Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Space of flows

In The Rise of the Network Society Castell's reports on the cancelling of the proposed World City Fair in Tokyo in 1997 when a Japanese TV comedian got elected as mayor on the sole issue of stoppping its construction.

For Castell's, "The local logic of civil society was catching up with, and contradicting, the global logic of international business."

He continues, "Thus, people do still live in places. But because function and power in our societies are organized in the space of flows, the structural domination of its logic essentially alters the meaning and dynamic of places. Experience, by being related to places, becomes abstracted from power, and meaning is increasingly separated from knowledge. There follows a structural schizophrenia between two spatial logics that threatens to break down communication channels in society. The dominant tendency toward a horizon of networked, ahistorical space of flows, aiming at imposing its logic over scattered, segmented places, increasingly unrelated to each other, less and less able to share cultural codes. Unless cultural, political, and physical bridges are deliberately built between these two forms of space, we may be heading toward life in parallel universes whose times cannot meet because they are warped into different dimensions of a social hyperspace." 458-459

Basically consciousness raising. And what does that entail? Harvey at the end of his book on Post-Modernity quotes Poggioli,

"...the present is valid only by virtue of the potentialities of the future, as the matrix of the future, insofar as it is the forge of history in continued metamorphosis, seen as a permanent spiritual revolution."
(R.Poggioli The Theory of the avant-garde 1968 pp73)

Spiritual revolution : consciousness : awareness

Sunday, 14 December 2008


In the final part of his book "The Condition of Postmodernity"
David Harvey quotes Jurgen Habermas:

"The new value placed on the transitory, the elusive and the ephemeral, the very celebration of dynamism, discloses a longing for an undefiled, immaculate and stable present."

Is that another way of reporting ataraxy?

Castells on value

"Value making, under informational capitalism, is essentially a product of the financial market. But to reach the financial market, and vie for higher value in it, firms, institutions, and individuals have to go through the hard labor of innovating, producing, managing, and inage-making in goods and services. ... The new economy brings information technology and the technology of information together in the creation of value out of our belief in the value we create." ( Castells The Rise of the Network Society pp160)

If we were to stop believing then what would happen? We would have an existential crisis. Hence the cyclical experience of the necessity to understand our belief structures and meaning if exisitence!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Webiography: has its time come?

This idea for a blog entry came about because of the UK Grocer magazine carried an article on 29th November this year mentioning "webnography" and suggesting that some fmcg companies were now starting to employ semioticians to analyse the whole signifier structure surrounding a company/brand/product.

This word and also, "webography" are creeping up on the zeitgeist radar. See the Google Zeitgeist entry for webography.

Webography is defined on Wikipedia as:
"...a list of websites that pertain to a given topic. A webography is much like a bibliography, but is limited to a collection of online resources rather than books and academic journals. Research has been conducted comparing them to traditional bibliographies."

Whilst Webnography is defined not by Wikipedia as they do not have a listing (!) but a useful review is suggested by FBI Innovation where they state:
"Webnography, which is also known as Online ethnography or Virtual ethnography, is a new development in the field of Ethnography. Online ethnography is an online research method which extends the traditional notions of field and ethnographic study from the observation of co-located, face-to-face interactions, to technologically mediated interactions in online networks and communities.

In doing so it challenges the traditional concept of a field site as a localized space and moves it into the direction of online or computer-mediated communications and interactions.

In Webnography researchers study e.g. online communal forms, including blogs, web-rings, chat, SMS, gamespaces, bulletin boards, and mailing lists."

I wonder if these are not too narrow a definition and actually it may worth considering this research in terms of a biography, especially when you consider the utility to marketeers of gathering information on the life and times of a company, brand or product. What is the biography of your brand? What is, was, the social capital of the brand and business? Where is the potential to add value in the near and medium term?

Through new media can the reporting of webnography research actually deliver something I would term a webiography? Something to deliver the authenticity of the experience of your brand/company/product; something more deeply embedded in the global everyday? Maybe in a few years time webiography might actually move toward just "biography of the business" as the new media becomes the everyday. All part and parcel of the growth and development of the web and organizations.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Simplicity of a single line

Great, the latest issue of Monocle is out now. Already the adverts have stopped me in my tracks.

