Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Science and Scientology of Sponsored Content

So, Alfred Korzybski published his magnum opus on general semantics in 1933 under the title of Science and Sanity,  because he believed that scientific method gives us our best understanding of the world, our most accurate maps, as it were, of a territory that we can only really know indirectly. As a scientific approach to mental health, education, and social, political, economic, and ethical progress, general semantics caught the imagination of many science fiction writers, among them Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and A. E. van Vogt.  As a form of quasi-therapy, general semantics influenced a number of significant therapists, including Albert Ellis, Fritz Perls, and Albert Bandler of Neuro-Linguistic Programming fame.

Another well known figure who credited Korzybski and general semantics with having had an important impact on his thinking was L. Ron Hubbard.  Understandably, many individuals associated with general semantics do not want to be associated with Hubbard, or have general semantics be connected to him in any way. And arguably, whatever Hubbard took from Korzybski he didn't use in a way that Korzybski intended or would have approved of.

But Hubbard was, early on, a science fiction writer. I haven't read his books, I must confess, but I did see the one movie that was made based on his work. It wasn't very good, but John Travolta was quite amusing, unintentionally of course, as an alien:

Now that's what I call Saturday Night Fever!

Anyway, Hubbard eventually shifted his focus from fiction to psychotherapy (well, some say he never shifted his focus away from fiction, but that's another matter). That's when he came up with his own brand of therapy, called Dianetics. That link will take you over to the Wikipedia entry, where it says:

When Hubbard formulated Dianetics, he described it as "a mix of Western technology and Oriental philosophy". He said that Dianetics "forms a bridge between" cybernetics and General Semantics (a set of ideas about education originated by Alfred Korzybski, which received much attention in the science fiction world in the 1940s)—a claim denied by scholars of General Semantics, including S. I. Hayakawa, who expressed strong criticism of Dianetics as early as 1951.

Be that as it may, after coming up with his Dianetics, Hubbard went on to create Scientology, and note the link here between Science and Sanity, science fiction, and Scientology as a belief system. And as you no doubt know, Hubbard established Scientology as a religion, founding the Church of Scientology in 1953. It's a religion that has been embraced by a number of celebrities, and quoting now from the Wikipedia entry on the Church, here's the section on celebrities:

Hubbard envisaged that celebrities would have a key role to play in the dissemination of Scientology, and in 1955 launched Project Celebrity, creating a list of 63 famous people that he asked his followers to target for conversion to Scientology. Former silent-screen star Gloria Swanson and jazz pianist Dave Brubeck were among the earliest celebrities attracted to Hubbard's teachings.

Today, Scientology operates eight churches that are designated Celebrity Centers, the largest of these being the one in Hollywood. Celebrity Centers are open to the general public, but are primarily designed to minister to celebrity Scientologists. Entertainers such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, Nancy Cartwright, Jason Lee, Isaac Hayes, Edgar Winter, Tom Cruise, Chick Corea and Leah Remini have generated considerable publicity for Scientology.

Now I don't know about you, but I was a bit surprised when, while watching the Superbowl a few weeks ago, this commercial popped up:

According to a piece by Cavan Sieczkowski in the Huffington Post entitled Church Of Scientology Super Bowl Ad Raises Eyebrows, the Church did not actually buy a Superbowl ad, the most expensive of all possible commercial placements. A small portion of advertising time is reserved for the local and regional stations running the Superbowl network feed, and the Church bought time on the stations in a few major markets, including New York and Los Angeles, a much cheaper proposition, but one that gave the impression that they were willing and able to afford the highest advertising rates in the universe. Sieczkowski goes on to relate the following:

This is the second time in recent weeks a Scientology ad has broken into the mainstream media.

In mid-January, the Atlantic published promotional, sponsored content by the Church of Scientology detailing how the church's “ecclesiastical leader,” David Miscavige, had led it to its best year yet. The advertorial package was denounced by readers, and the Atlantic promptly removed the post after receiving a wave of backlash. 

