Information overload

No, I'm not complaining about Twitter blackouts - believe me or not, I never got the whale so far. It's just too much information outside there. And we increasingly need filters to keep us going through all these posts, articles, texts, messages, and emails.
I tried to embrace the task of daily reading "a little bit" of what has been published about a couple of topics that interest me, but I now officially give up. I'm overfed with information!
I'm sure Oscar Wilde faced a different issues in managing information at the late Victorian era, but his moan still holds:
"It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information."
What do you think? Are you also overwhelmed by the amount of information circulating on the web? How do you separate what is interesting from what is not worthy your time? Is there any cure for "Torture by information overload"?


How to be(come) a creative anthropologist

I spent all the 4 years of my undergraduate program (in Advertising) learning how to be creative (among other practical matters). The literature and professors used to defend that creativity can be learned. I was told that some specific techniques allied to the practice of creative thinking would work even for the most hopeless case. To become creative seemed to demand hard work, patience, and perseverance. However, that was not for me. I was feeling fine and blessed in my condition of "naturally creative". I wouldn't take me more than a couple of minutes to come up with a great slogan or jingle; I imediatly sensed what would be an appropriate media strategy for a specific client, and I could shoot ideas endlessly during brainstorm sessions with my colleagues. I never had to think how painful it would be if I had to make the effort to be creative.

However, at some point I decided to leave the comfort zone and years after I find myself learning something new - something I would say some people are simply born to do. I'm trying to do good ethnographic field work. Yes, like an anthropologist.
And - what a coincidence - this learning process requires the practice of a specific way of seeing the world and thinking about it. I need to learn many techniques that are pretty new to me and it also demands hard work, patience, and perseverance.
Well, I'm willing to make the effort.

PS: The link on the title will take you to Grant McCracken's blog - and his great post ""How to think like an anthropologist".


Fat acceptance and the market

I’ve been burning my neurons in trying to find “the” link that better connects the Fat Acceptance movement to consumer theory. There are some highly relevant concepts I can borrow from sociology and psychology and I’m already reading a lot about stigma, new social movements, and online communities. However, I find recurrent posts on the fatosphere dissecting, analyzing, questioning or criticizing market practices and I do there is something there…Something we - consumer researchers – do not fully understand.

This feeling was reinforced today after I read this post at Shapely Prose (which I consider one of the nicest blogs on the fatosphere). In this post, Kate refers to another blogger who had a “dilemma”: whether to support an online store’s efforts to continue carrying larger plus sizes or to discard them as a retailer because they had just cut her size off their selection.
As I was reading both posts and the comments left by people who had read them, I realized that in this situation, the general attitude was not that of criticizing the market. They were actually attempting to help marketers to better serve “the plus market”. In this mood, Kate published a long email she got from the owner of the store involved in the dilemma, and even invited her audience to help the store owner:
“How do we help her make B & Lu a successful store that at least fulfills the promise of carrying sizes 14-30 (better yet, 30+)? If you wear a size in the high 20s, did you even know you could shop at B & Lu (before the selection became so limited, anyway)? How do they get the word out? What else can they do to improve? And of course, if there are things you do love about B & Lu right now, positive feedback never hurts.”
What this post tells me (I’m aware that there are many other relevant issues here – this is just the perspective of someone sited on a business school office) is that these individuals are trying to help marketers to serve them better. They want to fully participate in mainstream domains, and being the market is one of these domains, they want to have the same product choices and consumption experiences of other people, no matter their size.
From other posts, I know these bloggers and commenters are fully aware that the stigma associated with fat is frequently reinforced and fuelled by market practices – the market who excludes them is the very same market they are trying to get into.

So far I’ve read the activities of Fat Acceptance bloggers as a “collective form of stigma rejection” (Gofman 1974, p. 112) and I though marketers were simply caught in the middle of these fight against the stigma.
But this notion of collective stigma rejection does not fully account for the practices of the FA bloggers who sometimes praise market practices and attempt to “educate” the market on how to serve them better. Henry & Caldwell (EJM, 2006) already suggested that “in contrast to withdrawing into an enclave, the stigmatized individual may respond by challenging the stigma label by attempting to participate in the mainstream domains” but we have no data so far on how stigmatized individuals develop workable ways to interact with the mainstream (some studies on immigration deal with similar issues: e.g. Askegaard, Arnould & Kjeldgaard 2005; Penaloza 1994; Mehta & Belk 1991).
To fight the stigma also involves fighting its underlying economic and social aspects. Since the market practices are deeply rooted and strongly influential in these two arenas, they become one of the most evident targets for activists in their rejection of a stigma.
Being part of a group (in this case the Fatosphere) probably allows stigmatized individuals to access more information and share resources that are eventually directed to criticize market practices that reinforce the stigma they are fighting.