Castell's (again!) had made mention of architecture in the Network Society:

"...the architecture that seems most charged with meaning in societies shaped by the logic of space of flows is what I call "the architecture of nudity." That is, architecture whose forms are so neutral, so pure, so diaphanous, that they do not pretend to say anything. And by not saying anything they confront the experience with the solitude of the space of flows. Its message is the silence."

He goes on to give examples including Barcelona airport....
"...the new Barcelona airport, designed by Bofill, simply combines beautiful marble floor, dark glass facade, and transparent glass separating panels in an immense, open space. No cover up of the fear and anxiety that people experience in an airport. No carpeting, no cozy rooms, no indirect lighting. In the middle of the cold beauty of this airport passengers have to face their terrible truth:they are alone, in the middle of the space of flows, they lose their connection, they are suspended in the emptiness of transition. They are, literally, in the hands of Iberia Airlines. And there is no escape."(pp449-453)

So to, "confront the experience of solitude" what is that essence that perfection that is being sort? Back to Monocle and thanks to Laurent-Perrier Champagne for drawing attention to the work of French artist Antoine Watteau with a quote from him:

"All my life I have sought the simplicity of a single line."

Whoa!! Yes.

And then the fine contributors of Wikipedia report that:
"in...[Watteau's] treatment of the landscape background and of the atmospheric surroundings of the figures can be found the germs of Impressionism".

So Steve Reich, "...the pioneer of minimalist music" informed Roxy Music who informed punk who informed etc. etc. How much further do we go before the subconscious drives, essences, beliefs actually become manifest? Exciting times ahead me thinks and feels.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Castell's Take Two

One of the big questions faced by users of digital technology is the debate between "virtual reality" and "reality". Such is the debate that it often seems that virtual reality is somehow considered a totally alien environment possibly to the extent of being somehow "evil". Castell's put forward quite a reasoned argument I thought on this subject and it is worth quoting in full.

The Culture of Real Virtuality
Cultures are made up of communication processes. And all forms of communication, as Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard taught us many years ago, are based on the production and consumption of signs. Thus there is no separation between "reality" and symbolic representation. In all societies humankind has existed in and acted through a symbolic environment. Therefore, what is historically specific to the new communication system, organized around the electronic integration of all communication modes from the typographic to the multisensorial, is not its inducement of virtual reality but the construction of real virtuality. I shall explain, with the help of the dictionary, according to which: "virtual:being so in practice though not strictly in name," and "real:actually existing." Thus reality, as experienced, has always been virtual because it is always perceived through symbols that frame practice with some meaning that escapes their strict semantic definition. It is precisely this ability of all forms of language to encode ambiguity and to open up a diversity of interpretations that makes cultural expressions distinct from formal/logical/mathematical reasoning. It is through the polysemic character of our discourses that the complexity and contradictory quality of messages of the human mind manifest themselves. This range of cultural variation of the meaning of messages is what enables us to interact with each other in a multiplicity of dimensions, some explicit, some implicit. Thus, when critics of electronic media argue that the new symbolic environment does not represent "reality," they implicitly refer to an absurdly primitive notion of "uncoded" real experience that never existed. All realities are communicated through symbols. and in human, interactive communication, regardless of the medium, all symbols are somewhat displaced in relation to their assigned semantic meaning. In a sense, all reality is virtually perceived." The Rise of the Network Society pp403-404

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Manuel Castells premonition?

Better late than never I get to read the 1996 publication from sociologist Manuel Castell's - this one the 2nd edition from 2000. Note the dates - there will be more to come from this book but it is worth quoting at the outset the following from Volume I:

"...the global economy was politically constituted. Restructuring of business firms, and new information technologies, while being at the source of globalising trends, could not have evolved by themselves, toward a networked, global economy without the policies of de-regulation, privatization, and liberalization of trade and investment. These policies were decided and enacted by governments around the world, and by international economic institutions. A political economy perspective is necessary to understand the triumph of markets over governments: governments themselves called for such a victory, in a historic death-wish. .....

