Saturday, 31 May 2014

Zazzle & the Pi trademark fiasco: A communication problem? Or something more?

So Zazzle have listened to reason - or listened to their angry designers - and are reinstating pi products, having made a decision over the pi trademark claims.

Maybe that was going to happen anyway? The (eventual) message from Zazzle was that they removed designs while they "evaluate the complaint". Was it all just part of the process?

It certainly shows the importance of communication.

Up until this forum post, designers had no confidence that any kind of review was being considered. Emails were sent which first claimed "the mathematical symbol pi is a trademark" (it isn't); further emails said legal action by "Pi Produtions" meant there was nothing Zazzle could do; further emails claimed they'd had no choice but to remove any and all "confusingly similar" designs under the Lanham Act.

It just looked like Zazzle were shrugging their shoulders and saying "sorry, nothing to do with us, you can take legal action if you like".

So even if a review was taking place, and was always going to happen (which I doubt), designers were not notified, and had no indication it might take place.

I've received the original standard Content Review email in the past; many designers are familiar with them.
But the same email is sent for both of the following situations:
  • Individual designs which have been complained about - Zazzle are extremely unlikely to review these
  • Zazzle pulling down all designs related to a topic in response to a DCMA - Zazzle may review this as an overall decision
I'm not convinced a review was going to happen, or that reinstatement was inevitable. Zazzle just simply don't want hassle. If they're threatened by a DCMA and think it's remotely credible, they'll pull down all designs in order to avoid a lawsuit. If designers and store keepers make a big noise and threaten legal action in response, they'll review it to avoid a potential lawsuit and a bad reputation.

To be clear: I don't think Zazzle responded to the logical argument that you simply cannot trademark a mathematical symbol. I think they responded to the noise designers made themselves to look like a bigger hassle.

So I don't mind that it looks embarrassing that my previous blog post is picking up attention from the wider internet - and some people are talking about it - just as Zazzle have reinstated pi-related designs.

Without blog posts like that, as part of a wider uproar, Zazzle may have just sat on the decision and allowed the trademark claim to stand, which would have set a worrying precedent for other sites to do the same.

Yes, sites like Zazzle have to be very careful about intellectual property, and often act on the side of caution to avoid a lawsuit. They can't instigate a full-scale review for every single design which gets a trademark infringement complaint.

But they must also have a process for recognising claims which are clearly fraudulent, and do not deserve action. I have no doubt that all print-on-demand sites receive these on a regular basis, and that dumb claims are rejected on a regular basis too.

To quote the original email:
It has been brought to our attention that the mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4473631.
The mathematical symbol pi is not a registered trademark.

Some loser was granted a trademark which included the pi symbol, and threatened Zazzle into believing all existing designs using the pi symbol are "confusingly similar" to his. This, clearly, is a claim that should have been thrown out straight away.

As a designer I'm glad I can relax and get back to doing what I should be doing - designing.

But the whole episode shows how even spurious cases can get taken seriously, with wider implications for everyone.

As for Paul Ingrisano, it seems he's very experienced at this game - having cleverly negotiated with Reebok to withdraw their opposition to his current attempt to trademark "I <3" after inserting a clause to specifically exempt the trademark from all basketball-related apparel.

I wonder how long before we see this whole situation repeated.

[Thanks to all the other Zazzle designers who talked and posted about this subject, and got in touch about the situation.]

Friday, 30 May 2014

This guy just stole pi, and Zazzle helped him do it.

[Edit 30/05 10:00am AEST: It seems Zazzle have listened to reason and are reinstating products. Here's my update.]

Designers are in uproar and filing counter notices after print company Zazzle upheld a man's claim to own the pi symbol on clothing.

Paul Ingrisano, a pirate living in Brooklyn New York, filed a trademark under "Pi Productions" for a logo which consists of this freely available version of the pi symbol π from the Wikimedia website combined with a period (full stop). The conditions of the trademark specifically state that the trademark includes a period.

The Pirate Who Stole Pi

The trademark was granted in January 2014 and Ingrisano has recently made trademark infringement claims against a massive range of pi-related designs on print-on-demand websites including Zazzle and Cafepress.

The Wikimedia Commons pi symbol
Surprisingly, Zazzle accepted his claim and removed thousands of clothing products using this design, emailing designers that their work was infringing Pi Productions' intellectual property - even designs not using a full stop.

At first Zazzle's Content Review team responded to their very angry designers and store keepers with generic emails, suggesting they file counter notices if they felt aggrieved.

But now Zazzle's latest response is that they are acting to protect Paul Ingrisano's "intellectual property" from "confusingly similar" designs as under the Lanham Act 1946 - including designs which do not even contain the pi symbol, but just the word "pi" in their design name.

Pi Productions' "trademark"
Zazzle have locked a public forum thread where angry designers were demanding explanations and discussing legal action, saying they removed apparel designs while they "evaluate the complaint".


There are huge implications for designers and individuals across the planet. If Zazzle wash their hands and accept one man's claim to own the rights to all use of an ancient greek letter and generic mathematical symbol on clothing, it sets a precedent for other websites and companies to do the same.

The story bears similarity to the Sweet Pea trademark case where a $16 million lawsuit was filed against 52 small independent retailers, claiming the phrase "sweet pea" was a trademark. The defendants won the case, highlighting how trademark law can be abused.

Obviously companies like Zazzle have to take trademark infringement claims very seriously.

But if they really did take it seriously, wouldn't they realise how spurious and fraudulent claiming a mathematical symbol is?

These frauds want to dictate what you can wear

Paul Ingrisano's next target: "I <3"
Currently "published for opposition"
Pirates like Ingrisano operate exactly like pirates of the old days: taking opportunities to steal and scaring people into giving them what they want. His latest trademark application is a stylised version of "I <3", a commonly-used text expression on the internet and T-shirt designs. If granted he will no doubt use it to threaten print-on-demand sites and take down another whole fleet of legitimate designs.

Even if Ingrisano had any basis to his Zazzle claim, he is not actually selling any products with this logo. The only one on the entire internet is this skull picture on his Etsy account. [Edit: Despite looking pretty thoroughly, I couldn't find Pi Productions' online store. Thanks to Artnet who found it with "a quick search".]

He is not a legitimate business concerned about his property - he is a pirate out to bully and disrupt legitimate designers.

But while Ingrisano is a pirate, Zazzle are in the position of having made a monumental screw-up - and are working their hardest to justify their mistake, instead of admitting they made one.

Minimum human judgement

Print-on-demand websites are bombarded by these fraudulent claims every day, and most are rightly dismissed. But sites like Zazzle are so terrified of lawsuits, they often automate their content review process. The Cafepress upload system will not even publish any designs referencing intellectual property like Lord Of The Rings or Star Wars.

This means real human judgement is reduced to a bare minimum. And with an army of frauds like Ingrisano firing constant claims, it was a matter of time before a company made a poor judgement out of fear - even despite the clear and obvious fact you cannot trademark a generic symbol or letter.

That company is Zazzle, and instead of admitting their error, they are helping Ingrisano steal pi.

Furious reaction

Some furious designers have already filed counter-notices, which - if not responded to within 14 days - mean Zazzle must reinstate the designs.

And some are discussing class action lawsuit to recover lost earnings. Every day these legitimate designs are offline is lost income for dozens, even hundreds, of small independent designers on Zazzle.

Angry blog posts and tweets are appearing from people who are infuriated that Zazzle would bow down to to such an obviously unjustified trademark claim.

And it doesn't just affect designers - the implications affect scientists, mathematicians, classrooms, college fraternities.

With something as generic and as popular as the pi symbol - which has its own day on 14th March - it's quite possible this issue will hit sites like Reddit and io9 and I F**king Love Science, and from there up to the mainstream news channels. If it does, Zazzle will be shown to be very stupid, and there'll be a lot more angry people on the internet.

I'm a Zazzle designer. Yes, I would like my products reinstated, and it would be nice for any lost earnings to be compensated. But mainly, I just want Zazzle to admit they messed up, big-time.

What I want from Zazzle is an apology.

[Edit 30/05 10:00am AEST: It seems Zazzle have listened to reason and are reinstating products. Here's my update.]

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Some loser has tried to trademark the mathematical symbol Pi

[This story has 2 updates: when things got worse, and when Zazzle reinstated all pi-related designs.]

I received an interesting email from Zazzle overnight.

Zazzle are a print-on-demand website where you can upload your designs and sell T-shirts, mugs, phone cases, you name it, with your design on.

The email informed me that:
the mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark, U.S. Registration No. 4473631.
and that:
we will be removing all products in your store with the mathematical symbol “pi” as it relates to the goods registered for this trademark.
I'm still pinching myself trying to confirm this is real and not some twisted dream.

Firstly I'm stunned anyone at Zazzle let this claim pass. You can't trademark a mathetmatical symbol. Pi in particular is a greek symbol (π) and has been around for millennia. You can't even trademark the use of pi in particular places, like clothing.

Secondly, I dug a bit deeper, because nonsense like this deserves it. And I ended up emailing Zazzle back and schooling them in how trademarks work, which is quite surprising because you'd expect them to know a lot more than me.

"U.S. Registration No. 4473631" can be looked up, thanks to the internet:

A very, very quick look shows:

  • "Illustration: Drawing with word(s)/letter(s)/number(s) in Stylized form Typeset"

i.e. not the mathematical symbol itself, but a logo which incorporates the mathematical symbol pi.
This would be like McDonalds claiming the letter M as a trademark. The trademark is in the combination of style and symbol, not the symbol itself.

  • "The mark consists of the pi mathematical symbol followed by a period." [i.e. full stop]

My use of the generic mathematical symbol pi does not actually include a period.

The trademarks website above usually displays the trademark in question (e.g. McDonalds here), but for U.S. Registration No. 4473631, there is just an image of the letters "PI". A different trademark website here does show an image with the pi symbol with a period.

So not only did Zazzle simply take it on face value that the mathematical symbol pi has been trademarked (!!!). That's bad enough.

There is someone out there who has claimed copyright ownership of the symbol pi who is actively trying to shut down anyone who has used it.

I wonder how many other people have been on the receiving end of this bullshit?

While the email mentioned a company called "Pi Productions Corp.", the trademark listing above shows the owner to be a guy called Paul Ingrisano, whose LinkedIn shows he is "Owner at Pi apparels".

Searching for "Pi apparels" doesn't reveal very much, but searching for Paul Ingrisano does - he has this profile on Facebook, which has a pi-related cover image and shows he works at "Pi Production" who have this Facebook page here. Interestingly there is no website link and no links to any apparel, with or without the pi logo.

None of this changes the fraudulent and ridiculous nature of the trademark infringement claim, but it helps give me a picture of who and why and what is going on. Not only is the claim ridiculous, but having identified the claimant, I can't see any reason they would even have a case.

So along with directly requesting Zazzle to kindly, please, not remove my designs from their website, I would ask them some questions:

  • How many human beings looked at this claim? The claims process for infringements can't be fully automatic - it needs at least one human to verify good claims from bad ones.
  • Why did someone accept, at face value, that "the mathematical symbol “pi” is a registered trademark"?
  • Why didn't they actually look at the registered trademark, which would have confirmed that the trademark in question refers to a specific logo which uses the pi symbol, and not the pi symbol itself? (which is logical in itself)
  • Why are you helping frauds like Paul Ingrisano who claim to have registered a generic mathematical symbol?

They may or may not read this, but it helps me a little bit to write it down and dump it on the internet.
I'm certainly looking forward to their email response.

In case you're interested in my rather lovely pi (and pie) T-shirt designs, you can find them here on Redbubble.

[This story has 2 updates: when things got worse, and when Zazzle reinstated all pi-related designs.]

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Where is the British left? Missing, presumed dead

A simple question: Where the hell is the British left?

As the European elections and local elections* see a huge success for the xenophobic UKIP, I'd love to know where the hell the British left - from centre to extreme - has disappeared to.

Labour should be tearing chunks out of this Conservative government - propped up the centre-left Liberal Democrats - which is committed to blaming the poor and sending millions into deepening poverty.

But no. Just like New Zealand and Australia**, they have left a period of power in a shambles, put up ineffectual leaders, and failed miserably at making political gains - at a time when the recession has ravaged the country and they should be making the case for supporting the sick and poor and disabled and unemployed, should be investing in public transport and affordable green energy, should be making the case for all these things.

We know that small parties do very well at local election and European elections (which are proportional, unlike the UK's joke of an electoral system). It's a chance for a protest vote, to stick it to the main parties, when turnout is low.

But why have UKIP succeeded and dominated the media for the last 6 months, while the smaller leftist parties are - well, what ARE they doing? I don't know what they're doing, which is kind of the point.

I had to find the Green Party's electoral campaign broadcast on Youtube. I had to look it up. I would be the first person to admit my Facebook feed is an ivory tower, a bubble, of privileged/leftist/green/progressive attitudes, because that's mostly the people I like. But I didn't see it once.

The British socialists said - no wait, who are the British socialists? I count myself a moderate socialist, and yet I don't even know the name of a British socialist party - of which there are many, because let's face it, the far-left is very good at infighting and squabbling over 19th-century economic philosophy while the free-market, xenophobic right marches on.

Why are UKIP doing so well as a protest vote against the main parties, against a background of the MPs expenses scandal - while the left parties are nowhere to be seen?

There is technically a thing you can call "the British left". Sure, Britain is naturally a conservative country. And sure, the vast majority of UK newspapers are either right-wing or far-right-wing: The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Financial Times, The Sun, The Spectator, The Economist, ITV.

But in theory, this is what I'd call the British left:

  • Labour Party - centre-left, major Parliamentary party
    Currently failing at creating solid policies and holding the Tories to account
  • Liberal Democrats - centre-left, minor Parliamentary party
    Currently propping up the Tories they should be holding to account
  • Green Party - left/green, tiny party (1 MP)
    Currently consist of Caroline Lucas MP being awesome, and, uh, not sure?
  • Respect Party - left/radical, tiny party (1 MP)
    Currently... nope not sure
  • Various socialist parties, including Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Party (England and Wales), Scottish Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Workers Party, Liberal Party, the Communist Left Alliance (in Fife), and I guess perhaps the Pirate Party.
    Currently relegated to the last paragraph of "Non-Parliamentary political parties" on Wikipedia's "Politics of the United Kingdom" page -> Political Parties section. (Okay, that's not true - the following paragraph discusses single interest and local parties, such as the "Better Bedford Independent Party". I don't know if they're leftist.)
  • Trade unions - still a major contributor in finances and policy to the Labour Party and smaller leftist parties
  • The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror and the New Statesman, and Channel 4, representing 98.57% of left-leaning news in the UK.***
In a way, you could say a lot of British leftism is mixed into the fabric of daily life. Mainstream British public opinion supports public institutions like the BBC and the NHS. But this, quite simply, doesn't mean anything when it comes to action at the ballot box or even political policies.

One aspect of UKIP's success, alongside the BNP and the hideous military religio-fascist xenophobia of Britain First, is one of capturing the media's attention. They have been in the spotlight precisely because they have such awful, bigoted opinions, which are both notable on their own and notable because they seem to, for whatever reason, have caught the public's attention.

I'm sure my parents' generation remember the Labour Party tearing itself to shreds in the 80s, with the papers regularly talking about communists, Trotskyites, the militant tendency, support for the USSR and evil communist regimes, etc. etc. I bet some people are grateful we aren't watching that today.

I'm just saddened the British left are so insignificant, they're not even seen as a threat.

And you know what's really disturbing about UKIP and these elections?

Britain has watched UKIP's endless stream of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia paraded around the media and on the internet, like a non-stop source of unprofessional clown-like hatred, and the British public have still said, yes, that's the party I want.

Maybe one of the reasons I don't know about (never mind support) any of these tiny British leftist parties is because I hate the petty infighting, personality clashes and reliance on outdated economics like Marxism/Leninism that comes with small leftist parties. I'd much rather support a Labour Party that was principled, credible, effective and electable.

I don't mind that these parties aren't in the media for all their faults like UKIP is.

I mind that there isn't a progressive, green, LGBT-friendly, inclusive leftist party cutting a path through British politics like UKIP is.

* Local elections are just for England and Northern Ireland, not Wales or Scotland.

** UK: Labour 1997-2010 - Tony Blair 97-07, Gordon Brown 07-10. Won 3 elections: 1997, 2001, 2005. Succeeded by coalition of Conservative Party (right) led by David Cameron and Liberal Democrats (centre-left) led by Nick Clegg (2010-present).

NZ: Labour 1999-2008, Helen Clark 99-08. Won 3 elections: 99, 2002, 2005. Succeeded by right-wing National Party led by John Key (2008-present).

Aus: Labor 2007-2013, Kevin Rudd 07-10, Julia Gillard 10-13, Kevin Rudd 13-13. Won 2 elections: 2007, 2010. Succeeded by right-wing Coalition (National Party + Liberal Party) led by Tony Abbott (2013-present).

*** The BBC don't count, since they are regularly criticised for being too right-wing and too left-wing. Personally I think that's a good sign that they are, generally, in the centre. But it also means they don't count as left.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fears and feelings: Why are people so anxious about technology? 9 possible reasons

Gary Turk's "Look Up" viral video showed us 2 useful, concrete things last week:
  • There is widespread anxiety about the role of technology in society
  • Videos go viral because of feelings, not rational thinking
For example, the line "There's no skipping, no hopskotch, no church and steeple" makes no literal sense at all. Is Turk really blaming iPhones for a decline in hopskotch? Has Facebook been physically removing steeples from towns across the UK? Of course not.

It conjures up an image of traditional life and an older, simpler time.

It's fluffy and heartwarming, so you FEEL you are being shown something "inspirational". By the time your thinking brain has caught up, he's moved onto the next fluffy sentimental line.

The poem is not about showing people how the world IS, but how they fear it is, and how they feel it ought to be.
"People like to be told what they already know.  Remember that.  They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things.  New things…well, new things aren't what they expect.  They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man.  That is what dogs do.  They don’t want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that.  In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds."
The Patrician, Lord Vetinari [THE TRUTH by Terry Pratchett]
Of course it's not all fluffy and nice. Like a religious preacher with a congregation, Turk paints a picture of a hell that doesn't exist ("A world where we're slaves to the technology we mastered"), so he can instruct you on the only way to save your soul ("Shut down that display ... live life the real way").

And to think people call me "negative" for deconstructing this claptrap.

9 possible reasons people are anxious about technology

So, I wondered about the wider picture, the reasons this video tapped a nerve on social media. Why are people so anxious about technology? Even, or especially, those actually using it?

Well, here we go...

1. More older people joining social media

10 years ago "social media" was teenagers finding new bands on Myspace.
Things have changed a lot since then.

A huge number of middle-aged and older people have been 1) buying smartphones and 2) taking up Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Not only are older people more familiar with Facebook, they're more familiar with communicating online in general.

But older people have also brought older values with them, which is why we're more likely to see memes on social media about "when I was a kid" and the past being a better, simpler place.

2. Not-so-young people have grown jaded with the internet

At the same time as old people joining the web, teenagers from the 90s are now older, more cynical and more cautious about the internet. People my age (30) have spent roughly half their life texting on phones, and about the same communicating on the internet.

While "Look Up" and similar videos appeal to the older generation's sense of tradition (young people these days!) and teenagers' sense of drama (this thing is the worst thing ever!), the 25-35 audience hold a huge chunk of people who love using their phones yet feel guilty about it.

In fact "guilt" was a word that featured in "Look Up" and cropped up frequently in the Twitter and Youtube comments around it.

"The Pace
Of Modern
Life", from
the illustrious
3. People have short memories of the past...

Everyone loves something to blame, and modern technology has always been a great scapegoat. Today's panic is over smartphones and tablets, but people easily forget the panics over cellphones, computer games and television which have been going on for decades - or much longer, as XKCD points out in "The Pace Of Modern Life".

Gary Turk can't be very old, because he thinks commuting was a bunch of flamingos vomitting rainbows before smartphones:
"I can't stand to hear the silence of a busy commuter train, When no one want's to talk for the fear of looking insane"
Sorry Gary, that's not technology or Facebook, that's city living, and always has been. (Britain is also especially good at public social detachment.) Check out the above photo from Stanley Kubrick's series on Chicago trams in the 1940s. Looks like a barrel of laughs!

4. ...and are short-sighted about the future

Andy Boxall points out that smartphones are still new, and we're still getting used to them. The fact is all new technology takes a while to settle in - after which, moral panics die down, or at least move on.

For example, "Look Up"'s actual title is specifically around tablets and mobile phones, which have become widespread only recently. In five years' time, the moral panic will be about Google Glass, which will allow you be look up and still be distracted by funny cat videos. (Maybe we'll have moved on in 5 years to funny sloth videos. We can only hope.)

In ten, twenty, thirty years, "Look Up" will look like a joke - a moral panic trapped in amber, like an angry, confused, mosquito.

5. Limited knowledge of what technology is already doing

More emoticons? But these are all I need!
One hilarious irony in "Look Up" is about "going outside". You'd think it's still 1998 and "social media" means being chained to a desktop PC chatting on MSN. LOL! (K)

Even people on their mobile smartphones have been parroting the phrase "Go outside! Go outside!", as if completely unaware that mobile technology has moved on and actually - does - let us - go - outside.

"Look Up" and the reactions on Twitter illustrate a strong lack of understanding of the varied ways technology is already being used to help people interact, communicate, create and inspire, including meet-up groups, fundraising sites, online dating, MMORPGs, home recording, live streaming, digital art software and websites, social networks, print on demand, and far far more.

6. Poor imagination of how technology and society will change

Take handwriting. There is a growing moral panic about handwriting "dying out", due to texting and typing on electronic devices like phones and computers. Consider it one of my tips for the next 5-20 years.

Of course, formats never die - the chance of handwriting "dying out" in the near or even mid future is near zero. And if it did disappear, it would only be because a better version of written communication had slowly replaced it. Most probably, writing will continue alongside typed and swiped input methods, and the two will even merge in interesting ways we haven't seen yet.

But fear trumps excitement and hope any day. There is an attachment to traditional habits and technologies such as handwriting; an assumption they are superior to new methods of doing the same thing; an exaggerated fear of them being under threat; and misplaced ideas of where such threats come from.

7. Inflexible views of what being human is

Deep at the heart of this unconscious, emotional mess are questions of what is "real" and what is "human".

The unspoken thread connecting "Look Up", "I Forgot My Phone" and the anti-phone mooing on Twitter is that communicating online is less "real" than communicating face to face. That somehow, the "true" nature of humans goes back to cavemen or Bronze Age goat herders, probably talking around a fire.

This fear will probably remain strong indefinitely, despite the continual trend of communication technology becoming more transparent, more intuitive and more natural.

Despite widespread consumer technology in Western/rich societies, we still have a strong emotional attachment to our condition as basic animals.

8. A sense of "payback"?

This is more just a hunch, but hear me out. What if people feel today's advanced technology is an awesome power/treasure/reward with no obvious cost, and thus entails some kind of inevitable spiritual payback?

It doesn't make logical sense, but as mentioned, this is people and feelings we're talking about. It doesn't have to make sense. Again, the concept of guilt is highly relevant here.

It wouldn't surprise me if many people can't accept, emotionally and subconsciously, widespread technological advancement as simply a neutral tool developed by mankind.

(The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism, anyone? Anyone?)

9. Legitimate concerns and negative issues

There really are many negative issues around widespread consumer technology, and it's so new, we're only just catching up with possible effects:
  • Damaged eyes - Many people spend way too much time staring at screens, and it's unhealthy. Eyesight is arguably a health timebomb waiting to happen. Consider it another tip for 5-20 years.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns - Too much screen time, especially close to bed time, has a negative effect on sleep - which then has a further negative effect on all kinds of health aspects, including healing time, stress, concentration, sight and hearing, exhaustion, and more.
  • Energy dependence - Until we charge devices by the sun and movement, increasing use of smartphones and computers will continue to put a huge strain on dirty energy resources.
  • Germy germy germs - Devices like smartphones are just as dirty as computer keyboards, i.e. sometimes dirtier than a toilet seat. Most people clean their toilets. A few clean their phones.
  • Posture, aches and pains, stress and more - If you use your device or machine too much, the health problems mount up. That's been obvious to workplaces with desktop computers for years, but we're only just seeing the phsyical effects of constant smartphone use.
Too bad "Look Up" didn't mention any of these things.

Instead, it forced a false, over-simplistic, scaremongering, traditionalist message around "detachment" and "living like robots" - a message which for several or all of the above reasons, preyed on fears and feelings rather than appealed to reason.

Here's to sober, informed debate about our use of technology, with open eyes and clear minds.


Friday, 9 May 2014


Hamburger chef Jamie Oliver has won his long-fought battle against one of the largest fast food chains in the world – McDonalds. After Oliver showed how McDonald’s hamburgers are made, the franchise finally announced that it will change its recipe, and yet there was barely a peep about this in the mainstream, corporate media.

If you shared an "article" that started with this paragraph, you're not alone, although you might be stupid.

There are approximately 1,723,950 different pages on the internet with this story, all using the exact same text.

These "articles" all go back to a page posted in August 2013, ripped from a news article in January 2012, and they all show this video which was uploaded to Youtube in April 2011.

I deliberately copied and pasted the first paragraph - not the whole thing, although it was tempting - to illustrate the point.

Let's have at look at the top 3 search results in Google for the phrase "Hamburger chef Jamie Oliver has won his long-fought battle against one of the largest fast food chains in the world – McDonalds" (without quote marks).

Just the top 3, because despite the endless labyrinth of pages copying each other, that's all we need:

#1 End All Disease - website page
  • No post date 
  • Dodgy website name (category: natural health)

#2 Facebook post by "Doc Rivers" on official CNN Facebook page
  • 6 August 2013
  • Link is the above Political Blindspot web page
  • Apparently 5 people like this, and 3 people shared it. Why #2, Google?

#3 Before It's News - advert-soaked website page
  • April 25, 2014
  • this page (dodgy website name, category: natural health) dated April 24 (2014?) with a "Source" link leading to:
  • the same Political Blindspot page mentioned above (August 3, 2013).

But it doesn't stop there. This Daily Mail article is dated 27 January 2012.

The text is not the same, but it is the same story - that Jamie Oliver had succeeded in his campaign against McDonalds using ammonia-cleaned "pink slime" in its burgers.

To clarify: The Daily Mail is the best "journalism" in this whole mess. The Daily Mail.

Interestingly myth-busting website Snopes does not mention any of these recent articles, but it does have this article called "Legal Separation" about both pink slime and mechanically-separated chicken, which was "Collected via email 2010" (article last updated March 2012). As hoaxes go, it rates "MIXTURE OF TRUE AND FALSE INFORMATION" in case you wondered.

To clarify: This shit all went down 3+ years ago, and you're all still sharing it like it's news.

Why this story?

I don't like to promise answers. I'm just looking this stuff up. But a big question here is this: why did this story, instead of or as well as others, get copied and pasted across so many different websites?

My guess is it has a unique combination of factors:
  • Pseudo-health - you can see this plastered across dozens of natural/pseudo health websites, not just ("The Truth Has Arrived" - because that sounds credible)
  • Conspiracy - it's also across lots of conspiracy nut websites, because ZOMG what are the evil corporations putting in our food? Note the dig at "corporate media" in the first paragraph.
  • Life & style - It's food, it's Jamie Oliver, it's your family and your kids.
  • Ewww gross - "Pink slime", ammonia, the pics and video - people love sharing things that are disgusting.
So once Political Blindspot's 6 August 2013 Daily Mail rip-off picked up speed, other websites wanted the page clicks and ad views (this is why major newspapers repost viral videos without actually adding any comment or insight, something we used to call "journalism").

Every time it goes viral, other websites see it going viral, and they want a slice of the ad-clicks from people searching & sharing. So they post it new, and people share it (including those who don't recognise or remember seeing it before), and the cycle continues.

This is why The Mind Unleashed (dodgy website name, categories: pseudo-science + pseudo-health) was able to re-post it in 25th April 2014, with a different picture and even linking in the first paragraph to the Jan 2012 Daily Mail article. And people still clicked share first, ask questions later (if at all).

It's also why Political Blindspot isn't even in the top 10 search results for its own introductory paragraph (#12 if you "repeat the search with the omitted results included").

Come on Jez, get to the point

Now, the point of this blog post is not to break down an internet hoax like "New Trend In Portland", nor to criticise and deconstruct bullshit like the "Look Up" video by Gary Turk.

My point is to explore and explain what is happening behind one example of the things you click "share" on - and apparently keep clicking share on - repeatedly, over and over again.

To clarify: the Jamie Oliver McDonalds Pink Slime internet story may continue being "news" until the actual end of time. (Or the end of the internet, whichever is later.)

What we have here, is a news/meme hybrid. A newme.

It looks like news, but refuses to die, much like the old articles about condoms being too big for Indian men (Dec 2006) and a snake exploding after eating a crocodile (Oct 2005) which persistently and bizarrely clog up the BBC's "Most shared" and "Most read" Top 10 alongside current news articles.

And here I am, at the end of the chain, doing the same - copying the content to draw traffic to my little blog. I've even uploaded the photos as my own to draw traffic in from Google, just like the New Trend In Portland and Whale Slaughter In Denmark posts.

I don't actually have any ads, so I assure you, it's not for the money. It's just because it's all worth thinking about, right? Or maybe it's for the lolz.

For what it's worth, I think Jamie Oliver is pretty cool and fully support his aims in improving food quality, food and labelling standards, and animal welfare standards in farming. There's probably some better people I could linking to (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Chicken Out and Fish Fight just for starters) but here's the Jamie Oliver "Activities & Campaigns" page:

Chur ("cheers" in Kiwi)

Monday, 5 May 2014

"Look Up" video full text

What if he just got a call from his mum?
As my last post shows, I'm not exactly a fan of Gary Turk's anti-technology video "Look Up". But below is the full text, for anyone looking for it.

I don't know who I find more galling - Gary Turk, who wrote this one-dimensional preachy fluff, or the millions of sheep sharing it on social media (irony!) saying things like "OMG SO TRUE" and "Inspirational!" and "I'm guilty of this too!".

Guilty of what? Buying a phone sober and using it in full control of your life choices?

One of the most-quoted lines is "We are a generation of idiots; smart phones and dumb people". Oh stuff off with your fake nostalgia. Our generation is no more full of idiots than every other generation.

People have always been idiots, with or without phones. People are just dumb all by themselves.

Anyway, I've written out the full text 1) simply because a lot of people out on the internet are requesting it, and 2) because I think seeing it written out, without the schmaltzy music and cheesy visuals, helps expose it as the nostalgic, misguided twaddle that it is.

P.S. Gary Turk looks in mid-20s, yet still pulls out the line about "when I was young (cliché 1) we rode bikes (cliché 2) and got grazes (cliché 3) and built treehouses (cliché 4)".
Truly, if someone under 30 can wheel out such ancient clichés, then words mean nothing any more.

"Look Up" by Gary Turk

I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely.
I speak to all of them every day, yet none of them really know me.
The problem I have sits in the spaces between
Looking into their eyes, or at a name on a screen.

I took a step back and opened my eyes,
I looked around and realised,
That this media we call social is anything but
When we open our computers and it's our doors we shut

All this technology we have, it's just an illusion
Community companionship, a sense of inclusion
But when you step away from this device of delusion
You awaken to see a world of confusion.

A world where we're slaves to the technology we mastered
Where information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard
A world of self interest, self image and self promotion
Where we all share our best bits but, leave out the emotion.

We're at our most happy with an experience we share,
But is it the same if no-one is there?
Be there for your friends and they'll be there too,
But no-one will be if a group message will do.

We edit and exaggerate, crave adulation
We pretend not to notice the social isolation
We put our words into order and tint our lives a-glistening
We don't even know if anyone is listening

Being alone isn't a problem let me just emphasize
If you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise
You're being productive and present, not reserved and recluse
You're being awake and attentive and putting your time to good use

So when you're in public, and you start to feel alone
Put your hands behind your head, step away from the phone
You don't need to stare at the menu, or at your contact list
Just talk to one another, learn to co-exist.

I can't stand to hear the silence of a busy commuter train
When no one want's to talk for the fear of looking insane.
We're becoming unsocial, it no longer satisfies
To engage with one another, and look into someone's eyes.

We're surrounded by children, who since they were born,
Have watched us living like robots, who now think it's the norm.
It's not very likely you'll make world's greatest dad,
If you can't entertain a child without using an iPad

When I was a child, I'd never be home
Be out with my friends, on our bikes we'd roam
I'd wear holes on my trainers, and graze up my knees
We'd build our own clubhouse, high up in the trees

Now the park's so quiet, it gives me a chill
See no children outside and the swings hanging still.
There's no skipping, no hopscotch, no church and no steeple
We're a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people.

So look up from your phone, shut down the display
Take in your surroundings, make the most of today
Just one real connection is all it can take
To show you the difference that being there can make.

Be there in the moment, that she gives you the look
That you remember forever as when love overtook
The time she first held your hand, or first kissed your lips
The time you first disagreed but you still love her to bits

The time you don't have to tell hundreds of what you've just done
Because you want to share this moment with just this one
The time you sell your computer, so you can buy a ring
For the girl of your dreams, who is now the real thing.

The time you want to start a family, and the moment when
You first hold your little girl, and get to fall in love again.
The time she keeps you up at night, and all you want is rest
And the time you wipe away the tears as your baby flees the nest.

The time your baby girl returns, with a boy for you to hold
And the time he calls you granddad and makes you feel real old.

The time you've taken all you've made, just by giving life attention.
And how you're glad you didn't waste it, by looking down at some invention.

The time you hold your wife's hand, sit down beside her bed,
You tell her that you love her and lay a kiss upon her head.
She then whispers to you quietly as her heart gives a final beat
That she's lucky she got stopped by that lost boy in the street.

But none of these times ever happened, you never had any of this.
When you're too busy looking down, you don't see the chances you miss.

So look up from your phone, shut down those displays
We have a final act existence, a set number of days
Don't waste your life getting caught in the net,
As when the end comes nothing's worse than regret.

I'm guilty too of being part of this machine,
This digital world, we are heard but not seen.
Where we type as we talk, and we read as we chat
Where we spend hours together without making eye contact

So don't give into a life where you follow the hype
Give people your love, don't give them your 'like'
Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined
Go out into the world, leave distractions behind.

Look up from your phone. Shut down that display. Stop watching this video. Live life the real way.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

"Look Up" is the worst form of rose-tinted, anti-phone bullshit I've seen yet

It's very fashionable to hate technology and social media these days. You can see this in funny and/or Very Meaningful pictures and videos shared around on the very social networks they criticise.

The latest and most nauseating is a video called "Look Up" by Gary Turk.

Just watch it. The meaning is very clear and simple:
  • We spend too much time on our phones - in fact that's the only thing we do
  • We are lonely, not just with our technology, but because of it
  • Mobile technology makes us soulless robots, destroys creativity and stifles interaction
  • We are slaves to technology, replacing "real life" with time on social networks

Simple messages and the power of cheap music

Of course it's easy for Turk to have a simple message: Phones are bad, Facebook is bad, "the outside" is good. Simple messages travel fast on the internet, especially when you give them nice music.

It's harder to have a realistic message: that social technology has good and bad aspects, it's part of our changing society, it's not evil but does require discussion.

"Look Up" also plugs directly into feelings, bypassing any logical thoughts. For example, the end of the video describes falling in love and leading a long happy life with someone you happen to ask for directions - but how "none of these things ever happened ... when you're too busy looking down, you don't see the chances you miss".

"Look Up" on Youtube.
Maybe he's just texting someone he's meeting?
This sickly sweet verse, its old-fashioned example (asking directions) and its old-fashioned values (lifelong monogamy = the most precious kind of relationship) all deliberately ignore troublesome details of the real world, like, you know, INTERNET DATING and the countless ways people are using technology to meet and interact with new people, including romantic partners, with more shared interests than just bumping into them on the street.

Seriously Gary, start with OKCupid and we'll build up to Fetlife social events from there.

I Forgot My Phone - oh, and all my friends are dicks

I was originally going to write this blog post about "I Forgot My Phone", a video showing a young woman without a phone, surrounded by other people with phones, in various situations: in bed with her partner, out running on a hill with a beautiful view, having coffee with friends.

The predictable message is that people on their phones are not really living life, because they're always occupied by their phone, instead of interacting with people around them, which is what they should be doing.

Flaws with "I Forgot My Phone" are easy to list: Do friends who go bowling all sit there on their phone? Is it always wrong to look at your phone when hanging out with friends? Should you never check your phone when in bed with a loved one, or out running, like, ever, in your entire life?

No, no, and no. The video is an exaggeration, and doesn't stand up when you get specific. (Heavens, don't take it so seriously! Just seriously enough to click "share". On your mobile device. Which is bad.)

But listing particular flaws is a distraction, because these videos are part of a wider trend - the same as image memes which say "When I was a child we played in the street and made treehouses!! Share if you agree!!!!"

The connecting theme is that everything was simply better in the past, before the technology of today.

Sandi Thom, misguided nostalgia, and telling people what's right and wrong

Sandi Thom used this vague, idiotic nostalgia in the song "I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker" (click at own risk) back in 2005 when Myspace ruled the social internet. Thom says she was "born too late", yet mixes up punks and hippies and 1977 and 1969, showing a clear misunderstanding of the time(s?) she wishes she lived in.

Ironically, Sandi Thom clearly wasn't born too late to find success by webcasting her acoustic performances from her basement, which were announced and publicised over Myspace.

This is acceptable because it is simple...
Today, anti-phone preachers like Gary Turk are very zealous about today's technology being soulless and "wrong" - yet fail to be specific or knowledgeable about what the "right" amount technology is.

When exactly did phones cross the line? Flip phones? The classic Nokia brick? Presumably rotary phones aren't soulless, because we only see them in films about the past, and the past was a better place.

...but this woman is clearly a soulless robot.
Who will save her from her phone?
Who will save any of us??!
If there was one good and useful thing about Woody Allen's awful nostalgia-fest "Midnight In Paris", it's the final realisation of Owen Wilson's character: that every generation will have people who paint a romantic version of the past, because they're unable to connect their limited and fixed ideas about what humanity should be, with the technology of their time.

(Seriously Woody, you did not need an entire film to give us that one punchline.)

I emphasise "should be", because these videos are not just middle-class hand-wringing: "OMG all this technology, what about our souls??" They are actively telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing.

Don't take it literally! Except the literal instructions

Already a lot of the comments appearing on "Look Up" (currently 2.5 million views, 7 days after upload Edit: I originally wrote 1.8million when I started writing this post, then thought I'd got it wrong - actually just 2hrs after posting it's up to 3million - clearly it's being shared pretty fast) say "don't take it literally". Apparently it's not a literal message, it's just a guide! To encourage us to spend less time messing up our eyes staring at screens, and waste less time on Facebook and Whatsapp.

But the truth is these videos and images really are instructional - particularly "Look Up", which actually, literally, does give people specific instructions. Who knows, maybe it's like the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign, where internet activist Suey Park didn't actually want to cancel the Colbert Report. Maybe you can't actually believe what people say. It is the internet, after all.

Still though, it's hard to see ambiguity in the lines "So look up from your phone, shut down those displays, we have a finite existence, a set number of days". The meaning is clear: that life is too short to "waste" on your phone. Too short!!

Again Turk is clearly ignoring the problematic facts of the real world, like the way technology and social networking save time by performing tasks that used to take us much longer - including communicating with friends and organising social events. Even ones in that magical "outside" place!

