second floral woman.
“Easy there Margaret,” said Frank, “you’ll never fit into your bikini down at the beach if you keep eating at this rate!”
The table guffawed, as Margaret patted her stomach in a contented way. Frank, the coffee wielding owner, limped off in an exaggerated way, to retrieve a teapot from the distant kitchen.
P and I nervously perused the breakfast menu and wondered if we were brave enough to ask for a hot beverage if asked.
It was a warm day; we settled for orange juice from the buffet, somewhat relieved.
Last year, we visited Wensleydale for a few days and stayed a couple of nights in a converted barn B&B in the western dale. It was a lovely place and the owners were considerate and gracious hosts during our stay.
On the first night we were there, we were the only guests, and breakfast the next morning was calm and quiet. On the second night of our visit, two other couples were in residence, and the breakfast that followed was somewhat different.
“Hello there,” said the owner to the one of the other couples at their table, as he brought them toast, “sorry to miss you last night when you got here. Did you have a good meal? Find somewhere good? Marvellous.”
He turned to us and topped up the coffee in our cups, “more toast for you, too? Righty-ho.”
He disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared with a toastrack, his wife behind him bearing warm croissants and pastries.
Just at that moment, the other couple entered the breakfast room.
“Oh no,” said Mrs Owner, “Not these two again.”
Mr Owner joined in “Can’t get rid of you, can we?”
As they took their seats, smiling, he turned to our table and said in a loud stage whisper, “We keep telling them we’ve moved in the hope that they’ll get the hint, but they keep coming back, the daft twats.”
This weekend, I had the good fortune to spend a night in a small village not far from Harrogate. When I arrived, the B&B hostess opened the door, looked me up and down, sniffed slightly and ushered me in. I went upstairs to the room she led me to, and she reeled off a list of rules and details which I didn’t really need to know given that I was only going to be there for less than twelve hours.
Aside from when I popped downstairs to return my what-I-want-for-breakfast form (really) and ask for the WiFi password (a request which, despite the generous gushings about its free and ample provision in the bound guest information folder upstairs, the proprietress greeted with the sort of face that implied I’d just asked if I could please poo on the bedspread) that was the limit of my conversation with her for the extend of my stay.
The next morning at breakfast, her husband brought me tea and toast monosyllabically as I sat alone in silence at a giant table set for three in the cavernous, beamed dining hall.
I sipped my tea and munched on toast and thought about the day I had ahead and the bossy little comic sans signs which peppered my guest bedroom urging me not to spill red wine on the bedspread (I don’t have any), not to smoke out of the window (I don’t), allow my children to make noise after 10pm (see my first point, above) or move the television from its position (move the table instead).
A couple of minutes later, the other guests came down the sweeping staircase and took their seats.
Mrs Owner came out of the kitchen as she heard their chairs scraping across the tiled floor.
“Oh good morning!” she gushed to the new arrivals, “how did you sleep?”
She fussed over to the welsh dresser and pressed play on a CD player, so a little light chamber music drifted out over the table.
“Now, for breakfast this morning we’ve got porridge if you like, and did you want a cooked breakfast? Don’t worry if you didn’t put it on the form last night. What’ll it be? Full Yorkshire? Or I could rustle you up some poached eggs if you’d prefer?”
I silently chewed my toast, and wondered what I had done wrong, to be treated with such disdain.
And on the train home, I realised that there’s a sort of universal northern theory of interpersonal relationships, which dictate the level of civility you can expect in line with the closeness of your relationship to someone.
It looks something like this:
If someone doesn’t know you or like you, you can expect them to be brusque (at best) and openly hostile (at worst). Once you become more familiar, this mellows into a studied indifference, and as soon as they get to know you and/or like you a bit, this turns into the genial chit-chat that you might expect to be the normal point of entry for social relationships.
And then, as your relationship deepens, there’s an uncomfortable bit of indifference again before it becomes open season on personal insults and the camaraderie of mutual abuse which indicates that you’re really good friends, in fact.
I’m sure this is true in various other bits of the country, but nowhere have I experienced it more than in Yorkshire and the environs, and specifically in B&Bs and hotels.
I suppose that the special relationships which come about from regular visits to a particular establishment must lead to a particular kind of bond, based on teasing, affront and mockery. But it’s bloody perplexing to figure out where you sit in the continuum and how to navigate its perilous course.
Feb 27, 2010 1
Part of my tenth blogiversary series.
- Reverse-chronological (unless I was Benjamin Button)
- Permalink (I think Prolific invented or at least named these, didn’t she?)