 And this brings me to the point that got me onto this topic in the first place. In a story over on gawker.com, with a headline of The Atlantic Is Now Publishing Bizarre, Blatant Scientology Propaganda as ‘Sponsored Content’, Taylor Berman wrote

The Atlantic –- the one time publisher of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton –- is now publishing Scientology propaganda. The "sponsored content", bought and paid for by the Church of Scientology, went up Monday around noon and features all sorts of breathless praise for Scientology and its alleged growth last year.
The post—an example of the kind of advertising many publishers are turning to as display ad revenue stagnates—is basically one long tribute to David Miscavige, the "ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion":

 And here, Berman provides a quote from the sponsored article in The Atlantic:

Mr. Miscavige is unrelenting in his work for millions of parishioners and the cities served by Scientology Churches. He has led a renaissance for the religion itself, while driving worldwide programs to serve communities through Church-sponsored social and humanitarian initiatives.

Berman goes on to note that the article focues "on Miscavige's plans to expand the religion's already existing churches" and adds another quote from The Atlantic:

David Miscavige spearheaded a program to build every Church of Scientology into what Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard termed "Ideal Organizations" (Ideal Orgs). This new breed of Church is ideal in location, design, quality of religious services and social betterment programs. Each is uniquely configured to accommodate the full array of Scientology services for both parishioners and the surrounding community. Ideal Orgs further house extensive public information multimedia displays that introduce every facet of Dianetics and Scientology, along with libraries, course and seminar rooms for an introduction to and study of Scientology Scripture. Chapels serve to host Sunday Services and other congregational gatherings.

It is from these Ideal Churches that Scientologists extend their humanitarian programs to mitigate intolerance, illiteracy, immorality and drug abuse.
And Berman then adds

The post then lists the "unprecedented 12 Ideal Scientology Churches" built around the world last year, including locations in Germany, California, Italy and Israel, with accompanying pictures of each opening's celebration.

And let's not forget the comments. Of the 17 comments posted as of this writing, 11 are so pro-Scientology they read as though they're an extension of the original post. A bold, proud day for The Atlantic and its fine history of journalistic excellence.

Well, it is not surprising that The Atlantic removed the piece, given this sort of scathing criticism. Berman's critique ends with the following update:

The Atlantic took down the post, writing: "We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads."

In a story that appeared in Business Insider, Jim Edwards explains

A lot of magazines sell sponsored content to advertisers. (Business Insider has several sponsored content series running right now, for instance.) The usual rule is that such stories must be clearly labeled so that readers can see whether editorial may have been influenced by advertisers. Normally, however, both the publisher and the advertiser try to make the content credible or useful in some way, because readers can spot blatant propaganda a mile away -- and that's of no use to anyone.

Blatant propaganda, however, is exactly what The Atlantic appears to have published. The article, titled "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year," was an encomium to the the "ecclesiastical" leader of the church and his many accomplishments (which mostly include buying old buildings and turning them into new churches, according to the article).

The Atlantic is a highbrow magazine known for it famous writers and agenda-shaping journalism. This, decidedly, was not it.
So now for the good part. A journalist by the name of Mike Daly writes for an online news site by the name of Adotas, described as where interactive advertising begins, and Mike's bio goes like this:

Mike Daly is an award-winning writer and editor with nearly 30 years of experience in publishing. He began his career in 1983 at The News of Paterson, N.J., a long-since defunct daily paper, where at age 22 he was promoted to the position of Editorial Page Editor. Since then he has served in managerial capacities with several news organizations, including Arts Weekly Inc. and North Jersey Media Group in New Jersey and Examiner Media in New York. His work has been honored on numerous occasions by the New Jersey Press Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
So he's the real deal.  And Daly does a feature on Adotas called Today's Burning Question, and on January 18th the burning question was, "What can be learned from The Atlantic’s Scientology Sponsored Story debacle?" He then collects answers from industry contacts, which in this case includes

