Virtual VS Physical: What Really Drives Us

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VR, Placemaking and spirituality … one momentous day clarified it all for me.  While VR and AR are among some of the hottest topics at CES this year, we still have a fundamental need to find meaning in and add value to our physical world.  The anthropologists have been speaking about this for decades.  They call it Placemaking.  In essence, we, human beings, have a deep seated need to connect with the physical places and spaces that surround us.  This explains why we love to take photos of our environment, why so many social media groups popped over of the years dedicated to local communities, and, why vinyl records soared last year according to last year’s SXSW; and why we still love to decorate our homes. (For more of a description of Placemaking, see my article, Meaning of Mobile)

The concept of Placemaking didn’t just crop up just because of CES, but because I experienced it, first-hand, and in a highly dramatic, spiritual and meaningful way during this holiday season.   You see, my family traveled to Israel, specifically, Jerusalem, to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah.  We gathered my extended family for a weekend of prayer; good and plentiful Israeli food; and togetherness in the historic Mt Zion Hotel.  Through it all we were overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, and the Hinnom Valley.

To give you some context, the Mt Zion structure was built in 1882 by Members of the Order of St. John, a British charitable organization dating back to the time of the Crusades.  The building housed an eye hospital serving Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the Middle East.  During Israel’s War of Independence, the building and a secret cable car attached to it, were used during the night to transfer medicine and arms to Mount Zion, and the wounded soldiers and Old City dwellers to the hospital.  In the daytime the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen.  Years later it was converted into a hotel.  As you can tell from the pictures, it has a classic middle eastern feel, with arched ceilings, mosaic walls, Jerusalem stone and lush gardens.

Experiencing the events of the bar mitzvah in such a historic building — all the while having a view of Jerusalem’s Old City Wall, places of worship and ancient buildings — impacted us greatly.  The setting added beauty, spirituality, history and meaning to my son’s once-in-a-lifetime event that we would not have experienced anywhere else.   The  environment reminded us that my son’s bar mitzvah is a ritual that has dated back centuries, and is part of a religion that has a vast and rich history.  The beautiful hotel rooms in which we dined added a sense of splendor to the event.  And the middle eastern touches, he turkish hammam, morrocon-style furniture and decor, and the classic Judaica surrounding the common spaces, exemplified the mixing of cultures that has strongly impacted the people of Israel and their country.

Like so many of you, I love technology and what it brings us.  How can I not?  I make my living from it :).  But while technology can  transport us out of reality and out of our physical environments, let’s not forget the primal desire we have to surround ourselves with the physical.  We strongly need to touch, feel, plant our feet and smell the real world around us.  As my son’s bar mitzvah shows us, physical space not only grounds us, it heightens our experience.  It connects us to our worlds, to others, and to ourselves.

As we race into the future, don’t forget to embrace our physical world.  It’s primal, it’s necessary, and it’s amazing.

P.S., If any of you are attending NRF Big Show in NYC in a week, please join me on my panel and Beautyskew podcasts! More details to follow in next week’s post.

Election Protests & Reacting With Grace and Style : Lessons Learned From NYTimes’s Bill Cunningham

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I had one of my usual circuitous, yet brilliant, conversations with someone from my team this week.  You know those dialogues that starts going in varied directions but then comes full circle as we start to see how these different directions connect?  I love those!  During this particular discussion, we touched on a range of subjects — from human insights, to NYC traffic, to learnings from the recent election.  We also somehow got to the topic of the late and much-missed Bill Cunningham of the New York Times.  For those of you unfamiliar with him, he gifted us with wonderful images and videos of the people of NYC.  When we got to the topic of Bill, we must have spent 20 minutes just gushing over how great he was — all his great work, his sense of curiosity, and his humble but so-uplifting attitude.  Even his intro music to his videos makes me smile wide!

Ah, Bill.

