Everything’s a conversation, except when it’s not

November 4, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In advertising, johnson street bridge, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

Social media has penetrated even the most conservative institutions (such as real estate, property development, and municipal politics), and from where I’m sitting right now, it looks as if it’s driving a coffin nail of sorts into what was The Cluetrain‘s seminal insight, markets are conversations. That insight, incidentally, was from 1999.

And now those institutions are partying like it’s 1999, I guess…

The local chapter of an urban development institute sends out its November 2010 newsletter. We read the following:


[unnamed urban development institute in unnamed locale] continues to work with local municipalities on issues of interest to the development industry. (…) Our members sit on a variety of committees [locally] either as official [unnamed urban development institute] representatives or as general development representatives. Our members report they are active in many conversations including City of [right here] OCP [Official Community Plan] workshops taking place over the next week or so. This is what makes being part of [unnamed urban development institute] so important. Our members care about the industry and the communities in which we operate.

[unnamed urban development institute – local chapter] has initiated a new policy conversation around potential tax breaks for green buildings. President, T. L., and member, K. J., are actively engaging politicians at all levels across the province in this new [unnamed urban development institute of right here, local chapter’s] initiative.

[unnamed urban development institute – local chapter] is opposed to the proposed general downzoning of the [local/ downtown] neighbourhood and continues our conversation with the City about this and other topics related to the draft Core Downtown Plan.

I love this org and I know that “our members care about the industry and the communities in which we operate” is not cant. They do. I don’t mind that they’re focusing on conversations, either (although the word loses its meaning through overuse, don’t you think?).

But next, and on the very same day, someone sends me a link to an article in the local weekly “alt” paper, where the city’s Mayor has published a bit of propaganda aimed at convincing voters to vote a certain way in an upcoming (Nov.20) referendum. And I guess that was enough to make me kinda sick of the conversation meme.

The article’s title, A Bridge for the Future, wants to convince us that we aren’t really stuck in 1999, but are heading into a Brave New World instead. After numerous bromides about the importance of maintaining a strong city economy – so that the City can continue to run the city – the Mayor adds:

This brings me to the current conversation on the Johnson Street Bridge.

Whoa – wait! What has happened with regard to the Johnson Street Bridge has gone way beyond “conversation,” as far as I can tell.

And, as a long-ago participant of sometimes frustrating, sometimes thrilling conversations with the actual authors of The Cluetrain, pardon me if – right now – I’m a tad skeptical hearing this called a conversation. I think I’m smelling snow early in the season instead.

The City of Victoria is spending $150,000 (tax payers’ money) in an ad campaign to convince voters to vote “yes” in the Nov.20 referendum, yet the “no” side, entirely funded by grassroots volunteer time and money, is not even given equal space to advertise its “no” campaign. The City’s “yes” posters are plastered on every on-street pay parking kiosk and the City’s orchestrated “yes” message flashes on the sports arena’s ultra-bright display, but “no” posters (printed at volunteer expense) are to be restricted to the fifty officially sanctioned poles in the city.

For a conversation to make sense, it has to take place on a level field. This is not it. Therefore, it’s not a conversation.

Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.

Getting kicked out

November 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm | In just_so, social_networking, web | 1 Comment

I’m spending way too much time today trying to convince my browser that I’m not really supposed to be kicked out of various sites I’m logging (or already logged) into. It happened again and again on various sites today.

[Is there a disturbance in the force field, Luke?]

Tonight’s clincher: I had carefully planned my entry into the amazing Seth Godin‘s by-invite-only Triiibes site, selecting a photo of myself, exporting a small-format version to my desktop (where I’d be able to find it easily), and then clicking the “click to join” button on my coveted “Join me on Triiibes” invitation, which had arrived in my inbox earlier today.

I filled out all the fields, but then – poof! – the site rejected the brand-new password I had just created as “incorrect.”

Numerous unsuccessful retries later, I gave up (in?) and requested a new password (which seemed strange, since it had been my first, brand-new try at signing up to begin with). I then succeeded with the new password (via a new email), …but now I’m in some sort of purgatory. The webpage says: “Your membership to Triiibes is pending approval”… Whaa???

Ok, I’ll try this again tomorrow.

Right now, I’ll kick myself upstairs and relax with a book. The web may not perfect, but I am… 😉

Time for myself

November 1, 2010 at 8:18 pm | In just_so, writing | 2 Comments

Keeping up with my self-imposed goal of blogging daily got a little harder in recent weeks. If I’m brutally honest about it, I have to agree with organizing-and-time-management expert Julie Morgenstern‘s recent tweet, When you view time as slippery and elusive, you have problems managing your time. (I’ve relied on Morgenstern in the past, using her terrific SHED method to get at least a bit unstuck. Can’t believe that was last April, though: my house still needs more decluttering, especially if we want to move. But I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Back to how I view time: do I see it as slippery and elusive? And do I have problems managing it?

Yes and no, but mostly yes…

I don’t have a schedule (I’ve tried keeping one, albeit unsuccessfully). After years of home-schooling my kids (and therefore being liberated from a school timetable) and years of all of us working from home, my sense of time is tied to mental lists of what I should accomplish in a day or a week. In that sense it’s not completely elusive. But given how, for those home-schooling years, it was tied to goals that the children needed to set and achieve (versus personal or professional goals of my own), my sense of time is far from optimal if we’re talking about efficiently managing it.

My real problem is managing my time for myself. Even now, after a couple of years with both kids at university on their own, I still rely on my dog to tell me what has to be done every afternoon, regardless of the weather: walkies. I’m struggling with managing time for myself, and – because I was always extremely goal-oriented – I’m churning through stuff in a mad attempt to find my focus.

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