So if any of you from the fatosphere happens to read this – does my interpretation resonate with your thoughts? Would you like to discuss the topic further? I have some great references to share and I would love to talk to anyone who’s also interested in the topic. Just click on the comments link and let me know what you think!


Keep on caching

I didn’t think the first time I would have to apologize for not posting for a long time would come so soon, but at least I have good reasons to offer. I’m struggling with the need to define the theoretical focus for my research on Fat Acceptance; I’m having trouble in getting into the field for the research on Geocaching, and I’m running out of time – the summer break is going to be over in few weeks and I wish I can do advance these studies before my courses start.

I may have to take another methods course and I’m seriously considering one called “Advanced Research Methods in Anthropology”. I took only one course in Anthropology during my Master’s course and I feel a little ill-equipped to access informants and get insertion into a community to start my fieldwork. Maybe I know some techniques, but I just need to be reassured again and again that it’s ok to get acquainted to people if you want to get information from them to do research and write a paper. And then I find myself wondering if it’s just me or if this is a regular stage of the learning process... I will take the course, just in case.
I’m just going to shoot a list of reasons that may explain why I’m finding it hard to get into the geocaching community. If you ever had similar issues with your fieldwork, let’s talk - I’m willing to consider any counterargument seriously, because I do want to make this work.
- This is the first time I’m doing field work outside my home country and culture. I see how this can be positive because it makes me question things that would be taken for granted otherwise. However, it also poses me so many challenges! For example, I’m extremely resistant to the idea of going to parks by myself to look for geocaches because I still fear violence, even realizing that I’m safer here than I was back in my home country. Or the way I have to re-write a message ten times before posting it at the discussion forums just to be assured that I’m using the appropriate words to say what I mean.
- There’s no structured group or stable community – geocachers are disperse and extremely mobile. This is tricky... Let’s say that, for convenience, I get a group of informants who live in the same city as I do. If I want to participate in their geocaching activities, I will have to follow them all around in their trips, because the first thing a geocacher usually does is to hunt everything around her/his area. Then s/he has to travel around to keep the adventure happening. If I choose attending to geocaching events as a form of participation, I also need to move around to the meeting places and I’ll probably never meet the same group of people twice. Besides, much of the geocaching-related activities happen in the “micro-level”, in short periods of time, and in many cases, the hunts are not even previously planned.
- Geocaching may be not only “something you do”, but a lifestyle. What I’ve noticed is that unless you have a background of traveling/adventure related activities, you don’t simply start doing geocaching and keep your regular life untouched. This was one of my previous misconceptions that were broken as soon as left my first geocaching event. I thought geocaching was something to fill in the boring moments of ordinary life, something that would aggregate a little fun and fantasy to an unexciting routine. Now I tend to think of it as the anchor of, or at least as a complement to, a lifestyle. And the difficulty this re-categorization brings to my field work is: how far am I willing to change my lifestyle to take this research further? Do I need to exchange my urban weekends for a camping trip? Should I forget heels and skirts because it’s impossible to hunt for a last minute cache on them? Will I get used to carrying the GPS in my handbag everyday along with extra-batteries, flashlight, trinkets to trade, travel bugs, and camera?
That’s it for now (oh, except for the fact that Toronto seems to have one of the lowest concentration of caches per area...)!

Next post will give you a brief idea of all the things I’m thinking about while investigating the Fat Acceptance blogs.


