Visual calm

I’m guessing all of your eyes and minds are as exhausted as mine after a day of work, which, for many of us, contains a fair amount of web wanderings. (I’m prepping a course in digital media composition, so I get/have to spend a lot of time looking for and at teachable texts and sites. Any recommendations are always welcome!) It’s not just the wretched pop-ups or those expanding ads, but all the colors, links, sidebars, and navigation tools that distract the reader from the actual text under examination. My burning eyes and burnt brain have seemed like an inevitable side-effect, a necessary evil. Until now!

David Pogue’s “Pogie Awards for the Year’s Best Tech Ideas” in today’s New York Times introduced me to a groovy new (and, like all the best tools, free!) button for your web browser that promises, as Pogue says, to be a “real life-changer.” Readability clears all of the pesky distractions away from the central text under consideration, leaving only a simple, clean, and customizable view. Check out the difference between Pogue’s original article and the Readability version:

Pogue's original NYT article view

Pogue's article viewed through Readability

How cool is that?!?! My new year’s gift to you: some breathing room for your eyes.

Year of the Apology (part one)

My Thanksgiving weekend several weeks ago took an interesting turn when I read in the newspaper that one of America’s oldest Protestant church apologized to Native Americans–for massacring and displacing them:

We consumed your resources, dehumanized your people and disregarded your culture, along with your dreams, hopes, and great love for this land…With pain, we the Collegiate Church, remember our part in these events.

At first I was simply intrigued by the skillful circumvention of that devilishly accurate term: genocide.  But then I found myself enthralled by the questions this curious genre raises: Under what circumstances can one apologize for actions done by others?  Especially those done several hundred years ago?  What are the differences between an apology from a collective and one from an individual?  What are the consequences of an apology that deals with crimes against humanity?  And among all the atrocious acts that have been committed/commissioned by governments, how do you choose which ones get an official apology?

While this particular instance hit me hard (perhaps because Thanksgiving is such a perversely appropriate time to contemplate apologies), I must confess that I had already been thinking about the genre because of all the large-scale, national apologies we saw in 2009:

  • Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologized on behalf of the Parliament to the thousands of orphans that had been sent to Australia from Britain under the pretenses of a better life, only to be forced into a life of exploitative labor and systematic degradation.
  • The Senate also heard another proposal calling for an official, national apology to Native Americans (there have been several before).  Joint Resolution 14 “acknowledge[s] a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer[s] an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.

That last bill will probably die, however, because its language has managed to sneak in elsewhere.  Just last week the Wall Street Journal reported that, “Buried in the billions of dollars of spending on new weapons and other items in the 2010 defense appropriations bill is a little-noticed expression of regret over how the U.S. had in the past used its power.  The bill contains an ‘apology to Native Peoples of the United States.'”  How apropos.  In our defense budget documentation is the sentence, “the United States, acting through Congress…recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes.” **

(Now, I don’t think anyone with a shred of integrity can suggest that the “policies” of the government were simply “ill-conceived,” but that rant is for another day.)

So what’s being communicated here? What is the government trying to persuade us of?  What’s being accomplished with this quickly developing genre?  And what’s the best way to leverage these apologies for more (significant, noble) change?  For fear of a long tirade I’ll hold my breath on this until I hear some of you chime in, but these are important questions to ask, I think, especially because the “official apology” is only going to increase, and because it is a conspicuous shift in US policy.

I remember, for example, being 11 years old and hearing Bush Sr. repeatedly claim that he will never apologize for America.

This stance was actually a key component in how Bush constructed a staunchly American ethos when running for President:

  • “I don’t care what the facts are…I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”
  • “If I am elected president, I will never apologize for the United States.  I will strengthen her and maker her a beacon of freedom and liberty.”

This post is getting a tad big, so I’m going to continue it later this week; it’s simply too intriguing of a topic to stop here.

My apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.


** If you’re like me, you’re probably stewing on whether or not an apology like this could be used in the legal system against the United States.  After all, if the government acknowledges broken treaties (33% of the landmass is still held illegally, actually, because many broken treaties never had their legal-standing fully dissolved post-population removal) and apologizes for this, it could have massive legal consequences.  But don’t worry–they thought about that ahead of time.  Included in the document is some fine print: “[This apology] isn’t intended to support any lawsuit claims against the government.”

Hmm, looks like the US learned something from their official apology to Hawaiians for invading the country and exploiting its people and resources.  Hawaii’s Supreme Court is using the apology as evidence for ceding 1.2 million acres of land away from US control.