Any individual decoupling from the global economy implies a staggering cost: the devastation of the economy in the short term [Iceland?] and the closing of access to sources of growth. ...Barring a catastrophic meltdown of the financial market, the process of globalization is set, and it accelerates over time." pp147

He did not believe it would happen but how prescient.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

An Englishman's view of Sweden

Andrew Brown wrote an interesting book on life as a British emigre to Sweden. for an outsider this is always an interesting read. Certain elements of a different culture always benefit from interpretation. You have to give Alan a pat on the proverbial back for a couple of lines in his book. the first one to some degree follows on from the previous posting when he writes on page 100 about, "...the geometric elegance of the curves." Ah! so its geometry I am seeking!

And back to page 14 he talks about, "...mornings by the lake, the whole world felt enamelled in perfection." Does that ever capture the imagination.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Finnish roundabout

Scampering further around Scandinavia we come to the Finnish city centre roundabout sign. Having seen the Swedish version (see below) where the sign is huge and the arrows cramped now its the converse. Small sign and huge arrows. Does this suggest the Finns and Swedes are different at some fundamental level - they would probably say so but we mustn't forget that plenty of Finns are of Swedish extract. These arrows really don't have enough room to breathe - is this a Helsinki thing? Because you would have thought with only 5 million Finns and all that wild country they might have felt freer!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Mexico Olympics revisited

This month the BBC broadcast a programme: Black Power Salute. The programme notes read:

"Film about one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, when the radical spirit of the Sixties upstaged the greatest sporting event in the world. Two men made a courageous gesture that reverberated around the world and changed their lives forever. There were a number of unforgettable performances at Mexico City Olympic Games and many world records were broken, but the enduring image from the 1968 Games was when African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved clenched fists in support of the Black Panther movement during the Star Spangled Banner, after receiving gold and bronze medals for the 200m sprint. They were subsequently banned from the Games for life. This documentary asks what inspired them to make their protest, why it carried such a powerful message and what happened to the unlikely revolutionaries following the Games."

This excellent programme will hopefully be replayed on other BBC channels in the near future.

The producers managed to capture the broad sweep of history which culminated in the black power salute in 1968 but also brought the story up to date. The San Jose State University, where the runners studied, unveiled a statue in 2005 in commemoration of the runners stand at the Olympics, but then you have to ask where was the Australian Peter Norman who came second?

My thinking was that the statue should really be complete as Peter Norman also participated in the protest by wearing a supportive badge, a group of black and white athletes fighting against discrimination. As ever a little knowledge is dangerous! Staff at the university have informed me that the second place has been left deliberately empty so that people can take their own stand and participate in this iconic image.

In the light of the recent fracas caused by Jesse Jackson's comment re Barack Obama, the statue clearly highlights how life moves on and new perspectives come into view. Even the "old style" Jesse Jackson protest ideology becomes outworn and is usurped by refreshed ideas. Have we gone beyond "them and us" and now we are all to be engaged?

For further on this is a recent "Communities Dominate Brands" blog:

Friday, 4 July 2008

British Grand Prix to Donnington Park by 2010

Just as the British Grand Prix arrives on the calendar we not only see the retirement at the end of the season of David Coulthard but also the loss of the Grand Prix at Silverstone to Donnington Park by 2010.

There are many things playing into this decision no doubt: financial, personalities and big business but did Silverstone lack the inner drive to raise the stakes? Just look at this dreadful logo for the circuit. Fine: red, white and blue, not unexpected. Jagged arrows in an attempt to portray dynamism but then the whole piece is orientated downwards to the right. With that emblem surely you were onto a loser from the outset of this rebranding?

Claiming to be one of the, "... most famous sporting venues in the world with years of experience in managing world-class motor racing events.", yes but perhaps not brand management - how far and how deep does brand management affect a business?

What of Donnington Park the hosts of the British Grand Prix from 2010? There are a couple of images to talk about. Firstly take a look at the World Superbikes logo for the circuit:
My doesn't this look familiar!! The blue is trying to rise to the occasion but is then hit hard by the over laying of the red splash which is not really going anywhere. Very uncomfortable.

You have to wonder though how the Donnington Park team of Simon Gillett and Lee Gill secured the British Grand Prix when their overall business logo is this boring retro lumpy thing!

I suppose if you have £100m in your back pocket for a revamp there will be money enough to refresh the dynamism of their brand identity.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Wayfinding in Prague

When you travel you have to find your way around a airport, train station, the city in general the road network. Land yourself in the heart of Prague and you might just go "What?". Try the street maps posted up in the street - ah result! On the key a big red arrow "You are here". Great thanks. But wait a minute the arrow is NOT transposed to the map so you are none the wiser. Then there is the Metro, very Moscow like, in that you have to be on the ball with which station you are at - announcements on the train are reasonably helpful but need to be repeated - especially as on arrival at the station, the station names are not readily visible.

But what space are the Czech's in when it comes to advertising displays on the escalators. In London you ride the escalator and can read the adverts horizontally. In Prague the adverts are set square to the incline of the escalator. What? See picture. Must be plenty of jobs for neck masseurs in the city.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


A week at Alimentaria in Barcelona. Lots of Iberian foodie types and modern building stuff.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Deduction, Induction and Abduction

Following on from the previous posts it is worth noting that some of the issues I struggle with over imagery are discussed in the realms of semiotics/semiology. A great collection of papers on Marketing and Semiotics was published in 1987 under the editorship of Jean Umiker-Sebeok. In a paper by Morris Holbrook he discusses the how, quoting Burnham "..."the artist realises that a standardized product is essentially a piece of language containing syntagm and system" so that "the intention is to tranform common objects into art" via a process wherein "the artist's genius is in recognising the totemised environment of brand products and mass media."

Is that where the "artistic" need arises for photographers to capture the essences of scenes? To give expression to what is seen AND felt?

He goes on to say that, "The understanding of such consumption-based artistic nuances involves a type of logic that Pierce [a American founding father of semiotics) called abduction. ....As described by Peirce, abduction follows a different logical process from the familiar deduction or induction. Briefly, given
1) a rule ( a law of nature or general truth drawn from experience),
2) a case (a presumption or hypothesis) , and
3) a result ( an observed fact)........

deduction draws an inference from 1) & 2) to 3)
induction from 2) & 3) to 1)
abduction from 1) & 3) to 2)

he then goes on to give Pierce's example about a bag of white beans [!]

Rule: All the beans from this bag are white
Case: These beans are from this bag
Therefore Result: These beans are white

Case: These beans are from this bag
Result: These beans are white
Therefore Rule: All the beans from this bag are white

Rule: All the beans from this bag are white
Result: These beans are white
Therefore Case These beans are from this bag

Marketing & Semiotics Jean Umiker-Sebeok 1987 pp 98-99

"the artist's genius is in recognising the totemised environment of brand products and mass media." Again is that where irreverent comedy gets its kicks?

South Somerset Homes bird sanctuary

Here's another one that I cannot but see a Kiwi bird every time this housing association's vehicles rush by. Slowly I begin to see the tree and the house but the red shouts to me first.

Fairtrade emblem

If I am not careful this is going to end up a blog of symbols, logo and signs but perhaps that's necessary.
So here's the Fairtrade logo that great image of a quirky looking parrot! Strange what your eyesight and mind can do. Oh no it's not it's a person set between sky and earth - I hadn't cottoned on to this till recently. Then Oli of OW consultancy pointed out it is actually some weird green and blue fishes. Logo's are so awkward and difficult to get right. If you look on Google images however you do tend to see the Fairtrade logo closely connected to the statement: "Guarantees a better deal for Third World producers" which in essence counter balances the pure imagery of the logo. And yet! Isn't Third World pace now? Time to change?

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Who designed this Swedish roadsign?

Across Europe graphic designers are employed making signs for people to follow. Some are comfortable to look at others, whilst others....... ouch. They feel uncomfortable.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Dorset coast in January!

Who could believe it was the end of January? Warm not cold, sunshine all along the coast and people drinking on the veranda at the Hive at Burton Bradstock.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Cheese and other things

This is the start of a new years resolution to investigate the use of a blog and the connections it can make. So from travelling the world selling cheese and living in the West Country of England hopefully there will be some interesting observations to follow up for fellow travellers in cyberspace.

Longyear 44? It's a diamond drilling rig.............