Monthly Archives: May 2013

Know Thy Data


One of the most fascinating parts of our consumer culture is the stuff that is behind the scenes: the insights about our attitudes, values and lifestyles that companies unearth (part of my “day job”) as well as the data they collect about us to figure out now to get more of our hard-earning spending cash.

For the former, the information that forms the insights comes from work done with cognizant and willing participants (e.g. “would you like to take a survey?”) or by observing public behavior.

The latter, however is a complex algorithm of numbers that are aggregated by our supermarkets, electric companies, cell phone providers and the like that they analyze and sell to other big companies but very rarely, if ever, share with us- even though they are collecting our every move and purchase with us just-barely knowing about it.

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times business section that talked about this in  detail as well as the trend of some companies (as discussed by my fellow consumer anthropologist Ken Anderson at Intel) towards finding ways to allow consumers to benefit from their own information.  Check out the Technoforia article on our “Open Data Society”  for more.

Would love to know how you would want to use your own data – if you could access it in a way that made sense.

I think I would want to be able to predict my bikini size and workload leading up to my next vacation so I can plan my stress-eating consumption accordingly.  😉

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Marketing, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day Without A Blog…

…seems like no day at all.   Baby steps away from the internet and into my “real life”  for a night.

One observation that is probably stating the obvious to anyone who clicks on a blog titled such as this:  I believe we have expanded the boundaries of what counts as of “real life” to the degree that the term “virtual world” is becoming as synonimous with “world” and “real world”.  The lines are blurring and with it I think we are beginning to wonder about that “blue pill” more and more.   At least I am.

But maybe that’s just my early start to Friday talking.

Categories: Blogging, Consumer Anthropology, Culture, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Narcissistic Reflections on a Blog Experiment: Day 365

Today is the last day of a 365-day commitment I made to myself (without consulting my wife, which in hindsight might not have been a good idea) to post a blog every single day.

I did it for a number of reasons: to be more disciplined about practicing the urgent work of noticing, to become a better writer, to hone my “thinking-on-my-feet” skills, to make insights about humanity more accessible to people who aren’t research professionals or social scientists, to compile anthropological observations and data on consumer culture (not quite knowing what I would get out of it or what I would do with it) and to prove that I can commit to an idea and actually make something happen (that isn’t directly related to my job) if I put my mind to it.

I would say I accomplished all these goals and then some.

I started really believing that I could anonymously catalogue my meandering observations about and analysis of human culture and dreaming that somehow it would “catch on” and people would take and interest and feel better off for having spent some time reading it. I suppose this experience is a “dream come true” in that respect.

But beyond that, I discovered that when I took the time to explore other WordPress blogs (either in search of a suitably meaningful “pass” from my daily blog responsibility or as a way to seek some inspiration) I found a wealth of insight, creativity and affirmation. Humans really do have something to say and platforms like this provide a profoundly impact full connection tool for those of us who refuse to keep our humanity to ourselves. So, thank you to the blogging community for teaching me a lesson about the self-defeating nature of narcissism and the value of other human beings’ stream of consciousness.

I would like to give a special thanks and “shout out” to an acquaintance, fellow Narcissistic Anthropologist and accomplished author, Grant McCracken, for inspiring this “experiment” with his book , Culturematic .

It really did inspire me to take on this challenge and I think I have conquered it.

That being said, I don’t plan on calling it quits just yet. I might not blog every
day but I will definitely continue to seek and share human insight from my everyday experience. Why? Because our human experience means something, and somebody has to notice.

Who better than a Narcissistic Anthropologist?


Categories: Anthropology, Blogging, Consumer Anthropology, Culturematic, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Variations on a Theme: What A Narcissistic Consumer Anthropologist Can Do With A Blog


Today is day 364 of my 365 blog-a-day commitment. Instead of focusing today’s post on a sappy recollection of my experience (don’t worry, that will happen tomorrow) , I thought I would take some time to have a look through all the things I’ve written about in the past year and see what kind of content I pulled out of my – err – brain and what “the people” responded to most.

So, thus far as of about 2 minutes ago, the basic stats are as follows:

364 posts

Daily views: from a low of 1 to a high of 1,127 and a grand total of 45,901

Followers: 814 and counting – and i know for a fact that there are at LEAST a dozen of you who read the blog every day. I would have been flattered with one.

Two promotions to “Freshly Pressed”. Again, would have been flattered with one.


As far as topics go, I have covered a number of themes. The most popular themes (the ones that got the most “likes”) were related to :

  • Pop culture, politics and news “hot topics”: from maple syrup hiests to Jodi Foster to wayward and not-so-wayward athletes
  • American consumer culture: from lamenting “first world” challenges to consumer culture trends and media
  • Well being, inspiration and generally humanistic, socially forward content: like intelligent optimism, inspirational content inspired by the “creative class” and lessons learned while watching my dog at the dog park
  • Travel: documentation of my vacation destinations and the street art and local culture I encountered along the way

Other topics that people seemed to like included:

  • Issues related to gender and race
  • Brand and marketing-specific content
  • Corporate culture (my Office Acculturation series)
  • Holidays and other celebrations and traditions
  • Millennials and youth culture
  • Hipster subculture
  • Pets
  • Reblogs from two favorites I picked up along the way: Sociology of Style and So-Called Millennials

A few other topics here and there started early on but didn’t seem to catch fire, like my observations of my suburban cultural experience.

That being said – I am awash in data and writing samples and am now contemplating the possibility of compiling a “blook” (I just made that up). And I am just Narcissistic enough to think that someone might be interested in reading it. So maybe that will be my next “commitment”.

But never fear – I will not abandon my reader’s need to diversify how they fill their downtime by reading my meandering observations instead of playing Bejewelled Blitz or Words With Friends. I will still blog – maybe not every day – but some days – and potentially for the rest of my life. I don’t know what my life would be like without neurotically checking my stats several times a day and obsessing over assigning meaning to everything I see.

So, thanks in advance for indulging my Narcissistic need to do something that counts and for enjoying it enough to keep me motivated. This blog has been a bright spot in my life this past year and I hope to continue shedding light on the meaning that often tends to get lost in the mundanity of our consumer culture.


Categories: Anthropology, Blogging, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 5 Comments

New “big bang” theory for men

I like this take from the other side of the pond on commercial formation of the masculine ideal – given the relevance to topics I am pursuing in research right now about American Men…

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, sociology, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

In Jeans We Trust: Celebrating 140 Years of Levi’s


If I asked you where Jeans were invented I be your first guess would likely be AMERICA! Or maybe it would be China – given where most of the things we buy are made.

Fact is you would me mostly correct. Even though the fabric that today we call Denim comes from Nimes, France – the denim work pant and what has evolved into modern-day Jeans, was brought to you buy Mr. Levi Strauss – and Levi Strauss and Co. celebrates 140 years of an Iconic American brand today!

According to

“Levi Strauss came to the United States from Germany when he was eighteen. He worked for his family’s business in New York. He traveled about the United States selling cloth, thread, buttons, and other goods for his family’s business in New York. During the Gold Rush, Strauss’s sister moved to San Francisco and opened a store with her husband. They invited Levi Strauss to join them.


Strauss went to San Francisco, bringing several bolts of cloth to sell for tents and wagon covers. The canvas cloth turned out to be the wrong kind for tents, but perfect for work pants. Strauss’s work pants became popular with miners and ranchers. These workers needed clothes that were sturdy enough for rough outdoor work.

When Strauss ran out of canvas, his brothers in New York sent him denim fabric, which was easier to sew. He dyed the denim blue to hide stains from the dirt that miners and ranchers worked in. The pants were later made with copper rivets to make the pockets stronger. The new design, called “Levis,” was a huge success.”

And what has sustained their success to this day?  I would say it rides on both the strength of their brand: which has remained committed to an identity rooted in the hard-working, American-bootstrapping ethos.  I would also say it has a lot to do with how they run their business.  I have actually done a good amount of work for Levi’s over the years and if there is one thing I know for certain about that company, it’s that they have a relentless commitment to incorporating an understanding of human and cultural insights into their business.  I have personally traveled the world on their behalf unearthing differences and commonalities among emerging middle class youth to help them develop an accessible denim and apparel brand for global youth.  I have heard the stories of the project that lead to the structure of their recently re-launched women’s business – where there is a perfect fit for every body type (thanks to the tens of thousands of women’s who’s measurements they took around the world to figure out how to end the self-esteem draining jeans shopping process and create something empowering).