This is the first time, from what I can gather, that an apology is being used as legal evidence.  The consequences of this case could be huge–and the US knows that.  Here’s a snippet from the Wall Street Journal article that’s linked above:

Upholding the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling could discourage Congress from making similar apologies for other historic wrongs, the Justice Department warned, adding that the Apology Resolution was only symbolic.

A year after the Apology Resolution, the [Office of Hawaiian Affairs] filed suit..leading to the high-court case. “The Western concept of land ownership was very foreign to Hawaiians,” says Hawaiian Affairs Administrator Clyde Namuo. In traditional culture, “property is not a commodity that is bought and sold but it is used to benefit people who live and reside on the land.”

Fashion Tech

Christmas gift for the fashion technology forward?

If your clothes are supposed to say something about you, then this dress says you’re afraid of the dark? Or, you’re the light of the party. Ha!

LED Dress Lights Up Your Wardrobe and the Night

And this shirt says you have trouble being alone? (Actually, this one I can see as beneficial for kids. Let’s say Mommy or Daddy have to go on a business trip, but they can still hug little Sally or Sam before bedtime. It’s a nice thought.)

The Hug Shirt

Technology in my wardrobe. . . I might be geeky enough for that.

Facebook Privacy: Less Private?

Earlier this month, Facebook changed the way privacy settings work. In several posts across the web, people are talking about how the privacy changes actually limit how much Facebook users can keep private. If you’re curious about these changes, then check out ProfHacker’s “Managing Facebook Privacy Settings (Round 2),” digital inspiration’s “How to Cross-Check Your Facebook Privacy Settings,” the Electronic Frontier Foundations’s (EFF ) “Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” or Gawker’s “The Facebook Privacy Settings You’ve Lost Forever.” (Personally speaking, it’s driving me crazy that I can no longer block updates about when I “like” a friend’s status. First of all, who cares to know that? Second of all, it’s cluttering up my profile. Third of all, that’s between me and the person I like. Ha, get it? 😉

"Facebook privacy with friend lists" by Trucknroll, flickr

"Facebook privacy with friend lists" by Trucknroll, flickr

What I find interesting is the way Facebook is trying to market this change. In “An Open Letter from Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg,” Zuckerberg states:

We’re adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload.

I assume what he’s referring to here is the ability to put specific privacy setting for each thing posted. If you post a status, then yes, you can determine whether it gets posted to friends, friends of friends, or everyone. You can also choose to share with specific people or choose a major group and leave out certain people. I think that is cool; however, it seems a user cannot update automatic feeds like new friends or “liked” posts. A user can delete these things off their feed/wall/whatever-you-wanna-call-it one by one, but the user no longer has the ability to say, “No, don’t add that without my permission.”

More perplexing is when Zuckerberg says this:

We’ve worked hard to build controls that we think will be better for you, but we also understand that everyone’s needs are different. We’ll suggest settings for you based on your current level of privacy, but the best way for you to find the right settings is to read through all your options and customize them for yourself. I encourage you to do this and consider who you’re sharing with online.

Um, what? First off, I hate the idea of Facebook as this benevolent dictator, who’s only looking out for their users. If that were so, wouldn’t we be able to have control over the things we already had control over—rather than having that ability taken away?

Secondly, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to warn users about who they’re sharing content with when they can’t even control certain very important things about their profiles. For instance, a user can no longer block the kind of content that would be shared with a search engine. Previously, it was possible to block someone from seeing who your friends were, what pages you were a fan of, and your profile picture from search engines. You might have been listed in a Google search, but it’s possible not much was listed. Now, there’s the option of being listed or not. That’s it. Two choices. No more.

Facebook by _Max-B, flickr

"Facebook" by _Max-B, flickr

This, apparently, is in a move to make, as Zuckerberg says, “the world more open and connected.” Aw, isn’t that sweet? Facebook is gonna play psychologist and open us right up. The thought is nice. It’s nice in theory to think about being open and connected with the rest of the world—it really is, but merely taking away privacy controls is not going to make the world open and connected. People who wanted that privacy will just pull their content down. Moreover, Zuckerberg’s letter seems to ignore that those privacy controls will disappear. He concentrates more on the outdated network model and how changing that model will give more control to the user. Sure, I agree with getting rid of the networks, but that doesn’t mean that users have more control over their privacy settings. The two are not dependent upon each other. It’s kind of a shady look over here! (so, you don’t look over here) kinda move.

