Monthly Archive for February, 2010

Seth Gordin’s The Dip… Singapore style

Over on the Google Buzz side of my joblessness story, friends have been reminding me of A Singapore Taxi Driver’s Diary, probably the only taxi driver in this world with a PhD from Stanford.

I called him a genius because he’s managed to turn a downfall into an upturn (i.e. Seth Gordin’s The Dip)… he’s just published his blog into a book! Storytelling is such a crucial art.

My PhD buddy @MrBigLive then pointed out Amanda Marshall’sEverybody’s Got A Story” where back in 2002, the amazing singer had already called out academic inflation, with her lyrics which included “…and that taxi-driver’s got a Ph.D”. Don’t believe me? Take a listen…

Waking up with nothing… is it really exhilarating?

Up in the Air (2009)

1st month: Couldn’t get over the fact that I finally graduated.
2nd month: Glad that I was really a doctor (of philosophy).
3rd month: Slapped in the face: PhDs don’t mean as much nowadays.
4th month: Became an uncreative slob. Remained hidden from society.

I’m jobless. I’ve been at it for about four months now.

When I finally graduated, I thought that I had all the time in the world to do everything I ever wanted. On the contrary, being jobless and financially bleeding made it hard to get motivated. I realized that my most creative endeavors were when I was busy with some form of routine.

During the lulls of my previous job, I would sneak out a blog article, experiment with video, or do something out of line as a form of escapism. Usually this personal innovation time off (aka Google’s 20% time) later became extremely useful for me (e.g. watch social cyborg project trailer).

Being too free felt as if I had a limitless blank canvas… at some point I realize that I needed some constraints in order to kick off creatively (see Boring + Boring = Pleasant?!). Now I feel like I have nothing to escape from… a prison without walls (see Kerala’s open prison).

I recently watched Up in the Air (2009), where George Clooney’s jet-setting character was designed to expertly lay-off employees across the country. In our bleak economic climate, that translated to a lot of business (and air miles) for him. To every employee he laid off, he’d say the following, “Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s *because* they sat there that they were able to do it.”

It’s a chance for rebirth.
As they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Serendipitously, I discovered a short film entitled Lemonade (2009), which was about ad-folks whose lives had changed for the better since losing their ad jobs. When 37 year-old copywriter, Erik Proulx, was laid off from a large agency in Boston, it was the third time he’d been terminated in less than 10 years. He started a blog, Please Feed the Animals, to serve as a support group for other unemployed ad professionals. According to his movie’s synopsis, some 70,000 advertising professionals have lost their jobs during this recession.

As enlightening and delightful as it was for some to discover their true passion, I believe that most of us have not located our pleasure centers, and might never will. Understandably, it’s not that easy for everyone… we’re scared.

Before I entered university, I was actively being the life of the party. In the early 90s, when the Internet was first publicly accessible in Singapore, I started a web publishing business to combine my trifecta interest in what my dad appropriately dubbed ATM (Art + Technology = Money).

My mantra was to make friendships productive, by calling upon classmates, training them in basic HTML coding while working with them on building client relationships. Related side projects were born from this, including online music communities Substitute.com and FrontalLabs.com.

I sometimes do wonder if all this education had ruined my drive… after all, the more I generally knew, the more I felt paralyzed. The realization of how little I was relative to my peers humbled me to the point of fear and self-loathing.

Almost sharing my dilemma, Lemonade’s producer Erik Proulx recently responded to a lady named Lisa, who had been laid off in 2008 after a 14-year career in broadcast journalism. She sought an answer to her plight, so he told her “[d]on’t be the person out there looking for the job. Be the person out there doing something interesting.” What followed from her were a series of “but, but, but” responses, a situation we’re all too familiar with. Paralysis.

Seth Gordin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Digging deeper, Erik quotes Seth Godin’s Linchpin (2010, currently #1 Amazon book on careers), where Steven Pressfield’s “the resistance” comes into play. According to Pressfield, the brain naturally wants to retreat to the comfort of normalcy and inaction. There are so many reasons to not do something. But the biggest is that the voice that asks “what if?” is usually drowned out by the voice that screams “it’s too scary.” Erik and Gordin both believe that the answer lies in a high tolerance for fear, where you have to see failure not just as a possibility, but a certainty.