Despite Bill’s simple, unpretentious personal style (he rode an old-school bicycle everywhere, wore something akin to my father’s ordered-from-Sears office uniform everyday, and never tried to hide his Boston accent), he had a deep but fun appreciation for others’ sense of it.  You could feel his energy and absolute love for people.  The streets were his playground and canvass.  The people of New York were his subjects, the camera his tools, and his columns and quirky, lovable slide shows were his masterpieces.  People loved getting photographed by him — you can see it in all of their broad smiles — and fashion designers looked to his work for a sense of current looks.  Essentially, he peered into the mini-world of street style and elevated it for us.  Bill gave the people of NYC an extra dose of dignity.  He shared the amazingness of people’s everyday behaviors.  And he saw style as a way for people to express themselves.  Bill would say things like: “Everyone can put fashion down and that it doesn’t mean a thing.  But it does!  Because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits!”

You can imagine why Bill’s work should be celebrated in this blog.  We are all about embracing beauty.  But I’m celebrating him for whole other reason.  And it’s this reason that he randomly made an appearance in work conversation about the election and human insights.  (Note: our brains don’t just leap to random thoughts for no reason.  We may not consciously realize the connection at first, but our brains do!)  Bill surfaced because he represents EXACTLY what we all need to do post election: be humble, observant, celebratory of others’ cultures.  While he was not a fashionista himself, he could see and, more importantly, appreciate, the beauty of others.  While he didn’t put a lot of creative effort in his own wardrobe, he took such pleasure in others who did.  He recognized the small but brilliant behaviors we express to give our selves happiness, meaning and fulfillment.  And we ALL do this in different ways.  We just need to start appreciating both ourselves and others for it.

So what does this all mean, really?  What is Bill actually teaching us …especially with regard to the election results?

I think it’s something like this: no one is totally stupid, wrong or misguided for living the way they do or thinking the way they do.  We have to stop looking inwardly and crying in our soup.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest changes in government that we don’t agree with, like Trump’s pick today of Exxon CEO as new Secretary of State.  What I am saying that we have start looking outwardly with a keen eye and respectful, considered mindset.  We need to be more observant and try to understand and appreciate the brilliant behaviors that we so often overlook in others.  We don’t do things for no reason — whether its wearing chevron stripes or voting for Trump.  We have to give others the respect Bill gave every person on the street, i.e., observe, dig deep, learn and understand, and even appreciate others.  And by doing so we not only grow but we also give others a sense of dignity.

Oh another thing we learned? We can’t forget to have a bit more fun with what we and others wear too, of course! 🙂

Want to Take a Stand? Use the World of Beauty

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Conversations around beauty have been a source of ugliness and racism this week thanks to the former West Virginia mayor and her disgusting post about our lovely and intelligent first lady.  And we had to weather our share of obnoxious comments about Hillary’s pantsuits for years.  

But this week also shows that beauty dialogue can be a source of amazing, unifying and progressive power.  When society, even government, takes an intolerant, racist stance, sometimes it’s the world of beauty that pushes progress forward.

Just this week, Allure magazine published a thoughtful set of articles about muslim women, including their take on beauty and fashion, and their culture in general. For the first time, a non-white man,  Dwayne Johnson — half Samoan, half- black actor, was named sexiest man of the year by People Magazine. Cover Girl named its first spokeswoman wearing a hijab, Nura Afia; and the transgender community held their first (in-secret) beauty contest in Indonesia.  All of these stories not only affirm these diverse individuals’ beauty, but they empower them and others like them  And, they give us a much-needed view into their worlds, allowing us to better empathize and support them.

There is no question, conversations around and depictions of beauty can be a source of angst, even cruelty.  But the world of beauty can also lead the way.  It can force conversations, provide new perspectives and hopefully, just hopefully, change our views for the better.  And it’s not just me saying it.  At the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women dinner honoring Nicole Kidman this past week, Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion, said (which I then tweeted out to the world :)):“We need to use the power of fashion to end violence against women.”

There’s no getting around it: most of us care about what we look like — some more than others.  So instead of ignoring the important role it plays, let’s use it to tell a critical and meaningful story.  Let’s leverage our fascination with beauty to make us more tolerant, accepting and loving.  

So many of us are looking for ways to rebel against the increasing intolerance being spewed since the election…some by the very people in charge of running our government.  There are MANY actions we must take to stop it, e.g., signing petitions, starting dialogues and trying to understand the root of the hatred itself.  But there’s another form of rebellion too.  And that can take the form of embracing beauty of all the lovely, diverse people we have in our country.  Let’s buy more makeup from the brands that embrace diversity, let’s comment on the insightful beauty articles posted about different types of beauty, and let’s compliment others’ unique beauty in front of our children.  These small actions will add up to a big difference.  It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start.  And, it’s fun, so why not?

If you’d like to donate to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, please go to this link and contribute what you can or Text to Pledge to 56512: UNTF20[space] Pledge Amount [space] Your Name.

The Election, Ugliness and the Potential for Beauty that is Before Us

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Last week I wrote about the ironic, beautiful power of ugliness. This week I believe it that much more.

Like so many of us, I had no possible idea how this week would actually turn out.  I’ve seen so many of us in shock, so many of us horrified and so many of us saddened.  I saw many of my friends and co-workers absent Wednesday.  They were literally immobilized.

But, I’m seeing something beautiful too.  I’m seeing my older son irate, passionate and communicative about our leadership.  I’m seeing my community look deeply within themselves to ask “why?”  I’m seeing people realizing that their daughters’ confidence, the amazing diversity of our country, and are ability to show love for others, should NOT be taken for granted.

Of course I’m scared.  Of course, I’m in shock and sickened.  I was so excited to be able to demonstrate to my daughter how powerful we, women, are and can be.

But, I must see this election as a wake up call.  I must react.  This is a lesson for us.  We have to care of our country — which includes EVERYONE.  We can’t assume everyone is fine or agrees with our values.  If we violently disagree with people, we can’t brush them off.  We have to understand them, and work hard to connect.

The morning after the election, I sent this short message to my team:

No question this was a doozy.  But here’s how I’m looking at this:

We can’t look down on society, we just have to set the example instead.  We need to be super encouraging to our daughters/young girls in our lives, extra generous, and loving to everyone from EVERYWHERE.

Lots of love for you all, A

Let’s use this as an opportunity to open our eyes to our OWN behavior.  Of course we have to express ourselves.  Maybe I’m too much a product of being in a engineering company, but I truly believe that it’s way more important what we DO than what we SAY.   When you’ve finished mourning, make extra effort to be wonderful, open-minded, socially active people.  When we demonstrate generous behavior, others will mirror us.

We had an ugly week.  But that ugliness just may have given us the impetus to be and act more beautiful than ever before.

Can Images of War & Destruction be Beautiful?

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Follow the news and there’s no shortage of imagery of war and it’s destructive side-effects.  Can these images actually be considered beautiful? The Jack Shainman Gallery’s thinks so.  In it’s exhibit, A Change of Place, this Kinderhook, New York gallery features four artists who share riveting, sometimes shocking, and deeply human images of war.

But how can photos of people suffering, total destruction, and violence be a thing of beauty?  I get that such images can be expertly photographed or painted.  But when the content is so horrifying can we truly deem it beautiful?  It feels, well, amoral.

I’m not the only person raising this question.   After experiencing A Change of Place, Mebrak Tareke ponders this question in his post aptly entitled: The Unsettling Urge to Find Beauty Amid War.  He shares some of the best work from the show, especially from artists like Richard Mosse and Hayv Kahraman, and dissects them with a keen eye.

So how are they works of beauty?

He, along with veteran war photographer, Don McCullin, whom he cites, explain that we have an impulse to find beauty in — not because of but in spite of — the horror of war.   He doesn’t truly explain why but my sense is that we need to find such beauty to help us feel a sense of hope.  He shares another explanation offered by one of the photographers: such work gives dignity to the war-torn people and places captured.   His best explanation is that through these works of art we gain a new perspective.  He writes: This form of art

“also offers an opportunity… for us to reflect on violence in ways that perhaps television and the news may not.  In A Change of Place, there are images that really push me to want to uncover the past of places we may have lost, instead of making me look the other way.”

But I would take it a step further.  Beauty doesn’t necessary imply goodness.  When we appreciate beautiful images we don’t always have to take pleasure in them as much as UNDERSTAND them.  When we visit the MOMA and stare at works of art, we may not be enjoying the experience they evoke.  But we are being moved.  We are learning something.  For beauty to effect us, it needs to provoke a reaction.  It could be a soothing pleasant one or a jarring and startling one.  Of course with any works of art, we expect a degree of craft, talent, technical skill, imagination and originality.  Crap is crap.   But there is no ONE type of beauty.   In fact, sometimes it’s important to witness, even partake in the ugly side of beauty to appreciate the beauty of our everyday and what it takes to create it.