But, in the end, Facebook is a benevolent dictator. They make changes and Facebook users put up with it, adjust to it, and adapt, because they have to. At least, if they want to keep using that social network, then they have to. In this scenario, I’d say that most users probably didn’t take too much note. In my opinion, there are far too many people who are far too open and connected, so many probably didn’t even pay attention to the privacy settings when everything was first switched. And, in that case, they wouldn’t miss settings they never used. So, it’s not like Facebook or Zuckerberg would have had to do a lot of convincing for those audiences. The others, well, they’re the ones writing those articles at the top of this blog post and they don’t seem so convinced to me.

Deadline extended

Because we at Harlot understand the mayhem of holiday season, we’ve decided to help out by extending the deadline for our special issue–“Rhetoric at Work”– to January 15th, 2010. So now it’s not only an opportunity to reflect on how persuasion is functioning in your own line of work, but a great way to take a break from the family and all those damn festivities!

What persuasive techniques do you use to accomplish your job? What kinds of moves work best (or worst) on different audiences? How does the boss seek to motivate you… and why does/doesn’t it work? Anything, um, curious about the way your company promotes itself? What types of workplace communication annoy the hell out of you?

Got an idea for article that you’d like to run past us? Questions about the issue’s theme? Don’t hesitate to write us at

We look forward to hearing from you.

Design Backlash

Consider this a dual author post. Vera posted this comic called “How A Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” on my facebook page. Hilarious and a must-read. Coincidentally, Smashing Magazine’s article posted yesterday was “How To Explain To Clients That They Are Wrong,” which, as Vera put it, “is all about rhetoric.” And, yes, it is. So, per request, I post these things for your enjoyment. (I certainly do enjoy them.)

Go Meat?

Hillshire Farms recent television adds make me uncomfortable.

Their recent cheer leading chants of “Go Meat” makes my stomach turn. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, so it’s not like I’m naive to people eating meat, but this type of advertising just seems too distasteful to me. In this particular instance, Hillshire Farms isn’t marketing how tasty or high quality their meat is, but that we should just eat meat. Any meat. Because. . . we’re meaty? I mean, sure, they throw in a “Hillshire Farms” at the end, but there’s no “Hey, you should eat Hillshire Farms, because it’s good.” I’m just supposed to eat Hillshire Farms, because it’s meat?

Plus, I can’t enjoy a salad without Hillshire telling me that there must be meat on it:

Come on! It’s a salad. If there is meat, then it plays a very minor role. Plus, marketing “Go Meat” to people who are trying to eat salad probably is not the right message for that audience. Salad eating audiences probably value vegetables and would not appreciate the uniform preaching of “Go Meat.”

It’s also interesting to me that they try to wrap your attention up through this cheer leading motif. Hey, it did work for Toni Basil:

So, is the point of the cheers simply to catch your attention or to get you so peppy that you ignore the message? And is it effective?

Transparency in photography

There’s a fascinating piece in the NY Times today — “Point, Shoot, Retouch and Label?” by Steven Erlanger –about French politician Valerie Boyer’s draft of a law requiring advertisements to carry a label if they contain images that have been digitally retouched. This is not a new discussion; publishing associations in the UK and elsewhere have talked about voluntary reform. Check out the consistently smart coverage in Jezebel. But it may be the first to push a law.

The article focuses on the issue of women’s body images and the dangers of falsified ideals, documenting various approaches to this debate, from hopes that “such a label might sensitize people to the fakery involved in most of the advertising images with which they’re bludgeoned” to the threat that “such a law would destroy photographic art.”

In this vein, a fashion photographer is quoted pointing out that all photography is a representation of reality through a lens that excludes as well as captures. Very smart and valid… but is this the generally accepted view that fashion magazine readers share? Based on a sample of my self, friends, students, sister, cousins…. No. However naively, most women still “buy” these false images.

An editor at Marie Claire declares the labels unnecessary because “Our readers are not idiots … Of course they’re all retouched.” You’ve got to almost admire her bravado, and the move to convince her readers with a magazine that so clearly respects their intelligence… I guess I’m an idiot, then, since despite my rhetorical training, I’d still love to be informed.

Check out Marie Claire’s edited editors:

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

At least, in the meantime, we have such wonderful sources as Jezebel and Photoshop Disasters and Photoshop of Horrors, and of course fun on YouTube: