hold the whipped cream

I don’t drink coffee. I love the smell, but I just never started drinking it, so I never got the taste for it, and so it’s not a part of my life. The whole Starbucks fever of the last 20 years has been completely wasted on me. There’s even one in the building right next door to my apartment, which lots of people would see as a huge plus, location-wise, but for me it’s just something I walk around to get to Subway or the smoothie place. Too bad, looks like they have some comfy chairs in there.

But then I saw an article this week that got me a bit excited. Well really, it reminded me of this even better article from back in July, but where The Awl makes a better case, USA Today puts it nice and simply:

The Starbucks of the future arrived today.

If Starbucks executives have it figured out right, this could be the prototype for the next generation of stores for one of the world’s most influential brands.

A very different kind of Starbucks is on tap. It will serve regional wine and beer. It offers an expansive plate of locally made cheeses — served on china. The barista bar is rebuilt to seat customers up close to the coffee.

Most conspicuously, the place looks less like a Starbucks and more like a cafe that’s been part of the neighborhood for years — yet that’s “green” in design and decor. This is the calling card of independent java joints that have been eating and sipping away at Starbucks’ evening business for decades. U.S. Starbucks stores get 70% of business before 2 p.m.

As an admirer of what Starbucks has done from a brand standpoint — but only ever from afar as a non-coffee-guy — I love this for a couple of reasons. One, selfishly, I could end up with a potentially decent wine bar practically outside my door in the near future; and I’d finally have an excuse to go sit in one of those comfy chairs.

But professionally, I respect this move for its astuteness. Starbucks’ core competency, to get all B-school for a second, is coffee, no one would deny that. They made coffee in America what it is today. Their brand, however, isn’t just taste in that timeless Maxwell House “good to the last drop” kind of way. It’s taste in a curation sort of way. Starbucks introduces people to the wider world of coffee and educates them in why that matters. The exact service is something a huge swath of America could probably use when it comes to wine.

And they’re just as much about a comfortable place to enjoy the product as they are the product itself, which, hey, why not give coffee fans a reason to come back around at 6 and wind down in those aforementioned chairs? Or Starbucks gawkers like myself a chance at the warm feeling of having your local barista know your favorite drink when you drop by the neighborhood shop, even if that happens to be a dark red instead of a skinny cap?

That’s why I’m pulling for this to work, even though, as the earlier Awl article points out, there might even be a bigger benefit:

Here’s where I start to buy the corporate speak. They’re doing it because we need it. Because wine bars outside of wine country in America generally fall into two categories: terrible and privileged.

We’re not in northern Spain, and while a lot of our bars do an impressive job, we’re not the freewheeling, drink-wine-because-it’s-there society we could be. You get hackjobs and you get greatness, but there’s usually no wine “local” we all head to at 5:30 on a Tuesday.

Starbucks stands to change that. As you went from Folgers to fresh-brewed to macchiato to maybe even a working knowledge of “free trade” and “single origin,” we may someday be in position to make everyday wine a larger part of our patois. The sameness Starbucks will bring, much as it did with coffee, can be precisely its source of innovation.

So come on Starbucks. Make with the updates and warm up a lounger ’cause I’m dropping by and I want my wine and cheese. For America.

Posted: October 20th, 2010
at 11:30pm by briancollapsing

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procrastination versus saving it for later

Two interesting bits I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts on but, well, putting off for one reason or another. One was a splendidly comprehensive piece in The New Yorker about procrastination that’s worth a full read but especially good at this part, describing experiments around a phenomenon called ‘hyperbolic discounting’:

“A similar phenomenon is at work in an experiment run by a group including the economist George Loewenstein, in which people were asked to pick one movie to watch that night and one to watch at a later date. Not surprisingly, for the movie they wanted to watch immediately, people tended to pick lowbrow comedies and blockbusters, but when asked what movie they wanted to watch later they were more likely to pick serious, important films. The problem, of course, is that when the time comes to watch the serious movie, another frothy one will often seem more appealing. This is why Netflix queues are filled with movies that never get watched: our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.”

The lesson of these experiments is not that people are shortsighted or shallow but that their preferences aren’t consistent over time. We want to watch the Bergman masterpiece, to give ourselves enough time to write the report properly, to set aside money for retirement. But our desires shift as the long run becomes the short run.”

Not only did this hit home for me particularly (I’ve recently been reprising my personal “Mile and a Movie” challenge in which I walk or run at least a mile, and also watch a movie — preferably off my Netflix queue — every single day for a month), but I’d never seen the temptation to procrastinate so clearly outlined and labeled with a sciencey-sounding term.

