Harry Potter & Horcrux Hoopla

20 Nov

“Horcrux hunt is on!” tweeted Twitter user pinksteele83 in preparation for the evening.

The Twitter news feeds of Sacramento users were flooded with similar tweets Thursday night as nearly 100 locals participated in the Harry Potter Horcrux Hunt organized by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Esquire IMAX Theatre.

Participants met at the Downtown Ice Rink at 7th and K streets at 8 p.m. They received seven clues about the location of the horcruxes, the objects that contain a fraction of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul for which Harry Potter is deemed responsible to destroy in the new film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”. Hunters roamed downtown to find Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and six other horcruxes dispersed among participating businesses. Along with discovering the horcrux, players picked up coupons from each destination.

The scavenger hunt garnered national attention due in large part to its unique social media aspect. Participants were required to have at least one smart phone on each team and a Twitter account. QR barcodes were attached to each horcrux, which participants scanned using a mobile application that automatically tweeted their location and their conquest.

“Apologies in advance for excess nerd-tweeting while I get my horcrux hunt on,” tweeted Twitter user Spoonzine.

Other participants, including those aptly dressed in robes and pointed hats, were less abashed at flaunting their fandom.

Twitter user jlautsch tweeted, “I’ve found Nagini at Crest Theatre” and posed for a picture with the snake horcrux draped around her neck.

The hunt culminated at 11 p.m. at Esquire IMAX Theatre in time for the sold out midnight movie premiere. Those who found all seven objects were entered to win a grand prize of an Esquire IMAX party for 10 and gift cards to the participating scavenger hunt venues, which was won by Adam Gothard. Other raffle winners received Harry Potter posters and T-shirts, and all received Harry Potter temporary tattoos.

“This promotion was so cutting edge,” said Doug Link, Esquire IMAX’s Theatre Director and Senior Consultant. “We had hundreds of Twitter and Facebook posts from participants.”

Published at The Sacramento Press.

The Broken College Calculator

19 Oct

In the Sept. 24, 2009, New York Times Magazine’s “The College Calculation”, David Leonhardt attempts to evaluate how much a college education actually matters in the long run. Skeptics point out that a college education really isn’t the determining factor in how successful an individual is in the work force, and pro-college advocates argue that a college education deeply impacts your future profession. With the current recession, Leonhardt states that it is more debatable than ever whether college is worth it.

It seems like things just don’t add up. With education at the top of the budget chopping block, students are funneling more and more money into their tuition bills and getting less and less in return. A hard-earned degree was supposed to be worth the four years of stress and studying, not to mention the lifelong coffee addiction. Teachers and parents described post-graduation like they would a promised land, where any job your baccalaureate heart desired would land in your lap with the simple flick of a tassel.

Besides the mounting evidence that a college education is not an investment that will pay itself back, there is more to the collegiate experience than merely sitting in a classroom. The independence I gained, the friends I made and the desire for knowledge sparked within me is priceless. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, even as I work two part-time jobs that are completely unrelated to my undergraduate area of study.

It may just be that the criteria we use to judge a person’s success–money–is the single thing that is flawed in this educational equation. There is no unit of measurement for happiness, social skills or work ethic. It is just assumed that these things positively correlate with income. You need only dust off your introductory statistics textbook to recall that correlation does not imply causation. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t remember this basic statistical property. ANOVA and t-tests are probably concepts that have been rendered largely unnecessary since you’ve graduated.

Maybe the skeptics are on to something.

When professional athletes are unprofessional

27 Aug

Flying under the radar has never been Chad Ochocinco’s forte. The most prominent associations I link to this professional football player are his reality television stints on VH1 and Dancing with the Stars, his legal name change to reflect the numerals on his jersey, and his notoriety on Twitter. The latter of these redeeming qualities landed him in trouble last weekend when he tweeted not once, but twice, during a preseason game against the Eagles. Along with landing himself in hot water with the NFL, he also racked up a hefty fine of $25,000.

My only response for Ochocinco is an exasperated, “Really, Chad?” Did you not learn anything from previous incidents where athletes have been fined for using electronic devices during gametime? Are you not familiar with your league’s media policy? I understand you may want a break from your job. I text and tweet while at work, too. I’m familiar with the urge to stay connected to your network (although if I ran the risk of being fined thousands of dollars it would greatly dissuade me from doing so). This is not what confuses me. After all, this is Ochocinco we are talking about.

What baffles me is how one of the most watched athletes can so easily have access to a mobile device to broadcast a message during a period when the very instrument is supposed to be banned. If the league intends to impose such harsh sanctions for a tweeting offense, they should probably guard against these occurrences more carefully. Who the hell let him have access to a cell phone during the game? Really. Whoever allowed him to have the phone should at least share the fine.

Equally perplexing are the responses I’ve read defending Ochocinco’s actions. True, the fine was an outrageous one, but the bottom line is that he is paid to be an athlete and with this profession comes certain responsibilities. One of these includes following the league’s (his employer’s) policies. It wasn’t as if he was unaware that tweeting during a game was against league rules. He knew but chose to do so anyway (and if he didn’t know, he should have known). The weak defense that it was “only a preseason game” is also irrational. When an athlete throws on that jersey, it’s as good as clocking in to work. I wouldn’t want my employees purposefully disobeying corporate regulations, and I don’t want my favorite athletes to do so either (not that he’s my favorite).

Regulating the content of a public figure’s social media accounts is difficult. League and franchise officials can only advise so much on what is deemed appropriate to publish. Athletes are but humans and have the ultimate decision on whether or not to follow these guidelines and risk the consequences. However, the team and league can control, or at least restrict, when they tweet, especially in such a controlled environment as a league contest.

I know, these athletes are full-grown adults and should know better themselves. Need I remind you who we are talking about to convince you why these childproofing actions may need to exist? I hope not.

Tweet to sell? Good luck with that

17 Aug

Twitter wasn’t designed for marketing. Naturally I was confused when this blog entry proclaimed Twitter dead as a marketing tool when I was never aware that it was alive and kicking as one in the first place. Marketing, by definition, is the process of converting the public into consumers. The focus is on getting people to spend money on your product or service. Of course there are clever marketing strategies disguised as public relations (The Old Spice Guy’s personal video replies are a prime example, although reports of sales growth are wishy-washy depending on what source you use), but Twitter should mostly be used as a PR tool to interact with the public and build relationships. This shouldn’t be its secondary function, nor should it be surprising. What’s surprising is that a company expects to hit a sales gold mine off of a platform that requires no financial investment whatsoever. You get back what you put in, and the currency of these networks is social capital.

Twitter allows people to publish 140-character thought-blitzes; short-but-sweet tweets to anyone who will listen (er-read). People on Twitter don’t want to be spammed or sold things. They want someone to appreciate and relate to the mundane intricacies of their life. They look forward to that fleeting moment of excitement after a relevant figure has @replied to them. This is what many organizations fail to grasp. Tweeples don’t want to be part of your target demographic. They want to be your friend (per say), to follow and be followed in return. If you value your potential and current customer-base, you are more likely to encourage lifelong fans.

What’s funny is that in this age of digital revolution we’ve come full circle. The very thing that Twitter promotes is what humans have always craved: social interaction. New digital tools won’t push people away if you know how to use them well. They can actually strengthen real-world relationships with fans, friends, and even strangers. So complement their choice in fashion, share exasperated sighs on Monday mornings, and rejoice together when your team scores the buzzer-beating shot for the win–all over tweets. At worst your followers will see your efforts as transparently one-sided, but at best they will believe you actually care.

Pre-Dating: A social artifact of the digital age

26 Jul

As I lay poolside reading People Magazine’s StyleWatch, something on the “What’s IN, What’s OUT” list caught my eye. The magazine uses a term called “pre-dating” to describe the researching of one’s blind date’s online history before you actually meet with them. You might think that this would be under the OUT heading, filed under potential stage-five clinger, but no; the writer (ranker?) is in complete support of it. This is supposedly a “new phase of a would-be relationship!” (Their exclamation mark, not mine).

Although pre-dating is not a term I’m familiar with, it is a practice I have dabbled in. And honestly, who hasn’t digitally-stalked someone of interest? With a plethora of information about potential mates at the tips of our fingers, it’s very difficult to bypass the option of perusing someone’s tagged pictures or seeing how they describe themselves in their “About Me,” as if this filtered and self-produced information will somehow clue you in to the essence of their being. This pre-date research isn’t a new phenomenon, though; it existed prior to social media, as well. Before Twitter and Facebook became almost socially required, we’d ask our network of friends about an individual without the aid of the world wide web. We relied on others’ opinions of an individual to gauge whether or not we should go for it, or, more likely, whether or not the aforementioned person of interest was a creeper. Now that this information is online for (almost) anyone to see, we no longer feel the need to interrogate our peers about a certain somebody. We can locate that information on our own, as can any other of the millions of users who have access to it by signing up for an account (or sometimes by merely having Internet access, depending on how tight your privacy settings are).

An episode of “Let’s Talk About Pep” I once watched (don’t judge me) echoes this topic. One of Pep’s friends googled her date before dining with him. While People’s StyleWatch may approve this pre-date tactic, I’m sure as hell they would not have endorsed or encouraged her interrogation of him at the dinner table regarding crass comments left by other females on his Facebook wall. A mere two years ago it was considered somewhat of a social taboo to use social media as a source of information. This was not yet normal, nor something to be proud of. I recall a particular case of second-hand embarrassment I experienced while overhearing a young woman giving her boyfriend the third degree over some females whose friend requests he had recently accepted on MySpace (my friend and I hurried to finish our double-doubles and fries with our faces burning in shame for the poor guy). Now one of the most common answers to the question “Who told you that?” is: “Facebook.” It has become so embedded in our everyday routines that it has made talking about it in public, for the most part, acceptable. However, there are still some things that, even though universally practiced, should not be discussed at the dinner table.

So what is it exactly about this data-mining strategy that strikes me as creepy? I’m not quite sure myself. Maybe it’s because instead of going through humans to aggregate personal information, we now do this via a non-living, robotic medium. Sure, a human is willingly displaying this information for the world to see, but somehow this feels less authentic and more look-at-me than a friend’s testimonial. Or maybe the creepy-factor is that this new practice is so popular that it merits a positive ranking on a magazine’s IN list. I’m not saying it’s a bad habit that should be avoided; investigative Facebooking has cleared up many a confusion that my beer-goggles had created the night before. By all means digitally-stalk away, but let’s keep that shit on the down low in face-to-face settings.

Play Me, I’m Yours

4 Jul

A few weeks ago while listening to the radio I caught the second half of an NPR story on the New York Play Me, I’m Yours project. Up until today I had forgotten to find out more about it, but I’m glad I remembered to research it a little further. The Play Me, I’m Yours project is a collaboration between Sing for Hope and artist Luke Jerram. 60 pianos were placed throughout New York, each one boasting a unique appearance but all having the words “PLAY ME, I’M YOURS” scrawled across the front. Performers satiate their musical itch while spectators gather to listen and watch unabashedly. At the end of the project the pianos will be donated to schools and community groups in the spirit of the Sing for Hope mission.

There are some parallels that can be drawn between this project and social media. Tara Hunt describes the effect of social media as accelerating serendipity. People publish things about themselves that they wouldn’t necessarily send to an individual person because it isn’t a personalized interaction. Users of social media just “put things out there,” for lack of a better term. They make things known about what they’re doing or what interests them without making anyone else feel obligated to respond. But, seeing as we are highly social beings, we do respond. This increases and encourages interaction that wouldn’t have been possible with a message intended for a specific person or group. Instead of making tweets or status updates readily available to a network of followers or friends, this public piano project made vehicles of music accessible to anyone in the New York state area. By “putting them out there,” people respond by sitting down and playing something to demonstrate their musical prowess, whether it is as advanced as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 or as simple as a few bars from Heart and Soul. The project’s website allows additional interactive opportunities, displaying all the locations of the pianos with the option for participants to post photos and video depicting their experience.
The project also bears similar qualities to a collaborative community. There are no rules set forth about the usage of the pianos. The amount of time each piano-player uses is up to them and those who are waiting for their turn. Anybody walking off the street or into a building where a piano is housed is free to play it. In a state where you usually need a license to perform in public, this creates an additional liberating quality to the social interaction. The freedom this project allows is a lot like the freedom that the Internet gives journalists: anybody and everybody can do what was formally restricted to professionals for free.

I think this project is nothing short of amazing. It really shows how music can bring together the most random of people in the most ordinary of places. I fully believe that music is a social phenomenon, and that without another person or other people to share it with that special, unidentifiable quality it possesses is diminished. Luke Jerram saysthat the success of the project is based on the stories that result from the impromptu musical sessions. “I think it’s the stories that will come out over time — how people have connected, how it’s changed people’s lives, how they think about music and sharing that music,” he said. “There were two people who met over the pianos in Sydney and they just got married.” And that’s a perfect example of accelerated serendipity.

Growing Up Digital

14 Jun

Lately I’ve been reading a slew of papers from Harvard University’s GoodPlay Project, a project within the GoodWork Project and Project Zero. This collaboration looks at how peoples’ morals and ethics are shaped and affected by the digital shift. One of their goals is to discover ways to increase digital citizenship, especially with regards to adolescents. Generation Y, or Millenials as they are commonly called, are the generation most familiar and dependent on the Internet and all of the social networking facets that accompany it.

One paper that succinctly describes their purpose and goals is Meeting of the Minds: a compilation of findings from virtual focus conversations (not really groups) held with both teens and adults. It compares and contrasts the generational differences across five categories: Identity, privacy, credibility, authorship and ownership, and participation. The quotes they were able to obtain from teens on these subjects are surprisingly well-spoken and articulate. I love the fact that these conversations were conducted online. It is much less intimidating and lends to the ecological validity of the study.

This white paper hints that the reason parents and older generations are less trustworthy of the Internet and youth usage of the Internet is not because they don’t trust younger people with the technology, but because they lack a complete knowledge of the technology. How can someone fully trust their child with an instrument whose impact they don’t fully grasp? Parents seem to spend more time worrying and blowing issues out of proportion than actively teaching their children how to act responsibly online as they would in real life. Although it doesn’t explicitly state this in the paper, it’s a point I took away and that stuck with me after reading.

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