As Erik puts it, “If you’ve failed at something, it also means you attempted something. You’re alive.”

Ironically, while I started by explaining how I had become routine-less while being jobless, I realized that there was a larger routine at work. I believe that I would get back into the game if I changed something in my life… such as moving somewhere else. Nine years in a place without family nor friends (most have left Buffalo) isn’t socially conducive to me in any way. After all, we’re more mobile than ever.

I remind myself what I’ve shared with friends before, that we have to keep experimenting until we find our groove. Then when we’ve worn that out, we have to find yet another beat to dance to.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Richard Nelson Bolles preached career self-reliance, or at least career self-direction, in “What Color Is Your Parachute?“.

“If you don’t take time to figure out what you want to do with your life, you will be at the mercy of all those forces out there today,” Bolles explained.

Job-hunting, or more ubiquitously, finding our passion, is a continuous, never-ending process. We have to keep being curious about ourselves. It’s not a luxury anymore; it’s a matter of survival.

Aside: As a segway, Tara Hunt investigates the conundrum of love vs. greatness. I think it’s great that there isn’t a best option. We chose our own beliefs, and the bottomline is to always work hard at it.

Update 1: Carolyn Lim suggested I watch Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. It’s aptly titled “How to live before you die“.

Update 2: From an email conversation, I’m reminded of a book title which fits what we’re experiencing. For folks like us whose lives seem to be in limbo, my favorite line has always been from the title of a book about earthquakes: The Myth of Solid Ground. While it’s an intriguing book which discusses “earthquakes, prediction, and the fault line between reason and faith”, the title also seems meaningful to how we are now living in an era where everything seems less constant than ever before.

Update 3: Friends are sharing their interesting personal stories on routine-breaking and joblessness via Google Buzz.

the3six5 project… or how I learned to embrace the emergent

the3six5 project

Around the start of 2010, I began hearing about this idea dubbed the3six5 project. A bunch of transmedia and emerging media folks discussed it with great fervor.

So I took a look…
frowned…
then asked…
“What’s the big effing deal?”

Every day, a different person would step in and write a journal entry of what was going on around him or her. There are rules of course, like being assigned a day insignificant to the author (i.e. no birthdays, anniversaries), writing a reflection of life that very day from the author’s location (i.e. the stark reality), limits to the number of words, and finally, zero blatant self promotion.

Everywhere Magazine: a crowdsourced travel mag Yes, it’s crowdsourc-ive, it’s storytelling, it’s experimental, but is it too simplistic and too random?

Prior to the3six5, we’ve seen very well curated examples that have even been put to print, such as user-generated magazines Everywhere and JPG. In other words, this isn’t new… so what’s really going on here?

Thinking back at the3six5, I even tried to suggest connectivity between stories…

So I wrote to the3six5 co-founder, Len Kendall

“While some of the twitterati I follow seem to like this project a lot, I beg to differ. I value the experimental (back to personal writing) nature of it, like how it provides a “snapshot” of our world from different perspectives, but find the articles all too disconnected from one another. I feel that it lacks connectivity, a kind of holistic purpose behind it. Perhaps I need to be unhinged to the idea of a plot? That said, I admire the difficult simplicity, consistency and diligence behind this project.”

To which Len calmly replied…

“Your reaction makes sense. There is certainly a disconnect between people. But I think that people’s minds often try to get non-fiction to mirror fiction. But that’s not how life operates. It’s very random, and this chronology reflects that. What makes it flow is that once every few days some folks with mention a “checkpoint” in time. Haiti’s earthquake, Obama’s spead, Apple’s ipad, etc. So that 10 years from now, if you read this story, you’ll have some sense of what was taking place at that time and when that time was.”

At this point I’m widening my sights to treat the theme as a giant chronological expression. Len explained that enforcing a theme pressures fiction around our non-fictional world. Thanks to our increasingly politicalized news media, perhaps it’s our learned reaction to pigeon-hole social reality. I have the sensation that what some storytellers are seeing, that isn’t apparent at face value, are qualities which will emerge from both the process and product of this particular sousveillance literature. The fiction will eventually appear because we will implicitly, and punitively, place it there.