We all like to think we’ll do grand things, make big changes, become better people, or even just do the things we should be doing already. But it’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and keep doing what we’re used to doing. It’s probably true of most people in their professional lives as well as the ho-hum day to day stuff.

I, the career-oriented planner, should be undertaking big juicy projects that will make me a lot smarter and better, but it’s easiest to just crank out quick Powerpoint slides as needed. Just as the people we’re trying to reach might really like to get involved in some big, juicy program or event or web experience we’ve put together for them, but it’s a lot easier to just check Facebook and watch football. (Which makes it seem not entirely unrelated — in that it’s a question of motivation, really — to Gladwell’s point about Twitter in the previous post).

But hey, not to say that I’m all lazy. Not only am I exercising AND catching up on serious classic films, I also take the time to tweet, tumbl, and blog; which may be slightly less juicy but does make me smarter and better, honest. It’s just that I can’t share the really juicy stuff on the web.

[side note: Would the opposite of ‘hyperbolic discounting’ by someone truly ambitious and motivated (ie myself, occasionally) be considered ‘meiosistic profiteering’, or ‘elliptical validating’?)

……….

On the other hand, there are times when putting things off is a good thing, in that saving them for later can make them easier to properly enjoy. Case in point, Instapaper, about which I’ve read a couple great articles recently and am thinking about investigating now that I have a Kindle. The idea of taking some of the best writing from online sources, many of which I skim through over a sandwich during a lunch at my desk, and being able to carry them offline to digest with fewer (digestion-related) distractions? Marvelous. I especially love this quote from its creator, Marco Arment, in Wired:

“People love information,” Arment said. “Right now in our society, we have an obesity epidemic. Because for the first time in history, we have access to food whenever we want, we don’t know how to control ourselves. I think we have the exact same problem with information.”

I’ve heard no better term for what the web can easily do to us — especially people whose job it is to ‘stay on top of what’s happening in culture’ — than information obesity.

It’s easy to load up on RSS feeds, whip through them at the beginning and end of every day, maybe tweet a few out into your social sphere, but there will always be something to be said for sitting down away from the screen to truly engage with ideas with some focus and depth.

Posted: October 12th, 2010
at 11:01pm by briancollapsing

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tweeting: the easy replacement for doing

who can resist a gladwell new yorker piece? i know i can’t. this latest, “small change: why the revolution will not be tweeted,” is about the vast difference between the twitterfied version of social change today and that of the last massive, watershed moment of real change, the civil rights movement:

““Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.

….

In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.”

and of course the social media advocates (read: people who make their living convincing others that the future will be fueled entirely by like buttons — and that theirs are the shiniest) are up in arms. i have to say though, i’m with gladwell on this one.

people are powerfully lazy. or at the very least, as jon stewart said himself about his upcoming “rally to restore sanity” (and i’m paraphrasing), “this is for the people who don’t normally go to the rallies full of crazy people, because we have shit to do.” what do people love even more than getting involved? feeling involved with the least possible expenditure of time and effort.

want lots of people to do something on behalf of your organization, cause, or brand? make it simple, fast, fun, and worth talking about. don’t ask me to give up my money, or even worse, my time; both are far too precious.

Posted: October 4th, 2010
at 11:21pm by briancollapsing

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sincerely yours

a wired piece from last week (“Sincerely Ours: Glee’s Success Cements Age of Geeky ‘New Sincerity'”) on how irony is dead, guilty pleasures are no longer guilty, and it’s now okay to be enthusiastic about just about anything. it concludes a historical and contextual analysis with the following thought:

“Overthrowing the ironists may lead to a dictatorship of neo-sincerists. However, in this new Age of Sincerity, there is hope that we can be sincere about the things we love and hate.

Love show choir? Fine. Hate comic books? It’s a free country.

If irony has taught us anything, it’s that nothing exists in a vacuum safe from mockery. But if geeking out has taught us anything, it’s that there are 101 ways to be a nerd. It’s time we embraced all of them.”

this, i think, is the key that opens it all up. it’s not that everything is good now that we once thought was bad; or that we’re past the point of joking at the expense of what we don’t like. it’s that people find good and bad in different things for different reasons, and they’re all valid in some way (except wayans brothers movies. those are definitely exempt and not at all okay to like).

these days, what’s really important to most who might judge us is that we have passion for something. baseball or battlestar or busby berkley, who cares, as long as you show enthusiasm and knowledge and can speak interestingly on some subject under the sun.

my only question is, how do kids today have any idea who to make friends with? i was magnetically drawn to the other geeks reading lord of the rings growing up, and shunned heartily by popular kids with sports team starter jackets, and everything was easy to decode. don’t tell me that now they all go around getting to know each other as individuals… do they? that sounds exhausting.