  • Ari Brandt, CEO of MediaBrix 
  • Dave Martin, SVP, Media at Ignited 
  • Ari Jacoby, CEO of Solve Media 
  • Richard Spalding, CEO, The 7th Chamber 
  • Laney Whitcanack, EVP of Conversational Marketing at Federated Media Publishing 
  • David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision, LLC 
  • and me

And if you want to read all of the replies, especially of these other folks, by all means, go check it out over at Adotas, under the heading of Today’s Burning Question: The Atlantic’s Sponsored Scientology Story Debacle.  But for my quote alone, well, you know it's gotta make an appearance here on Blog Time Passing:

“The Atlantic’s embarrassed retraction of sponsored content serves as a reminder that the established ways of doing business for traditional media industries are no longer working. When print media dominated, it was easy to specialize and compartmentalize content and operations, leading to the journalistic ideal of strict separation between advertising and news, and more generally between financial considerations and editorial judgment, often invoked metaphorically as “church and state”. The public relations industry sought to scale the walls by providing ready-made content for news media, for example in the form of press releases, but this content was typically offered free of charge and taken up by news media free of charge. For this reason, public relations professionals were previously viewed with great suspicion by journalists and advertisers alike, but today emerge as having superior ethics overall than many news and advertising professionals. As electronic media came to dominate the culture, beginning with broadcasting, but more fully with the Internet, we’ve seen the boundaries between different types of content blurring in many different areas, such as docudrama, edutainment, infomercials, advertorials, and product placement in motion pictures and television programming. And online, the boundaries grow even fuzzier, as it is often not clear whether the source of a particular blog or YouTube video is a private individual, organization, or business. Digital technologies have presented new challenges to advertising that have led to efforts to break out of the compartment of a labeled advertisement, as it becomes easier and easier for audiences to ignore that type of content, while the same technologies have severely undermined the business model of periodicals such as The Atlantic, so both of these traditional media industries are struggling financially, and sponsored content must seem like a marriage made in heaven. What they failed to take into account is that in the electronic media environment, there are intrinsic values that differ from those of the print media environment. Print media favored content, facts, logical structure and organization. Electronic media favor transparency, honesty, self-disclosure, and a sense of genuineness in the presentation of real personality and appearance. Much of what is valued in the electronic media environment was missing in the way that The Atlantic presented Scientology’s sponsored content, and so the content and the sources were immediately rejected and ridiculed by audiences, and this can have a negative effect on the reputations of the magazine, and possibly the sponsor as well.” — Dr. Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies and Director of the Professional Studies in New Media program at Fordham University.

Now, that is rather long winded, I must admit, and it is the longest of the responses. How it stacks up to the others I leave up to you to judge. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the science of sponsored content has a long way to go yet before it reaches a state of sanity, and that the new media environment is very unforgiving of maps that mislead us about the territory they are supposed to represent.

Monday, February 4, 2013

An i for an Eye

I have been fascinated with the development of augmented reality technology (see, for example, my previous post, The New Hyperreality ), and believe that it will play an increasingly more important role for the future of new media. Here's a video from a news report that I haven't included in any previous post. It's a few years old now, but gets across the basic idea:

And yes, I agree with this report, it seems quite clear to me that hands-free is the most effective mode for using AR, rather than looking through your cell phone's camera, just as we tend to favor bluetooth headphones or ear pieces over holding the phone up to your ear. So this suggests AR goggles will be very big at some point in the near future. Now, here is Nokia's projection of a future development of a hand's free visual display, Nokia future vision:

The eyewear is a substitute for a screen in this instance, as opposed to at true form of AR where the actual world we're looking at is augmented by electronic data. A more complete picture is presented in Google's vision for the future, called Project Glass: One Day...:

And here's the write-up  on it:

We believe technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don't.

A team within our Google[x] group started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.

Follow along with us at http://g.co/projectglass as we share some of our ideas and stories. We'd love to hear yours, too. What would you like to see from Project Glass?

Now here's one of their follow-up videos, Project Glass: Skydiving Demo at Google I/O 2012:

To be honest, I can't imagine going skydiving myself, and this seems somewhat less ambitious than the previous video, simply a matter of adding a video camera to the glasses to record whatever it is you're looking at. This also seems to be the case for this other video from Google, Glass Session: Madame & Bébé Gayno:

Using the glasses for a live streaming video chat, specifically a Google Hangout, adds something new to the mix, admittedly, and makes sense in this context. But for a regular video call, such as you might do via Skype, I guess you'd have to look in the mirror, a technique used in this next video, DVF [through Glass]:

 You can see that, in this case, the glasses provided raw footage which was later edited. Here's the write-up:

Experience the DVF Spring 2013 show at New York Fashion Week through the eyes of the people who made it happen—the stylists, the models and Diane von Furstenberg herself. All the footage you see here was filmed using only Glass, Google's latest technology that lets you capture moments from a unique, new perspective. See what happens when fashion and technology come together like you've never seen before.

So, yeah, it all seems pretty cool, especially if you want to document your life, an idea that began with written diaries during the print era, became increasingly more visual with the addition of photography, especially as cameras were made increasingly more accessible and portable, and continued with the introduction of home movies, home video cameras, and now blogging, tweeting, social media profiles, status updates, Instagram and the like. So this is just one more step in creating a complete record of everything we say and do, and see.

But this is a far cry for the AR depicted in the first video, and that's because those much more sophisticated Google glasses are just an idea for now, and the video does not depict an actual technology.  But here's one that's much closer to realization, iOptik - a glimpse into the future -vers 1.1:

And here's their write-up:

Innovega's wearable transparent heads-up display, enabled by iOptik contact lens technology, delivers mega-pixel content with a panoramic field-of-view. This high-performance and stylish eyewear is perfectly suited for the enjoyment of immersive personal media. The first part of the video is a CGI compilation provided by CONNECT, San Diego and the second part is actual footage through our system.

One big problem that none of the videos I've included here so far makes clear is that there are limitations to what the human eye can focus on at very close range, so it may not be possible to simply have AR glasses that work in the way depicted. Remember that with AR on mobile devices, the devices are held at a much farther distance from the eye than glasses are.  This is a key point that Evan Ackerman discusses in an article on the DVICE website.  And according to Ackerman,

The way Innovega gets around this problem is by modifying your eyeballs to focus much, much closer. Innovega has developed a special contact lens called iOptik that is completely transparent, except that it can refocus polarized light (like the light from a display) so that you have no problems seeing it. And it's not an either-or thing: with the contact lenses in, the world looks completely normal, except that you can suddenly see a high resolution display that's projected on a pair of glasses, superimposed transparently across up to 120 degrees of your field of view.

Ackerman also notes that while Google glasses have a long way to go, Innovega's innovation may be ready roll out later this year. For a more technical explanation, here's Randall Sprague, CTO of Innovega, in a video called I Can See for Inches and Miles:

As well, this iOptikCameraDemo video provides a somewhat dry, technical, but revealing demonstration of the technology as it interacts with human vision:

What's also quite interesting are the markets listed by Innovega for its optical technology. They include augmented reality, of course, interfacing with mobile devices, and immersive video and 3D gaming, and also simulation and training, which makes sense. What may give some folks pause is that their list of markets also includes "defense and covert operations" and "field operations for warfighters," but if you think about it, this should not be surprising, as all of new media, and communication technologies in general, have military applications. What is quite valuable in human terms, especially given our longer lifespans and aging population, is the market for low vision. This technology will be a great boon for those suffering from Macular degeneration, and similar problems.

One further question comes to mind, from a media ecology angle. McLuhan argues that changing the way we use our senses changes our sensibility, our thought processes, and ultimately our culture and social organization. And recent research backs him up by showing that reading, along with other types of media, actually rewire the brain. So how will this new technology affect our sense ratios, the balance of our senses, and our outlook on the world, individually and collectively? This could be the most radical shift in vision since the introduction of reading itself!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Machine Gun Moloch

In a post back in June, Robert Priest, Dr. Poetry, and the Viral Verbal Vortex, I wrote about my friend Robert Priest, a poet and musician, and shared an essay I wrote about him for the online poetry and creative writing journal/magazine, Big Bridge, which was also entitled, "Robert Priest, Dr. Poetry, and the Viral Verbal Vortex". And in the essay, I included some discussion of his meme splices or meme switches, a technique he employs where he switches out similar sounding words in a series of familiar phrases and sayings, so that substituting splice for spice yields, "the splice of life," "the splice garden," and "the splice trade," for example. It's a great technique for poetry, humor, and also what in general semantics is referred to as consciousness of abstracting—in this instance by substituting one word for another, it makes us more aware and more critical of the meanings we attribute to the words we use.

And readers of Blog Time Passing are no doubt quite familiar with my views on gun violence and the second amendment by now. If not, or if you're in need of a refresher course, you can go back and read the following posts: You can start with What to Blame for the Colorado Shooting? from this past July, in response the Aurora movie theater shooting. And I shared a poem on the topic the following month, Second Amen Dementia. And then, in December, reacting to the unspeakable horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I posted On Guns and More, followed by Human Sacrifice and the False Idol of Firearms.  And in that last post, I included commentary from Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie on how gun worship is blasphemy, and from a leading Roman Catholic intellectual, on how guns have become the new, American Moloch (Moloch being the most despised of false gods in the bible, because his worshipers required that children be thrown into the fire as sacrifices to him).

And so, it occurred to me to apply Robert Priest's technique to the terms gun and god, as another way to express the idea that idolatry and blasphemy is alive and well in America, in the form of gun worship.  I posted the result on my poetry blog over on MySpace last month, and I thought I would share it here as well. I will leave you with this poem, rather than try to add some final concluding words to this post, as I feel that at the end of this piece, there really is nothing more to be said.

Machine Gun Moloch (A Meme Splice)

I am the Lord, thy Gun
I, the Lord thy Gun, am a jealous Gun
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy Gun in vain
There is no Gun but Gun
To the greater glory of Gun!
In Gun we trust
Gun bless you
Gun is everywhere
You cannot hide from Gun
Do you believe in Gun?
Have faith in Gun
Praise be to Gun
Gun's will be done
Have you found Gun?
Pray to the almighty Gun
Our Gun and Gun of our fathers
May Gun bless you and keep you
May the face of Gun smile upon you
As Gun is my witness
It was an act of Gun
Gun damn you!
We are assured of victory for we have Gun on our side
He just thinks he's Gun's gift to us
Oh my Gun!
Have you heard Gun's voice?
Gun is our help and our savior
The law of Gun
Gun does not give you anything you cannot handle
Your arm's too short to box with Gun
Gun speaks to us
Gun wants us to worship Him
Gun demands our obedience
Give thanks to Gun
Can you feel the presence of Gun?
Walk with Gun
There but for the grace of Gun go I
Submit to Gun's judgment
Stand before Gun
Kneel before Gun
Approach Gun's altar
Know Gun's peace
Gun is just
Gun is love
Swear to Gun
So help me Gun!
It's in the hands of Gun
Await the kingdom of Gun
Gun willing!
For Gun's sake!
Honest to Gun!
Dear Gun!
Gun is a circle whose center is everywhere
If Gun did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him
I believe in Gun even when He is silent
Man plans, Gun laughs
Oh for the love of Gun!
You must fight for your Gun-given rights
This will put the fear of Gun into you!
Why Gun? Why me?
One nation, under Gun