We want you - and your audience

I casually opened my mail box today, waiting for “no comments” to this blog, as usual. Instead, I found a nice message from Kim:
“Hello Daiane,
My name is Kim Montgomery. I recently came across your blog and I love how witty and intelligent your entries are! Your blog totally targets the lifestyles of young Torontonian women... great research and authorship!
The reason I'm writing is, I work for Matchstick Marketing, a hip market-research/ promotions company that spreads "word-of-mouth" marketing for our various clients. The campaign I'm currently working on is looking for women who write popular blogs that discuss topics like lifestyle, fashion, health & beauty and savvy current events, with the hopes that they'd be willing to participate in a short study about feminine beauty & hygiene products.
The survey wouldn't take too much of your time. I'd love to get the chance to connect with you and get your valuable feedback!
Please feel free to email me at kim@matchstick.ca and you can let me know if you're interested in participating in the study and how best to get in contact with you!
Thanks in advance,
Oh, oh... Where should I start?
First, I’m quite sure the entries they inserted in the search that pointed to my blog were: Toronto, women, and “sex and the city”. Of course, someone who mentions this movie in a blog can only be discussing “topics like lifestyle, fashion, health & beauty and savvy current events”.
Well, this blog doesn’t “totally target(s) the lifestyles of young Torontonian women”. And if popularity was the spamming criteria, I may not have more than two readers – this is definitely not a “popular” blog.
Anyway, what if I decide to contact Kim and participate in Matchstick’s study? I would probably be more qualified to criticize their survey instrument than to willingly provide my opinion on feminine beauty and hygiene products.
We still don’t know much about online word-of-mouth, but there are great studies going on that will help us understand better how bloggers deal with their audiences and how companies can use them as mediators or initiators of marketing messages. In the meantime, I would say it’s worthy to employ some time doing quality research (i.e. actually reading blogs) before sending recruiting messages all over the blogosphere.
But maybe I’m wrong... Maybe this fishing tactic optimizes results? Or, oh... maybe Kim actually read my blog and sincerely thinks my posts are witty and intelligent?


Geocaching culture

I’m not a gadgets person. I don’t have an IPod (though I have an “IPauvre” - or “IPobre” to the Portuguese speakers). I don’t have an Iphone, not even a Blackberry. Actually, I don’t access email from my mobile, I don’t even Twitter from it. No PDA, no Kindle, no TiVo, no Blu-ray, no Mac. I think all these things are amazing, beautiful, useful, and super cool. But, beyond the fact that I could not pay for them, I just don’t feel like owning them.

Despite this attitude of mine, I now have a GPS... It’s not the latest-coolest device, but it’s a good one: a Garmin eTrex Legend HC. I got it because a GPS device is an indispensable resource to do Geocaching, which is something I’ve been researching online for a while. Now it’s time to go to the field, literally.
I will post here some excerpts from the article I wrote on Geocaching using online data only. And as my activities of observation and participation in the geocaching community develop, I’ll compare and extend my findings to better understand how online and offline data may complement each other. This is also an attempt to contribute a little bit to alleviate some of the issues faced by researchers that use netnography as a method. For instance, how important it is to go beyond the “unobtrusive and painless” online data collection and interact face-to-face with the members of a community? How relevant it is to track community members’ activities on other online spots beyond the board/group/website being studied?
Besides this methodological aspect, some characteristics of geocaching suggest that it is a unique context in which to study consumer culture:

  • First, the use of multiple technologies (GPS devices, internet, PDAs, digital cameras) combined with outdoor activity, nature and travel may attract and bring together individuals with diverse backgrounds, profiles, interests and motivations. Besides, these two essential components of the game, technology and nature, require geocachers to articulate their incursions into these two apparently opposite environments.
  • Second, the main rule of geocaching (“take something, leave something, and sign the book”) adds complexity to the social and communal aspects of the game because it promotes the exchange of objects among players and gives them the opportunity to obtain recognition and prestige (e.g. the first to sign the book of a very challenging cache is celebrated among geocachers). Could play be one central link that brings a community together?
  • Finally, because the game was created and developed by consumers without encouragement from active market agents, the importance of interaction and cooperation among participants to keep the game active is enhanced.

My initial thoughts linked geocaching to the communal aspects of play. Thanks to the insightful comments of professors Belk and Kozinets, who read the first version of the paper, I’m also looking at references on amateurism, consumers as producers, and the re-enchantment of everyday life.
Geocaching is a fascinating activity and this research project has been one of my top priorities for this summer. You will certainly read more about it in future posts here. In the meantime, here’s a nice video about geocaching by Tessa Banks Jeff Orlowski from the Dept. of Communication of Stanford University.