Posted: September 28th, 2010
at 10:35pm by briancollapsing

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millennials define, embarrass themselves

so now there’s a thing called millennials magazine, a blog with a mission statement to, in their words, “help us define ourselves.” a sort of “by us, for us” cyber-publication — if “us” is hopeful internet writers, it would seem. i read a few of their pieces and they did not convince me to read more.

of course, they’re young, and still getting their heads around things like clauses and the difference between essays and journal entries. nothing unforgivable — i’m sure anything i wrote at 22 was equally worth reading, in that it probably wasn’t.

being right on the cusp at the oldest end of the millennial span (or lowest of gen x, depending on which cutoff you go by), it’s hard to say which set of generational values i share more, and it’s with much amusement that i read investigative pieces on either age range and the unique challenges they think they face. but this new outlet is most interesting in that it exists at all.

it seems that no generation has been so fully defined and sold to marketers as a packaged idea than this one, who then in turn sell the idea of millennial-ness back to its constituents, who are apparently more than happy to accept it as a label for their special take on the world — as long as their special-ness is widely agreed upon.

was there a boomer magazine in the 60’s/70’s? a gen x one in the 80’s/90’s? these were terms applied from outside, not worn as badges, right? people were busier being interested in things like rock music (or civil rights) and defining themselves by those interests, not sitting down to brainstorm what it means to be part of a demographic.

that’s what’s so odd about this project, as well-intentioned as it may be. i’m sure it might help a few young writers practice, get better, get some attention, maybe get a writing gig at some point. but the surreal part is that this super-savvy generation is so fluent in the language of marketing, they’re self-applying it and even trying to help it along themselves as a project in self-discovery. they see the wild rush of everyone a few years older to ‘understand the millennials’, that they figure there must actually be a big truth there to uncover, and “by golly, shouldn’t we be the ones to solve the puzzle ourselves?”

but come now, we all know there’s no answer there. there’s not a code to crack or a consensus to be reached, just a bunch of young people trying to figure out how to be happy, just like anyone of any age. doing marketers’ job for them by ‘defining your generation’ comes off more as attention-baiting for media types than serious reflection. but hey, maybe that’s a sign that they really do have it all figured out, and are just playing the older crowd as saps?

Posted: September 27th, 2010
at 11:31pm by briancollapsing

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your package makes me happy


so, i got a new toy this week, which i’m sure i’ll have more thoughts on once i’ve had more time to fiddle with it.

but before any fiddling took place, there was that wonderful moment of making a somewhat major purchase and bringing it home to unbox. and as great as anything i’ve ever owned was to actually, you know, use, a lot of the ones that stand out are the ones that put a little care into that moment right before you even get to touch your pretty new thing. when a thing is well packaged, it feels more like opening a present.

with the kindle, not only was the container nice to look at, but there were these two little touches that made me smile before i even got into the thing. a barcode with a person reading against a tree, that age-old image of a book-lover’s dream moment; and next to it, an assurance that getting to my new toy would not be a hassle.

if the difference is made in the details, kindle had me on their side before i’d even flipped the power switch. now to get on to the whole reading business…

[side note: any kindle users have a reco for a killer, perfectly handsome and holdable case? i’d hate to go bareback for too long and end up sitting on the thing, leaving only the pretty box to enjoy.]

Posted: September 23rd, 2010
at 4:53pm by briancollapsing

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work tips from funny men

it’s no secret that i think jon stewart is one of the best people on tv, so naturally i quite enjoyed this NY magazine profile on him and his staff. a little ‘how the sausage gets made’ tour behind the scenes. (side note: NYmag puts out some amazing feature-length articles. i feel almost guilty that i’m tempted to subscribe, while i’ve never read an issue of LAmag… assuming there must be one, right?)

anyway, though the article deftly describes stewart and team’s approach to their uniquely whip-smart brand of comedy, there was an added little bit that got my attention as a person also in the ‘ideas’ business. not that i’m comparing what i do in either relevance or quality to what they do on the daily show, but still, they must have a pretty successful formula to put out such top notch stuff four nights a week most weeks of the year.