As Len blogged, within the first 30 days of this year-long work, we’re already seeing a string of patterns emerge:

The web can be a really messy place. On creating order from chaos, Len writes how “Crowdsourcing ain’t easy”. Maintaining 365 authors for 365 days is pretty intense work, which makes me wonder if this project could ever work as an entirely community-governed iteration.

The number of views, comments and retweets act like an invisible leaderboard. There’s growing competition, or as BBHLab’s Ben Malbon puts it, “God help those writing in November…”. Throw in a few celebrity writers (ZeFrank!), and it looks like I’m pretty much screwed.

And on forcing fiction upon non-fiction: Margo Gremmler said “[…] you brought us all together in an author mosaic”. While I can’t wait to see the big picture, I thought that Gennefer’s tweet was rather poignant for the3six5’s journey…

Twitter / Gennefer Snowfield: @brainopera I'd add we're ...

Almost everyone contributing to this project agreed that “the case study for this project is going to be just as interesting as the project itself.”

To appreciate the3six5 experience, I asked if I could contribute, and was kindly given the day of 24th November 2010. It’s weird… but I suddenly feel like I own that day. It becomes both my honor, and my burden.

For a better idea of the3six5 project, be sure to read Ben Malbon’s “Interview with the3six5 project founders: 365 days, 365 perspectives

Mental Links: Deconstructing news reportage, iPad meta-critiques, the cyborg brain…


How To Report The News, by Charlie Brooker… a very frank deconstruction.

  • iPad: Overhyped Flop or a case of Great Design Thinking?
    Media studies graduate student / thinker @VenessaMiemis provides a very thorough examination of the diverse perspectives to what Apple's iPad means for the future of computing.
  • Fraser Speirs on Future Shock
    “What you're seeing in the industry's reaction to the iPad is nothing less than future shock. For years we've all held to the belief that computing had to be made simpler for the 'average person'. I find it difficult to come to any conclusion other than that we have totally failed in this effort. Secretly, I suspect, we technologists quite liked the idea that Normals would be dependent on us for our technological shamanism.”
  • A Whole New Mind | Daniel Pink
    All the iPad discussions seem to point me back to Daniel Pink’s book. He observes that the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate.
  • Clive Thompson: "Garry Kasparov, cyborg"
    What if, instead of playing against one another, a computer and a human played together — as part of a team?
  • Project SIKULI
    Sikuli automates almost anything with screenshot ease, thanks to it's visual recognition technology. Works with any computing platform, including Mac, Windows, Linux! (via Lifehacker)
  • Panopticlick
    EFF asks: Is your browser configuration rare or unique? If so, web sites may be able to track you, even if you limit or disable cookies.
  • The Pinky Show: Structure, Power, & Agency
    Pinky's been thinking a lot about class treason lately: What does it mean that we do so many things in our lives 'automatically'? What can we really do to make this world better? And what will we have to give up or risk in order to achieve it?
  • Pictures + Stories = Pictory! And It's Pretty. // Current
    Pictures have never been more share-worthy than they are within Pictory, a new, community-driven, ongoing series of photos and the stories behind them. Get out your Kleenex… some of this stuff will truly tug at your heartstrings! The Internet can be so great.
  • List of Corporate Social Media Strategists, Corporate Community Managers in 2010 « Jeremiah Owyang
    There are very specific requirements for this list, please read before submitting: 1) You must have a public LinkedIn profile page that 2) indicates that social media is part of your full time career and job –not just for personal use, 3) You must work at an enterprise class corporation with more than 1000 employees.
  • Securing your iPhone's traffic | Macworld
    There are several firms that specialize in “rent-a-VPN” service for travelers who don’t have a corporate information technology department behind them handling VPN service. I'm thinking it's the easiest way to spoof your iPhone's IP as well.
  • Reboot These Sci-Fi Shows Next, Wired.com Readers Plead
    Brings back lots of memories… though sadly I watched them alone with no one to share stories with.