Cafe Witness

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Cup of Tea with Wally the Green Monster

Last month, I filmed a promo video in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. The PR company I work with, Creative Concepts, organized a meet-up between Bigelow Tea's president, Cindi Bigelow, and Wally the Green Monster (aka the Red Sox mascot). The fruits of our labor -- which, off-camera, included evading all the public tours who were trying to swarm Wally -- can be seen at the Bigelow Tea blog.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Notes from the FCC Hearing on the Future of the Internet

If you couldn't be at yesterday's FCC hearing at Carnegie Mellon University, here's what you missed:

* Over 45 minutes of keynotes to open the hearing, in which all 5 commissioners + Representative Mike Doyle thanked each other for being there (repeatedly), then told the audience what we were all about to hear (also repeatedly). We spent so much time talking about what we were about to hear, I barely had time to hear anything at all.

* Internet pioneer and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban read from his laptop and told us that the future of the internet will be... 3-D?

* John Peha, a CMU professor, read from a Power Point presentation in which he raised numerous (legitimate) questions about fair competition, fair use and copyright infringement -- i.e., what happens when an ad for one cable company is embedded in a video streamed over a competing cable company's broadband? What's the difference between protecting one's brand and restricting user access to information?

* Mark Cavicchia (CEO of WhereverTV) spoke about the need to expand bandwidth limitations to allow for decreased restrictions on "capped limits" for broadband users. For example, under some proposed broadband service plans, you could expend your entire allotment of Gigabytes for the month just by downloading one (legal) movie file. That doesn't help anyone -- least of all the markets the film and internet industries are trying to establish.

* Nathan Martin from DeepLocal spoke at rapid speed about the regulatory issues constraining his company. Lots of good points, summed up with, "Why could we do "TASK X" 3 years ago, for free, and in a matter of days, whereas now it would cost us tens of thousands of dollars and take up to 6 months to be approved by regulatory commissions? You have the pipes; let me compete."

* David Eun from Google talked up the existence of YouTube as a repository for the most amazing educational content on the planet -- some valid points, but delivered in that kind of slow, belabored way that made me think he'd rather not be speaking on a panel.

And then it was 5:30 and I had to leave, even though the hearing would be stretching on until 8 o'clock. (Peripheral lesson learned? If the FCC can't even stick to a schedule when moderating a hearing, what else is the government unable to manage?) However, I was impressed with the rhetoric of the FCC commissioners themselves -- especially Commissioner Michael J. Copps, who (along with Rep. Doyle) gave me the best impression that the government is very aware of what's at stake in the internet's battle between private intellectual property, corporate interests and the public good.

Let's just hope they can solve these thorny problems in less time than it took to introduce these panels...

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

When Good Taglines Go Bad

One of my favorite corporate taglines comes from Rite Aid, whose receipts issue their coda: "With us, it's personal."

I'm sure this is a tagline that the corporate decision-makers looked at and said, "Now *there's* a message that lets the customer know we care about them." And maybe some people actually get that when they see this slogan. But for me, the stark bluntness of that statement comes across as something menacing; a vague threat that lets you know exactly where you stand, should you decide to create problems for them (like asking for a price check on that pack of gum).

With a little digging, I was able to unearth a few of Rite Aid's rejected taglines, including:

* "Rite Aid: We know what you did."

* "Rite Aid: Don't make me come down there."

* "Rite Aid: You think we're kidding?"

* "Rite Aid: We'll come for you in the night."

* "Rite Aid: Lock your doors."

* "Rite Aid: Revenge is a dish best served in aisle five."

* "Rite Aid: We fucked your mom."

The moral? When choosing a tagline for your business / website / screenplay / business card / missed connection on Craigslist, make sure you analyze it from all angles -- not just how you intend for it to be understood, but how others *could* understand it.

Also: don't shoplift at Rite Aid. They know people.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

Last night, I saw Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely at the Harris Theater. Afterward, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership offered free food and drink, intended to spark a post-film discussion among the strangers in attendance. (This is supposed to be a good thing.)