- Archives (unless I was a librarian)
- Publish (unless I was Rupert Murdoch)
- Blogroll (I don’t have one, though)
- Blogring (remember them?)
- Post (unless I worked for Royal Mail)
- After the jump (unless I worked for the Samaritans)
- Pingbacks (unless I was Brian Eno)
- Plugins (unless I was an automaton sexbot)
Addendum: Things I do not say, even though I have a blog
- Blogosphere, because it’s stupid
- Blog when I mean blogpost because it’s just WRONG
Feb 27, 2010 12
I missed the actual tenth birthday of this blog/me blogging but I can’t let a milestone like that go unmarked, can I?
Originally started as a place to store and share links, this blog gradually became a place to playfully interact with the world, and over time that turned from introspection to exploration of the world, media, experiences and ideas. I don’t think I’m alone in that kind of journey with blogs.
I am immensely (unreasonably, perhaps even pathetically) proud of having been blogging for so long. I can say confidently that I was in at the beginning, when all this were fields. I was here before many of you young whippersnappers who have gone on to eclipse me, and blogging, and the web entirely in their success and influence. I don’t put my early involvement down to canny prescience about the way the web was turning so much as an inevitability given my proclivity for tinkering with web things, my early academic and personal interest in communicating online and my inability to shut up. Blogging and me; it was only a matter of time and technology before we found each other.
I was there. I remember the start, and the hype, popularisation, commercialisation and ubiquitisation which followed. I couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, but my blogging was to introduce me to dozens of interesting people, influence others to start doing it too, cause interesting opportunities (and worrying situations) to develop. Blogging has become part of what I am, what I do. I blog now for the same reasons I did in early 2000: because I can’t not tinker with and publish to the web.
Ten years ago, I was embarrassed to mention having a blog in polite company, because it was so difficult to understand – not just what but why. These days, even both my parents have blogs. It’s not a weird niche oddball geek thing anymore. It’s so normal it’s almost passé. Good.
Jan 20, 2010 30
22 January: Please see the update at the end of this post for what happened next.
Dear Grey London,
I’ve just been made aware of the ad you were involved with creating for Horlicks.
In the middle of the advert at 1’15″, amid the collection of shots of coffee/tea/beverage making and drinking, there’s a brief shot which is slightly different.
It’s a woman sitting on a tube train going along an above-ground track. She’s holding a book in front of her face. The book’s cover depicts a woman’s face. I’ve screengrabbed it below:
I find it very difficult to believe that this shot wasn’t styled on this image I took and posted in August 2006, which has since become well-circulated on the internet.
Your treatment is startlingly similar to my original photo, right down to the woman; the hand position; the ring; the tube above ground; the styling of the cover; the sweep of the hair; the man with his head down, reading next to her.
I’ve written before about advertising agencies using internet-popular ideas and artwork as source material for campaigns, but there’s a fine line between homage and rip-off.
Should I submit an invoice for the portion of the creative work that I unknowingly did on your behalf? Or would acknowledgement of your inspiration be out of the question?
PS If anyone else reading this has any ideas about what I might be able to do about this, please let me know in the comments below or via email or Twitter. Thanks.
I spoke to Hugo Feiler, MD of Grey London today, after the creative director of the ad forwarded on the email I’d sent him about the issue. Mr Feiler was very pleasant, and said (transcribed from notes taken on phone):
“On reflection, I would agree that we had been influenced by your photo … we shouldn’t have gone on to use such a similar image without speaking to you first, so I’m very sorry about that”
He offered to have the film re-edited to remove the chunk in question. I declined this, but asked him to ask the production company involved to remove the still from their site as proof of their creativity. He has done this since our call.
In addition, as a gesture of goodwill, Mr Feiler offered to make a generous donation in my name to a charity of my choice. I accepted this and am pleased that Oxfam’s Haiti emergency appeal has been able to benefit from this experience.
He went on to say that he would have said and offered exactly the same thing if I’d spoken to him privately before “going public” on my blog, but he understands why I did because of what I do for a living. (I’d actually sent email via the Grey website, to the production company and to the CD’s personal site).
I don’t think that my work was copied maliciously or through an attempt to decieve or claim credit: I’ve worked with enough creative agencies to know how easy it is for something to slip from early-stage random found object moodboard into a concept storyboard and then through to the produced object, all the while getting further and further from the original credited influence. As with most things like this, Hanlon’s razor applies (and especially the Sir Bernard Ingham variant).
In summary, I am reassured that this has been handled in a timely and considerate way by Hugo at Grey London: I’m glad that they’ve apologised and acknowledged the influence of my work, and feel sure that they will have learnt a lesson from this experience about how random internet influences are handled within their creative processes.