And certainly no company is perfect but it stands to reason that they are doing something right.  How many American companies or brands can you name that have stood the test of time like Levi Strauss?  Chances are you can count them on one hand.

So, today  I give a Narcissistic Anthropologist shout-out to Levi Strauss for inventing my favorite article of clothing – JEANS!




Categories: American Culture, american History, Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

This Is Water

I think this is a great video / speech.  Not just because of it’s practical messages to young adults entering the American work force, but for it’s art at articulating the truth and consequences of our choices as we participate in American consumer culture as adults.  Because the truth of the matter is we all tend to get somewhat self centered as we get caught up in the day-to-day routine of our commercially-driven existence.   So, as my friend said when she posted it on facebook:  “choose to watch this video” and click on the “This is Water” link below….

This Is Water.

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Rituals, Well-being | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Conversations About Masculinity: Who Is The American Male?

About once a year for the past several years I have had projects come across my desk that involve taking a closer look at the American Male consumer to help with one marketing, product development or otherwise strategic initiative or another.   In most cases of work designed to unearth consumer insights, the focus is typically pretty narrow:  help us sell more of these pants, or as Startifacts quotes “develop a more appealing package”, etc.  However, when doing Consumer Anthropology research, which is the more deep contextual kind of work I do, you can’t avoid gaining a very broad and deep understanding of the tides that sway the consumer groups you are studying.

To that end, I have been rather deeply moved and simultaneously perplexed by what seems to be the conundrum of the American male.  On the one hand, American consumer history and marketing both have traditionally told them that they are to be the literal embodiment of strength, ruggedness and aggression, while the evolving mating choice-model of the American female has told them they also need to be polished and sensitive and emotionally available.  Then throw in the fact that the evolution of our economy has elevated the appeal of the once-needing-to-seek-revenge nerdy guys.

But if you take a close look at the products that are marketed to males, you still see the majority of them, especially in the consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, alcohol and automotive space, vomiting out hyper-masculinity messages.  In theory, these are messages that are waning in relevance – but the sh%t still sells.  And  the kicker is, there is still a ton of what we brand strategy types call “white space” out there – niches and categories where there is a distinct need not being met because nobody understands how to effectively meet them.  Why?  Because as the dialogue has been getting so muddied by mixed messages that nobody can filter through the noise and get deep enough into the dialogue to understand which way the tide is turning.  But that’s why they hire folks like me.  😉  Right now I am beginning a project around men and healthy food.

And that’s why I try to digest a good amount of content like this blog right here: American Males.  I came across this experiment in sparking an introspective / reflective dialogue about masculinity because the author “liked” one of my recent blogs.  See – Narcissism can actually lead to broadened horizons.  😉   In it, he seeks to:

“redefine the trends, challenge the naysayer, and up root generational ideologies to cultivate a new concept of the American Male. With relevant, thought-provoking, documentary, editorial content, American Male hopes to stand at the forefront and reflect the cultural diversity of the American Male.”

I am deeply interested in what seems to be a Creative Class-driven conversation about the experience of masculinity in America, attempting to re-frame our conceptions of the masculine aesthetic.  I am interested to hear / see other content like this and understand exactly what kind of momentum is happening around this perspective.

So I ask for some direction from my readers and to hear your perspective.  Do you know of a great blog / website / brand that is trying to get people talking / changing the conversation?  Are you an American male?  Do you happen to know a few?  What is your point of view on trends in the culture and sociology of “maleness” in America – where it’s been, where it’s heading, etc.

Don’t hold back.  Real men aren’t afraid to share their opinions.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Gender, Health and Beauty, Marketing, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Honoring The Drive-In: An American Cultural Tradition

DCF 1.0

Tonight, I’m going to the Drive in for the first time this season.  It’s not something I do often, but about once or twice in the Spring / Summer months a bunch of us girls drive our SUVs out to the east side of town, pack up coolers and camp chairs and tailgate at the Drive-In.   We usually pick a movie we don’t care too much about digesting, get there early and eat dinner / drink a little bit and socialize through a double feature.  For us, it’s a great way to catch up and enjoy a night out without going to the bars.

I have to say, however, that I’ve never actually sat in my car and fully absorbed a drive-in movie date.  Never made-out in the back seat or got “stranded” and “branded a fool” (name that iconic American teen movie!).

But I do know one thing for sure – the Drive-in is an American icon.  It’s one of those things that’s unique to our American culture – an artifact of an era that has been slowly fading away.  I know in my town, however, the Drive-in gets a lot of traffic during the summer months  – not just from movie-goers but also by car clubs and festivals.   It seems people have been itching for different venues to actually get out and socialize – a nice change of pace from our daily “virtual” lives.

In any case, I found a great article here , most of which is below along with one of the two videos shared in the article.  I would recommend visiting the site to see the image gallery as well.  Enjoy!

Vanishing America: The Drive-In Theater

It’s one of the icons of American civilization, combining Hollywood with car culture. The drive-in movie theater was once a mainstay of every American city, and plenty of small rural towns too. In the 1950s there were more than 4,000 of them. They were a place for families to enjoy a night out together, and for teenagers to be initiated into the games of adulthood.

Now the drive-in theater has fallen on hard times. According to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are currently only 366 drive-ins in the United States with a total of 606 screens. The states with the most theaters are Pennsylvania (33) and Ohio (31). Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana sadly have no drive-ins. Many other states are in a precarious position with only one or two.

Competition from cable TV and movie rentals along with rising cost in Tucson real estate agency services have seriously hurt the drive-in theater industry, yet it clings to life. It’s gone from that great American hero – the success story – to that other great American hero – the underdog.

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933 and the idea soon caught on. In Piscataway Homes, the average person went to the drive in at least once a month. Their heyday came in the economic boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. They began to feel the pinch in the 1970s with the spread of more TV channels. With VCRs and cable TV becoming popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s, things got even worse.

Now most drive-ins are gone. Others have remained as spooky abandoned lots that offer the photographers in this article’s gallery the chance to lend atmosphere to their images. Visiting a dead drive-in theater is a bit like visiting a ghost town. It leaves you wondering about the people who used to spend time there.

Unlike with ghost towns, many of us can remember being one of those people. I remember going to the DeAnza Drive-in in Tucson, Arizona. My friend and I used to put a futon on top of her VW van and watch movies under the Arizona starlight. The DeAnza is gone now, and all that’s left is a webpage of memories.

But don’t despair, movie fans, there’s hope. The remaining drive-ins are keeping the flame lit. There are places like Hollywood Drive-in, which has been showing movies on Route 66 near Troy, New York, since 1952. New technologies like video projection are making it easier to open up drive-ins in any location where there’s a blank wall or the space for a screen. My favorite indie cinema, Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri, has done some outdoor shows in a nearby parking lot. Check out the photo gallery to see a cool Belgian drive-in using an inflatable screen.

As the great Joe Bob Briggs always says, “The drive-in will never die!”


Categories: American Culture, american History, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Homelessness

Evidence of one generation’s intentions to make the world better: A Millennial perspective on homelessness with some sociocultural support. Great read!

So-Called Millennial

By Michelle Adams, Contributor

A man in the street begging for money, a women on the side of the road holding up a piece of cardboard saying “Homeless, Will Work for Food,” a family sleeping in their car, a tent city underneath a bridge—all these images represent homelessness.

Most people, millenials included, have certain stereotypes about homelessness. They view people who are homeless as lazy, dirty and mostly suffering from drug problems. Homelessness pervades all aspects of culture and every walk of life.

These views about homelessness were collected from teenage volunteers at South Oakland Shelter during Global Youth Service Day.

Some of these views are actually accurate views of homelessness, while some represent misconceptions throughout society. Many people view that homelessness can be easily solved by giving people money or food. Others believe that homeless people can attain jobs easily. If there are part time jobs available, why not…

View original post 756 more words

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Generation Y, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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