So can imagery of devastation be horrible, painful and frightening?  Yes. Does it mean we are pleased to see pain and destruction? No.  But sometimes we need to experience this form of art.  It not only sheds light on other worlds, it inevitably forces us to appreciate or question our own.

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Richard Mosse, “Space Wagon Mosul”
Richard Mosse, “Space Wagon Mosul”

Pant Suits & Misogyny: Don’t Let Election Ugliness Stop Our Daughters From Feeling Beautiful

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In response to all the conversations about beauty, pant suits and femininity in this election, writer and producer, Alli Joseph, wrote a thought-provoking article about beauty and raising girls.   Joseph doesn’t so much dwell on sensational elections talk, though.  Instead she pushes us, parents, to rethink how we teach our daughters about the importance of valuing beauty.

To raise independent, powerful girls, she explains that we should encourage our daughters to explore and enjoy their beauty.  Now that may seem totally counter to what we are all feeling right now.   After all, look at how women are demeaned by people like Donald Trump who seem to value our appearance over all other traits.   And there’s no question we are all applauding Michelle Obama right now for her speech about our girls being WAY more than just pretty faces, and they need to be protected from beliefs and behaviors of people like Trump.

But Joseph advises us NOT to eschew conversations and behaviors around beauty with our daughters.  In fact, we MUST have them.  And in spite of the climate, I feel the same way.

This story reminded me of a post I wrote a number of years ago after chatting with Sheila Kelly, actress and founder of the S Factor — essentially pole dancing for exercise and feminine awakening.  I was telling Sheila how impressed I was with author and TV personality, Lisa Bloom‘s post from 2011, “How to Talk to Little Girls” and I how I wrote a post about it.  Lisa was urging us all not to fall into the common trap of telling girls how pretty they look when we first meet them — something culture has ingrained into us.  I wrote the following:

…Bloom recognizes the inclination we all have to compliment little girls on how adorable they look. But this act affects them in deep and not always positive ways.

How so?  There are stats showing how young girls are increasingly more concerned with being fat and wearing make-up to make themselves more beautiful than ever before.

Now, I’m not disparaging looking nice, or adults recognizing this, but if our first encounters with girls are all about how they look, of course they are going to think that their appearance is their most critical asset!

Bloom recommends we begin our conversations with little girls not with talking about their clothes but, instead, with questions about what they’re currently reading or their favorite books. Not only does this type of talk get them off the beauty talk but it shows that we value their brains first and foremost.

I was pretty pretty satisfied with my pov until Sheila set me straight.  She said we should celebrate our girls’ beauty otherwise they don’t know how to handle it as they age.  Ignoring this topic  could lead to bad consequences.  In a follow-up post, “What Shelia Taught Me”, I explained Sheila’s words:

Of course we should embrace the many different sides of girls. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ALSO compliment them on their beauty. In fact, we should instill a sense of confidence and ownership of our girls’ beauty. We shouldn’t ignore or downplay it but rather teach them how to live with it with pride and love.

Being beautiful isn’t shameful.  So why should beauty be downplayed versus other characteristics? It’s certainly not MORE important than other aspects of their personalities, but if we ignore their beauty or push it to the side our girls won’t know how to handle it. They may feel it’s not worthwhile. Or, as they age, they may not have the ability deal maturely and confidently with the positive attention they eventually do receive from others.

Like what Joseph realizes, if we DON’T embrace our daughters’ beauty, along with their other traits, we may be leading them down a confusing path later in life.  I’m not saying we should just remind our girls they are beautiful but truly address the topic and how they feel about if.  If we don’t, they may grow up relying solely on the impressions of others, like those of Donald Trump, or determine their beauty in potentially screwy ways because we haven’t set the right attitude.  Think about it, we teach our kids the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating habits, the difference between right and wrong, or to tell the truth vs lie.  Why?  So when they age and encounter challenges on their own, they know the best road to take.  So too, we should do the same with regards to their beauty.  We should make girls feel beautiful and encourage them to explore and express their beauty in safe and encouraging ways EARLY on.  That way they will feel more secure in how they see themselves later in life.

