Real Fake

Job losses, national security fears and natural disasters can make the future seem bleak. Companies are manufacturing alternate realities that consumers can embrace, leaving the real world behind...for now.

Last Updated July 21, 2014

Is (Corporate) Twitter Real Life?

There is a place where Twitter, relational aesthetics and marketing meet: “[t]he thought of a traditional corporate entity, which has historically had no direct ‘voice,’ suddenly distilling itself into an eccentric, devil-may-care character is instantly affecting, precisely because of how uncanny, even creepy, it is.” Culturally-savvy Tweets like the Denny’s mashup parody masterpiece pictured here are produced by professionals striving for topical #relevancy and #value. Oreo’s 2013 Superbowl tweet – which would have been vastly more satisfying had it come during a blackout during an NBA final, IMO – and much of the #weirdtwitter universe represents the professionalization of a formerly private, person-bound medium. Whether this level of artifice makes Twitter any less real, however, is up to you.  

Read more at The New Inquiry.

Kickstarter and the $50,000 Potato Salad

Some days it seems like everybody has a Kickstarter, whether to fund an album, an invention, or a vacation. Last week, Columbus, OH resident Zach (Danger) Brown took a look around and said to himself, why not Kickstart a potato salad?  The world was ready. Funding took off like a rocket, even though Brown acknowledged in the post’s “Risks & Challenges” section “[i]t might not be very good. It’s my first potato salad.” The story went viral; with 17 days to go, and over $50k raised, the entire internets is invited to a potato salad party. The moral of the story may be that a sense of humor is underacknowledged as a business skill.  

There’s still time to fund the potato salad.

Believe It or Not, Climate Change is Real

The BBC made news itself last week, announcing that its editors and producers would stop giving “undue attention to marginal views.” The new prerogative? Use airtime to accurately establish “the weight of scientific agreement.” This move has big implications for climate change deniers, who were previously allowed equal time to espouse their opinion of reality, although 97% of climatologists worldwide agree human activity is responsible for weather shifts. The New York Times recently noted that “[p]eople who deny widely accepted findings on subjects like climate change are not necessarily ignorant of the science,” but knowledge and belief, unfortunately, remain two different things.

Read more at BBC News.

Feeling Really Emotional on Facebook Right Now

News from Facebook came from a surprising source last week: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Apparently, Facebook’s data researchers decided to see if they could intentionally “contaminate” social networks… emotionally. It’s complicated, but it turns out they can! By selectively seeding positive or negative News items, Facebook showed it could influence people’s posts and impact the emotional weather of their circles. The Onion’s AV Club reviews the news, and rightly concludes: duh, it’s Facebook. The world’s largest social network warns users loud and clear when they sign up that it can do as it pleases with the data we volunteer. So, is mucking with people’s emotions for fun and profit a step too far, or simply par for the course?

Read more at The AV Club.

Don’t Look Down

Distracted driving, especially the kind that comes from checking mobile devices, has reached epidemic proportions: among certain demographics (like teenage drivers in the US) it’s now a leading factor in serious traffic collisions. It’s also incredibly difficult to prevent, either through enforcement or persuasion. One glimmer of hope, though, recently appeared in the form of an ad aired by Volkswagen in Hong Kong movie theaters, which sends text messages to audience members while innocuous-seeming footage of first-person driving plays on the screen. Upon looking down at their smart devices, viewers are suddenly shocked to find the car has violently crashed, producing an unexpected link between two media that are normally entirely separate. By all accounts, it’s been far more effective than a typical video-only message, though as this kind of cross-platform play becomes more common (and it will), the next question is, for how long?

Autoblog has a summary and video of the ad, and Khoi Vinh suggests that this type of cross-platform media could be far more interesting than 3D.

Fool Me Once

People have been fascinated with artificial intelligence for a long time – golems, Frankenstein and Big Blue are all steps in our ongoing quest to create something intellectually equal to ourselves. The field of AI crossed a milestone of sorts last week, when software created by a team of Russian computer scientists passed the Turing test. To do that, their program convinced one out of three human judges that they were exchanging text-based messages with a 13 year-old boy. So not Skynet, in other words, but a pretty smart chat-bot all the same. Detractors have criticized the test, because the computer was allowed a handicap: judges were told their interlocutor spoke English only as a second language. The real question about the Turing might be are we testing human gullibility or computer intelligence?

Read the actor Robert Llewellyn’s account of what it was like to be one of the judges (although he’s coy about whether he was the one who was fooled) at Gizmodo. (Image courtesy XKCD.)

On These Pixels I Solemnly Swear

The news and blogosphere lit up last week when a US Ambassador was sworn in for the first time with one hand on an Amazon Kindle depicting the US Constitution. The ceremony, which installed Suzy LeVine as ambassador to Switzerland, has been hailed as evidence that eBooks and the devices depicting them have entered mainstream acceptance, and another blow to paper and physical books as indispensable media. It’s not the first time a US official has placed their hand on a digital device (New Jersey swore in some firefighters in February on an iPad), but it does raise the question of why putting your hand on a stack of paper became such a necessary part of oath-swearing the first place. As marks on a screen become intellectually equivalent to marks on paper, what other documents are waiting to lose their physical form?

The Washington Post has the brief story, and images.

Otherworldly Terrain, Automated

Computer-generated scenery dominates today’s fantasy and science fiction for good reasons: it’s cheaper than on-location photography, and endlessly malleable in ways the real world can never be. But CG’s not free, and it doesn’t generate itself. The pixel-pushing that’s involved isn’t much fun, needless to say, so developer Hunter Loftis decided to automate it: his 130-line fractal algorithm cranks out endless, non-repetitive landscapes that look…good enough. “In this case, instead of spending mind-numbing hours manually creating what would likely be pretty lame rocky surfaces, we'll get spiritual and teach the computer what it means to be a rock.” Giving a computer the means to ‘think up’ patently fake landscapes, in other words, yields more realistic results than doing it the hard way.  

See the code and read more at Playfuljs.

Signs from the Near Future

A commonly repeated rule of thumb is that we tend to overestimate the impact of technology on our lives in the near future, but underestimate it in the long run. Designer Fernando Barbella attempts to bring the long run into sharp relief with a series of simulated warning signs, depicting how everyday life might look once drones, synthetic meat and driverless cars are commonplace. As a piece of clever image manipulation, it merits a look and a knowing laugh; as a cautionary tale, it might be worth a bit more.

The Verge has a short gallery of Barbella’s work, or check out his Tumblr for more recent warnings.

On Conveying a Sense of Connectedness

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many could an object count for? Design professor Rebekah Modrak thinks we can use stuff to critique other stuff, and made a painstaking satirical video some time ago to show us all how. Her (fake) Re Made American Master Plunger calls out Mark Buchanan Smith’s “real” Best Made products for their preciousness, sanctimony and have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude to contemporary life. Is an axe still an axe if it’s a fetish object, or a work of art? Modrak thinks Best Made’s actual branding reads like a parody… what does a $188 Indigo-dyed Japanese Work Shirt have to do with its blue-collar roots, really?  


Rob Walker has more at Design Observer; the long interview at Mark Maynard’s blog is worth a read, too.