Cheat absolution, crash kittens, why digital restraining orders aren’t far away, how the alternative to the alternative is doing, and what parachute pants have to do with Silicon Valley. Welcome to the Gags, Drags and Other Oddities issue.
By Maria Popova
We’re all for eco-sensibility (and we were long before the whole greenwashing bandwagon rolled into town.) And ethical judgment of motives aside (did someone say corporate PR?), it’s a good thing for all of us little ants because, well, we’ve only got one anthill. But as great as the idea of damage control via carbon offsetting may be, we can’t deny there’s something sketchy about it. It’s just too weird a cross between corruption, the Catholic church’s confession- absolution model, and those miracle pills from the late-night infomercials that promise to help you lose 30 pounds in a week with no diet and exercise.
So we kinda dig CheatNeutral, an innovative British project promising cheat offsetting for the chronic dabblers in infidelity and cash rewards for the faithful folks. They claim to have come up with a market-based solution to a natural part of most modern human relationships: cheating and jealously. The back-end is simple: you cheat on your apparently-not-all-that-significant other, then pay a small amount of money to CheatNeutral, who then invest the money in a faithful couple and — voila! — your little indiscretion has been karmically offset. Too good to be true? Just check out their real-life success stories.
Okay, so it’s a gag. Get with it, son. But it’s a gag with a solid point: it’s so much better to be eco-conscious in our daily lives than it is to crap all over the planet and then try to clean it up. Or, like our mother likes to say, “Just keep your room clean and you won’t have to whine about having to clean it, you thoughtless little pig!” Wait, that last part was actually Alec Baldwin. Never mind.
It’s been a while since we came across an artist’s summation of his or her own work so succinct and honest it just, well, says it all. Which is why we dig CrashBonsai and its creator John Rooney, a self-described “artist torn between the desire to create and destroy.” Not a hard concept to relate to, we admit.
The miniature fender-benders are sculptural mash-ups of home-grown bonsai plants and vintage car models, each uniquely disassembled, cut, melted, filed, banged up, and then reassembled to portray a “living crash site.”
The quirky collision sculptures are available for sale in select Boston-area stores. And if you find yourself confined to the other 99.9% of the world, you can always check out the gallery or buy his awesome crashed cars and make your own bonsai. Just stay away from kittens. (Chill out, that was all a hoax.)
Ah, the paradox of choice — the online world is like a wonderland that lets you go anywhere, but which little door to enter? It can get overwhelming, especially under the pressure of knowing all your friends are out there doing their thing. All the time. All over the place. So it would be kinda nifty to keep track of your buddies’ Flickr and Picasa postings, Pandora and Last.fm cravings, Facebook and MySpace updates, YouTube uploads, LinkedIn connections, Digg finds, Twitter blurbs and more — all in one place.
Well, it now is. Thanks to Spokeo, a brand new service that lets you keep track of your friends’ updates across a ton of (32, to be exact) digital hangouts. It’s kinda similar to Google Reader or another RSS aggregator — it pulls only the updated content from your friends’ web dwellings so that you don’t have to go on each of those websites, then look for what exactly your friends have changed since last time you checked.
You’ve got three super-simple options to track friends: by address book (just type in your Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail email and Spokeo will pull all your contacts’ public content online), by friend email (type in a friend’s email and see what they’re up to online), or by social network (just login to your key social net and Spokeo will keep you posted on how your friends there are doing.)
Spokeo may be a nifty time-saver for the web-glued generation. But it also has the potential to be a smart platform for behavioral targeting or, at the very least, a powerful upgrade to the sociological study that is the social graph. It’s only a matter of time until marketers, academia, or both devour this approach to better understand how people interact, connect and consume information across the entirety of the social web.
It’s funny how we still refer to non-TV watching of TV programming as “alternative viewing” — it’s mostly funny because TV itself is becoming the “alternative” to “alternative devices.” According to the latest numbers from The ChoiceStream 2007 Survey of Viewer Trends in TV and Online Video, more than 55% of Internet users who watch regular TV also watch TV content on their computers, mobile devices and mp3 players — especially the younger folks (66%), although the older ones also sport a not-bad-for-geezers 36% rate.
Some more findings from the study:
- The trend is expected to grow — 20% of respondents expect to watch even more on alternative devices, mostly displacing from their traditional TV watching time
- Surprisingly, 23% watch the commercials even if they’re tuning into a TiVo-ed programming, with the most popular commercials to watch being those found to be educational (36%) and entertaining (34%)
- A good 42% of folks are willing to watch even more commercials if that meant a lower-priced subscription package
- 65% of those cross-watching on alternative devices watch professionally-produced content
- 39% watch user-generated stuff
- The computer is the most popular “alternative device” (66% vs. 6% for each mobile and mp3 players) and it seems to be a favorite among heavy users: 33% of those who watch on their computers admit they do it for more than 4 hours a week
- A key frustration with getting entertainment online seems to be how long it takes to find quality stuff — but even more people find channel-surfing for good TV just as frustrating
- Although browsing sites is the main way people find content online (56%), we hate beating on the same drum but word-of-mouth is a formidable force, driving some 32% of content finds (via family and friend recommendations) and pretty much tying with search engines (33%) — how’s that for the underdog tying with the champs?
And here’s the kicker: another, much larger-scale study (by Simmons) found that when people watch TV shows online, they’re 25% more engaged with the show’s content than when watching the traditional way and — get this — 47% more engaged with the advertising accompanying the show. And, really, without the engagement metric all those other numbers on who watches what where are as relevant as a bikini store in Alaska.
Seems like everyone wants to shake it like a Polaroid picture these days. Yep, dance is a budding mainstream trend, the “it” cultural commodity. It’s popping up everywhere. First we got DDR (that’s Dance Dance Revolution, for those with no nerdy-hip friends) — the video game that first popped up in Japanese game parlors in 1998, then caught on like an international wildfire with over 4 million copies sold in the US alone where it’s showing up anywhere from college parties to family living rooms to anti-obesity school programs. Then came all those TV reality shows that started off between questionable and laughable, then sucked in audiences by the millions. Then YouTube kicked it up a notch with the most-viewed video of all times: Evolution of Dance. And the ever- present underground dance subcultures are starting to emerge in the mainstream.
But nothing says this-is-where-the- money’s-at like serious interest and financial investment from a celebrity- turned-Silicon-Valley-entrepreneur. Yep, the parachute-pants-wearing man behind one of the most danced-to songs of all times is starting a new venture for uploading and sharing dance videos. That’s right, MC Hammer, who’s been known to indulge his passion for all things digital by lurking in the offices of Apple and other tech companies, is launching DanceJam — a niche haven for the dance-minded, if today’s millions of dance passionistas can be considered a niche.
Stereotypes of Asian boyband-wannabes aside, take our word for it: dance is going to be big. And everyone and their mother will wanna touch this.