I have a daughter.  And there is no way I want her taken advantage of, degraded or abused in ANY way for her beauty.  But I also want her to cherish ALL the sides of herself. I want her to learn that beauty is just another wonderful way — along with being curious, strong, smart, friendly, etc — of being human.

Garbage Pick-Up, Gaming & Proust: The Ironic Beauty of Dystopia

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I came across a fascinating article by Vice’s website about a rather strange video game: “Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor.”  Unlike every other game that propels you into a fantasy world, “Diaries” is very much real, maybe even too real.  While it takes place in a fictitious world full of weird species and spaceships, the challenges are very relatable.  Maybe even too relatable.   You play out the seemingly mundane, sometimes stressful, practices of everyday life.  Instead of positioning you as a hero or heroine, imbued with superpowers and rewarded for achieving the seemingly impossible, e.g., slaying the dragon, gunning down hordes or bad guys, throwing the longest football pass EVER,  etc., this game celebrates the anti-hero and the “anti-adventure.”  In “Diaries” one must deal with the harshness of a dead end job as a janitor, the desire to escape one’s daily predicament — if only there were enough money saved up to do so, and getting robbed on the way home after a long day.  There are certainly tests and tribulations but they mirror those in so many of our daily lives.

What is the allure you may ask?  Why would someone play this?  I can see why it would begun to try it “it out” for the novelty of it.  But who wants to relive our lives, especially the boring or frustrating parts of it?

But I get it.

And I just spoke about a related notion last week in Milan, Italy  at the If Italians Festival for the creative advertising industry.  Among the various insights I shared, I spoke about why we love to upload, download and share the mundane stuff of everyday life.  When we can have access to so many images of fine artwork via the Internet, why do we spend so much time look at sunsets, our dogs doing something funny or our dinners?  These pictures are not crappy by any means.  Many are often well shot or juxtaposed to offer us a new perspective on these everyday things.  But still, who cares?

WE ALL DO …  and it’s deep.

Throughout history we have always tried to see the beautiful in the mundane.  We crave it.  Marcel Proust talks about this.  And Ancient religions, authors, and playwright have been doing this since the beginning of time.  Turning the everyday into the beautiful allows us to feel like our daily lives aren’t boring, wasteful or downright sad, but rather, beautiful, exciting, and magnificent.  We desperately need this.

This game may not satisfy our hero fantasies but it fulfills something else deeply fundamental: it allows us to see the beauty in the routine.  As the article states so well, this game “find(s) such beauty in the banality of a truly awful job.”  In the ever-changing, dynamic world we live in, so many of us are looking for new new thing — the new job, new house, new mate.  But sometimes there’s beauty in consistency, in the every day trials and tribulations, and being able to know what’s coming next.  We just have to recognize it and appreciate it.

Oh, and for those of us who travel by subway everyday, consistency is the ultimate fantasy come true! LOL 🙂

Beauty, Judgements & Hypocrites: Enough is Enough

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That’s a picture of me when I was about 6 months old.  As you can tell I’m wearing a special shoe on my left foot.  That shoe, along with a cast, straightened (well, for the most part) the crooked leg I was born with.  I’m sure my parents were thinking that having a slightly crooked leg would hamper my movement as I grew up.  But I bet the biggest reason for the correction was that I would just look plain funny with a twisted leg.

So many of us have reconstructed some part of our bodies that we don’t even think twice about it.   Think about how many people have straightened their crooked teeth or in the case of Debora L. Spar, who recently authored “Aging and My Beauty Dilemma” in last week’s New York Times, reduced her breasts via breast reduction surgery.  Such procedures rarely faze us or compel us to judge people harshly because of them.  When a 13 year-old boy walks around with upper and lower braces in his mouth,  we don’t say: “oh, he’s so vain” or “he’s succumbing to social pressures, he should be above that.”  Of course not.

So why do so many of us strong, empowered women feel so damn insecure getting fillers or a boob lift?  Why must we think we are somehow being hypocrites or turning our back on feminism?