Summer readings

I’ve been visiting bookstores, trying to take a look on what they’re displaying as the must-read books for this summer. And I notice that something that was already big enough to have an exclusive shelf now has gained the main display, in the center of the store: the “chick-lit”.
Chick-literature is a term used to denote genre fiction written for women and marketed to young, single, working women in their twenties and thirties. Wikipedia tells us that “the genre's creation was spurred on, if not exactly created, by Sure Towsend’s Adrian Mole diaries which inspired Adele Lang's Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber: The Katya Livingston Chronicles in the mid-1990s.” The genre got much more attention and fans after Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones’ Diary became a movie, in 2001.
A good chick-lit title inevitably contains at least one of the following words: shoes, dresses, friend, sister, boyfriend, bride, girl, or a female name that refers to the main character in the book. The covers must be colourful (or cute), and there’s always a touch of pink somewhere.
I’ve read the “Devil wears Prada” two years ago just to realize that I liked the movie better. I started to read Marian Keyes’ “Watermelon” but gave up after reading two or three of the book’s dozens of chapters. So I’m ill-equipped to criticize the genre, and I don’t even want to do it. I’m just intrigued. Marian Keyes alone sold more than 10 million copies of her books (all chick-lit). There are books and blogs dedicate to the genre, and even Naomi Wolf criticizes it (oops: the link will take you to an Oprah show: “Stupid Girls”).
So who are the readers? What are they looking for in these books (distraction-enlightenment-help-something else)? How is this genre impacting on a generation of women?

All I know for now is that these books are not in my summer reading list... Have you read any chick-lit? Do you feel like reading it?

Royalty-free picture from "The Image Bank"


Could you be a good blogger? Final part

Here they are: the final questions to determine whether one can become a successful blogger or not:

15. Do you enjoy reading? - Being good at writing is very helpful - but so is the ability to read what others are writing. If I were to video tape myself over a day of blogging I suspect I’d find that I spend more time reading each day than writing. For every post I write I would read at least three.

16. Are you an organized person? - While I’m sure many bloggers are completely chaotic and unorganized - there comes a point in most serious blogger’s lives when they have to get at least a little organized. With incoming emails, following lots of feeds, writing perhaps on multiple topics/blogs and moderating comments all going on at once (plus more) it’s pretty easy for time to slip away without getting much done.

17. Are you a Social person? - There are many styles of blogging but when it comes down to it most bloggers have some sort of a desire to connect with readers. Some bloggers keep readers at an arms length (they might switch off comments and rarely respond to emails) but it’s probably an advantage to actually engage your readers in someway. If you don’t like people then this might be challenging. Another related question might be ‘are you an approachable person?’

18. Do you enjoy ‘virtual relationships?’ - Some of the most social people I know are terrible when it comes to online interactions. They just don’t ‘get’ it and are much better face to face than via email, instant messaging or in a forum or comments thread. Being comfortable with speaking to and working with people you’ve never met before is an advantage if you’re a blogger. Connected to this - it’s also important to be what I call ‘virtually intuitive’. One of the dangers of relating to people online is that all can not be as it seems. Developing the ability to work out whether others are who they say they are and of good character is probably a skill to develop.

19. Are you a creative person? - Once again this is not a ‘must’ - just an advantage. The web is a cluttered place and being able to develop content and community that stands out from the rest and that surprises readers is a big plus.

20. Do you have Stick-ability? - While some blogs are overnight successes, most are not. In fact many (most) blogs are never as successful as their owners would like. A long term approach is one of the basic pieces of advice that I’d give most bloggers.

21. Are you Consistent? - One of the common reasons that I see bloggers getting into trouble with their readers or other bloggers is that they change the way they approach their blogging midstream. Bloggers that are constantly changing the topic of their blogs, or who increase their expectations on readers suddenly, or who change the ‘voice’ that their blog is written in can end up losing the respect of their readers. While no one likes a boring blog - people do like to know what to expect to some extent.

22. Are you honest and transparent? - If you answer no to this one then you can expect to eventually be found out. While in real life it can be reasonably easy to keep secrets or be two faced - the blogosphere has a culture of people keeping an eye upon each other and digging where you don’t want them to dig. While you’ll want to develop boundaries around what you do and don’t blog about, you will need to be willing to disclose conflicts of interest and be willing to be held accountable for the things that you say.

23. Are you willing to work hard? - The level that you need to work on a blog will be dependant upon your goals and objectives for it - but if you have goals of being the next big thing then you’ll be guaranteed of a lot of hard work. Of course this is the case with any thing in life and not just blogs.