in rough terms, their process seems to be:
— get in early and get to work.
— get in a room with a lot of smart (and in this case, funny) people and toss things around, keeping the best stuff to dig into further.
— do your homework; or rather, have a team of people on hand to help with the details.
— as a corollary, don’t get buried in information yourself, because…
— things are getting rewritten right up until the last minute, and in the end you’ll know what works..
— and what doesn’t work. don’t be afraid to cut that part. go with your gut.

obviously it helps if you have incredibly smart, motivated people around you, but still, not a bad system. the main thing i’m missing is probably #3; maybe i should have got an intern after all…

Posted: September 20th, 2010
at 10:22pm by briancollapsing

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based on a ‘true’ story

i’m working on a review of sorts of the movie catfish, which we saw an early screening of a few weeks ago. well, not a review exactly, but some thoughts on how it’s been marketed, and how that effects the film itself. (will update here when it goes up.)

but between catfish coming out, all the buzz around the upcoming facebook movie and its relative veracity, plus the joaquin phoenix is-it-a-hoax-or-not hip hop documentary currently making festival rounds, we’re in a strange time for film. it seems to be that all at once, a bunch of people struggling for ideas on how to make an interesting movie came up with the same answer: playing with the idea of what’s real and what isn’t. but not in a usual suspects way, in which the doubt is all contained and resolved within the film. no, that’s been done already. now we’ve moved on into meta-narrative trickery to be provocative. it’s not enough to wonder what’s real or not within the film, but whether or not our reality as we understand it is really real.

the reasons for this may have something to do with the fact that at the end of the day, we like a good story even more than we like the truth. in a decade where the truth is always relative (political spin, marketing ubiquity, carefully managed internet image vs real self — it’s true, i’m actually a 14 year old girl), we’d rather see something that’s extrapolated and exaggerated into something interesting than something that’s accurate. plus, with this new twist of meta-controversy, we get to be part of the story by debating its “truthiness” after the fact.

would it be fair to say that we live in a post-truth era, where there’s nothing you can totally believe, so all we have left to hope for are tricks that are fun to participate in?

[quick footnote: i was very proud of coining that idea of “post-truth”, then googled and found it’s a book from several years ago. maybe i should read it instead of posing rhetorical questions on a blog.]

Posted: September 15th, 2010
at 11:53pm by briancollapsing

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even this remix is a remix

watched this video today, the first part in an ongoing series, which i’m interested enough to follow up on. it reminded me of another archaeological music study on one specific sample called ‘the amen break‘ that a coworker shared a few years back.

what i like about this clip though is that it seems to promise that in future episodes, it will explore more of the implications of the endless remixing of culture, which is what’s fascinating. is all culture just other culture mixed around, sometimes even blatantly, and are we okay with that? do we maybe even prefer it?

if so, i can stop trying so hard to come up with new ideas and just spend a lot more time surfing the internet for old ones to ‘remix’…

Posted: September 14th, 2010
at 9:08pm by briancollapsing

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did they factor in free donuts?

“While happiness increases along with annual household incomes up to about $75,000, beyond that, earning more money has no effect on day-to-day contentment, according to the study….

“This study is consistent with a lot of other studies on the relationship between income and happiness or overall life satisfaction,” Maddux [a psychology professor] said. “What other studies have also shown is that money matters up to a point. But after a certain point, having additional money doesn’t make people like their lives better or feel better about themselves on a day to day basis.”

the above news item has popped up in lots of places, so i couldn’t help but share a few thoughts:

— lots of places are falsely saying that the ideal amount of money to make is $75k, which is a gross misinterpretation. obviously more money not making you substantially happier is not the same as it making you less happy, or does that money suddenly lose its power to buy things, or even be given away to help others. i hate when science is skewed to make better headlines. come on new york times, you’re better than that.

— i bet these stats differ pretty greatly for people with lots of college debt. there are probably plenty of newly graduated law or med students who could be a lot happier even at 75k.

— the fact that the median income is 52k explains a lot in light of this study. we’re a nation of people not quite financially comfortable enough to chill out about dumb things like where people build mosques. nor are we able to stop worrying about paying bills long enough to focus on bigger problems like ending wars (or even voting, for gods’ sake).

— lastly, how many people will cite this article when asking for a raise this year? “sure boss, a raise to 68k would be very generous, but for just a few thousand more i could be at optimum happiness!”

Posted: September 9th, 2010
at 9:40pm by briancollapsing

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