I have to hand it to Spar for putting herself out there and sharing her insecurities.  And bravo for the New York Times to take her words seriously enough to print them.  As president of an excellent women’s college, Barnard, Spar is certainly a model of feminism.  And yet, she, like so many of us, are fearful of looking old, and, at the same time, ashamed for feeling that way or doing anything about it.  It wasn’t so much that she was insecure with her changing looks (though she clearly is) but that she feels she is going against her feminist principles that really bothered her.

I get it.  The media or western culture in general can often makes us feel ugly and prey on our insecurities around aging.  And then, to make matters worse, it pressures us not to address those feelings lest we be called frivolous or worse, a hypocrite.

But, c’mon.  Getting a haircut, shaving our legs, and wearing Invisalign are such common behaviors now we don’t think anything of them.  And yet they are all part of our daily regimen to transform how we look.  Should we feel ashamed that we do them, no way!  And men do them too.  They don’t make us less powerful, brilliant or leader-like.

And the same should be true for fillers, botox, breast augmentation, you name it.  They will become so common one day that we will put them in the same bucket as teeth whitening.

So let’s stop wasting our precious energies on judging others for their beauty boosting behaviors.  And even better, lets stop wasting our time and effort feeling ashamed for partaking in them.

I applaud Spar for her article.  Good for her for having the courage to be so vulnerable and talk about something WE ALL feel in some shape or form.  But wouldn’t it be even better if all those “judges” just left her alone so she can feel confident about how she looks and what she does to keep herself feeling beautiful.  And that way she can spend more of her time writing about and sharing her valuable insights on women’s education and leadership instead.

Can Technology Be Biased? This Beauty Contest Reveals How Much

 

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Before I start, allow me to thank you all for your super interesting comments on last week’s post.   I love hearing and learning from all of you!

And now for our regularly scheduled program…:)

For about a year I’ve come across a few stories about beauty contests being judged by robots, that is Artificial Intelligence.   By measuring people’s (let’s face it, women’s) facial structures these robots can accurately determine beauty.  And given the judges are robots versus actual humans, we assume that the judgements are devoid of cultural or ethnic biases.  I’ve read these stories with mild interest.  But this time, a recent story stuck with me…and not in a good way.

I’m sure such a contest raises a whole host of issues for many of you.  First, I imagine many of you oppose such contests — humans or no humans as judges.  How can one judge beauty anyway?  Second, so much of physical beauty emanates from within.  I’m not talking about inner beauty.  That’s a whole other subject.  I’m talking about the energy, the light, the passion that springs forth from someone making then either more or less beautiful.  Can a robot really judge that?

But those issues aside, my biggest concern with this contest is what is conveys about technology as a whole.  The results of these contests showed how actually, how terribly biased A.I. can be!

According to this article in NextWeb, the contest drew over 6,000 applications from across 100 countries. And despite the obvious diversity of beauty that the robots were exposed to, out of the 44 winners, only a few were Asian, one was black, and the rest were white.  None had dark skin.

WTF!

Are the foolproof “complex algorithms” that biased?  I’m afraid so.  How can that be?  Easy.  A human being has designed them that way.  And that’s pretty scary.

I’m not saying the engineers behind the algorithms intentionally developed them to be pro white.  It’s just that bias is going to inevitable when the majority of the brilliant brains behind the development of technology are of a certain gender, ethnic background or culture.  No matter how much we try to rid ourselves of our biases, it’s super, super hard to erase the ones we don’t even know we have.

If technology can be biased when it comes to beauty, could it also be biased when it comes to truly understanding the user and what s/he needs?  Or can it be biased with regards to places on the map or particular destinations?  You get the point.

So what do we do?  It’s not a new news that we should push harder for diversity our work places.  It makes for diversity of thought and ideas.  But it goes deeper than that.  Diversity ensures that the seemingly “judge-free,” non-biased technologies we create actually hold up to that expectation.  When humans are led by their biases, we forgive them.  Because, well, it’s “human” not to be perfect.  But technology shouldn’t make mistakes, right?  It can’t be biased.  So if technology, or in this case A.I., declares someone fit or beautiful or smart, well then it must be so!    And the result?  People deem the seemingly unbiased robots as arbiters of truth.