This is the set of questions that helped me increasing my score. I got 77 (10-8-9-9-9-7-8-7-10). Calculate yours! However, there's actually no prize for the one who scores better - except for the glory of knowing you can be a great and successful blogger in this gigantic and amazing blogosphere.


Successfull blogger potential - Part II

Another seven questions from Rowse's list. If you missed the first questions, you can scroll down for them or find them here. Calculate your score and check if you can be a successful blogger!

"8. Do you have time? - Linked to the need for regular updates is the fact that this takes time. Do you have enough time in your schedule to write daily? Not only that do you have time to moderate comments, respond to reader questions, read other bloggers posts, network with other bloggers etc?

9. Are you thick skinned? - If you start a blog, the chances are that it will be found and that others will write about you or some aspect of what you’re doing. This is great when the comments of others are positive and in agreement with you - but it’s not much fun when you’re critiqued (sometimes fairly and sometimes not). Do you have the ability to take criticism well?

10. Are you willing to be in the public spotlight? - Blogging is a public act. Every day you put yourself into the gaze of others. People will analyze your words and lifestyle. Some will want to know more about you and some might even recognize you in public (it’s happened to me a few times). While few bloggers (if any) are ‘celebrities’ - putting yourself ‘out there’ every day is a strange thing to live with and can have it’s consequences. Keep in mind that once you write something online it is very difficult to get it removed. You might be able to delete your blog but archives services (and other bloggers) pick up a lot of what you write and so you could be living in the public splotlight for a lot longer than you’re a blogger.

11. Do you have any technical ability? - If this were a requirement of blogging I’d have never gotten far, but it is an advantage to have the ability to learn and work on a technical level. You’ll be working on a computer with web based software and at times you’ll need to ‘tweak’ your blog. Knowing how to do it yourself can be very handy. If you’re not this type of person, you might want to make friends with someone who is.

12. Do you take yourself too Seriously? - One of the characteristic I think bloggers should have is a sense of humor - particularly when it comes to looking at themselves. While there are plenty of examples of bloggers who do take themselves too seriously, most successful bloggers seem to have the ability to laugh at themselves also.

13. Do you have a blend of humility and Ego? - Coupled with a sense of humor should be humility. While bigheadedness abounds in the blogosphere it’s often the humble blogger who ends up on top. Having said this having a healthy ego and view of your own worth as a person is also a good characteristic to have as there is an element of ’self promotion’ that comes into blogging at times. Getting this balance right is not always easy - but it’s worth working on.

14. Are you willing to learn? - I like to look at blogging as a journey where everyone knows something but nobody knows everything. This is the case on any topic you want to blog about and the best bloggers are willing to share what they know but seek out and promote what others know also. In this way everyone learns - even the ‘experts’. "

My score for Part II is embarassing: 6-everyone knows a PhD student lacks free time (at least free-of-guilt free time); 5 - Is crying a good way to cope with criticism?; 6 - I don't want to be famous, but I don't mind getting credited for everything I say or do; 3 - HTML, anyone?; 4 - I really prefer laughing at the PhD comics than at myself; 7 - working on that; and 10 - if there's something I want to do, is to learn!
Total score: 41

I will post the last questions tomorrow (of course you may have already read all of them from the source).


