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Think, Or Don’t

Finish genius, transcripts from your overbearing mother’s brain, more Finnish genius, how to deal with existential ponderings and hangover all at the same time, and what murals have to do with gangrene. Welcome to the Think, Or Don’t issue.

KILLER INNOVATION FROM THE OLD WORLD

Marko Ahtisaari. You may not be able to pronounce his name, but you’d better remember it. Because this fine Finn is revolutionizing the mobile industry. He’s a true visionary, if there ever was one.

Ahtisaari got an Ivy League start at Columbia, where he studied, then lectured on, philosophy, music and economics — quite the perfect ingredients for a cultural and technological revolution recipe. He lived for a while as a composer and a bassist, then started designing mobile applications long before the world had headsets glued to their ears. In 2002, he headed design strategy for Nokia.

So why do we care? Today? Because Marko Ahtisaari is also the founder of Blyk, a strikingly innovative mobile network that just launched in the UK. What’s so special about Blyk is that it’s only available to 16-to-24-year-olds (although you can stay on as you age once you join) and is funded entirely by advertising.

And not just any advertising — only stuff kids actually care about. When you register with Blyk, you build a profile of your interests — be they fashion or film or sports or music or gerbils. Then the only commercial messages you get (no more than 6 a day) are cutting-edge stuff and exclusive offers from relevant brands. So it seems like Blyk is trekking some Conversationality territory with its ad model: they use “dialogue ads,” in which a brand (say, L’Oreal) sends the user an interactive message (say, an image-based “Which celebrity are you most like?”quizlet), to which the user responds with a quick text (say, answer B for Heidi Klum), then the brand follows up with a final product recommendation message (say, “Then our Spiced Cranberry lipgloss is a great match for you.”)

On top of the clear brand benefits, dialogue ads also improve your user experience — the more Blyk learns about you as you interact with messaging, the better and more relevant it gets.

The exclusivity factor doesn’t hurt, either — Blyk has the early-day-Gmail invitation-only model, which automatically lends it the credibility of friend-to-friend recommendation and the desirability of something with a tease of a supply/demand ratio. And the no-contract thing seems perfect for the fickle demo — you can try it out and if (for some inconceivable reason) prefer a bill, you can switch to a different service. But even if you use up the 273 free texts and 43 free minutes, Blyk becomes a pay-as-you-go plan and is still the cheapest mobile operator in the UK.

Ahtisaari describes Blyk as having “the muscle and the bone of a mobile operator but the ethos and the soul of a media company.” And he nails it — Blyk delivers on the consumer end (how’s that free phone service?) and the advertiser end (how’s that direct access to willing members of the most elusive market?), concocting something that’s part new media, part behavioral targeting, part back-to-basics smart marketing.

SELF-HELP ON SELF-DAMAGE

Leave WebMD and self-help books to the hypochondriacs and the, um, victory- challenged. How about some morbid snark that, between the mocumentary exploration of a fantasy hypochondriac’s world and the encyclopedia of the world’s hardly-credible worst maladies, manages to sneak in some actually smart, functional health advice?

Then check out 192 pages of it in The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. We dig their prescription — after all, the healthiest approach to health may just be not thinking about it too seriously. Do it any other way, and the worrying alone can kill you.

This jewel is part of California design company Knock Knock‘s Self-Hurt series, rubbing ailed shoulders with manuals on traumatizing your children, getting in debt, procrastinating, and driving like a maniac.

We swear we didn’t contribute to any of them.

GLOCAL CULTURE

kiosk |ˈkēˌäsk|: a small open-fronted hut or cubicle from which newspapers, refreshments, tickets, etc., are sold.

Kiosks are also one of the best parts about traveling abroad. Tucked in the street corners of Brazil, sprawled on the market walks of Turkey, lined up on the organized sidewalks of Sweden, kiosks are where you find all those material mementos, big or small, that bring the just-traveled cultured to your worldly home.

KIOSK is also the web incarnation of the eponymous SoHo brick-and-mortar store that sells unobjectionably cool objects from across the globe.

These cultured folks travel the world, then build globally-local collections of anonymous objects from different countries. Each country gets a 4-to-6-month run on the online store, where select products from that foreign land not otherwise sold in the US can be found. KIOSK aims to gather things “by not one personality but things that are the result of local aesthetics and needs.” But once something’s gone, it’s gone — so grab those Finnish gymnastics shoes before some other hobo-hipster does.

The current collection hails from Finland. (We swear, this week’s overdose of the world’s sixth happiest nation is a mere coincidence and not a reflection of some odd Finnish fetish.) You can also catch up with the ongoing collection of countries past. And check out their blog, where they reveal we have a shared love for GOOD Magazine.

And if you’re lacking, or slacking, on your thoughtful and creative holiday gift shopping, do turn to KIOSK’s 2007 gift sets. Or at least fire up those hint-dropping skills and tell the givers you’re expecting from that you’re eyeing the stuff.

FOOD FOR ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT

Whoever thought the ultimate unhappy ending could ever be amusing. Seems like the guys behind the Blue Ball Machine did. Nope, it’s not world’s most mischievous android tease. It’s something the purpose of which is not quite clear, but something indulgently vertigo-inducing without the aid of controlled substances — and that’s gotta count for something.

Watch the little balls waltz across their factory dancefloor to the sound of an electro-classical circus mind-driller.

blueball1.png

And oh how many ways there are to enjoy the Blue Ball Machine. You could somberly reflect on your own destiny as a tiny blue ball in the well-oiled machine that is society. You could ponder the existential purpose of the little spheres’ perpeto-mobilesque journey. Or you could stare blankly at the screen for 4 underslept, hung-over hours.

We don’t judge.

STREET PICKINGS

If you’ve been in Philly for longer than an hour, chances are you’ve noticed the numerous murals — old, new, mosaic, painted, pseudo-graffitied — glaring from the facades of the cityscape.

Intended to lift our communal spirits, inspire a sense of pride and glory, or do God (the mayor?) knows what, they’re often ironically lurking from the walls of the grimmest blocks like silk-woven bandages on a gangrened limb. We couldn’t help seeing the inspiration/desperation contrast between this particularly glorious mural from several decades ago and the homeless woman sleeping on the cold sidewalk beneath it one chilling winter morning.

inspirationvsdesperation.jpg

So if the mayor would spend less (time, funding, attention) on trying to make the already fortunate feel better and more on helping the less fortunate get better, then maybe one day we’ll have streets less artificially glorious and more comfortingly comfortable.


Published December 7, 2007

https://www.brainpickings.org/2007/12/07/think-or-dont/

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