Who decides what's "real", or what's important? Oprah? The UN?

Videos like "Look Up" and "I Forgot My Phone" claim that there is some kind of problem, yet they fail to provide any meaningful advice on how we might solve this problem. They just moo, like cattle, that phones are somehow "bad" in a vague, undefined way, and that using phones puts you in some kind of soulless black hole, separate from "real life".

Well, I have 2 very unsurprising discoveries:
  • People are just as creative and social, if not more, thanks to today's technology and social media
  • Phones and social networks are also part of "real life"
"What's this guy looking at? The world?"
Tweet by @cap0w Funny as a joke -
not a serious comment on society's decline
Just take Cameron Power's photo tweet showing a man on a train station platform not looking at his phone, surrounded by people who are looking at their phones.
  • Firstly, 1) looking at your phone while waiting for a train is not a crime, and 2) there was no magic time before mobile phones where people would all talk cheerfully with strangers on trains, on platforms, everywhere, all the time.
  • Secondly, while it's clearly meant as a joke - an amusing comment on today's human behaviour - it hits the same nerve as "Look Up" and "I Forgot My Phone": that doing anything on your phone is inferior to talking with whatever strangers you happen to standing next to.
Well you know what, it's not anyone's business what I do on my phone, or what you do on yours, and it's no-one's place to decide how important it is or isn't.

Maybe I'm on Whatsapp with a friend in another country.
Maybe I'm sending dirty messages to a girl from last night.
Maybe I'm writing lyrics, or reading a socio-political article on the BBC.
Or maybe I'm just looking at funny photos of cats.

Is any of that less "real" than talking about the fucking weather with a random stranger? Who decides?

Please tell me, anyone, I'd love to know.

The world is a better and more interesting place now that we are connected with others who aren't immediately in talking distance. I think that's obvious, and it's dumb that I even have to say that to any of you.

Misty Watercoloured Laziness

What saddens me about "Look Up" is that Gary Turk is clearly a talented poet/wordsmith who has chosen an important topic to express a passionate opinion on. I should be applauding his passion and skill and the production of this video.

But I can't do that, because "Look Up" is a massively misguided example of the rose-tinted anti-phone bandwagon: that there's a problem, and it's Facebook's fault, it's your phone's fault, it's technology's fault, it's anyone's fault but not your fault. This thinking isn't just ignorant. It's lazy.

The worst part of "Look Up" though is without doubt the final line: "Live life the real way". Bullshit. Pure and simple.

Don't tell people their life isn't "real" just because they use a phone more than some random arbitrary amount you decided (yet conveniently didn't mention in your cutesy video).

So dear reader, try these "instructions" on living life the "real" way instead:
  • Take responsibility of your own actions and your own possessions. You choose, every day, how much time you spend on your phone and how you use it.
  • Find the right balance and purpose for technology in your life. Spending too much time on your phone or computer isn't healthy, but they are useful machines that can help your life, and you define how much is "too much". (And eye doctors. Maybe those guys too.)
  • Choose the right devices and apps that you feel comfortable with, which provide the right functions that you need.
  • Get regular and frequent exercise if you're not doing it already, although you probably hear this from lots of other places anyway.
  • Interact with whoever you like, whichever way you like. Whether it's messaging a relative overseas or chatting with a friend over coffee, or - shock horror - both at the same time (because you don't always talk to someone all the time that you are with them), it's your choice and they are just as "real" as each other.
Because the only kind of instruction you can give people when it comes to social media and technology is to take responsibility and choose how to live their own life.

There's a lot more I want to cover on this topic, around society/technology and our current place in humanity's development as a species, from apes to spacepeople.

But this post has been long enough, and I've spent long enough on the computer writing this. And I decide how long is too long for me - not Gary Turk, and certainly not some video I saw shared on the internet.

--> Additional

I should reference Andy Boxall's Digital Trends article on "I Forgot My Phone" from August 2013, which covers many issues in a more concise, articulate way than this blog post.

In particular, the use of "creepy, frightening images of people staring, dead-eyed, at nothing at all" is applicable to "Look Up", in the way it's a clever tool to emotionally manipulate the viewer - while bearing no resemblance to way real people actually act with their phones.
In the same way TV hasn’t stopped us from seeing the world, chatting with friends, or going bowling, smartphones won’t either. They’re still a relatively new invention, and our obsession will inevitably fade. Humans have been around for a lot longer than phones and TVs, but our need to communicate with each other has only grown. Yes, we probably all need to moderate our use when we’re with friends or in places like the cinema. But please, let’s not demonize this amazing tool and the new world it opens up, just because some people would rather the attention it receives was lavished on them.
--> Additional 2

I'm just going to quote my friend on Facebook directly, since they summed up points (like Andy Boxall above) which I kind of hinted at but couldn't articulately describe:
I didn't watch the whole thing, but I've heard the same argument since BBSs and chat rooms came around. Hell you can probably say the same thing about writing letters. I would say that the current technology allows for greater interaction and connection. You are easily able to find subgroups that fit you better and are no longer imprisoned by your geography.
If you feel alone with your group of friends don't blame the technology. It's an enabler and you can have as much connection as you want. You can use it to hide, or to connect, it's up to you.
That line "no longer imprisoned by your geography" resonates with me. I grew up in a large-ish town close to London - hardly some isolated rural village - and yet I remember the first time I went on a chat room on a Suede fan website. I spoke to someone in Lisbon, and someone else in the United Arab Emirates, and other people too. It was amazing.

The fact we can now do this - and a whole lot more - on our phone, and not just a huge boxy desktop computer at home, is a good thing. I don't want to be some blind cheerleader for technology or spending every hour of every day on our phones. But like I said at the start, technology is a complicated and moving part of our society, and it requires discussion instead of equally-blind rejection.

Thanks for reading
Jez x