Unfortunately, strangers, bound solely by the shared experience of having just seen the same movie, have nothing else in common yet (that they know of). Result? Out comes the posturing, the pomposity and the need to impress one another with armchair film school dissections of "symbols" and "meaning." (I nearly choked on my stuffed grape leaf -- catered by the inimitable Affogato -- when someone posed the [rhetorical?] question: "Was the pastoral violated?")

In the end, I doubt any friendships were forged from this discussion, but I suspect more than a few people went home worrying, "Did everybody else think I was smart enough?"

Anatomy of a Conversation

When we're thrown together in a pseudo-social situation, the quaint tradition of "breaking the ice" often gives way to the more aggressive method of preening like alpha males / females, meant to establish a social hierarchy we can all understand (and find -- or reject -- our place in).

In every social situation, there seems to be at least one of the following:

* The conversation driver
* The friends of the conversation driver
* The people who WANT to be friends with the conversation driver
* The people who DISAGREE with the conversation driver
* The dropouts who eat the free food and make snide comments in the background

(Hint: this last group is almost always the most interesting group, due possibly to the fact that they're coincidentally the most impossible to actually meet.)

This conversation rarely has the opportunity to become inclusive because it automatically becomes a pitched battle between two (or more) speakers vying to establish that their opinion is the "right" one (at least for the duration of this situation).

If that's the case, why bother speaking at all, if the only reason to get involved is to try and out-shout the opposition? Wouldn't a lot more be accomplished -- and more bonds between conversationalists be created -- if we all agreed that the perfunctory building of these walls was a waste of time?

Your Comfortability Makes Me Uncomfortable

Not everyone is so eager to let their wall down. Some people enjoy that distance because it keeps them from getting too attached, or seeming like they're too interested, or too available. They need to impress others before they can take their wall down, and convince themselves that they have "the upper hand" in the conversation.

If you see this type of behavior encroaching on your social interactions, whether online or in person, why not try one of the following:

* Agree to Disagree. Table the contentious issue for the moment, and then actively find a point on which each side can agree. Knowing that each side's disagreement stems from a common starting point can reduce the sense of "The Other" that often fuels the need to establish conversational dominance, and instead replaces it with a simple curiosity about how each side arrived where it is now.

* Agree... For Now. Maybe you still disagree with the other person(s), but you're astute enough to realize that endlessly arguing about details isn't going to move the conversation forward to a deeper, more engaging state. So agree with the other side, for now. Admit that you may not have all the facts, or that the other person might (gasp) actually be "right." A concession isn't a defeat; it's simply a way to pause the invective, which can disarm a conversational "opponent" and provide an opportunity to move the conversation ahead to new topics.

(PS: If you temporarily agree with someone else, you owe it to yourself to follow up afterward and see if their argument actually does hold water. You may be surprised to find it does.)

* Volunteer to Be the Underdog. Often, contentious conversations are all about establishing a social pecking order. The other side doesn't even care if they're right or wrong, so much as they desire to be seen as the dominant voice in the conversation. In that case, let them be it. NOT needing to appear "perfect" can immediately nullify the race to build artifice, and win you some subconscious respect in the process. Suddenly, the race to build higher walls is replaced by the race to dig deeper moats, inviting more and more people to get closer, and closing the gap of The Other that makes getting to meet new people -- and caring about them -- so damn hard in the first place.

This doesn't mean you need to divulge a laundry list of All The Horrible Shit That's Ever Happened to You. No one loves a self-flagellator, but everyone appreciates a person who can honorably assess his/her own shortcomings, even as they're content in their strengths. That's called "being a real person," and it's a much better way to create a meaningful conversation than endless ideological pissing contests.

(And, for the record: no, the pastoral was not disturbed, because there was no pastoral in the first place. But Samantha Morton does one hell of a good American accent, and those stuffed grape leaves were fabulous. I would have mentioned that during the post-film discussion, but I was too busy eating the free food and making snide comments in the background.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,