What it takes to be a good blogger

I was reviewing the research diary I wrote to the “Logics of Social Research” course I took last year with Professor Gareth Morgan when I found a list of questions one should ask herself before deciding to create a blog. I got it from ProBlogger, a blog (of course, but there’s also a book) owned and written by Darren Rowse, a full-time blogger. He dedicates the blog to “to helping other bloggers learn the skills of blogging, share their own experiences and promote the blogging medium.”
I analyzed the list for my Philosophy of science exercise hoping it could help me uncovering some of the many reasons why people create and maintain blogs. I must say I still don’t have the answer to this question – I’m constructing it slowly, in pieces (or posts), and the more blogs I read, the more it seems to me that each blogger adds a new and particular reason to my collections of bloggers’ motivations.
I’ve been telling my PhD. colleagues and friends (hey, are you still there?) that I started to blog. Many of them have reacted enthusiastically and some are also thinking about blogging. So, for you and for myself (because I still have to learn everything about this), here are the first 7 of Rowse’s 23 questions that summarize what it takes for someone to be a successful blogger:
1. Do you enjoy writing? - Blogs are predominantly a written medium. If you do not enjoy writing then the chances are you might not enjoy blogging.
2. What’s your Message? - While there are many applications for blogging, underlying most (if not all) of them is the aim of communicating some sort of message. Do you need/want to communicate something? Do you have a message? Starting a blog just because you want one might be fun, but it might also be a waste of time.
3. Are you a good communicator? - I don’t believe that only good communicators should have blogs - (they can be a tool for people learning communication skills to improve) but it can be an advantage to have some basic communication skills.
4. Are you better at writing or speaking? - Most communicators have a preference (or at least have better skills in one form or another). If speaking is more your thing you might want to consider Podcasting or even a Video based web site.
5. Do you want to be the central voice on your website? - While blogs are good at building community - they generally feature one person (or a smaller group of people) as the central voices in a conversation. Other people have to respond to the voice of others. If you’re after something where anyone can start a conversation then a Forum might be a better medium.
6. Are you a self starter? - Starting a blog takes a little initiative. While blog software these days makes it simple to start them, they don’t run themselves and take a motivated person to both getting them off the ground.
7. Are you disciplined? - Similarly blogs require regular attention over time. While daily posting is not essential, it’s probably a good level to aim for. Will you be able to motivate yourself to write something new every day?

Calculate your score! Let’s say you can score from 0 to 10 on each question. Adding your points for all the 7 questions will result in your Successful Blogger Potential Part I.

I will start: 7 (love to write, though struggling with doing this in a second language) – 4 (still unclear message) – 6 (I do have basic communication skills!) – 9 (definitely prefer writing than podcasting or appearing in video) – 7 (I’m fine with monologues, though they can feel lonely sometimes) – 7 (With a little push from a professor) – 6 (I can be disciplined, in the Brazilian way, you know).
Daiane’s total score on Successful Blogger Potential Part I = 46

PS: I will post the other questions this week, on a daily basis.
PS 2: Although my blogging endeavours are not aimed to achieving a six-figure income, I will definitely keep reading ProBlogger.


Babies 2.0

I don’t remember how, but last week I found an interesting website: Babyspot. It’s like a Facebook, an online social space to network, but for babies. James Rivera, co-founder and COO of Babyspot, presents it as “a free and secure site that allows users-specifically parents-to create profiles that give them the ability to post news, pictures, and videos of their children for fellow parents and family members to see.”
My first thought about this was something like: WOW, it’s never too early to get into the web... But then I breathed and realized I was acting as a digital immigrant (which I am, indeed), not realizing that instead of being an artificial product offered to over excited new-parents, this is merely a well thought use of the communication resources currently available to us. It is something as natural as it was, twenty years ago, sending a long hand-written letter and a single printed picture of your baby to a relative living in a distant city.
However, I cannot avoid feeling amazed by the possibilities... Let’s think forward: 20 years from now, these online babies will be adults. And they will have detailed memories of their early lives. They will have not only some pictures and videos, but daily updates about their early achievements and also comments from their parents, their parents’ friends, relatives, and even from strangers. They will have an artificial memory – everything that our limited human brain is not able to retrieve from the past will be stored somewhere – easily accessible.
Here comes the digital immigrant again: I think there’s a reason why we don’t remember our early childhood in detail. What will happen when we grow up informed by these early memories? How different people we’ll be?
It seems I’m not the only one who’s thinking about it. Take a look at the pictures I took this Sunday from a store’s window in Stratford:


Walking a mile in others' shoes

An article at today’s Toronto Star called my attention for its illustration: two chimpanzees sitting together. Their gestures and postures are so ostensibly human that I couldn’t avoid reading the scene as an intimate talk between two old friends. While one of them is sad, maybe hopeless, the other one is looking at his “friend’s” face, smiling and leaning toward him. A hug wouldn’t do better.
The article mentions a study on the way chimpanzees deal with conflicts and consolation. That’s to illustrate that even our ancestors are able to express something we may be lacking: empathy. Douglas LaBier, psychotherapist, business psychologist and researcher, explains what empathy really means in a Washington Post article:

“Unlike sympathy -- which reflects understanding of another person's situation,
but viewed through your own lens -- empathy is what you feel when you enter the
internal world of another person. Without abandoning your own perspective, you
experience the other's emotions, conflicts or aspirations.”

He defends that “empathy deficit disorder” (EDD) develops when people pay too much attention to themselves, focusing too much on acquiring money, power, status, and feeling completely disconnected from other people’s (even close people like spouses, family members and friends’) issues. Luckily, LaBier says, empathy can be developed, regained, learnt.
Apart from the controversy (some say it’s just another label to turn what may be an ordinary emotion or state of mind into a disease) I see an interesting overlap between LaBier’d definition of empathy and my understanding of participation in ethnographic research.
Again: “Empathy is what you feel when you enter the internal world of another person. Without abandoning your own perspective, you experience the other's emotions, conflicts or aspirations.”
Isn’t this what we should strive for when doing fieldwork? Most researchers feel that talking, eating, dressing, and acting like the members of the group being studied will help to develop empathy. Maybe empathy is what determines the difference between the good and the poor participant observation, not so much the length of the fieldwork or the number of informants one has. Any other thoughts?

PS: I know it seems that everything to be said about “Sex and the city – the movie” was already said, but let me give my two cents on this: I always envied their friendship – that was the most amazing thing on the series to me. However, I think the movie stretches their friendship to a point that it becomes unnatural. The characters are too empathetic! When the four are together, it seems there’s no space to self-absorption, it’s everything about the one who is in most need. And because this is not “Carrie: The movie”, each one has the right to become the center of the others’ attention for the same amount of time, but that’s something we’ll hardly get in real friendships.


Here comes an explanation

People are doing crazy things everywhere: pillow fights in Toronto; bubble battles in New York; a gathering of 111 shirtless men in an Abercrombie and Fitch store; all sorts of flashmobs, and the already "classic" free-hugging.

I find all these manifestations great: they're funny and provocative - they make people laugh and escape routine. Besides, they are and secretly organized on the internet but happen at carefully chosen physical places. However, I can’t really understand what they doing, or why they are doing it. Some say it is art, some say it is creative protest. I was forcing myself to accept the thought that there’s no good explanation for these seemingly random acts. And then Clay Shirky comes with the idea of a “cognitive surplus”. The recognition obtained by his book “Here comes everybody” motivated him to a series of talks. You can read the transcript of his talk here
or watch the video here .
In this talk, Shirky tells us about an interview he gave to a TV producer. He describes to her the way people contribute to wikipedia to give her a better idea of what his book is about:

"So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to have a
conversation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't
her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, "Where do
people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I
said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time
comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50

So we know some of this free time comes from people reducing their amount of TV watching. But Shirky defends that we still don’t know what to do with this cognitive surplus:

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn't
know what to do with it at first--hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if
people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social
institutions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no
one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting
with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that
integration can transform society.
And - oh! I think - maybe these young people organizing and taking part in all these subway parties, frozen mobs, Matt’s dances, naked bike rides and similar stuff are just trying to do something with their excess of free time and thought. Maybe they are acting accordingly to the general principle “It's better to do something than to do nothing”. Maybe they’re so tired of TV and are trying to figure out a better way to spend their time…
The point here is that all these activities have implications to marketers and organizations in general. That’s why Shirky’s book has been so commented on the blogosphere. I’m just starting a research project with two of my colleagues – one interested in public spaces and the other wanting to study the Critical Mass rides. We hope to have interesting things to say about people’s motivations to take part on these movements and their impacts for marketers and consumer researchers.


Memorial note

Ruth Cardoso had a remarkable academic life. She was one of the first Brazilian academics to understand the emergence of social forces such as feminism; ethnic-, racial- and sexual-oriented movements. Until the decade of 70, Brazilian academy felt that these movements did not have status to deserve the attention of university researchers, but Ruth already called them "new social movements".
Her academic career was marked by innovation. In the mid-50’s, when the topic was still very rare and distant, she studied the Japanese immigration to Sao Paulo and turned her research into a dissertation. When the philosophers Jean Paul Sartre and his wife Simone de Beauvoir came to Sao Paulo in 1960, in the first row of the academic audience there was a couple of prominent teachers of USP - Fernando Henrique and Ruth Cardoso.
After the 1964 military coup, she faced exile along with her husband Fernando Henrique. In Chile, while her husband worked in the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), she was a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), which received students from many countries. Back to Brazil, she founded the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), one of the most important institutions for social research in the country. In the early 80's, while Fernando Henrique was involved in the political adventure that would lead him to the Senate and later to the presidency of the Republic (1995-2002), Ruth focused even more in her academic life. She set up the first team to research social movements, when the non-governmental organizations were still unknown.
She had a USP doctorate degree and had a post-doc. degree by Columbia University, USA. She was a president of the advisory council to the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) on Women and Development and member of the board of directors of the ILO (International Labour Organization) on Social Dimensions of Globalization.
She died yesterday night, at age 77, in her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She was the best First Lady my country ever had and I liked her so much :(