I’m not the first person to call for more diversity.  It’s a MUST.  But I’m also calling on all of us to challenge our notions of how “smart” our technology really is.  Believe me, I LOVE technology.  I’m benefiting from it in all aspects of my life, and, most, importantly in my job.  But let’s realize that behind all technology are human beings.  This recognition should mostly strike a sense of admiration in human kind. After all it takes a buttload of brilliance to be creating the amazing technology we have, and will have in the coming years.  But it should also open our eyes to that fact that technology isn’t fool proof, totally unbiased or “right” all the time.

Let’s remember, human beings are the smartest, most elegant and beautiful “machines” that exist.  We are complex, emotional and gorgeous in so many diverse ways.  We don’t need a technology-driven beauty contest to prove that.

Sexism, Searches & SEO: Time for a RESET

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This is a screen grab from my good friend and creative partner, Rudi Anggono’s, phone. He sent it to me the same night I announced the relaunch of my site via last week’s post. His email message to me, entitled “bias,” was the following:

I was googling your new site but halfway typing, check out the screen grab. “Husband” before “speaker”. We have to do something about this.

This is not the first time someone has mentioned this to me. I usually just crack up. You see, my husband is the LEAST likely to indulge in social media. The last thing he wants is to have any sort of presence online (unlike me, of course 😉 lol).

But Rudi has a point. And I love him for caring. You see Google search results reflect the popularity of a search term. That is, the more searched a term, the higher up on the search list it will appear. So, the fact that “abigail posner husband” appears before “abigail posner speaker” means more people are searching for information about my love life than they are about my speaking. Hmmmm.

I have to confess, there’s a part of me which is kinda flattered. Someone is intrigued enough to want to know about my love life? But, really, I’m just buying into the same sexism that Rudi is pointing to.

No matter how evolved we are, we STILL think it’s ok to demean women by focusing on their femininity, appearance or love lives over their accomplishments.

A few months ago BuzzFeed came out with the story, “If The Media Wrote About Theresa May’s Husband The Way They Write About Samantha Cameron,” perfectly highlighting this point. The article spoofs the inordinate amount of time media focuses on political figures’ wives, and their attire. The article gives examples with pictures and video clips of Phillip May accompanied by headlines such as: “Philip May shows off his tiny waist in a navy blue two-piece,” or “Phillip May shows off his adventurous side. with a light blue tie for another day at the Conservative Party Conference,” or “And maybe they’ll just wax lyrical about his trendsetting way but remind him he’s so much more than a sharp suit.”  No question the story is hilarious, but kinda sad too.

And here’s a less entertaining example.  Again, I give credit to Rudi for enlightening me about this one. The Washington Post published an article about the amazing victory of Olympiad Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu.  But the focus of the article wasn’t her win but rather the major faux pas by NBC telecaster Dan Hicks as he credited her coach-husband with the victory.  At the same time, the news media kept displaying images of her “cute” husband and Twitter was alight with tweets but all about HIM! Katinka can’t win…well, at least not in the media.

If you want the media to focus on your own beauty, fashion or romantic accomplishments, great! I have no problem with that.  After all, I love beauty and fashion. And who doesn’t love romance!? But if you’re someone who doesn’t want to be defined FIRST by that, today’s culture — along with my search results — is showing we may have a challenge.

But there’s hope.  Because what this last example of Katinka also shows that WE — the public — can voice our opinion about our culture’s screwy values.  Twitter lit up like bon fire after Hicks’s comment with angry tweets, like:

“Hosszu smashes the world record in the 400 IM. Camera pans up to her husband. Dan Hick:”There’s the man responsible!” Unbelievable”

Whether it’s by posting view via Twitter or spending more time searching in Google about people’s substance versus their relationship status or latest outfit, we can actually push for change. The very channels we criticize for reinforcing these values, are also the ones that bring them to light and can be the source for change.

I’m glad people are interested in my husband. He’s an amazing man and has had a tremendous impact on my life. But he’s first person to see me for who I am — a mother, a thinker, a Googler, a blogger, and friend, not for who I’m married to. I hope you all feel the same :).