Fat Acceptance

One of the contexts I’m immersed into is the “fatosphere”. The fatosphere is a set of blogs dedicated to Fat Acceptance or related themes. According to the participants/activists, the fatosphere is "a loosely interconnected network of individual blogs, homepages and activism sites conceived with the purpose of countering weight-based discrimination through challenging social and medical misconceptions about fat people”.
Fat Acceptance (FA) is a cause that has mobilized a great number of individuals in the United States and the United Kingdom. Through the internet, the movement against the discrimination of fat people has started to spread all over the world. The movement’s origins can be traced back to the creation of the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA), which remains the largest fat acceptance organization in the world. Founded in 1969 by William Fabrey, NAAFA’s mission was to provide emotional and legal support to fat people within an increasingly discriminatory and fat-intolerant society. The acronym now stands for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, indicating that the association now advocates the acceptance of fat people as a class.
The ideas related to the Fat Acceptance movement have been spread around at weblogs dedicated to the topic. Activists use their blogs to gain self-expression, to denounce the un-natural origin of cultural assumptions about fat people, to find and offer support in escaping the oppressive obligation of being thin, and to invite society to question many of its assumptions about fat people. The number of blogs dedicated to Fat Acceptance and the intensity of their activity has been noticed by the media. Several articles on the topic have been published in journals and magazines, and some TV shows offered space for FA activists to debate their causes with opponents of the movement. Some bloggers are organizing a face-to-face coalition. However, the core of the conversations around FA is still on the internet and the actions of the members of the FA movement can be characterized as cyberactivism – that’s the theory I am drawing on to understand all the information generated by these bloggers and their readers.

Last week, Joy Nash, one of the most popular activists for the movement, released a new video. The “Staircase Wit” will give you an idea of what the movement is about.

My first study focused on the way market offers are reframed by cyberactivists to promote cultural transformation. I used a rhetorical analysis approach and came up with a continuum of intended change and the respective rhetorical strategies employed by bloggers to promote change in their audiences. Now I am working with my professor Eileen Fischer in a new study that will evaluate the way persuasion knowledge is activated in these blogs.
My participation in this context has been timid – I am still more like a lurker. However, the effects of this intense reading on my personal attitude about fat, fat people, and even about my own body have been impressive. Overall, their message is positive; their writing is inspired, their ideas are provocative, and at least one of their arguments is broad enough to touch anyone`s heart: No one should be discriminated by his/her appearance.

The beginning

My husband is a fan of “spaghetti western” movies. I like the simplicity of the plots and the dusty scenarios too. But I just got into the genre after watching “The good, the bad, and the ugly” (1966). This is the last movie of a trilogy by the Italian director Sergio Leone (You may want to listen to the movie's awesome theme song as you keep reading this post). A young and charming Clint Eastwood is the taciturn Blondie, a “good” loner who has a hunter (the bad Angel Eyes) and a Mexican bandit (the ugly Tuco) as rivals. The irony is that Blondie is not exactly the portrait of a good man – he does whatever it takes to have his gold. Leone claims that "In pursuit of profit there is no such thing as good and evil, generosity or deviousness; everything depends on chance, and not the best wins but the luckiest."
This has very little to do with academic research, marketing, consumer culture and popular technology – the topics this blog intends to address. I just like the title and it seems an appropriate metaphor to the ambiguity of our roles as academic researchers moving between corporate and consumer issues. Who’s the Good in this plot? Who’s the Bad? Is the Good any better than the Bad? It’s not on me to label, classify, and judge – I will just describe, understand, interpret, and explain – I’m not bad, not good, I’m the researcher.

PS: It really seems to me that in real life, the one who’s smarter and shoots faster wins.

Other Sources: NYTimes Best 1,000 movies ever made